Millennium Review Summit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:20 pm on 26th May 2005.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 5:20 pm, 26th May 2005

With your leave, Mr. O'Hara, and that of the House, I will try to respond to many of the specific points that were made in an excellent debate with many provocative and passionate speeches from all sides. I pay tribute to the contribution made by Andrew George, as it was his first speech in a debate on the subject. He gave notice that he could not be here for the wind-ups, and I am grateful to him for that.

I take in specifically the last point made by the hon. Member for (Alistair Burt), but I also agree particularly with the first of his provocative points about the need for NGOs active in the debate to be considered in their comments and to be careful about their interventions. I am thinking in particular about one report that has just come out and one that is about to. The search for quick headlines will not do our collective cause any good.

I want to respond to some of the points made by the Opposition spokesman, Mark Simmonds. Are we on track to meet the target of 0.47 per cent. by 2008? Yes, we are, which will leave us on track to achieve our goal of 0.7 per cent. by 2013. We want to try to achieve that goal more quickly and our route to that is to establish the international finance facility. As other hon. Members have recognised, we are making the case to others in the international community for support to enable us to do that.

The hon. Gentleman also made the case for more aid to NGOs. I am sure that he will recognise the fact that the Government have made a 40 per cent. increase in funding to small and medium-sized NGOs from this year. We also increased the funding for the bigger NGOs with which we work. We have an ongoing relationship with many NGOs, particularly those that we work with when a humanitarian crisis breaks out. We want to continue to develop and strengthen that relationship. A number of initiatives are under way to strengthen our relationship with those NGOs that perhaps have not had regular contact with DFID offices or access to DFID funding streams in the past.

In the end we have to recognise that, although NGOs can make an important contribution, we have to strengthen Government systems. If we want to see universal access to good health care and good schooling, we have to strengthen the governance at the heart of that. That is why the bulk of our aid will continue to be directed through Government mechanisms; we have confidence in the strength of those mechanisms or Governments' willingness to strengthen them.

As I have said on previous occasions, Zimbabwe and Burma stand out as examples of where we cannot put money through Government mechanisms and have to continue to work through NGOs and through UN organisations. If the governance situation were to change, we would undoubtedly be able to offer more effective support, as we do in other countries. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness also asked whether we should not do more to promote good governance. We are already doing a considerable amount, but I accept that we need to do more. One of the reasons why the millennium review summit is so important is that we believe that it will help to strengthen the international architecture of government; the Peacebuilding Commission is just one powerful example of how that architecture will improve. We continue to provide support to the many regional international institutions around the world and it is not least our priority to increase the capacity of the African Union.

Peter Luff referred to the donor conference initiated by the African Union. I am sure that he recognises that we were one of the first to give support to the AU mission in Sudan. It is encouraging that the joint EU-NATO-UN mission in early May went to look at some of the difficulties with the AU mission in Darfur. The donor conference has produced a result—more cash to expand the effectiveness of the process. I welcome, too, the initial announcements that have been made about the additional cash that has been provided.

We also need to do more to strengthen Governments at national level in developing countries. One of the roles that the UN and donor Governments such as ourselves can play is in promoting and supporting elections. One thinks of Afghanistan, where the UN and donor countries such as Britain have played a key role in helping to fund and organise elections. Of course, we need to continue to do more to promote action in tackling corruption. We already provide support to anti-corruption commissions, to strengthen justice systems, to improve security sector operations and to get effective police and military operations in-country, so that there is good law and order. That is crucial to creating the stability that is needed for development to take place.

I share the view that fairer trading arrangements have the biggest potential in terms of development and lifting people out of poverty. Free trade per se is not needed; fairer trading arrangements are required. We need the sequenced opening of markets and the sequenced lowering of tariffs by developing countries. We need to recognise that we, as developed nations, have a huge responsibility to lift trade barriers that we impose.

We want European partnership agreements to be as development-friendly as possible. We are talking to other states in the European Union about our position and our beliefs regarding how we achieve that goal. I know from conversations that I have had with those leading the negotiations involving some of the regional groupings in EPAs that they welcome the stance that we have taken, they are pleased with the way negotiations are proceeding and they do not currently want to look at alternatives to EPAs.

Hon. Members have talked about the need for aid to be made more effective. That could be done by persuading all donors to untie their aid. World Bank estimates alone suggest that aid would become 25 per cent. more effective if every donor's assistance was untied. Our aid is untied, and the European Union has taken action to ensure that its aid is untied, but others could do more.

We also want aid to be more predictable, with donors committing for a much longer period. Such aid needs to be in support of national development plans and developing countries' priorities, and channelled through national systems. We are demonstrating good practice with the 10-year memorandum of understanding that we have signed with the Government of Sierra Leone. It sets out our commitments to that country over a longer period.

My hon. Friend Ms Keeble made a telling contribution in reminding us to concentrate on the issues involving gender at the millennium review summit. On maternal mortality, infant mortality and the AIDS epidemic, we must tackle the particular disadvantages that women face if we are to achieve more progress in meeting the millennium development goals. I cite to her the girls' education strategy paper that we published in January and our determination to put £1.4 billion over the next three years into promoting good education. That is one example of the commitment that this Government are putting behind the goals.

I have made it clear that we want to see a greater debate about sexual and reproductive health rights. We will do more on the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. I have heard the point made by my hon. Friend Ms Taylor about capacity and the potential role of small NGOs and the one made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire about antiretroviral therapy. I will write to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn about Angola and the International Labour Organisation.

I recognise the point made by John Bercow about Sudan and I hope that the donor conference that took place today offers him some reassurance. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North both made telling points about the human rights machinery —

It being half-past Five o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.