I am grateful for the opportunity to debate a sphere of policy and practice that is of the greatest concern to the Government, to many charitable organisations and to the overwhelming majority of people in Britain—our commitment to overseas aid and the initiatives that we are taking to relieve world poverty.
The timing of the debate could not have been more fortuitous, as we are at the time of year when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor is doing his pre-Budget arithmetic and making difficult decisions about the best way to balance the many and inevitably competing priorities and demands on public expenditure. He will be seeking, quite rightly, to exercise the prudence for which he is renowned—from which our economy is now reaping the rewards—and to ensure that sound public finances are maintained, delivering sustainable growth and permanently low inflation.
Against that background, a hardy perennial feature of political life in Britain is that rumours about cuts to some key Government budgets and boosts to others abound. Civil servants—and others, I suspect—often set hares running to persuade campaigning groups to lobby on their behalf with at best speculative and at worst downright mischievous and misleading reports of reductions in spending on important elements of policy. Allegations that the axe is about to fall on overseas aid always seem to peak in October and early November. If those rumours had regularly proved accurate, our overseas aid budget would not be at its current substantial level.
This morning, we have the opportunity to raise the quality of the debate beyond rumour-mongering about the forthcoming Budget, to put on record the size and character of the overseas aid that the Government provide on behalf of the people of Britain, and to identify the principles against which the effectiveness of our aid programme should be assessed. We have the opportunity to make it clear that an effective overseas aid programme is about more than arguing about the amount of money that is spent on taxpayers' behalf: it is about making sure that our nation gives what it can to that important work, that those valuable, but inevitably scarce, resources are used by those who can derive the greatest benefit from them and that, where possible, the scope for abuse or waste is minimised.
I shall put on record the basic facts of our aid programme. The United Kingdom has, rightly, always been proud of the assistance that it makes available through official sources to people in other countries who are far less fortunate that us in economic terms. We maintain a substantial development assistance budget of £2,154 million in the current financial year. I do not deny that such spending was down in cash terms by about 5.4 per cent. on the previous year, but such a reduction was the inevitable result of the public clamour that we all witnessed for last year's Budget to concentrate resources on education, the national health service and the fight against crime. It is important to remember that expenditure on overseas aid can be committed only at a level that is sustainable by our economy and which takes into account public feeling on how different sectors of service provision should be prioritised.
The overseas development aid budget, however, is planned to increase by £47 million to £2,201 million in 1997–98 and by a further £69 million to £2,270 million in 1998–99. That commitment makes the United Kingdom the world's sixth largest donor by volume, behind Japan, France, Germany, the United States and the Netherlands. The programme is recognised internationally not only in terms of its size, but in terms of its effectiveness, its focus on poverty and its emphasis on encouraging private sector involvement.
The British Government, on behalf of the British people, have signalled their commitment to move towards the United Nations recommended level of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product to be spent on overseas aid as soon as economic circumstances allow. Although we certainly have considerable progress to make in that direction from the 0.28 per cent. of gross national product that has so far been achieved, the House will note that average expenditure for all donors remains at about 0.27 per cent., and that, among the wealthier G7 nations, we devote a larger share of our GNP to aid than Japan, the United States and Italy.
One fact that is often overlooked is that the British people do not expect the Government to arrogate to themselves all responsibility for overseas aid. We have a proud tradition of voluntary giving to some of the world's best and most effective charitable agencies: Oxfam, CAFOD—the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development—and Christian Aid, to name but three. There are many more. Such voluntary giving means that individual donors can decide for themselves which projects to support and which causes to prioritise. In addition, individual contributions can be enhanced as a result of a provision that was introduced some time ago whereby the charity can claim back tax at the basic rate. For example, if someone donates £1,000, the charitable organisation can claim back tax at the basic rate, and so receive £1,240. That is a considerable advantage to charitable organisations.
Individuals can exercise the rights of, and fulfil the responsibilities laid upon, that informed Christian social conscience that has characterised our society for so many years and which, at least recently, seems to be making something of a comeback in the political popularity stakes.
The net effect of the tremendous amount of voluntary giving is that the United Kingdom exceeds the much less publicised United Nations target on total aid. United Kingdom combined private and official aid flow to developing countries exceeds the United Nations recommended level of 1 per cent. of GNP. That is a good news story to which we should give greater attention.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that, building on the past developments of the Overseas Development Administration, it will remain a clear policy priority that public official budgets do not subsume that most important voluntary element of our nation's giving.
We are rightly seeking to ensure that our overseas aid budget works constructively to support the development of sound democratic institutions free from corruption, to serve the needs of developing countries and to support the development of sound economies to increase prosperity and create more opportunities for British businesses.
The success of the British economy—the direct result of the Government's prudent economic management policies—-has led to British private investment in developing countries being at a record level. The United Kingdom is the third largest source of private finance capital to the developing world. That means that British businesses and the British people are investing in the future of the world's poorer nations, enabling them to step on to the first rungs of the ladder of economic growth with confidence.
Our aid is well targeted: 75 per cent. of United Kingdom bilateral assistance goes to the poorest developing nations—well above the average for all donors. A substantial proportion of our bilateral programme is devoted to meeting the basic needs of the poorest communities—basic education, primary health care, mother and child health, nutrition, water and sanitation. Considering our record, there can be little doubt that the British overseas aid programme is among the most generous in the world and, more important, among the most effective.
There have been changes in the level of overseas aid funding and the way in which control over that expenditure is exercised. Whereas in the past we concentrated on bilateral aid programmes, there will be a continuing shift towards multilateral projects, particularly through the European Union and the United Nations.
Knowing my views on those two august bodies, my hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I shall take this opportunity to seek some specific reassurances. First, those organisations, which are notoriously inefficient in administration and bureaucracy, must be forced to improve their efficiency and effectiveness to ensure that funds go to the needy, not to the administrative machine. Secondly, any corruption in official international agencies must be stamped out ruthlessly. Anyone found stealing from the mouths of the world's poorest people should be punished severely, no matter how senior their position. Thirdly, the international agency concerned should acknowledge the British contribution to its aid budgets in its dealings with recipient nations so that those benefiting from British generosity know that the British people have put their hands into their pockets, either through taxation or through voluntary donations.
In my experience, bilateral aid is often better targeted, more effective and more visibly British than multilateral projects. It gains more political and commercial credit for the United Kingdom, and is of more practical help to the recipients.
Despite my reservations, multilateral bodies will play an increasing role. For example, the work of the World bank in co-ordinating policy dialogue on economic reform is vital. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that, in charity work, small projects often deliver a better return on investment than grandiose schemes.
Many of the developing world's poor people live in countries with a policy and institutional framework that is not conducive to the rapid, broad-based growth and human development needed to make significant inroads into poverty. Many have suffered from civil conflict. To respond effectively to that challenge, we must take into account the relevant historical, cultural and social factors, as well as economic considerations, when designing and implementing poverty-reducing programmes.
Recent World bank poverty assessments, which take into account the perspectives of poor people, have shown that, in addition to material deprivation, poverty includes social and geographical isolation, vulnerability to natural or man-made shocks and powerlessness. The ODA's poverty-focused development assistance seeks to tackle all those important issues. That will be achieved by giving more effective support to strengthen the capacity of institutions that work directly to extend economically and socially sustainable benefits to those sections of society with the greatest need and the least access. We must also support institutions that stimulate self-help and encourage the poor to take control of their lives to improve their living standards and quality of life.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to assure me that resources and energy will be concentrated on three areas: first, projects designed to influence and shape broader policies on direct poverty reduction; secondly, projects designed to enhance the capacity of poor people to stimulate effective responses from services, while enhancing the capacity of service deliverers to respond appropriately to the demands of poor people; thirdly, direct assistance in emergencies designed to save and protect livelihoods, support effective coping mechanisms and achieve a smoother return to long-term development.
In furthering such aims, my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues at the Foreign Office, with the Secretary of State for the Environment, have played an increasingly active international role, setting the lead. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will shortly set out for the world food summit in Rome, the aim of which is to give new impetus to international discussions on food security to prevent starvation. The House will wish her well in seeking to take forward British aims to secure international policy on food security, to secure the full and efficient involvement of all the relevant United Nations and other organisations, and to build on the outcomes of previous summits.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear with me if I reiterate concerns that I have previously expressed in the House on such international summits and the way in which their agendas and conclusions are manipulated by others. I note with interest the understandable and growing opposition voiced by developing nations at the recent United Nations meeting in Istanbul, at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment gave an inspiring address, rejecting the culture of negativity and death. I also note the reference made at the Rome meeting of the Committee on World Food Security to the unqualified promotion of the phrase "reproductive health", with its unfortunate connotations of abortion on demand according to the definitions provided by the World Health Organisation.
I am delighted that the texts agreed in Istanbul and Rome rejected the approach bulldozed through the United Nations World Conference on Women, which promoted abortion on demand—in the guise of reproductive health—as a human right. The G7 nations, the developing nations and the Muslim nations have rightly insisted on a formula linking the phrase "reproductive health" with the report and programme of action of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The Cairo document insisted on national sovereignty on abortion and that abortion was not to be promoted as a method of family planning.
I seek the Minister's assurance this morning that this approach—rejecting definitions of reproductive health with connotations of abortion on demand—will be endorsed by the British Government at every opportunity. My hon. Friend must leave no stone unturned in the battle to prevent British taxpayers' money from being used to fund programmes in China that involve compulsory abortion and sterilisation, which must be repugnant to all right-thinking people.
I am concerned at the growing acceptance in the Foreign Office of the mantra that any link between aid and trade is contrary to Britain's interests. I know that many expensive reports on the matter from the Treasury, the ODA and Touche Ross have argued that tying aid is counter-productive, but I remain to be convinced by that argument. If we could rely on all other donor nations—both in theory and, more important, in practice—to untie entirely their aid budgets, the free market thus created might on balance create marginally more opportunities for British businesses than it destroys.
We know from experience that, when it comes to shifts in international practice, the United Kingdom will lead the way, while others will lag behind or fail to move at all. As a result, British businesses will lose out. In other words, we live in a practical world, and we must ensure that our competitors and partners live up to what they say. I see no reason in principle why aid and trade should not be linked where it is in Britain's interests so to do, provided that the effectiveness of the aid programme itself is not compromised. In short, if British taxpayers' money is to be used to buy vehicles, it should be used to buy vehicles from Land Rover rather than from Mercedes-Benz. I do not need to tell the House that the product would be better and its cost lower, or that the benefit to the recipient nations and the British economy would be greater. I do not think that anyone can argue with that.
I have sought this morning to highlight a number of important principles and to put on record a number of key facts. Above all, I hope that I have created an opportunity to raise the quality of debate on overseas aid in a manner that will help the House. It might assist my hon. Friend the Minister if, in closing, I summarised by saying that we have a record on overseas aid of which the United Kingdom can be rightly proud, but we must seek to improve on it as economic conditions allow. We must continue to ensure that aid is carefully targeted to those who need it most, and we must resist the move away from bilateral to multilateral projects. We must use aid programmes to enhance democracy and encourage sound economies, and we must stamp out waste and corruption in international organisations.
We must reject abuses in the aid budget to fund the spread of abortion, and we must move away from tying aid to trade only when we are satisfied that other countries will—in practice as well as in platitude—do the same. Words are cheap, but actions always speak far louder.
In my short speech, I have attempted to highlight how the action taken by the United Kingdom to aid the poorest countries in the world and those far less fortunate than ourselves speaks volumes. We must continue to build on our excellent record.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on obtaining this debate and on her thoughtful speech. She raised themes with which it is well known she is associated, and for which there is more sympathy in the House than she may imagine. I had hoped that, when she referred to stamping out the improper allocation of aid, she would call for the resignation of the Minister responsible for the Pergau dam aid.
She also talked about the problems of childbirth and family planning questions. My view is simply that the best way to solve such problems is to empower people by letting their economies grow. It is a fact that the best form of birth control—if that is the problem facing the world—is a rich economy. For an economy to succeed, all citizens in it must be allowed to play their part, and I shall address that subject later.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), to the Government Front Bench. He was the Whip on the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill last year, and he marshalled his troops effectively to ensure that the rich were protected while the poor were given a worse deal from this miserable Government. Now that he is a gamekeeper turned poacher, I hope that he can secure a better deal for the ODA from his former colleagues in the Treasury.
Like charity, alleviating poverty worldwide should begin at home. Frankly, a Government who have deliberately, wittingly and with cold-blooded precision drafted laws to increase poverty in our country are ill-placed to provide a lead in alleviating poverty around the world. What does the Bible tell us? In Ecclesiastes, it states:
The poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard".
One should add women to that, because they bear the burden of poverty more than any other section of our community. The voice of the poor is excluded in the modern world, and is not represented in the boardroom, the newsroom or the Cabinet room, where decisions are made. The alleviation of poverty around the world will come as a result of enabling and empowering the poor.
Among the poorest of the poor are the children of the world, more than 100 million of whom are forced to work. The hon. Member for Congleton may be aware of a lovely poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning, "The Cry of the Children", which reads:
Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers Ere the sorrow comes with years?
… They are weeping in the playtime of the others In the country of the free.
She wrote that more than 100 years ago about this country, but the ambient noise of today's political circuses drowns out the sound of weeping children around the world. According to even modest estimates, 100 million children are working. Some 15 million of those children, according to Human Rights Watch, are placed in servitude to an employer to pay off a debt.
Human Rights Watch cites the case of Kali in India, a nine-year-old girl who has been working in a silk factory since she was six. Perhaps she produces the silk used to make the cheap shirts that we buy from Marks and Spencer and C and A. Kali's mother needed £75 to pay for her husband's funeral and, to secure that loan, she sold Kali into slavery. Each morning, that child leaves home at 7 o'clock and returns at 9 o'clock at night, and she earns £5 a month for working a 14-hour day. That story is repeated in other countries. Carpets, footballs, toys of all description and clothes are made for sale in Britain using this odious form of labour.
In theory, the liberalisation of world trade and the growth of free trade and wealth in the world should put an end to such child labour, but everyone who examines this subject reports not a decline but an increase in child labour. Far from child labour dwindling to a few isolated spots in the third world as a result of trade liberalisation, we see it increase and encroach into new areas of high-profit economic activity, such as child prostitution.
What perhaps is worse, and should concern the House, is that the use of child labour is spreading back from the third world. Not many miles from the House, and in many other big cities in Britain, there are textile workshops with home workers who have not reached puberty. According to the university of Paisley, an estimated 1.7 million children work in the United Kingdom, not delivering newspapers as we all did as kids, but in economic, gainful activity. Indeed, in the Prime Minister's constituency of Huntingdon, the meat-packing company Hilton Meats was recently fined £12,500 after pleading guilty to employing 14-year-old children. Moral exhortation about what is happening in the third world rings hollow at conferences while we allow so much child labour in our own country.
What can we do? Moral exhortation, as I said, is not enough. Law and the enforcement of law are needed. Shaftesbury and those who fought in the 19th century against child labour understood the difference between a sermon or inspiring speech at some international conference and enforceable law. Wilberforce understood that passing a law in the House against slavery was of little use unless it was enforced on the high seas and other nations were drawn into a worldwide campaign to abolish slavery.
What was true then is no less true today. The need to take global action against child labour and other forms of poverty and inequality is hampered, alas, by reaction at home which, whether in the Government or the media, first, denies the need for effective international action; secondly, actively conspires against policy proposals when they are advanced; and, finally, wallows in the smug self-satisfaction of the pretence that the market alone can solve those problems.
I should like to put forward a three-point approach to the question of alleviating world poverty. First, at the Government level, we need to work at devising international solutions and programmes to defeat poverty. Secondly, at the business level, we need a new politics of ethical business behaviour, which we can already see taking shape in some parts of the business community and which should be supported and encouraged. Thirdly, each individual—all of us as consumers, employees and shareholders—can play a part by insisting that the goods and services we buy are provided on the basis of fair trade and decent working conditions.
Let us look first at the Government level. The internationalisation of trade, which is a growing trend and one that I welcome as a strong free trader—is bringing with it a new body of international law. Commerce throughout history has worked only if contracts are enforced and are enforceable at law. Standards, patents, so-called intellectual property rights, market access, dumping rules and all the paraphernalia of national commercial law and regulation are being reproduced internationally. We see that process in the European Union to enable the single market to work and we see it in the World Trade Organisation, in the North American Free Trade Agreement and in the thousands upon thousands of pages of directives and regulations about which the hon. Member for Congleton and her hon. Friends sometimes complain, but which are the stuff of making any market or any commercial set of relationships work.
Endless tribunals are needed to make free trade work. But just as national economies have social and environmental costs and consequences—which, for 100 or more years, we have regulated through health and safety, clean air and child labour legislation—so the international economy has social and environmental costs and consequences. Inch by painful inch, the call for international law and regulation on social and environmental questions—the cry from the poor of the world for their concerns to be heard at the table where the new rules of world trade are being written—can be heard.
The most concrete expression of that call is the demand that the new World Trade Organisation look at child labour, workplace health and safety rights and the right of employees to belong to free trade unions, which even the World bank in one of its reports held up as the cornerstone of free economic activity.
We are keen to include social issues on the agenda of the World Trade Organisation.
Those are not my words or those of the new Labour party's policy programme, but a statement by Sir Leon Brittan, the former Thatcherite Minister, when he addressed the European Parliament two years ago. Sir Leon, Vice-President of the European Commission and the senior Commissioner responsible for trade, has consistently argued that the World Trade Organisation should at least agree to discuss social issues in some form through a working party—not to regulate wages, but at least to have a discussion.
The aim, in which Sir Leon is supported by the international trade union movement, is to find a non-protectionist, trade-enhancing way to enable the employees of multinationals that operate in third-world countries, and those of national companies, to have some say in the distribution of the wealth that their labour creates. That is a sensitive issue and powerful forces are ranged against it, including many multinational corporations and many third-world Governments, who represent an economic elite such as that disposed of in Pakistan earlier this week. They are ranged against the idea of a social clause because the men who profit from Government control of trade and the economies that deny social rights to too many third-world countries do not want child labour or union rights discussed at the World Trade Organisation.
Despite Sir Leon's commitment to that policy, I have to report to the House that, only last week, he was stabbed in the back by the Minister for Trade at one of the secretive Council of Ministers meetings, at which the existing European Commission policy for a WTO discussion on the issues was sabotaged. The language on setting up a WTO working party on social questions has
gone, although the Council of Ministers' statement—which provides guidance for the EU position at the WTO interministerial conference in Singapore—referred to the importance that the European Commission attaches
to the efforts of the International Labour Organisation to promote the universal observance of core labour standards.
That is a small advance, but there was a retreat, under reactionary pressure from the British Government, from a clear policy position that Sir Leon had been outlining for at least two years.
At least the statement I have just cited is a positive statement that can only embarrass our Ministers, who only a year ago in the shape of the then Secretary of State for Employment, now the Secretary of State for Defence, were floating the idea of a United Kingdom withdrawal from the ILO. It required interventions in the House to the Prime Minister and an early-day motion, signed by a huge swathe of Members from all parties, to stay their hand. We welcome the Council of Ministers' affirmation of the importance of the ILO and regret that the British Government, only 12 months ago, were talking about a United Kingdom withdrawal.
In the battle to alleviate world poverty, we cannot dissociate the issue of trade from labour standards. The United States under President Clinton has made clear its commitment on that issue. We welcome his election victory last night and the defeat of the Conservative party candidate, Senator Dole. The raising of the minimum wage to a fair and decent level in the United States, under President Clinton's leadership, has undoubtedly contributed to his excellent election victory, and we look forward to that policy being implemented in this country.
If the European Union detaches itself from the United States over the question of the WTO examining social issues, we should not be surprised if the United States takes unilateral, extra-territorial action. We are refusing to work in partnership with our allies in the United States and make efforts to achieve a multilateral response through international agencies such as the WTO. I worked for some years in international organisations and I have no illusions about how useful working parties are.
If the message from the December WTO inter-ministerial conference in Singapore, from our Minister for Trade and from our Prime Minister to the world's poor, the world's child labourers and the other workers who face increasing poverty is, "We will not even discuss your problems," I warn the House that the poor of the planet will want no part in a world that excludes them. The road that they will go down instead will, alas, be the road of crime, of terrorism and rejection, and of supporting extremist solutions.
None the less, let me bring some good news to the House. Although our Ministers bury their heads in the sand, there is now a call for new ethical business behaviour at international level. Transparency International is an important organisation which, with the support of many big business companies, argues in a concrete fashion that we must put an end to corruption. I am talking about corruption such as that in the Gulf, and that exposed by the Pergau dam affair—corruption with which, alas, too many British companies' names have been linked.
Progressive British companies are now supporting European works councils, which allow their employees to have some say in those companies' international affairs. Swedish and German multinationals allow, indeed encourage, their union representatives to make contact with workers in overseas subsidiaries.
More needs to be done. A good example is the Rugmark scheme, which was set up to ensure that rugs sold in western shops are made in fair working conditions in the subcontinent. Unlike most carpet stores in the United States and Germany, retailers such as Ikea, Liberty, John Lewis and Bentalls refuse to sign up to the scheme. I appeal to those companies to support Rugmark.
Big British success stories such as the Body Shop now support the idea of ethical accountability and transparency. That means not insisting that one western standard be applied everywhere, but ensuring that transparent and accountable systems work, with inspections and accreditation to reinforce the ability of people in the south to raise standards in a culturally and economically appropriate manner.
The Co-op and Sainsbury are preparing to develop ethical approaches to sourcing, and are committed to work with the Fair Trade Foundation to support, through an admirable charter, the idea that what we buy in our shops should be produced in fair conditions.
That leads us to what consumers can do. There are now more and more examples of consumer and corporate pressure having an effect. We saw that in the outcry over the footballs produced for the Euro 96 competition. Those were made by child labourers in Pakistan, but FIFA has agreed that in future the footballs that it uses will be produced in fair conditions.
Textile retailers, too, are discussing those ideas, and there are fair trade campaigns. We can now buy Café Direct, an excellent coffee made by third-world producers in fair conditions—and I should like to see some bought and sold in the horribly refurbished House of Commons Tea Room.
In America, consumer boycotts have been effective. In Latin America, there has been a decline in child labour, as United States textile retailers have been forced to respond to such boycotts. Pepsi has now been banned in most United States campuses because of the company's refusal to draw a line and stop investment in Burma.
I have mentioned three ways in which we can alleviate poverty—Government action to support international initiatives, business action to support ethical fair trade and action by consumers to put their money where they know it will help to stamp out poverty throughout the world. Two of those processes are under way, but the third., Government action, will begin only when we have a Government committed to alleviating poverty—not only abroad, as the title of the debate implies, but more important, at home in our own country.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on her success in the ballot and on the excellent points that she made in her speech, many of which I strongly support. I shall say more about that later, but first I shall comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), whose call for higher business standards I support.
Listening to the hon. Gentleman, my mind went back several years to the time when I was at Harvard business school, where the professors are regularly assessed by the students. Year after year, the professor who came top was Professor Roland Christenson, who lectured on business policy and delivered to his students the strong message that there was no problem in the world greater than the fact that hundreds of millions of people did not get enough to eat and that millions of children died every year. The hon. Member for Rotherham was right to draw attention to that.
The other problems that the hon. Gentleman addressed, such as child labour, are serious too, but the fact that children are dying is the greatest issue of all. Clearly we want children to be properly educated rather than used as cheap labour, but even being used as cheap labour is better than dying.
The hon. Member for Congleton spoke strongly about the role of voluntary agencies, and I support what she said. In Bolton, there are strong supporters of the World Development Movement, Save the Children and Oxfam. I believe that such agencies play an important part, and that, as the hon. Lady said, Britain leads the world in that respect. I spent much of my childhood in India. Other members of my family have spent time in Africa, and are now in India again—no doubt concerned with the work of voluntary agencies there.
The hon. Lady spoke about tying together aid and trade, and said that it was better for workers to be in Land Rovers rather than in Mercedes-Benz. There is sometimes a problem when aid workers are seen to be enjoying a standard of living far above that of the people whom they are supposed to be helping. Sometimes they live in luxury hotels and drive luxury cars, but it would be better if they were closer to the people they help, and drove vehicles not so different from those used by the indigenous population.
The hon. Lady drew attention to the summits in Rome, Istanbul and Cairo, and then talked about abortion, especially in China. I shall pick up some of her points. Some years ago, I saw the work done in Hong Kong by the Home of Loving Faithfulness in providing adoptive homes for severely handicapped Chinese babies. The Chinese have no tradition of adopting children, and there is a role for this country to play.
I ask the Minister to pay attention to the need to improve the process of inter-country adoption. I am sorry that in the Queen's Speech the Government failed to announce their Bill on adoption. I do not know whether there will be an opportunity for them to introduce it over the next few months, but as they produced a draft Bill on which there was a long consultation period, it is unfortunate that the legislation cannot now be introduced. Measures such as the ratification of the Hague proposals should be properly addressed by the House. Then we could be happy in the knowledge that this country could play its full role.
We are aware of all the problems in China. At the beginning of her speech, the hon. Member for Congleton said that she preferred a stronger emphasis on bilateral than on multilateral aid. In general, I would support that idea, but in China there are difficulties in knowing how, in such a coercive regime, to become involved with proper family planning. I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees that in that case it is as well to work on a multilateral as on a bilateral basis.
I am sure that on that topic the hon. Gentleman will join me in deploring the fact that the British taxpayer's money is used, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to support coercive abortion in China. That policy cannot be supported by any civilised person.
I do not believe that I can agree with the hon. Lady. Last month, I received a letter on that very subject from the Minister for Overseas Development. It said:
We do not give bilateral support of any kind to China's family planning programmes, but do provide annual grants to support the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and their work throughout the world, including China, to promote better reproductive health and improved quality of life for women and men.
I certainly support the Government in their work on that front, and I do not believe that what the hon. Lady suggested happens.
I want to draw attention to the difficulties that British couples face in trying to adopt children from abroad. There have been a number of recent newspaper articles—The Sunday Telegraph carried one earlier this year—on adopting children from China. There were also articles in The Sunday Times in June last year and The Times in October last year. They pointed out that approximately one Chinese baby is adopted each week by a British couple. Given that, the Government can help to bring about a better future for some of the unfortunate children in China. All the children are girls and we know that they can indeed be left in the infamous dying rooms because of policies in China.
Britain is almost unique among most of the developed countries in not having a central agency that can help to provide a smoother process of inter-country adoption. The couples who have written to me, and whose stories have been referred to in the papers, have described the great difficulties of the process of adopting a baby from China. China insists on dealing with a central agency here. There is no central agency here, although the Department of Health has an overall co-ordinating role.
Local authorities are required to approve the adoption, and some couples have had to move to get a local authority to approve their adoption of a child from China. A couple in Fulham had to move to East Sussex. Couples elsewhere, such as Staffordshire, were told that, because of the policy of the council where they lived, there was no chance of their being able to adopt a baby from China. I find that totally repugnant, and hope that the Government will give attention to the matter by bringing forward the Bill on adoption, so that the issue can be properly addressed and an inter-country adoption agency can be set up in this country to provide for such adoption.
I reiterate my support for a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Congleton. Difficult issues concern tied aid and trade. I agree with her that, in an ideal world, none of the countries would attempt to tie aid to trade. When some countries do, we in this country can clearly feel at risk by not doing so as well. On balance, the less we tie aid to trade, the better. We should certainly target our aid to those who are in the greatest need, which includes the unfortunate children in the orphanages in China. We should do our best to cut out waste and corruption and insist on very high standards in our overseas aid.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on securing this debate, which concerns a very important topic. She may be as surprised as I was when I heard her speech to hear that I agreed with very much of it. Indeed, I agreed with most of what she said about the current position of aid. I am not at all happy about the reduction in aid that has taken place and, of course, continues to take place.
The hon. Member for Congleton referred to the reduction in the context of the country's economy. It may well be that, until the economy begins to turn around, it will be difficult to envisage the aid figure increasing. Fortunately, there is a real prospect of the economy improving dramatically in the next two or three years following a change of Government, and for that reason, Labour is very clear about what it would do through overseas aid. We would use much of what is generated by an improved economy to enhance the aid budget.
The importance that the Labour party places on overseas development aid is shown in a document that was recently published, which clearly states that a Labour Government would resort to the position on aid held between 1976 and 1979, when there was a Department responsible for overseas development aid. A department of international development will enhance not only the quality of aid but the importance given to it as a central part of a Labour Government's programme.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who will be a member of that Government and—I hope—hold the office that he shadows, will be in a strong position to put into practice many such policies, not least what has been termed the 20–20 Compact, which is very important and emerged from the Copenhagen social summit last year. Under it, 20 per cent. of aid provided by donors goes to basic services in return for a commitment that the recipient countries spend 20 per cent. of their gross national product on the same sort of basic services. That is very important to beginning to turn around the effectiveness of aid and ensuring, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, that the poorest people benefit. I certainly support her in that view.
I should like to mention one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton with which I did not agree. I find it rather unfortunate, although not surprising, that she returned to the issue of reproductive rights and what she terms "abortion on demand" as part of aid policies. Such a term is an exaggeration and a distortion of the purpose of aid for women's sexual and reproductive health, which must be at the core of any serious policy that hopes to deal with poverty. The hon. Lady mentioned self-help. I thoroughly agree with that concept, but she mentioned it with regard to women's rights as if in some way such self-help was being discouraged through the policies that are being advanced. She used some rather emotive language, as she has in the past.
In preparing for this debate, I dug out the comments of the hon. Member for Congleton during a similar debate four months ago, in which she accused me by implication of having blood on my hands as a result of being an office bearer of the all-party population, reproductive health and development group. If she does not remember that, I am sure that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is the chairman of that group—I am its treasurer—and who was the butt of her remarks, does remember it. She made an extremely offensive allegation, and I hope that she will take this opportunity to withdraw it. The accusation was wide-ranging and referred to the hon. Gentleman's friends, of whom, in the context of the group, I am certainly one.
The hon. Member for Congleton has, unfortunately, peddled many untruths in respect of the aim of aid and aid programmes. In doing so, she has undermined the efforts of many organisations that do sterling work in the field, such as Marie Stopes International, Save the Children and Oxfam. They have communicated to me that they are stumped by some of the comments that have been made.
Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Congleton about the United Nations fall into a similar context. She has often vilified the UN for what she terms coercion in reproductive rights and various aspects of it, yet she refuses to acknowledge that its population fund specifically outlaws any form of coercion in its programmes. Its projects require adherence to human rights and insist on approaches to service delivery that are grounded in informed consent, free choice and quality care. There is no evidence to the contrary. The same is true of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, whose constitution says:
contraceptive information and services shall be provided strictly on the basis of voluntary acceptance and informed choice.
There is no evidence to the contrary.
In July, the hon. Member for Congleton also criticised Baroness Chalker and the Overseas Development Administration itself for its policies and the way in which they are delivered. Such criticism is most unfair. On 11 July 1994, Baroness Chalker said:
The watchword is choice—there is no place at all for coercion".
Such comments are wrapped up in the debate on what is happening in China. I am well aware of the horror stories that have emerged from that country, and I am sure that many of them are true. I am not in any sense apologising for what happens in China, but we must understand that China has—I believe—21 per cent. of the world's population, but less than 10 per cent. of land that can be cultivated to feed its population. Something must be done to address China's population growth. Although I am not in any way suggesting that the policy of restricting families to one child or the way in which it is policed is justified, we need a little more objectivity in our approach to such issues.
The hon. Member for Congleton also talked about the manipulation of the agendas of some of the major world conferences that take place from time to time, and she specifically mentioned the one in Cairo. Again, her remarks were unfortunate. Much of what emerged from Cairo has, unfortunately, been distorted. It is unfortunate to talk of those outcomes in terms of birth control or abortion. Those of us involved in issues relating to reproductive rights do not use the term "birth control". The issue is not about controlling but about assisting people through self-help initiatives, to which I referred earlier, so that informed choices can be made. It is a matter of allowing people to be in a position to choose for themselves.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said, the best antidote to overpopulation is a growing economy, but that is an extremely long-term prospect for many countries in the developing world that are burdened with debt; for example, the Ugandan economy is growing at 5, 6 or 7 per cent. a year, which is favourable progress, but it is pulled back by the debt that it has to service. Many countries will not have strong economies in my lifetime, so shorter-term population measures will have to be considered.
It was disingenuous of the hon. Member for Congleton to talk of the Muslim community; I do not know what that means, as there is no such thing as the Christian community. In the aftermath of the Cairo conference, Benazir Bhutto, the hapless ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that it was the lack of adequate services, not ideology, that confronted us in population stabilisation. The way in which Islam is marshalled in an attempt to support the arguments of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends is unfortunate, as the Koran is clear on the right of women to choose.
I ask for more clarity and more understanding of the position of those of us who have a general interest in aid and who consider reproductive health a central issue. It has been helpful to have this debate and, notwithstanding my criticisms of the hon. Member for Congleton, I hope that our discussions will inform future debates on the subject.
I join in the genuine congratulations to the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on securing this debate and on her diligence is pursuing the issue, although we are not in agreement on every point.
This has been a summer of change in overseas development. I pay genuine and warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) who has done a sterling and splendid job not only as a Front-Bench spokesman on overseas development but in a lifetime of political service: she is a model and inspiration to us all.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) to her new post as principal Opposition spokesman on overseas development. She is with Baroness Chalker at the moment at an Action Aid launch. People have already realised that she brings her usual dynamism to her new portfolio; in the past couple of weeks she has raised the profile of development almost single-handedly and, as the Americans say, "We ain't seen nothing yet."
I welcome the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to his new position as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Government have made a good appointment and I am optimistic for his future, short-term though it may be in office. As a Scotsman from East Kilbride, he will bring good sense and intelligence to his new responsibility. The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) has undergone an even more spectacular change and we welcome him to our side of the House, where he seems much more at home.
At the Tory party conference a great deal was heard about opportunities—with the catch phrase "opportunities for all"—but lost opportunities would be a more appropriate description of the past 17 years. As some of my hon. Friends have said, the lost opportunities both at home and abroad could stand as a fitting epitaph for the Government.
Morality, we hear, is high on the Government's agenda. The real morality of the Government on the issue that we are discussing will be judged later this month, when, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, we get the results of the public expenditure round. I fear that there will be yet another cut in overseas development, at the same time as the Government continue to offer more tax cuts to the privileged of this country. To reduce inheritance tax for the rich while assistance to the poorest both at home and abroad is cut further is typical of the Government's lack of morality.
It is unacceptable to live with such huge inequalities within and between nations. Those inequalities breed poverty, disease, suffering and conflict, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said. We in the Labour movement believe that morality consists in ensuring that people throughout the world have their basic rights upheld.
What are those basic rights? They are the basic right to food, when 800 million people do not get enough food every day; the basic right to water, when 1.3 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; and the basic right to a home, when 27 million people have fled their homes as refugees and a further 15 million are displaced within their own countries. Those are the rights and that is the morality that we want from the Government. That is where the opportunity and the challenge lie for the British aid programme—a programme which can and should make a difference.
Opportunities abound for Britain, which retains a privileged position in international institutions: we are a member of G7 and of the Commonwealth, and we have a place on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World bank. Labour will institute a change in the World bank and appoint an executive director who is an expert in development rather than in finance. The IMF's structural adjustment criteria for the developing world seem almost designed to increase rather than to reduce poverty in the developing world.
The Government are losing the opportunities that their position gives to influence responses to poverty. They have ideal springboards for action, another of which is a permanent seat on the Security Council, which allows us to play a significant role in the United Nations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham welcomed the re-election of President Clinton, as I do. I hope that the Americans will now support the United Nations much more strongly in its peacekeeping and peacemaking role, in early warning and in conflict resolution, because conflict is one of the principal causes of poverty, as my hon. Friend said. Let the Americans ensure that their contributions are up to date.
The Government have various opportunities in the coming weeks and months. The world food summit in Rome has already been mentioned. Can the Minister tell us what the Government's approach will be there? Will they press for an end to the dumping of European Union agricultural surpluses in developing countries, ruining food production in those countries? That would be a step in the right direction.
The World Trade Organisation conference in Singapore in December would be an ideal opportunity for the Government to show their commitment to the developing world. Will the Minister follow up what my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said and argue the case for a social clause to be added to international trading agreements to ensure that all countries in the world trading system uphold the human rights standards enshrined in the UN convention, to prevent child exploitation, forced labour and prison labour and to guarantee the right to join a trade union?
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham told the moving story of Kali; such inspiration should motivate the Government at the Singapore conference. It is astonishing that the American Government are far more progressive on the social clause than the British Government. I hope that we shall get a more positive statement from the Government today. Beyond that, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh next year is a great opportunity for further progress.
I hope that we shall get a more positive statement from the Government today on development education. We hear too much in education about bringing back the cane. That is a very English term. As the Minister knows, it would be the strap in Scotland. Let us hear less about that and more about development education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood said yesterday to the Development Education Association, development education should be an integral part of children's schooling to give them the opportunity to learn about the challenges and causes of poverty and the opportunities to eradicate it.
The hon. Member for Congleton said that we must take account of public opinion on spending. The public care about development. Opinion polls consistently show that nearly 80 per cent. of Britons think that aid should be given to the developing world. We have heard in the past few weeks about the Defence Secretary fighting in Cabinet for his spending commitments, about the Health Secretary fighting for the health budget and the Transport Secretary fighting for the transport budget.
The problem is that the Minister for Overseas Development is not a member of the Cabinet. She cannot argue the case for overseas development where the real decisions are made. That is why the budget has gone down year on year. It was 0.52 per cent. of gross national product and rising when Labour left office; now it is 0.29 per cent. of GNP and set to fall with the Tory Government. That is why Labour will restore the Minister for Overseas Development to a position in the Cabinet to argue the case for overseas development alongside the other Secretaries of State.
I want briefly to mention recent events in Zaire, on which I hope that the Minister will also touch. Many minds in the House and in the country have been focused by the awful pictures on television of refugees fleeing their homes as the crisis grows deeper day by day. We know that that region of Africa has had a long and bitter political past. The eastern and western sides of the former split in the world of cold war politics allowed the people of the region to be abused and made the crisis almost inevitable. Our past actions, as well as basic morality, make it a duty on us to assist those in need.
I welcome, of course, Baroness Chalker's statement and her commitment of £130 million over two years, but I want to ask the Minister to go a bit further. Will he undertake to use the Government's influence in the UN Security Council and the European Union to press to ensure that our excellent non-governmental organisations, to which the hon. Member for Congleton referred, have access to help and have some security assistance? They have been in severe difficulties in the past few days, as the Minister knows. Will he bring pressure on the Governments of the region to seek a regional political settlement? Will he push to strengthen the international war crimes tribunal to ensure that those responsible for the genocide are punished and that justice is seen to be done?
I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to dissociate himself from the remarks of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who said at Foreign Office Question Time:
There is a limit to what the international community can do to help those who will not help themselves."—[Official Report, 30 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 649.]
That is an appalling attitude and illustrates the attitude of some Tories to British aid. It undermines the work of our non-governmental organisations in the region. I hope that the Minister, who is a bit more intelligent than his colleague, will dissociate himself from it.
We heard about tied aid and the aid and trade programme. We want to reduce the amount spent on consultancy: 32 per cent. of our bilateral programme is spent on payments to consultants. That is an appallingly large amount. I hope that it will be reduced; it certainly will be with a change of Government.
I want to mention the scandal of the delay in the publication of the National Audit Office report on British aid to Indonesia. That investigation was begun in the wake of the Pergau dam scandal, but the final report is a year behind schedule. I understand that it is being held up in the Foreign Office while Ministers search for excuses to explain it away. The Opposition and the public will not tolerate another cover-up. Ministers have promised that the Government will abide by any recommendations in the report. I hope that it will be published as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Congleton mentioned human rights abuses and coercive population practices in China. For two days, I was able to join an Overseas Development Administration independent assessment team that carried out in September an assessment of the policies and activities in China of the ODA, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. I ask her to await the publication of that report, which is imminent, before rushing to judgment. Knowing her preconceptions, I fear that my request is vain. I hope that she will realise that it is wrong to infer from the presence of those bodies that they in any way support and tolerate such practices. That is not the situation. When she sees the report, she will realise that her comments were over the top.
The Government will be judged not by their fine words today, but by their actions: their actions in the public spending round, at the world food summit and at the World Trade Organisation. If they miss any more opportunities, the British people have not much longer to wait. They will soon have the opportunity of putting that right and giving a Labour Government the chance to put Britain's overseas policies back on the right track.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on obtaining this important debate and for the doughty way in which she follows these issues in the House. Not for the first time, we are in complete agreement.
I also have the pleasure of congratulating my right hon. Friend Baroness Chalker on all her work. Government and Opposition Members will want to add their congratulations on the job that she does on our behalf. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for his kind words. That may be the last time that we shall agree in this debate.
This is an important debate. We need to see aid in a wider context than that of bilateral aid. I am sorry that aid has been treated as a political football and reduced to a trite and simplistic debate in recent years. We need to build support for development. The debate needs to be updated in the light of the changing pattern of aid. It is not only how the aid is given that matters, but how it is used: we need to change the focus of debate from input to outcomes.
There is a moral case to be made for aid. It is not just a matter of soundbites about what great Christians hon. Members of whatever party may be. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said that charity begins at home, as more harm has been done to the case for aid by that phrase than by any other. The House is full of knockabout politics, but it is not mature to pretend that the relative poverty in which some people in the United Kingdom undoubtedly live is in any way comparable with the starvation and absolute poverty that exist overseas. It does not help us to have a mature debate to have it premised on that phrase.
The Government's overall aims on aid are clear: to relieve poverty and suffering and to promote sustainable growth. We do that through bilateral aid, a multilateral programme, the non-governmental organisations, debt relief, trade development and private investment. The nature of our aid has changed. We have moved away from bricks and mortar aid to more sustainable aid, as my hon. Friend mentioned, by providing expertise. I am sad that that was not brought out more in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton was correct in the figures that she gave for our aid budget. Our bilateral budget was £2,154 million in 1996–97. We are the sixth largest donor, behind Japan, France, America, Germany and the Netherlands, and at 0.28 per cent. of GDP, our overseas development assistance is above the average of all donors and ahead of the United States, Japan and Italy. All those figures are on the record.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) was correct when he said that we needed to use our wealth to help those less fortunate than ourselves. That is what I refer to as the moral case. The hon. Gentleman has written a book entitled "Rags to Riches", which could have been a history of the economy under the Conservative Government but which I believe is something else.
We need now to look at the output from our aid programme and where it goes. Where the aid goes matters greatly. Three quarters of our bilateral aid goes to the poorest countries. I recently visited slum clearance projects in Calcutta. No one can tell me that that was not money well spent. People now have clean water and, for the first time, sewers that are covered. They can live cleanly without having to wade through mud to get to their houses. That is a proper use of our aid budget. We must concentrate our aid where it is most needed if we are to have any sort of priorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton asked whether, by placing greater emphasis on our multilateral aid, we were losing a foreign policy tool. That would be so if we played no role in directing multilateral policy and the recipients did not recognise any benefit as coming from the United Kingdom's role. My hon. Friend is correct in saying that in our European projects and some other projects, we need to get better value for money, simplify administration and reduce costs. That has to be the United Kingdom's role, because our model of aid is regarded, as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will have seen when he goes abroad, as a prime model for other countries to follow. The one thing that is said wherever one goes in the world about British aid projects is that the quality of aid is second to none. We must ensure that that is also the case with the multilateral agencies.
The multilateral agencies give us an advantage of scale. We are part of the World bank, of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a governor. Through its concessional facility, the International Development Association, it has among the most effective multilateral aid programmes.
Perhaps my greatest sadness in today's debate has been the absence of an acknowledgement of the role of the non-governmental organisations. They are a national asset. They are something which Britain does very well. The NGOs can often reach areas that we cannot reach, for political as well as logistical reasons. Examples such as the work of Oxfam and Save the Children in Cambodia spring to mind.
The role of NGOs has changed. They exhibit greater professionalism. There is a greater willingness to work together and with bilateral and multilateral agencies. They take a longer-term perspective. They recognise our aims to encourage skills rather than provide bricks and mortar. They are able to operate in areas of political and cultural sensitivity in which government cannot always operate. They have also achieved—I am sure that this comment is echoed on both sides of the House—ever greater stature in recent years. For example, 10 years ago the then World Wildlife Fund was probably associated purely with pandas, but the organisation now operates on human development as well as environmental projects. That is a mature path for the organisation to have taken, and I welcome it. However, we have to point out that the United Kingdom's aid programme is six times the value of all the NGOs put together. We have to remember its scale when we talk about the size of our aid programme.
The Government have also concentrated on debt relief. It does not really matter to a country whether we give it money bilaterally, multilaterally or by writing off its debts. Money is money and the United Kingdom has taken a leading role in debt relief. We have written off aid loans to 31 of the world's poorest countries at a value of £1.2 billion. I am sorry that the Opposition did not give any credit to the Government for that. The official bilateral debt of 21 countries has so far been rescheduled under the Naples terms. That has provided up to 67 per cent. debt relief. That was an initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Do the Opposition ever mention it? Do we ever get the credit for doing that?
The heavily indebted poor countries debt initiative launched at last month's World bank and International Monetary Fund meeting was based on proposals made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. None of this did we hear from the Opposition. None of this do we ever hear from them, because they like to concentrate on one narrow political football with which they think that they might score cheap political points rather than engage in a genuine debate. We need to have a genuine debate. The aid debate has been sidelined for too long and it is too important to be treated in the light-hearted and trite way in which it often is treated in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton raised some issues linked to abortion. She is well aware that she shares my personal views on the subject of abortion. The Government's position is clear. Abortion is not acceptable as a method of family planning. We are prepared to provide assistance to treat the complications of unsafe abortion, but coercion has no place in family planning policy. No United Kingdom bilateral aid supports Chinese family planning policy, as has already been stated in the debate. We are constantly engaged with the UNFPA and IPPF on related subjects. We shall continue to make our views known, as I have outlined.
So a spectrum of help is clearly available. We have direct aid. We have pump priming, for example, by the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the work of which is not often recognised in the House. Every £1 invested by CDC brings in £5 of private investment. We have private investment. We have trade. The World Trade Organisation summit will seek to give the least developed countries access to the developed markets. The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of that move. We regret that some others—the United States, some of our EU partners and Japan—are dragging their feet and we hope that they will not do so when the summit takes place.
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate how little time I have.
We are historically a free trading nation. We pushed the general agreement on tariffs and trade last time. We are pushing free trade by the year 2020. We believe that that growth in the world economy will benefit most those in the least developed countries.
We must not forget the role of private investment. It provides huge amounts of money—now the largest amount—to the developing countries. One needs only to travel, as I have recently, in south Asia to realise the value of private investment to those countries. However, private investment needs to be attracted. It cannot be directed by government. Good governance, increased expertise and debt relief all make private investment more attractive.
At the outset, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned one United Nations target which is never mentioned by the Opposition. It is the UN target for combined private and official flows to developing countries. The target is 1 per cent. of GNP. The United Kingdom exceeds that target. The Government should get the credit for that because they have pushed the expertise and changes in the aid policy which have made private investment in those countries attractive and will provide them with greater prosperity in the longer term.
My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not take her intervention, which was almost sedentary.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the tying of aid. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton said. Genuine multilateral untying of aid would be acceptable to us, but we cannot accept the untying of United Kingdom aid with the risk that others will not untie their aid. That would not be to the advantage of the United Kingdom, the aims of our aid policy or the recipient countries. We hope that we can reach a multilateral agreement on tying of aid, but it certainly is not the Government's intention to settle for a one-sided policy.
I am sorry that we do not have more time in this important debate to discuss Zaire, which was raised by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. Political and security problems lie at the heart of the crisis. We all recognise that no purely humanitarian solution is possible, and he is right to suggest that we need a regional settlement. Yesterday, I met some of the British NGOs working there. The idea of humanitarian corridors merits further consideration. We currently await a detailed proposal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United Kingdom is doing a huge amount to provide aid. We have a proud record. Far too often in this country we are unwilling to say what we are doing, and what we are doing well because of the drip feed of cynicism from the media and doom mongering from the Opposition. I am proud of our record, which is the Government's record.