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Commonwealth Day 2004
Keith Raffan (Liberal Democrat)
I congratulate my colleague on the CPA executive, Dr Jackson, for initiating this important annual debate. I join her in welcoming the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, the high commissioners, the deputy high commissioners
In a recent speech, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth quoted one of his predecessors—the first secretary-general, Arnold Smith. He talked about two of the greatest dangers that faced the world 30 years ago: the development of what Mr Smith called neo-isolationism, degenerating into mere regional thinking—becoming inward looking and thinking only in European terms; and the danger of the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Thirty years later, those problems and dangers remain. Indeed, they have got worse.
There are immense problems in sub-Saharan Africa, where 16—nearly a third—of the Commonwealth countries are situated. It is the only region to have grown poorer in the past 25 years; its share of world trade has halved during that period; it receives less than 1 per cent of direct foreign investment; an estimated 44 million children do not go to school there; and it contains 10 per cent of the world's population, yet 70 per cent of people inflicted with HIV/AIDS—nearly 29.4 million people according to a recent estimate. In our own Prime Minister's words:
"Africa is the scar on the conscience of the world."
I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement of his international commission for Africa along the lines of the Brandt commission, which is to provide a comprehensive assessment of the policies towards Africa—of what has worked and of what has not worked. The commission is due to report next spring, which will coincide with the UK's presidency of the G8 and will be just before our presidency of the European Union. The commission for Africa will consult widely, and I hope that this Parliament's proposed CPA delegation to Africa in the summer will submit a report to the commission.
I strongly support, and warmly welcome, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal for an international finance facility to provide long-term guaranteed funding to the poorest countries by the richest countries. It is a bold initiative, which seeks to raise the amount of development aid from just over £50 billion a year today to £100 billion a year in the years leading up to 2015. That would help us to meet our internationally agreed millennium goals; it would ensure that every child had primary schooling; it would radically reduce infant and maternal mortality; it would effectively tackle HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis in the developing world; it would halve world poverty; and it would halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The proposal is bold and visionary, and it deserves the support of all political parties in this country. In effect, it is a Marshall plan for the developing world.
In the recent speech, to which I have referred, the Commonwealth secretary-general emphasised the importance of fair trade and economic development. Although many poor countries have removed their trade barriers, many developed countries have failed to reciprocate. The World Bank has estimated that, were we to do so—and I hope that we will when the Doha round restarts—by opening up our rich countries' markets to poor nations, we could lift up to 144 million people out of poverty by 2015.
We in Scotland can play our part and do our bit to help, and I will give just two examples. There is a partnership between Lothian NHS Board and Zambia. The board shares expertise on the delivery of antiretroviral therapy and is helping to train health professionals. It shares methods to encourage testing and to deal with the stigma and discrimination around HIV/AIDS. Fife Council allowed the headmaster of Pitteuchar East primary school, Ian Macaulay, a year off to work in Malawi, a country that is afflicted terribly by AIDS, where teachers are being lost as fast as they are being recruited—7,000 of them are currently HIV positive—and the classes contain over 300 pupils. Those are the kinds of initiative that the Scottish Executive needs to encourage.
In the oft quoted words of John Donne,
"No man is an Island ... every man is ... a part of the main".
That has never been more true than in this year of globalisation. We all live in one world, in one community and in one family. The problems of one member are the problems of us all. In helping to resolve those problems, Scotland has an important role to play.