I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of global poverty.
This is the first opportunity since the general election that the House has had to debate international development and my first chance, as Secretary of State, to set out for the House how the coalition will address this vital agenda. My purpose today is twofold. First, I want to set out for the House the changes that we are making in my Department. Secondly, in the context of last week’s Budget, in which the Chancellor set out the scale of the fiscal crisis bequeathed us by the previous Government—a crisis that means that of every £4 of public expenditure, £1 is borrowed—I want to make it clear why our coalition Government stand four-square behind our commitment to the world’s poorest people, and why we will increase our expenditure on international development to 0.7% of our gross national income from 2013, define that expenditure under the OECD/Development Assistance Committee rules and enshrine that commitment in law.
In his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reaffirmed that development spending will increase. As the Prime Minister has consistently made clear, the coalition Government will not seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in the world. It is clearly helpful that that strong commitment transcends party politics, both in the House and in the country. It is a strength of international development that it is seen not as the preserve or the passion of any one political party, but as a British commitment in which Members in all parts of the House strongly believe.
In that context I would like to say how pleased I was to see that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has been elected—unopposed—to resume his chairmanship of the Select Committee on International Development. I am also pleased that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who have a long record of particular involvement and commitment in this area are in their places.
I should also like to express my admiration and respect for the extraordinary collection of skills and expertise in the Department for International Development, which I now have the privilege to lead. As the Prime Minister said on his visit to the Department last week, we should be very proud of the leading role DFID is taking in the fight against international poverty. The fact that in this time of great economic difficulty DFID has a ring-fenced, protected budget is not because we believe that money alone is the key to international development.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. I am not able today to give final details, but negotiations continue in the usual manner. I shall make sure that the House is informed as soon as final decisions on that point have been made.
We understand that one of the main causes of sustained poverty is conflict—that it is conflict that so often condemns women and children to grievous suffering. If someone is living in one of those dreadful camps, which hon. Members may have visited, around the world—the Prime Minister and I visited some in Darfur—it does not matter how much access to money, aid, trade or different articles of development they may have, because for as long as the conflict continues, they will remain poor, frightened, dispossessed and angry. Just as conflict condemns people to remain in poverty, so it is wealth creation—jobs, enterprise, trade and engagement with the private sector—that enables people to lift themselves out of poverty. All that underlines, again and again, as the Prime Minister did at the G20 last weekend, the importance of not giving up on the Doha round and, notwithstanding how difficult it is, remaining absolutely committed to it.
Making progress in the fight against international poverty and achieving the goals set down by the whole international community and enshrined in the eight millennium development goals cannot be done without meeting the financial commitments set out so clearly at Gleneagles in 2005—commitments that were underlined and strongly endorsed by the Prime Minister in Canada at the weekend. Although the British Government focused particularly at the G8 summit on MDG 5 on maternal mortality, the most off-track of all the MDGs, we are also leading the argument for real progress to be made on all the goals.
When the UN summit meets in September in New York, there will be just five years left for those goals to be achieved. We want to see measurable outcomes and a clear agenda for action agreed for the whole international community to ensure that the goals are now reached. In essence, we are trying to ensure that good, basic health care, education, clean water and sanitation reach the people at the end of the track, who today in all too many places in the world have none of those things.
Well spent aid has achieved miracles around the world. That is not of course to argue that aid is not sometimes stolen, embezzled or badly used. We will confront all three of those things head-on, but thanks to aid we have eradicated smallpox; we have reduced polio from 350,000 cases a year in 1998 to under 2,000 today; while the number of people on life-saving treatments for AIDS has increased from 400,000 in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. In Afghanistan, there are today 2 million girls in school thanks to the international aid effort.
In a recent article in a major newspaper the Secretary of State was singled out for particular praise by Bill Gates. Can my right hon. Friend inform the House how he plans to work closely with Mr Gates’s foundation in the coming years?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. He has said a lot about aid, and clearly the role of his Department is hugely important in these matters. Does he accept, however, that in relation to developing countries, what goes on across Whitehall is hugely important? I hope he will also talk about his relationships with the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and those Departments responsible for matters that have an impact on poor people.
May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend in his role and ask him a question about civil justice? In many areas the problem of policing and ensuring that people can obtain justice is one of the most difficult and intractable. Is he bearing that in mind in his duties, particularly in the context of Afghanistan?
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Yes, the issue of grievance procedures—how one resolves grievances—is of particular concern in Afghanistan, and we are looking precisely at that in conjunction with other important matters in the run-up to the Kabul conference.
Our determination and commitment to tackling these problems ever more effectively is both a moral matter and one that is very much in our national self-interest. I believe that in a hundred years’ time generations that follow will look back on us in very much the same way that today we look back on the slave trade. They will marvel that our generations acquiesced in a world where each and every day almost 25,000 children under five die needlessly from diseases and conditions that we absolutely have the power to prevent. For the first time, not least through the benefits of globalisation, our generations have the power and ability to make huge progress in tackling these colossal discrepancies in opportunity and wealth around the world.
Many Members will have their own direct experience of what I am describing. In my case, I think of a visit to a remote corner of Uganda with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, who work with families of AIDS orphans. I remind the House that there are more AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa than there are children in the whole of the United Kingdom. I think of the family of six orphaned children I met, of whom the eldest, at 14—the same age as my own daughter at the time—battled each and every day to get her siblings dressed and to school. I remind the House that today Britain is educating 4.8 million primary schoolchildren in Britain, while at the same time in the poor world we are educating 5 million children at a fraction of the cost; in fact, 2.5% of the UK cost.
It is those harsh realities of life in large parts of the world—grinding poverty, hopelessness and destitution—that have galvanised the commitment and passion of so many in our country today to ensure that, in our time, through our generations, we will make a difference. It is true that charity begins at home, but it does not end there.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to their places and wish them well during their tenure. In respect of personal experience, my wife and I were able to benefit from a VSO placement in Bangladesh. The VSO placement scheme for parliamentary colleagues has been running for a couple of years, but will his Department continue to support it? It offers parliamentary colleagues an opportunity for short placements of two to four weeks during the summer recess in order to visit some of the countries that DFID supports, and to learn much more about its work.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I cannot give him that guarantee today, but I am familiar with the scheme he describes. It is an excellent scheme, and we have no plans to alter it at this time, but I shall write to him, giving him specific details, when we have made a decision.
What is less easily articulated is that tackling poverty throughout the world is also very much in our national interest. Whether the issue is drug-resistant diseases, economic stability, conflict and insecurity, climate change or migration, it is far more effective to tackle the root cause now than to treat the symptoms later. The weight of migration to Europe from Africa is often caused by conflict, poverty, disease and dysfunctional government. We see people putting themselves into the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trader and crossing hundreds of miles of ocean in leaky boats in the hope of tipping up on a wealthy European shore. Often, they are not people seeking a free ride, but the brightest and the best from conflict countries, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. It is much better to help them to tackle the causes of their leaving the country that they have come from. Our prosperity depends on development and growth in Africa and Asia.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and I know that he understands the close relationship between development and the environment. Will he add to the list of the issues that he has just mentioned the importance of ensuring that environmental issues are taken into account as part of the development process? Will he also commit to ensuring that, on the climate change promise that the previous Government made, there will be no more than a 10% overlap between environmental projects to combat climate change and development aid—that his Government, too, are willing to continue with that commitment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. On his general point, he is absolutely right about the importance of including in all our aid and development activity a climate-smart approach—one that, as he says, reflects the importance of the environment. In opposition I had an opportunity to see the direct correlation between those issues in many different parts of the world, and, although I shall not speak extensively today about climate change, I very much hope that there will be another opportunity to do so, and I take his point on board.
In respect of the figure of 10%, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the result of the spending review, but as he will know, the “fast start” money, which the previous Government announced and we support, will all come out of that 10% and out of the official development assistance budget. We have confirmed that that will happen under our Government, too.
I deal now with the changes that we are making in my Department, and the plans that we set out in the coalition agreement. A protected budget, at a time when expenditure elsewhere is being reduced, imposes a double duty to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure and to demonstrate at every turn that we are achieving value for money.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position; I am very pleased to see him and his team in place. One dilemma under the previous Government was that, although money was poured into various countries, whether it should have gone there was questionable. India, for example, has a space programme, and China hosted one of the most elaborate and expensive Olympic games ever. In South Africa, I recently visited the Khayelitsha townships, which were horrifying to see, but at the same time there are rich parts of that country. One must ask whether we might put more pressure on those countries to help themselves, rather than just passing on money—I hear, in China—to the tune of £30 million. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consider those issues?
I thank my hon. Friend for his detailed intervention. If he will allow me to come to the point directly, I shall then answer his specific point about China.
I was making the point that a ring-fenced budget imposes a double duty on my Department to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure, and to ensure that we achieve value for money. Within a few days of taking office, I cancelled funding for five awareness-raising projects, including a Brazilian-style dance group specialising in percussion in Hackney, securing savings in excess of £500,000. In addition, I am cancelling the global development engagement fund, which would have funded further awareness-raising activity in the UK, and creating savings of £6.5 million. I shall make further announcements on prudent and sensible savings over the coming weeks.
I expect shortly to be able to announce that more than £100 million will be saved from projects that are a low priority or not performing. That money will be reallocated to programmes that are more effective in helping the world’s poorest people. Last but by no means least, I am letting out another floor of my Department. That better use of space in DFID will earn revenue of almost £1 million a year, once let.
DFID has cancelled grant support for a project run by Scotdec, the Scottish development education centre, which has offices in my constituency. It was given no reason for the withdrawal, other than the new policy that the Government announced, and it was just about to submit the one-year evaluation of its project. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not the way to act if he is to encourage projects to respond to Government concerns? Surely Scotdec should have been given an opportunity to respond to any Government concerns about its project, and should not the Government reconsider the funding withdrawal that he announced a few weeks ago?
I have had a letter from the hon. Gentleman on that point, and I wrote to him late last night. I apologise for the fact that he did not receive it in time for this debate. I should make it clear to him that several projects to which I put a stop will now proceed, and officials are in touch with those responsible for them, making clear our value-for-money requirements. However, I have cancelled five, including the one to which he refers, after looking very carefully at them and following advice from officials.
Let me list those five projects. I hope that the House will consider whether they should be funded from Britain’s development project. First, there was £146,000 for a Brazilian-style dance troupe with percussion expertise in Hackney. Secondly, there was £55,000 to run stalls at summer music festivals. Thirdly, there was £120,000 to train nursery school teachers in global issues. Fourthly, there was £130,000 for a global gardens schools’ network. And finally, there was £140,000 to train outdoor education tutors in Britain in development.
Spending money on international development in the UK rather than on poor people overseas seems highly questionable. We need to ensure that any expenditure has demonstrable outcomes in developing countries, and that is why I took the action that I did. However, I have written to the hon. Gentleman, and he will have a chance to see in some detail why we took those decisions.
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the Greenbelt festival, from which it was proposed that money be withdrawn? I make that point in the hope that he will appreciate that faith communities—particularly, the Christian community, as represented in that festival—have done a considerable amount over a considerable time to raise the prominence of development issues. We would not have had Jubilee 2000 and, then, Make Poverty History without that movement.
May I also say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that the projects that he outlined largely touch on young people—it is hugely important that they continue to lobby Governments to make more progress—and on ethnic minorities, in which regard we should recognise that when we talk about development, it includes those who have come to this country and look overseas to see what we are doing?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and not unreasonable point. However, the balance of judgment that has to be made is whether this money should come out of the ring-fenced development budget. As I said, we intend, in very difficult economic circumstances, to seek to carry the country with us as regards the validity of this budget. I have explained in some detail why that is so important on moral grounds, as well as on national self-interest grounds. I feared that the budget was in danger of being discredited by some of the existing schemes that I have decided to stop, and that is why I made that decision.
There is a simple test for all the Department’s spending—does it fall within the definition of international development set by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee? Clearly, none of these schemes did. If we are going to have ring-fenced spending, we will need to ensure that it falls within the DAC definition.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about value for money.
I suggest to the House that we will not be able to maintain public support for Britain’s vital development budget unless we can demonstrate to the public’s satisfaction that this money is really well spent. The lights have been burning late in DFID as we embark on our ambitious programme of reform. In the seven weeks since the election, we have wasted no time in laying the foundations for a fundamentally new approach to development—an approach rooted in rigorous, independent evaluation, full transparency, value for money, and an unremitting focus on results. Our Government will place the same premium on the quality of aid that the previous Government placed on the quantity of aid. We will judge performance against outputs and outcomes rather than inputs.
Hard-pressed taxpayers need to know that the expenditure of their money is being scrutinised fully and is really delivering results. We are therefore working to develop an independent aid watchdog, as we consistently promised throughout the past four years, to evaluate the effectiveness of DFID’s spending. We will also modify the way that aid programmes are designed so that gathering rigorous evidence of impact is built in from the day they start. This will allow us to take decisions about how we spend and allocate aid on the basis of solid evidence. I expect to report to the House shortly on both of those initiatives.
I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could reconcile the statement that he has just made with the written answer that he extended to me when I questioned the £200 million—the largest single cash announcement he has made in the past few weeks—that is now going to Afghanistan. When I urged him to clarify what that £200 million of input would deliver in output, he replied:
“We will make specific decisions on spending and focus areas in time for this event.”—[Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 349W.]
The event is the conference to be held in July in Afghanistan. Why was such an announcement made if the rigorous focus on outputs that he has upheld to the House as the new approach in the Department has been applied?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. We are working on the effectiveness of measures that are already being taken in Afghanistan—[Interruption.] Well, if he will just bear with me, I will, in the spirit of his question, give him the answer to it. We are looking carefully at a series of inputs in relation to the effectiveness that they will achieve, and we hope to be able to announce some of the findings in the run-up to the Kabul conference. When the Prime Minister gave that figure, he was referring to the amount that we have managed to find for additional expenditure in Afghanistan as a result of closing down or changing other programmes. How that money will be spent will be accounted for by me to the House as soon as those decisions have been made.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman can do a lot better than that. He will have to wait until we issue our proposals ahead of the Kabul conference, and then he will be able to judge them on their merit.
In addition, our aid budget should be spent where it is needed and where it can be best used. We have therefore started a review of all our bilateral aid programmes so that we can be clear that money is being properly targeted and worthwhile results obtained. We have already announced that we will end aid to China and Russia as soon as it is practical to do so. We want to work with them as partners, not as donors and recipients. We cannot justify giving taxpayers’ hard-earned money to a country that has just spent billions hosting the Olympics or is a member of the G8. In that context, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) raised India. We will be looking very carefully at the Indian budget, and we will issue any new proposals as part of our bilateral review.
When the International Development Committee wrote its most recent report about aid to India, which is currently our biggest bilateral aid receiving partner, we did not call for an immediate end to the aid programme in India but proposed that between now and 2015—the millennium development goals date—the aid programme should be changed so that there was no longer a cash transfer after that date. The Secretary of State’s remarks suggest that he has not decided to go along with the Committee’s recommendation. What are his plans, and why has he taken that decision?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s interest in India; he was a distinguished member of the International Development Committee. I have seen that report, which makes a very valuable contribution and will be considered as part of the bilateral review of our India programme.
We are conducting a similar review of our multilateral aid budget. There are good reasons for working through international bodies, but I want to be certain that all our funding is being used to support programmes that align with our priorities, and that operational efficiency is as strong as it should be. In New York on Monday, in meetings with the heads of the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, I had the opportunity to set out the reasons for this review. I have also spoken to the heads of other multilateral agencies, including the World Food Programme. At the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, I took the opportunity to discuss our plans with Commissioner Piebalgs of the European Union. Multilateral organisations that are performing well for the world’s poorest people stand to gain from this review, but if such agencies are not performing we will scale down funding, or even stop it altogether. Our duty to the world’s poorest people, as well as to the British taxpayer, demands nothing less.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their posts. I notice that one issue of which he has made no mention so far is gender. Can he confirm that gender equality and the role of women and children will receive equal, if not greater, priority under his guidance in the Department?
Given that the Secretary of State has a particular interest in Afghanistan, may I bring to his attention this week’s excellent BBC television report by Lyse Doucet about the status of women in prisons in Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom are in prison for no crime whatsoever, in breach of the international conventions that Afghanistan has signed up to? Can he give an assurance to the House that he will call on the Afghan Government to comply with their international requirements and to ensure that the position of women in Afghanistan receives the proper status that it deserves?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I will have a look at that report. On her first point about the role of women, I am coming to that directly in my remarks.
Doing the right thing with British aid is not just about saving money: it is about being honest and open about where our funding is going. Knowledge gives people the power to hold others—be they individuals, organisations or Governments—to account. That is why I have launched a new UK aid transparency guarantee that will help to make aid transparent not only to people in the UK but to those in recipient countries.
I am going to make a bit of progress, and then I will of course give way.
Building up civil society in the developing world is crucial to enabling citizens to hold their own political leaders to account. The transparency guarantee will help to create millions of independent aid watchdogs—people around the world who can see where aid is supposed to be going and shout if it does not get there. From January, we will publish full details of DFID projects and programmes on our website so that everyone can have access to information about where our funding is going and what it is intended to achieve. The simple act of publishing information can reduce the amount of corruption and waste, improve the quality of public services and increase public sector accountability.
I wish to make two further points about Britain’s bilateral aid programme. First, where it is relevant, in every country where DFID is active we will pay particular attention to the fight against malaria. It will be the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, whose involvement, expertise and knowledge in the matter is well known to the House. It is simply unconscionable that in this day and age, thousands of children and adults die every day from that completely preventable disease. If there were an outbreak of malaria in Europe it would immediately be stopped in its tracks. Reducing the burden of malaria in the developing world and focusing on the areas of highest infection will be an essential part of our programmes.
Secondly, we must extend far further choice for women over whether and when they have children. It is outrageous that today in sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of women have access to modern methods of contraception. I simply lay this fact before the House: every year, 20 million women have unsafe abortions, and 70,000 of them, many still girls, die as a result. Some 215 million women around the world who want to use modern contraception do not have access to it. No statistic could more eloquently underline the importance of allowing women to choose whether to have children, and we will pursue that argument vigorously and single-mindedly.
I invite the House to consider the further point that in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, a population of 3 million in 1960 has grown to nearly 16 million today, and expert opinion judges that it will rise to nearly 60 million in the next 40 years. It is a country that suffers deeply from political, economic, climate and food insecurity. As I said last week in Washington, Britain will place women at the heart of our whole agenda for international development.
That subject is closely related to the Prime Minister’s insistence at the G8 last weekend on combined action on maternal and child mortality. As he made clear in Muskoka, a woman’s chances of dying in pregnancy and childbirth are one in 8,200 in the UK, whereas in Sierra Leone they are a stark one in eight. The resources agreed at the G8, including a significant contribution from the United Kingdom, should lead to an additional 1.3 million lives being saved.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said. It is not just helping women that is to be welcomed, because it is a simple fact that no country has got itself out of poverty without first stabilising its levels of population growth. Furthermore, we are very unlikely to achieve the millennium development goals without stabilising population development. I warmly welcome his points and I urge him to give even greater emphasis to a global family planning approach to aid.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for those comments. As the House will know, he can probably lay claim to being the House’s greatest expert on population issues.
Important though aid is, it is only part of the solution—a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The key to development is sustained economic growth. Over the years ahead we will help more countries put in place the building blocks of wealth creation—trade, a vibrant private sector, property rights and a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. We are reorganising the structure of the Department to ensure a sharper focus on wealth creation and economic growth. I will give the House further details of that in due course. I am also considering carefully the contribution made through CDC and considering how to improve its capacity to take forward development objectives.
I turn to the support that we give to the brilliant non-governmental organisations, charities and civil society institutions whose work I have seen all around the world. It is often inspirational and a huge credit not just to their supporters but to Britain itself. They make an outstanding contribution to development work. As we said in opposition, we want to develop that work through our poverty impact fund. The principle of that fund will be both simple and clear: if an NGO is engaged in development work that takes forward the millennium development goals, we will be prepared to match-fund its budget if it, in turn, can increase its outputs and outcomes accordingly. That will, of course, be subject to our being satisfied of the probity of its funding and accounts. The fund will enable the taxpayer to piggyback on the expertise and development results of some of Britain’s best charities and NGOs. Again, I will report to the House on progress in due course.
As I mentioned earlier, we will never forget that one of the biggest barriers to global prosperity is conflict. Helping affected states and their people on to the ladder of prosperity is the greatest challenge of our time, so we will make conflict prevention, resolution and reconstruction central to our approach to development. I have visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan within the first few weeks since being appointed and witnessed at first hand the real challenges that exist in those countries. Together with the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, I was able to spend time not only with the Government of Afghanistan but with the brave men and women of our armed forces, who are doing such important but difficult and dangerous work.
I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he has been very generous.
On conflict, will the Secretary of State have discussions with his colleagues in the Cabinet about the situation in Sri Lanka and consider seriously the aid needs of the Tamil community in the north of that country? As I am sure he well knows, the aftermath of last year’s conflict has left a number of displaced and dispossessed people who are desperate to return to their homes and need all the assistance that countries such as ours can provide to ensure that they are not victimised further by the Sri Lankan Government.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The Government have considered these matters, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman to let him know what our current view is.
The reason for sending our armed forces to Afghanistan was one of national security, but if we are to make long-term gains that will provide stability when our armed forces eventually hand over to Afghan security forces, we will require a long period of development in concert with the international community, NGOs and other countries’ aid programmes. Through the new National Security Council set up by the Prime Minister, we are joining together defence, diplomacy and development to support security and stability, to help build a more effective Afghan state and to deliver development to people on the ground. Ahead of the Kabul conference, we are working with the economic cluster of Ministers to provide more support, particularly for training, boosting Government capacity and improving the workings of the justice system and grievance proceedings, which were referred to earlier. I expect to have more to say about that ahead of the Kabul conference, which both the Foreign Secretary and I will attend.
Our country is rightly famous for the contribution that we make at times of emergency and disaster around the world. There remain real challenges, some of which were demonstrated in the aftermath of the appalling events in Haiti in January. We want to ensure that Britain’s reaction is always the best it possibly can be, and for that reason we have made it clear that we will set up a review of how Britain provides emergency relief. That will involve all the organisations in Britain that make an important contribution to that work. We are currently in advanced negotiations on how the review will proceed and who will chair it, and again, I shall keep the House closely informed.
At the first International Development questions of this Parliament, I paid tribute to the work of the outgoing Prime Minister on international development. His passion and drive in this matter is shared in all corners of the House and throughout the new coalition Government. I know that it will be a priority for many in the House, and I am confident that we will make significant progress over the years to come.
I reiterate the personal congratulations that I extended to the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench on their ministerial appointments at this, our first debate of the new Parliament. I also welcome at this early opportunity those who will contribute today to their first debate on global poverty. Many Members in their places today, some of whom are new Members, have great expertise on the matter and a deep personal commitment to it, and I look forward to their contributions to our deliberations this afternoon.
It is now almost five years to the day since that remarkable Make Poverty History march took place in Edinburgh and the Live 8 concerts took place around the world. For those of us who were committed enough to march in Edinburgh that day, it was truly inspirational. The view of Edinburgh castle from Princes street, a view I had seen many times previously, was on that day transformed by the banner that spanned the length of the castle ramparts and declared our common mission to make poverty history. Around the world, thousands more gathered in fields and stadiums to join with millions wearing white bands to demand that the G8 leaders take action.
Five years on, we are sadly in less auspicious circumstances in the fight against global poverty. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to focus only on the negative or on the challenges confronting us today. For when promises are kept, they can make life-changing differences. Since that declaration of global solidarity in July 2005, it is fair to say that there has been significant progress, albeit not enough. I am especially proud that it was a Labour Government who led the way both on aid volumes and on aid effectiveness. Indeed, the most recent DATA report published by the ONE campaign ahead of the recent G8 meeting in Canada declared:
“The UK is the indisputable overall leader amongst the G7 countries in delivering on its ODA commitments”.
That judgment followed a previous report that stated that the UK was the “leader” in the G7 on aid effectiveness. What a contrast with the 18 years before 1997, which had seen our aid as a percentage of gross national income halve, the tying of aid to commercial interests and the shame of scandals such as the Pergau dam.
The last decade of delivery in the fight against global poverty has been regarded by some as a golden age, from the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief through to Make Poverty History and Gleneagles. But we now face far more turbulent and testing times, and new challenges confront us. The world has been engulfed as never expected by the greatest financial and economic crisis for generations, thrusting millions of our fellow citizens back into poverty and creating pressure for donor Governments across Europe and the world to turn inwards and slash aid funding. At the same time, the urgency of tackling the climate crisis has become ever more evident, and yet the capacity of the international community to take the necessary action still remains elusive.
A world trade deal that could lift millions out of poverty has remained out of reach. State fragility and continuing conflict have continued to plague and stunt the progress of too many lives. The creaking international system, devised in a different time and for a different set of challenges, has itself been placed under ever greater strain. In this country, despite the words of the Secretary of State today, I still believe that there remain fundamental differences of approach to the challenge of development.
So let us start by recalling what truly progressive leadership can deliver. The agreements made at Gleneagles, made in part because of the great public expectation that was generated around the G8 and developing country Governments by the global anti-poverty movement, have contributed to real progress for many of the world's poorest people. The recent DATA report highlights the issue of malaria—about which we heard something in the last few minutes—where the world has exceeded the Gleneagles goal of delivering 100 million bed-nets, with 200 million more delivered between 2006 and 2009. On education, the report states that the savings from debt relief, development assistance and scaled-up prioritisation mean that 42 million more children have been enrolled in school.
However—despite these achievements—as Oxfam has pointed out, some 40% of the promised aid increases made at Gleneagles have not been delivered. That means that there is as much as a $20 billion hole in the promises the G8 made back in 2005—enough, as the House need not be reminded, to put every child in school or stop millions of children dying of malaria.
The 60% that we helped to deliver has made a huge difference, but the shortfall is continuing to cost lives today. That is why it was so urgent for G8 leaders to focus and take real and substantive action on maternal mortality and child health at their summit in Canada this past weekend. Every year, approximately 350,000 mothers die from complications during childbirth, and 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister made a number of statements about their commitment to this agenda in the media and in speeches over recent days. We heard those again this afternoon, and I welcome the rhetorical commitment offered by the Secretary of State today. Speaking in Washington recently, he said:
“When a jumbo jet crashes anywhere in the world it makes the headlines. If it were to crash week in week out in the same place there’s not a person alive who wouldn’t be talking about it. The international community would set up an enquiry and no money would be spared in making sure it never happened again. Yet, in Nigeria, the equivalent number of women die each and every week from pregnancy-related causes—and the world stands mute.”
Those are important and welcome words, although I have to say that they are not entirely original. Indeed, I recollect the particular official in DFID who encouraged me to use this very analogy when I too was preparing public remarks on maternal mortality. I only hope sincerely that the new Secretary of State proves as willing to accept the expert policy advice of those officials as he seems to be willing to accept their speechmaking suggestions.
The truth is that actions speak louder than words. So now the results of the summit are out, will the Minister when he winds up offer a clearer explanation to the House than we have so far heard as to why the G8 achieved so little in that crucial area?
Oxfam, which the Secretary of State praised a few minutes ago, described the initiative launched as
“lower than our lowest expectations”.
I was not surprised, but I was still outraged.
Blaming other leaders and using strong words is simply not good enough. Britain should be both leading by example and putting the hard graft into international negotiations. On the basis of Muskoka, it is questionable whether this new Government is doing enough. But that was not the only disappointment that we witnessed in Canada.
I had hoped that we might hear a slightly more consensual speech. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was campaign manager for the late Prime Minister, but perhaps he could now focus on the international development brief. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot say both that the UK is leading by example—and the accountability report published in Canada shows that the UK is way ahead of the other G8 countries on contributions to the 0.7% target at 0.6% for 2010—
Let me try to clarify the point that I am making. I am proud of our record, and the figures for the decade of delivery that we saw under Labour bear repeating. The House need not take my word for it. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be willing to praise Oxfam if he has the opportunity to do so later, but Mark Fried of that organisation said after the summit:
“The only promise that counts is the Gleneagles one to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010 and that is the one they have abandoned today.”
It was at Gleneagles that the efforts of the former Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), buoyed by millions of campaigners around the world, achieved the historic promise to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010, with $25 billion of that going to Africa, and also agreed crucial steps on debt relief—what a disappointing contrast with Muskoka and Toronto.
The Prime Minister, writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper shortly before this weekend’s summits, said:
“I come to the G8 and G20 in Muskoka and Toronto with a clear commitment to make sure these summits deliver for people. Too often, these international meetings fail to live up to the hype and the promises made”
but he seemed all too willing to let other G8 leaders sweep their failures under the carpet by dropping the historic Gleneagles agreement from the final communiqué.
In due time and on mature reflection, the right hon. Gentleman may regret the tone that he has adopted. He quotes one particular non-governmental organisation, but why does he not quote what CAFOD or ActionAid said, when they endorsed the Prime Minister’s leading role in trying to ensure that other members of the G8 stand by the commitments that they made at Gleneagles and to which I referred in my speech?
Well, let us be clear about what that “leading” role involved. Why is it that Downing street admitted to The Guardian that the Prime Minister had simply
“not fought for the commitments to be included”
in the communiqué? To quote another NGO, Save the Children was moved to describe the resultant dropping of the Gleneagles communiqué as simply “shameful”. So can the Secretary of State now tell us how many phone calls and meetings he and the Prime Minister held with other Ministers about maintaining their Gleneagles promises? Did they go the extra mile, or did they merely give up? The silence is deafening.
As we are exchanging quotes, let me put on the record the truth about what happened regarding Gleneagles. ActionAid said that
“David Cameron is battling hard to safeguard the Gleneagles legacy… Cameron can hold his head high as the UK is standing by its aid commitments.”
Rather than this silly exchange of quotes, we need to move the focus of the debate back on to poverty. Although these new organisations, such as the G8 and G20, are important, it is the older organisations, such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that have to pick up the pieces. The latter organisations are now out of date, having been created when the world was very different, but have to comply with what the G8 and G20 tell them to do. The failure lies there, rather than with the British Government.
It ill behoves the Conservative party to offer warm words of endorsement to the non-governmental organisation sector in the United Kingdom and then express such discomfort when their policy experts make a judgment on the conduct and performance of the Prime Minister in his first international summit.
I shall turn to the G20. I will, of course, welcome any attention that the new and larger grouping pays to international development and tackling poverty. I believe it is vital that the G20 discusses the wider global economic architecture, that the concerns of the poorest countries are at the forefront and that issues such as taxation and the regulation and taxation of the financial markets are treated as development issues, in the way we sought to do at the London G20 summit. I must express some scepticism, however, about another forum—the working group on development—being created under the auspices of the G20 at the same time as the G8 appears to be abrogating its responsibilities. In his winding-up speech, will the Minister tell the House how he envisages the new G20 group working and how it will be held to account?
Members of the G8 and G20 need to reach beyond the easy myopia that often besets publics and politics in difficult times. That is why I argued, in the White Paper that we published in 2009, that we must not turn away in fear and isolation. Although we rightly focus on tackling the global economic crisis, we must also take the longer view. We need to help fashion a world in which better regulated, greener and fairer markets operate for all, and in which growth and prosperity is generated and poverty alleviated, but not at the expense of people or the planet, on which we all depend. We need to create a world in which the skills and energies of the private sector are harnessed for the benefit of all, but in which its excesses are not treated as an acceptable by-product. We need to create a world in which we help to tackle the conflict and insecurity that blights the lives of so many ordinary people, particularly women and girls, with a broad-based concept of stabilisation, conflict prevention and peace-building that treats security and justice as basic services. We also need to create a world in which we maintain our promises to deliver the aid that helps to catalyse development and realise rights, that puts children into school, helps mothers have safer births, and ensures clean drinking water is available.
We must recognise that tackling poverty cannot be reached by spending aid alone—on that there is common ground between us—although our aid remains essential. We must take a transformative and holistic approach to development, looking at the wider global economy and issues such as tax, conflict, sustainability and gender.
Was my right hon. Friend as revolted as I by photographs in the press in the past couple of days showing the beating of young boys in Bangladesh by police? Those boys were in the textile workers industry and trying to improve their own conditions—currently they earn $35 a month. Does he agree that we need to incorporate into our view and distribution of aid a clear focus on human rights abuses in the country to which we are delivering an aid programme?
I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend. I was similarly horrified by the pictures that appeared in Britain’s newspapers. It reinforces the importance and urgency of continuing to make the case, not just for human rights, as he describes, but for effective mechanisms of democratic accountability so that the public in countries where such difficulties are emerging can exercise constraint on those Governments and security forces.
I want to address our aid promises, which have already been the subject of some of our exchanges. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been at pains to insist repeatedly in recent weeks that they fully intend to meet the 0.7% aid target by 2013, and I welcome the fact that the coalition agreement, on page 22, section 18, under the title “International Development”, states:
“We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law.”
I was hoping that a little more clarity might have been brought to that commitment by the Secretary of State in the debate, but despite repeated questioning, we still have no timetable for the legislation he promised in the first Session of this Parliament. Indeed, I have here an explanatory note, issued by his Department on the day of the Loyal Address, entitled: “Background Note—Non Legislative Item—International Development Spending from 2013”. Why is this the case, given that a draft Bill was scrutinised by the International Development Committee in the last Parliament? That deserves a better answer than the one offered today to the Committee Chairman. Will the Minister tell us when the legislation will be introduced?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this point, but will he acknowledge that the Select Committee, in scrutinising, acknowledged that there were some difficulties with the draft legislation? There was not unanimity, and indeed his own Government acknowledged that more work needed to be done. Can we get this together? We want legislation, but it is not quite ready. I agree with him, however, that we want a timetable.
I am unyielding in my admiration for the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment and expertise on these matters. I recognise that an important process of pre-legislative scrutiny was undertaken by his Committee, but I do not believe that the question of how to ensure effective legislation is what currently divides us. What divides us is the prospect of a parliamentary motion taking the place of legislation. I hope that he agrees that legislation is required.
Forgive me, but I am reading from a background note published by Ministers that describes international development spending from 2013 as a “non-legislative item”. If Department officials are not following ministerial direction, that is an issue for the Secretary of State rather than us. I hope that, in the winding-up speech, this matter can be clarified, with a clear and explicit commitment to legislation, along with a date.
The former Secretary of State needs to elevate the nature of his speech. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), the Chair of the International Development Committee, had it absolutely right. I do not know where the former Secretary of State got that piece of paper from, but I am happy to confirm that it is not accurate.
The right hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. He is demanding, or requesting, that we expedite our interest in moving towards 0.7%, and that is understandable. However, he was in power for 13 years. One of the first private Members’ Bills I was involved in was put forward by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), who proposed that the then—and indeed any—Government commit to this target. That was agreed and supported by Front-Bench Members at the time. Why, then, is the former Secretary of State now demanding that Conservative Members move faster, given that he had plenty of time to introduce this target into law under his own Administration?
As I have said, I am happy to have both main parties’ records scrutinised. We trebled aid, whereas the previous Conservative Government halved it. My right hon. Friend played an honourable and distinguished role in ensuring that, through the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, there is effective scrutiny by the House of the rising budget line we delivered year on year. [Interruption.] Forgive me, but I will continue to speak through Mr Deputy Speaker.
I can assure hon. Members that I support the legislation that the Labour party proposed and brought to the International Development Committee for scrutiny. I would welcome the opportunity for our legislation to be passed expeditiously.
There is the question of where and how our aid money is allocated across Government, and on what it is spent. We believe that the majority of our overseas development assistance should naturally be programmed and allocated by the Department for International Development. We were joined in that view by the Secretary of State’s now Cabinet colleague the Scottish Secretary, who warned during the recent general election campaign of the danger that Conservative plans could mean large sums ending up being diverted from the aid budget—for example, to count as climate finance in due course.
Let me quote to the House directly from the letter from the now Secretary of State for Scotland to the now International Development Secretary:
“Dear Andrew…I am flattered by the attention that your researchers are paying to us, but would politely suggest that their efforts would be better spent explaining to voters and the ‘development community’ how Conservative plans for DfID would work; specifically, the very real danger that under your proposals DfID departmental expenditure would leak to other departments such as the MoD and the FCO, what exactly is meant by ‘injecting business DNA into the department’ and how exactly your proposed annual monitoring could hope to work for multi annual programmes.
In other words, time better spent answering the very serious points raised by the NGOs and others about your own manifesto.
With kind regards,
Elsewhere in that intriguing exchange of letters, the Secretary of State attacked the now Scottish Secretary and the now Business Secretary for “undermining” the consensus on international development.
However, I am glad to say that it appears that the differences between the Conservatives and the Liberals have been resolved—in the same way that a python resolves its differences with a mouse. In the coalition programme for government, we see no mention of additionality in climate finance, despite the fact that climate finance is such a crucial issue, as has been recognised across the House today. In contrast, we made it clear in government that from 2013 we would ensure that additional sources of climate finance would be provided, with no more than 10% of our aid spending being allocated to that purpose. The Liberal Democrats had also called for additional climate finance, but alas, like their promises on VAT, this now appears to have been another promise that has been conveniently forgotten. Will the Minister of State therefore tell us whether the Government intend to make any form of additional climate finance available, from what point, and from what sources? If he answers that none will be provided, perhaps he can tell us what he feels the prospects are for the climate negotiations in Cancun later this year, in the absence, as yet, of post-2013 commitments from the Government.
I would also appreciate it if the Minister could explain in more detail than we heard from the Secretary of State what is meant by the Government’s proposals for a military-led “stabilisation and reconstruction force”. We took a pragmatic but appropriate approach to stabilisation in government, recognising the complementary but distinct roles that development, diplomacy and defence should play in places such as Afghanistan. In one of the bloodiest weeks of the conflict, our thoughts must be with the families and loved ones of those British soldiers who have fallen in the service of their country in recent days. The sacrifice of our troops in Afghanistan demands that those charged with the heavy responsibility of overseeing the mission should bring strategic clarity to that onerous and important task.
The Prime Minister confirmed to the House in recent days his commitment to the counter-insurgency campaign in which NATO is engaged. That of course requires military force, but in the words of the US army’s counter-insurgency field manual, authored by the new commander, General David Petraeus, action is also required to
“uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace.”
My personal conversations with General Petraeus confirmed to me the depths of his personal commitment to a comprehensive approach that requires more than just military pressure, yet since coming into government, the Secretary of State’s colleague the Defence Secretary has declared:
“We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of education policy in a broken 13th century country”.
Such ignorance of the key tenets of strategic doctrine, even from a new Defence Secretary, is as surprising as it is worrying.
For progress to be achieved through a comprehensive approach to counter-insurgency—and so that the war be ended—what is required is both strengthening of the state and its legitimacy, and striving for a political settlement, as surely as also weakening the Taliban militarily. Under such an approach, diplomatic, development and defence efforts will all play a crucial part in bringing about the conditions under which our brave forces can return home. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister explain to us in more detail how the proposed force will be funded, managed and directed?
As I have intervened to suggest, the Secretary of State has also been at pains in recent days to stress the importance of
“redesigning our aid programmes so that they build in rigorous evaluation processes from day one.”
Perhaps the Minister of State will take the opportunity—avoided by the Secretary of State—to explain the outputs of the £200 million that has been announced by the Prime Minister, most recently on his welcome trip to Afghanistan.
Let me turn to the crucial issue of basic services such as health, education and clean water. I am concerned by what I know to be the ideological approach taken by many on the Government Benches about the role of the private sector in the provision of basic services. Instead of seeing steps forward such as those that were recently taken in Sierra Leone, where health care was made free for pregnant women and babies, I fear that we could see ill-advised and ideological voucher schemes, or other forms of private subsidy that fail to catalyse wider change and are more likely to exclude the marginalised and the poorest. Does the Minister of State intend to continue promoting the removal of user fees, including through the establishment of a centre for progressive health financing? Can he also assure the House that he will make efforts, as we pledged to do, to raise the crucial issue of water and sanitation further up the international agenda?
Related to that, there is the question of our effort and engagement on those vital issues. As we have already revealed in these exchanges, when it comes to international negotiations and diplomacy, it requires real and sustained effort and personal engagement at the highest levels to make the sort of difference that is demanded by the scale of the challenges that we face. So it was, again, sad but revealing that, when questioned in the House last week, the Prime Minister could not confirm whether he had even spoken to President Zuma, other African leaders or even other donors before the crucial summit on education in South Africa in a few weeks’ time. Perhaps the Minister of State could tell us what efforts the DFID ministerial team has been making to ensure that the summit is a success.
The Secretary of State has launched a review of multilateral and bilateral funding from DFID. I do not disagree with that approach—indeed, we regularly undertook similar reviews—but he needs to be clear about whether this is a serious review or whether he is merely creating straw men before destroying them. At the announcement of the bilateral programme review, he simply got it wrong by talking about Russia, when DFID has not had a bilateral programme in Russia since 2007. Clearly he is now belatedly catching up with the facts on China, too, since as recently as 28 May he wrote to The Daily Telegraph acknowledging that
“the China aid programme will end next year.”
He also knows full well since coming into office, thanks to the reviews that I and other Ministers regularly undertook, that it was already the case that 90% of our bilateral aid was focused on just 23 countries, and the vast majority of that on the poorest people.
The Secretary of State has spoken of taking the Prime Minister’s idea about the big society to the global level, saying that his
“approach will move from doing development to people to doing development with people—and to people doing development for themselves.”
Frankly, the idea that DFID or many of Britain’s leading charities, to which the Secretary of State has paid generous tribute today, “do” development to poor people bears little relationship to reality and how much has, thankfully, changed in the development community over past years. Country-led development was a principle that a Labour Government established when DFID was created, not to mention ending the Tory policy of tying our aid.
The Secretary of State talked a lot today about change, but I believe that the new Government have found that much of what they see in DFID shows that it is working effectively. Indeed, as he was forced to concede in one of his first speeches:
“I have been struck by how much DFID contributes to Britain’s global reputation. How it has broken new ground in international development and often succeeded where others have failed.”
We are told that the Minister of State, who is sitting next to him, has also been focused on change in the Department. However, according to the newspapers, that appears to have been more about ministerial accommodation. Out went the pictures of Africa and those whom we were helping and partnering; in came a flagpole, a velvet curtain and a framed photo of the hon. Gentleman beaming his inimitable smile with the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher. That is hardly inspirational to the staff of a Department that, under her Government, watched the percentage of gross national income halve after 18 years in which aid had been trebled. In all seriousness, however, what concerns me is not what is on the Government’s walls, but what is not in the statements that they have made so far.
What concerns me most about this Government’s approach to global poverty, even in these earliest weeks, are the limitations of the vision, and, indeed, of ambition, that have so far been revealed. With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I was deeply disappointed by his speech to the Carnegie Foundation in Washington last week, despite the fact that it dealt with vital topics such as gender and development. There was nothing particularly wrong with many of the assertions it contained, but it was a series of assertions in search of an argument. Indeed, I cannot recollect someone travelling so far to say so little.
I therefore ask the Secretary of State: what is the clear forward agenda, beyond the re-packaging of existing policies? With just weeks to go, where are the Government’s clear and concrete proposals and red lines for the UN millennium development goals summit in September? Where is the detailed vision about how we tackle climate change and promote development, and how those can be effectively aligned? Indeed, where are the serious commitments on issues such as climate finance?
The Secretary of State rightly talked about the importance of measures “beyond aid”, but where is the crucial strategy on issues such as taxation and development, highlighted, even in recent weeks, by the excellent work of charities such as Christian Aid and ActionAid? For example, how can we take forward steps on multilateral and automatic exchange of tax information or measures on country-by-country reporting?
Leadership in international development involves more than having a bonfire of straw men. It involves serious ideas and serious action. Benedict Brogan, writing in The Daily Telegraph last week, revealed:
“The other department that has got the mandarins talking is DfID, where there is a lot of disobliging muttering about Andrew Mitchell, the new broom. His view of what aid policy should be and how it works is going down badly and officials are muttering about abilities”—
so much so, apparently, that he is now being
“monitored closely by No 10.”
Surely the true lesson of leadership in international development can be drawn from the experience of Gleneagles five years ago. At that time, there was a dynamic, independent and vibrant global civil society campaign—connected with politics and politicians who instinctively shared the same values and ambitions—that had the ability, the tenacity and the willingness to work for that shared vision so that great things could be achieved. Sadly, at the moment, we see little sign of those dynamics at work in the most recent summit.
For the sake of those with whom we share a common bond of humanity, of those who today continue to be afflicted by needless and avoidable poverty, and of those with whom we share a common interest in a safer, more sustainable and more equal world, we on this side of this House will continue to scrutinise and challenge this Government where required, and, yes, support them, where deserved. The seriousness of the issues we debate today demands nothing less of us.
Order. A number of colleagues have asked to speak in this popular and important debate. We also have a few maiden speeches to be delivered. We will not get everyone in if Members speak at inordinate length. We have three and a half hours: I will be in the Chair and I intend to start the winding-up speeches at 5.30 pm, so that we have a decent time for the debate to be answered. Will Members please show some restraint? If they go wildly over 10 minutes, the Chair will have to look again at whether to impose any time limits.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Deputy Speaker, given your role on the International Development Committee in the last Parliament. Indeed, having both Mr Speaker and a Deputy Speaker as ex-members of that Committee, I feel that international development will have the kind eye of the Chair during this Parliament.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his position. I believe that the speech he made—whatever the debating points arising out of it—showed that he is someone with a deep commitment to, and passion for, international development, who has a real desire to make an impact and make a difference.
Although Labour Members are entitled to challenge and criticise, I was a little disappointed with the tone of the speech by the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander)—not least because I wanted to open my remarks by paying a genuine and warm tribute to the Labour Government and the Labour party. I believe that the establishment of the Department for International Development and the International Development Act 2002 set the basis for reforming the mistakes made in the past. I think we should recognise that they are now a long way in the past, and all parties now acknowledge that that older style of overseas development has gone for ever. In DFID, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we created a Department that has provided world leadership in development, and it has made a huge impact. I give credit to Clare Short, the first Secretary of State of the Department, and to the right hon. Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, who have all made a contribution to that development.
It seems to me that we are trying to accept that we have perhaps the best Development Ministry in the world, but that it has to move forward and that there is scope for change, innovation and development. The new coalition Government will inevitably want to bring its own ideas to bear. It is certainly my hope that we will build on that, develop it and take it forward. I am the Chairman of this cross-party Select Committee, and we will of course monitor progress, ask questions and make periodic reports to the House.
On the exchanges we had about the 0.7% commitment, we should all be grateful that there is complete consensus in the House over the commitment to deliver that by 2013. In an informal conversation I had with the Secretary of State—I hope he will not mind my saying this—we realised that it is not this House that lacks commitment; the problem is the engagement with the wider public, which requires the House to maintain its united commitment and to engage the public to ensure that support remains for achieving this goal.
In that context, the Secretary of State clearly read out—as, indeed, did the shadow Secretary of State—what it says in the coalition agreement about enshrining the 0.7% commitment in law. I do not want to labour the point. I just want to say that the Select Committee took evidence on the draft legislation that came before us under the previous Government—I have to say it came very late in their programme, and the previous Government should acknowledge that—and it raised a number of questions. No one denied the value of having this legislation. If the present Government have the same commitment, I look forward to taking it forward, but some refinement will need to be made, in the light of the evidence our Committee took, if the legislation is to be fit for purpose. I hope that in due course the Secretary of State will give us an indication of how and when that legislation will be brought into law.
As a final point on this issue, the commitment does not require legislation—and neither does the lack of legislation in any way bring the commitment into question. What it does is set and reinforce the example, demonstrating to the public that Parliament is united over this achievement.
The Secretary of State set out a number of priorities that he wants to bring to bear on development in the future. Of course, there are some questions in the development community, and rightly so. He said that his primary aim is for aid to be transparent and accountable and that he wants to set up a new mechanism for achieving that. In due course, further details will no doubt be brought to the House. I appreciate that the Select Committee will have an important role to play in the process.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the more we can demonstrate the outcomes from our investment and aid, the more we can convince people that the programme is effective, that it works and that it does deliver. I add the cautionary note that not every aspect of aid can be so easily measured or monitored, and certainly not in the same time scale. I support the objective, but it is important to recognise that not every aspect of the budget can be subjected to the same objective criteria; we need some other ways to evaluate it. The principle, however, seems to me to be fundamentally sound and right.
There is perhaps also some concern about the definition of official development assistance, how it is applied and how it will be controlled across Departments. The vast majority of overseas development assistance currently goes through DFID, and I hope that that will continue to be the case; but the House needs to be sure that ODA which does not go through DFID meets the same objective criteria.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that transparency of development assistance is not something dramatically new? Does he recall, as Opposition Members do, that when the Conservatives were in opposition they used independent evaluations of DFID programmes to ask perfectly reasonable questions on the Floor of the House? Further measures may be welcome, but the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that the last Government also took a series of measures to increase transparency.
I certainly accept that there was not only a lively debate but activity in the Department and the evaluation unit. The Committee visited the unit and met its representatives.
I do not suggest that there was a monopoly on one side of the House in this regard, but a permanent problem with aid and development is establishing what works, how the extent to which it works can be measured, and how people can be reassured that it works. We have all observed it in journalists’ correspondence, and in what is said by people we meet around the place. The bottom line is that people think that billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being put into Swiss bank accounts on behalf of corrupt politicians. We all know that that is not what happens to the vast majority of UK aid—indeed, we hope, to any of it—but we must constantly improve presentation so that we can reassure taxpayers that that is demonstrably not the case, and that the aid really is making a difference. If it is possible to improve the existing mechanism, there is no reason why we should not try to do so.
The summit on the millennium development goals will take place later this year. The current Parliament is due to end in 2015, the year in which the MDGs are set to be delivered. We know that they will not be, but during this Parliament we must determine exactly how much we can prioritise them, and what we must do about those in regard to which we fall farthest behind.
Let me say something about MDGs 4 and 5. The Select Committee paid particular attention to maternal health in the last Parliament, and I was horrified by what we learned during that inquiry about the appalling and needless suffering of so many women in so many parts of the world. As has been said by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), whom I welcome back to the Committee, the problem is often the treatment and status of women rather than our inability to deliver services that could meet the needs of women in poor countries. Certain societies do not recognise the importance or necessity of such services.
I was particularly shocked, when the Committee visited northern Nigeria, to be told that the education of girls involved learning the Koran by rote, on the grounds that that was all that they needed to know because they would be married by the time they were 12 and pregnant by the time they were 13—and, in many instances, dead before they were 14.
We should not even think of girls in societies of that kind in the context of girls in our own society, who, at 12 or 13, might be regarded as far too young to give birth, but who might none the less be quite well developed. In countries where nutrition is poor, many girls aged 12 or 13 are not fit to give birth to children, which is why they die. Worse, those who do give birth are expected to deliver their children alone, without any form of attendance or support. I consider that appalling. I welcome the commitment to treating it as a priority, but I think it reasonable to suggest that the health of children up to the age of five should be linked to it. While the welfare of women has a very big impact on children, an awful lot of children die at the age of three, four or five. Unless we consider the two issues together, we may not be able to achieve the results for which we hope.
I was slightly surprised that the Secretary of State did not say more about the role of economic development and the role of the partnership between the public and private sectors, although there was a passage in his speech about it. Unlike the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, I am not talking about the role of the private sector in delivering social programmes and the like. I am talking about how we can deliver economic development better in partnership: how DFID’s engagement can create a climate in which businesses, whether indigenous or external, will invest and commit themselves to developing countries, so that those countries can grow their economies and revenue bases and reduce their dependence on aid.
The Secretary of State mentioned CDC in passing. The way in which CDC operates—as a kind of arm’s length “fund of funds”—is very easy to criticise, and Private Eye has had a field day doing so. However, CDC has clearly delivered a substantial amount of investment at no cost to the taxpayer, and has increased our development capacity because of the profitability of the fund. There are question marks over the use of tax havens, although I see the logic of the argument that that releases even more money for investment. I do not particularly want to develop that argument, but I have felt for some time that there is a gap between DFID’s development activity and CDC and the business sector that could be addressed constructively.
The Chairman of the Select Committee has made an extremely good point, but if he reads the report of what I said today, he will see that we are very much on the case. We are restructuring the way the Department handles the issues to which he has referred, and we are looking specifically at CDC to ensure that we secure as much development gain and value from its work as we possibly can. We aim to do more rather than less.
I shall be interested to see how that develops.
I entirely accept that investing in health, education and infrastructure helps to create a climate in any given country that will make the business community better able to thrive and survive, but there are times when a partnership with business is needed to establish what aspects of health, education and infrastructure will best deliver investment. If we could do that more effectively, we might speed up the process of economic development rather than just aid support, with the help of better trading relations, a World Trade Organisation deal giving people real access to markets, and the elimination of internal obstacles to trade, both within countries and between neighbouring countries.
The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has left the Chamber, but I want to say something about climate change. There is concern in the developing countries that all the commitment to poverty reduction could be easily subsumed into climate change measures. The 10% ruling was arbitrary, but I consider it important for the Government to focus primarily on poverty reduction, and not to allow climate change to divert funds that could be used for that purpose. We need a safeguard to ensure that that does not happen.
I am conscious of your constraint, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall not say too much more, but I want to make two or three comments about the country programmes. The Secretary of State said that there would be a review of those programmes. We need a fairly early indication of how that will take place, so that people are not faced with too long a period of uncertainty about where it is heading. Other countries, notably and recently Sweden, have conducted such reviews. It might be best if our review focused on a smaller number of countries in which our assistance could be even more effective.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised to learn that I have a view on the debate about China. The hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who is present, does not agree with the rest of the Committee on the subject. I entirely accept that the development relationship with China should come to an end—that is not a point of concern to me—but the general relationship with the country seems to me to have continuing value, and it will require some budget if it is to continue. The Committee heard effective evidence of how well that can be done, and what a contribution it makes to reducing the MDGs, given the size and scale of China. I urge the Secretary of State to look at our report again. It does not really disagree with his conclusions or those of his predecessor, but it does suggest that there should be a little more space in the continuing relationship with China. That would be very beneficial to UK-China relations and to poverty reduction in China, not because the Chinese want our money but because we would be able to work with them to deliver better ways of achieving poverty reduction. Such an approach might even lead to partnerships in third countries between Britain and China, which would be a remarkably interesting and worthwhile development. That is all I would ask that he take on board.
The Chair of the Select Committee is on to a very good point, because the Conservatives have for years said that it was wrong to spend taxpayers’ money in China. That country has just spent £20 billion on the Olympics, it has a space programme and it is a nuclear power. Since we made that plea on behalf of the British taxpayer, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) has spent tens of millions of pounds on British aid in China. The Chair of the Select Committee rightly says that we need a partnership, an elevated relationship whereby we work together on common objectives and have a high-level dialogue on partnering on aid and development. We are in the process of working out precisely how to do that.
I am grateful for that intervention. The only practical point I make is that it requires a bit of funding to do demonstration projects.
Interestingly, the same arguments will start to apply to India, and I suspect that we are unlikely to come to the same conclusion on India. I found it interesting that the arguments used by the previous Government to justify the closure of the programme in China were used in reverse to defend the programme in India.
China and India are fundamentally different, because India has more poor people within its boundaries than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and the average income of an Indian is a third that of a Chinese. Of course we also have deep historical links with India through the Commonwealth and many other mechanisms, so I do not think that there is a direct analogy between the two countries.
I think that intervention proves my point. The Select Committee may well wish to examine the issue of India again, but we have not yet been formulated and we have made no such decisions.
Finally, it is impossible to have a discussion on global poverty without examining this country’s engagement in Afghanistan. I am concerned about the debate about Afghanistan, because the situation is complicated. Inevitably, the focus is on the military engagement and the casualty rate, and rightly so. We have to show, and we do show, enormous appreciation of the bravery of our forces and the sacrifices that they are making in order to contain an insurgency and create the space for a successful Afghanistan that can manage its own affairs—we hope that that is what will happen. It worries me that people do not appreciate what is happening in Afghanistan. They do not appreciate that we are operating across the whole country, that we are having real success in large parts of it and that the military operation in the south is not the whole expression of what is happening. So it is important that the Department for International Development’s engagement in Afghanistan continues in a way that demonstrates that what we are trying to do is build a state that can not only run its own affairs and enable us to remove our military support, but deliver to its people a development programme that will take them out of poverty. That will be the best and strongest basis for a secure future for Afghanistan and it is the right and proper, legitimate aspiration of the people of Afghanistan. Our UK aid programme must be focused on that more than anything else. People are looking for a clear separation between aid and development, and military support and containment; they are not looking for confusion between the two. I hope that, provided we can keep that right, we will be able to maintain a programme in Afghanistan that will continue to command popular support, because it is a poor country that we should and would be engaged in even if it was not in a conflict situation.
This is an important debate. The change in Government clearly will result in questions from all parts of the House about the future of our overseas development assistance, but what is clear to me is that we have a coalition Government who are determined to deliver our United Nations obligations and to apply principles to development that will continue to mean that Britain is a leading global player. As Chairman of the Select Committee, I look forward to its engaging with the Department in a constructive way that will help to shape that policy and influence it positively.
It is almost five years to the day since the Gleneagles summit, which was a high point in the UK’s influence in global development policy. We led by example and we secured commitments from the other G7 members to double their aid and reach the UN’s 0.7% contribution target. Allied to that, the European Union gave a parallel commitment in the same year. I therefore deeply regret that the Gleneagles commitments were dropped from this year’s G7 communiqué, because that has given the impression, at least to some non-governmental organisations—the shadow Secretary of State mentioned Oxfam and Save the Children—that our country’s development policy under the coalition Government has fallen at the first hurdle.
I will say that the Prime Minister is right to lay continuing emphasis on the millennium development goals, as Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did before him. However, I say to the Secretary of State that that is not an alternative to doubling aid, because the Gleneagles commitment on doubling aid was a means to an end; it was designed to get the world’s major donors to provide the resources to make meeting the MDGs possible. We simply will not get all children in least developed countries into primary schools if that doubling of aid commitment is not met; nor will we be able to reduce by three quarters the ratio of mothers dying in childbirth—that MDG is the most off track.
I therefore wish to focus on what I believe the Government should do to re-engage other G7 and European Union countries in order to get them to honour their commitments, and to build a continuing profile for our country as a development leader. There are two opportunities to do that over the next six months. The first is to use the negotiations within the World Bank on the 16th round of the replenishment of International Development Association funding—IDA16—to persuade donor countries to increase their financial commitments to the World Bank’s next three-year IDA period. IDA is the World Bank’s window for lending to least developed countries. This matter is important because the World Bank is the world’s biggest multilateral development agency and, for all its faults, we will not achieve the MDGs unless IDA has increased resources to do the work it does. The United Kingdom is in a particularly strong position to influence others on commitments to IDA, because in the current IDA round—IDA15—we were the world’s largest donor.
IDA16 will doubtless be discussed at the annual meeting of the World Bank in October and will probably be finalised at the spring meeting next year. IDA16 is particularly important in relation to the MDGs, because it will cover the last three-year period leading up to 2015, which is the target date for implementing the MDGs. Ending up with an IDA16 with less money pledged than in the current IDA round would limit the opportunity of donors to ensure that the MDGs are met. So I hope that the Minister of State’s response will set out the Government’s plans to talk to their opposite numbers in other G7 and EU countries and to seek from them the assurance that they will make commitments to IDA.
I chair an international parliamentary body called the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank, which is a network of some 1,200 parliamentarians, roughly half from developing countries and half from developed countries. We seek to hold the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to account, especially to parliamentarians.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a serious question on this point? On what basis does he believe the Government should decide on the amount of funding for the IDA replenishment? What is his view on the mechanisms by which we should reach that conclusion?
I would like our Government to contribute to IDA16 at least the same proportion of their development finance during the three-year period in question as the UK contributed to IDA15. In other words, it would be more money in real terms but the same proportion of UK aid overall. That would be a good starting point. If the UK were to make such a commitment, implying an increase in our contribution to IDA for the crucial three-year period leading up to 2015, we would be in a strong position to seek commitments from other development partners. I know that, in reality, some G7 countries—Italy, for instance—have made very negative decisions on development spending. There are others, however—including France, which was broadly on track, although it might have slipped back a bit now—that we ought to be able to persuade to make a firm commitment in relation to IDA.
I can make an offer to the Secretary of State. Through the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank, I have been one of the architects of a campaign among parliamentarians in countries north and south to raise the question of the IDA16 replenishment in their Parliaments, and to seek commitments from donor country Governments to debate the financial commitment they will make to IDA16. We are also seeking a serious debate in the Parliaments of developing and developed countries on what can be done to improve the aid effectiveness of the World Bank’s IDA programmes, building on the Paris declaration, the Accra programme of action and the findings of the World Bank’s own mid-term review of IDA15. That review contained some good proposals about how the World Bank could achieve more with the money that it already has.
I would also like to see the introduction of a peer review mechanism, so that one World Bank office can review the performance of another, in order to drive up aid effectiveness. I would like parliamentarians in each country to have a role in these processes. In Ghana, for example, one would expect the country office of the World Bank to report to parliamentarians in Ghana. That is not to say that the constitutional relationship should change. The World Bank is owned by its shareholders, and they are Governments. In relation to achieving greater aid effectiveness, however, we want to see more openness and transparency.
We are going to run the campaign as well as we can and in as many Parliaments as possible, in the north and the south, during the period of discussion on the IDA replenishment. I hope that the UK Government will support us. I have already written to the Secretary of State to ask him to come to the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank’s annual conference in December as a keynote speaker. We are also about to launch a call to action to publicise what we are doing. If he were able to provide some sponsorship and support for that in July, or some time soon, we would welcome that.
The hon. Gentleman is a valued member of the Committee, and his work with the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank is also valuable. Does he agree that the effectiveness of such a campaign will be dependent on the amount of information that is published and made available to Members of Parliament, especially in the developing countries? Does he welcome in principle the Secretary of State’s commitment to publishing the detail of the funding on the website? Will he reinforce my request to the Secretary of State for as much detail as possible, in order to illuminate what is going on and enable parliamentarians to be more effective?
Yes, I do welcome that commitment, and I very much endorse what the Chairman of the Select Committee says. I should perhaps acknowledge that one of the reasons that the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank is able to launch its campaign is that the Department for International Development has supported the core cost of running our Paris-based secretariat, which is developing the campaign.
A second opportunity for the UK to re-engage with our G7 and EU partners and win commitments from them in the next few months will be in the work leading up to the September UN summit on achieving the millennium development goals. Again, it would be helpful if the UK Government were to set out their plans for any bilateral conversations with other EU and G7 Heads of Government and to seek to influence the statements those Governments will make at the UN summit on the level of their aid funding. There will certainly be an anticipation in the developing world that donors will come up with the resources to back up the conclusions of the summit on achieving the millennium development goals.
The Secretary of State said that the Government intended to legislate to commit the United Kingdom to providing 0.7 % of its gross national income for development aid. The Chairman of the Select Committee reminded the House that the Committee had examined the draft Bill and made a number of recommendations. The first of those was that the millennium development goals summit is an important opportunity to renew commitments to aid allocations. The Committee’s report also identified the real danger that, as aid levels increase to meet the 0.7 % target already agreed, more official development assistance will be spent through other Government Departments that are not subject to the UK’s International Development Act 2002. I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee that we need greater clarity from our Government if a proportion of the increased aid to which they are committed is going to be spent by Departments other than DFID. We need reassurance that the goals of that spending will remain similar to those of DFID, and that poverty alleviation remains the key goal, whether the money is spent in DFID or any other Department. There has been a great deal of interest in this point among the NGO community.
We live in a globalising world. I do not need to remind hon. Members how much the world economy, environmental challenges and migration bind us all together; that is well understood. The centre of gravity of global politics is moving from west to east. In that context, “east” does not just mean Japan, China, Korea and India; it also means the Pacific basin as a whole, including California and British Columbia. Were there more time, I could say a lot about the UK and Europe’s need to recast their foreign and defence policy—to some extent, the UK Government will be doing that in their strategic defence review—but I shall just say a few words before I sit down about EU policy.
The European Union as a whole still has the world’s largest GDP—some $16.5 trillion a year, compared with $15 trillion for the United States, $5.5 trillion for China and $5 trillion for Japan. The UK’s share of that is some $2.5 trillion. The EU remains economically a big player on the world stage, but the UK on its own is rather less so. I believe that the EU punches below its weight. I am not in any sense a federalist, but I want the new European External Action Service, under Baroness Ashton, to deliver a great deal more for people living in Europe than the old directorate-general for external relations. I want to see a comprehensive approach whereby the European Union’s common foreign and security policy and common security and defence policy, as well as its development policy, EU aid policy and trade policy, all pull in the same direction to ensure that long-term development, state building, peace building, trade, foreign relations and reform of international institutions such as the UN also all pull in the same direction better to co-ordinate the development policies of the European Union and member states and to strengthen the poverty focus.
We have a strong poverty focus in this country, whereas the EU has a much less stronger one. Only half of EU aid goes to the least developed countries compared with about two thirds among donors as a whole. We need to minimise duplication and wasteful competition between individual bilateral donors, reduce red tape and increase the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of our aid. Now, 60% of all the world’s aid—some €50 billion out of a total €80 billion—comes from Europe, both from EU member states bilaterally and from the EU acting on behalf of the Union as a whole. If the world is to succeed in achieving the millennium development goals by 2015, the EU and its member states must deliver more with the resources that are already committed to development as well as increase their spending to meet the commitments given at Gleneagles.
The Government are in a position to use the EU to multiply the value and effectiveness of aid from member states. It would be wrong, in my view, to back away from the EU or to reduce the UK’s contribution to EU development programmes. Our aid alone, however well spent, will not be enough to ensure that the least developed countries achieve the millennium development goals. Glorious isolation would make us less influential and less effective than concerted action to get the new European External Action Service to improve the EU’s performance.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech during the debate on global poverty—a debate in which I was inspired to speak after meeting class P of Hayfield primary school in Upton. If I had not spoken today, I am convinced that they would never have forgiven me—so more of class P later.
First, may I say that it is a great honour to be here to represent the people of Wirral West? For those who do not know Wirral West, it is placed on the north-west tip of the Wirral peninsula between the River Mersey and the River Dee, with wonderful views of the Welsh hills and the Liverpool waterfront. It is described as a hidden treasure, made up of a beautiful collection of towns and villages—West Kirby, Hoylake, Greasby, Frankby, Irby, Pensby, Barnston, Thingwall, Upton and Caldy—like a string of pearls, each one a jewel, sitting next to one another. However, let us not get carried away. Beyond the natural beauty, we have struggles and concerns: the small village shops, fighting for survival against the giant supermarket chains; youth unfulfilled and unemployed; debt; and financial hardship. To that end and for those reasons, I shall be supporting my constituents. They had the faith to vote for me, and I have the strength to support them.
Some distinguished MPs have done so before, for I follow in the footsteps of some notable predecessors, distinguished by their considerable ability and dedication of service: Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, who served as Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House; David Hunt, now Lord Hunt of Wirral, who became Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Employment; and, more recently, Stephen Hesford. They all served their constituents tirelessly, and I hope that I will follow that tradition.
On a personal note, I want to thank David Hunt and his wife Paddy. They both still play a significant role in the community and, in particular, with Hoylake cottage hospital, Wirral marine disabled association and the Wirral sick children’s fund. They have been a source of tremendous support to me, helping me throughout the 10 years for which I have tried to win this seat. It has been a long journey. To anyone who says that it is a fast way into politics, I say that it is not. But it was a journey worth taking, and those 10 years have made it all the more pleasurable to be here.
Wirral West is an enchanting and enriching place that is full of history, legend and the spirit of Vikings. I shall explain some of that today, but hon. Members will have to discover the rest when they come to visit, which there will be plenty of opportunity to do. Golfers are likely to want to visit the Royal Liverpool golf club at Hoylake, which will host the Open again in 2014 and the women’s British open for the first time in 2012. There is also sailing, particularly the annual Wilson trophy championship, in which 200 Olympic-class sailors compete. It is frantic and frenetic as they spin across the water touching grand prix speeds. Our home team, the West Kirby Hawks, is one of the best around and won last year.
Wirral West has been shaped by its geography, the prevailing winds and the high seas. Back in AD 900, they brought the invading Vikings who settled there and made their parliament at the hamlet of Thingwall. On Thurstaston hill, the highest point of the Wirral, is Thor’s stone. Legend has it that when Thor, the great Viking god of thunder, fertility and the law, rode across the heavens on his chariot, the noise would be the rumble of thunder, and when he threw his hammer there would be a flash of lightning across the skies. His hammer is meant to be buried under the stone. It is said that Thor had a simple way of making laws and righting wrongs: killing those who stood in his way. Being mere mortals, and not gods, we have produced a moderate way of performing those duties which begins here in the House.
King Canute is said to have stood at the sea port in Meols attempting to turn back the tide from flooding the north shores of Wirral. Whether that is fact or fable, it is a lesson that neither man nor king can turn back the tide. But, when given the right to govern and to work in consensus, as this historic coalition has been, we can look forward to creating and altering our future. The people of Wirral know all about that, for they have strength of character, warmth of heart and a sense of humour; perhaps there is a bit of Viking left in them. They know what is good for their area and they will fight hard for what they believe.
To those who say that democracy does not work or that a person or community cannot change things, I say, “Take heart from the people of Wirral.” They were threatened with the closure of their libraries and leisure centres, and it was viewed as a fait accompli, but it was not. Some 60,000 people took to the streets in Wirral, demonstrated, lobbied and held public meetings, and the decision was overturned. People can make a difference and the people of Wirral have done so.
I did not know which debate I was going to make my maiden speech in, because they were all relevant to the people of Wirral West and to their aims and ideas. A health debate would have been relevant, because we are home to Arrowe Park hospital, which employs 6,000 people and serves 400,000 people across Wirral. The acute trust is the biggest and busiest in the north-west. Education is also important; Wirral West has some of the best and progressive schools, including Calday, West Kirby grammar, Hilbre, Pensby and Woodchurch high school. Work and pensions issues are also important to us, as the young search for employment and the old search for support. However, when I received 20 letters from class P at Hayfield primary school, and another letter from the sixth-form girls at Upton convent, I knew that I had to make my maiden speech in this debate.
Class P has signed up to the 1GOAL campaign to help global poverty through education. The campaign is trying to use the profile of the 2010 World cup in South Africa, bringing together footballers and fans of all ages with charities and local and world leaders, to make education a reality for 72 million primary school children worldwide by 2015. I asked class P to explain what poverty meant to them. They said it was about not being able to go to school to learn and make friends, about being sick but not having a doctor and about living in fear. Most of all, poverty is about living with no hope and dying with no one caring. According to UNICEF, 24,000 children die that way each day, and 10.6 million children die before the age of five—that is the same total as all the children of France, Germany, Greece and Italy added together. So today I bring the message of the next generation to the attention of the current generation—beat poverty through education.
Yes, and I believe in the goodness of human beings and the thread of humanity that touches the core of every one of us. It is here in this Chamber, on all sides of the House, and it is in class P at Hayfield school.
All of us come here with the desire to help others and, ultimately, to enable them to help themselves, but different times—and we are living in different times—require different solutions. We are living in a financial downturn and at a time of financial restraint. We have inherited a record deficit, so we have to do things differently. We have to have a different strategy but, that said, we must work together and use and acknowledge the successes of past Parliaments.
So I welcome the new coalition Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income as aid by 2013, helping the poorest in the world. I hope that that is welcomed by all Members of the House, and I am sure that it will be—just as it will be welcomed by the children at Hayfield school.
May I begin by welcoming to the House the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey)? She gave a very confident and lucid speech, and raised the very pertinent issue of how the vision of children can often inspire us to consider some of the greater global problems that we face.
As the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) correctly said earlier, the environment for a debate on development is very different from what it was five years ago, when we had the Make Poverty History protest in Edinburgh. Obviously, we are facing much greater economic pressures domestically, but the two problems are not separate. Increasingly, our future is bound to that of the developing south, in an age of growing volatility.
The millennium development goals must remain at the heart of our policy direction and development. I welcome the new Government’s commitment to the MDG process and the 0.7% target, but many of us would be much more comforted if we had a more settled timetable for passing binding legislation to achieve that. In increasingly difficult times, the issue of ring-fencing will be coming under pressure, and it is important that all sides retain support.
However, I also think that this is a time to look back and reflect on how we can sustain and improve performance in respect of the MDG targets. I believe that we need to move away from a narrow focus on technical intervention and move to a focus on supporting citizens’ ability to exercise their rights. Our overarching philosophy should be that poverty is not inevitable. We should not believe that aid in its current form should be a permanent fixture in world affairs; rather, we should believe that it is the means to help countries out of dependency and to empower them to tackle their national problems by their own means.
As I have argued before in this House, I believe that one area of poverty that does not receive sufficient priority is employment. Globally, more than 1 billion people are currently unemployed, under-employed or working poor. As populations in the developing world continue to escalate, global official unemployment has now reached a record high of over 185 million.
Nearly half that total are people under 24 years of age, yet younger people represent only a quarter of the working-age population. That problem may well get worse in the coming decade, when young people will make up the highest ever proportion of the world’s population. Currently, there are 1.5 billion people aged between 12 and 24, of whom 1.3 billion live in the south. It is estimated that, due to the global recession of the last few years, 64 million more people worldwide will fall into extreme poverty this year alone. If we do not wish the progress on the MDGs to recede, we need to give employment a much greater priority at every level.
Increasing urbanisation in poor nations is exacerbating the problem, as more and more people are concentrated in shanty towns, often without access to basic utilities and at increased risk of disease, abuse and marginalisation. Obviously, that can lead to increasing domestic political instability, with little enforceable domestic security. It also provides the perfect environment for human trafficking and other forms of criminal activity, such as drugs and arms trading, the consequences of which we can see in every town and city in Europe. We face not only global bank and debt crises, but a global unemployment crisis, both at home and abroad, but too often in their language and responses, our world leaders fail to place employment at the core of their priorities.
Now is exactly the right time to revive world trade talks, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on the Doha round. We must not bury trade talks or pander to protectionist instincts. This time, we need to ensure that the talks focus on creating jobs rather than on increasing corporate profits. The UK is one of the leading international donors, and should use its influence at both bilateral and multilateral levels to promote investment in job-rich industries and services, and to make a decent work agenda a core factor in its support for private sector development. Trade agreements must not signal a race to the bottom in terms of income, and they need to be accompanied by firmer agreement on minimum labour standards.
However, another reason why getting greater numbers into the formal economy is important is that we want to create a permanent, stable tax base, which is a key element in reducing dependency on aid. In a world that is changing rapidly—politically, economically and environmentally—we can anticipate greater periods of turbulence, higher food and energy prices, water depletion, fish depletion, and deforestation. Demand growth is accelerating, and the World Bank estimates that food production will need to increase by close to 50% between 2000 to 2030. Increasingly, a nation’s resilience in the face of disruption will mark its ability to survive successfully. Those of us who live in richer nations have distinct advantages: strong states, an ability to harness sophisticated technology and highly skilled citizens. To differing degrees, developing countries lack many such advantages, and accordingly have much higher levels of vulnerability.
If the ambitions of the MDGs are to bear fruit, it is important to protect the advances that have already been made before we seek further progress on the targets. Despite the fact that we have made considerable progress since 2000, those who have been taken above absolute poverty remain very close to the threshold. They live in emerging economies, so they are subject to much more pressure and are more vulnerable, and there is a very high risk that they will go back into absolute poverty.
Increasingly, we need to consider innovative ways in which to improve resilience and sustain the improvements that have been made. Rather than focusing only on developing basic public services, we need to consider how wealth can be redistributed within societies to achieve social progress, how the voice of the poor can be properly recognised, and how democracy, and thus the accountability of Governments to their citizens, can increase. All three elements are vital to progress on the MDGs.
Christian Aid recently made two specific calls in respect of taxation to aid a fairer distribution. I hope that when he responds, the Minister can provide an assurance that the Government support multilateral, automatic exchange of tax information between tax jurisdictions, so that we can better tackle the pernicious impact of tax havens, and a new international accounting standard that requires corporations to report on profits that they have made in every country where they operate. Those two measures will not cost the UK taxpayer a penny, but they could make a real and substantial difference to millions of the world’s poorest. I am sure that they would pass the Secretary of State’s value-for-money test.
I should like briefly to address gender. Sadly, it is no surprise that MDG 5, on maternal mortality, is the most off track. Women account for 70% of the world’s poor, and because they face systematic discrimination, their opportunities to escape poverty are correspondingly fewer. The interlinked problems of high fertility rates and maternal mortality continue to impede economic and social development. The underlying causes of high fertility, morbidity and mortality are not lack of contraception, blood loss and infection, but rather, as the right hon. Member for Gordon correctly said, apathy and a lack of respect for women and their fundamental rights. One symptom of that is that the data on women and girls are patchy. Key statistics, for example, are available only in about one quarter of developing nations. That in turn leads to women’s concerns being given low political priority and to a lack of impetus to change.
I believe that the UK should continue to be at the forefront of working with others to press for voluntary family planning that is universally accessible, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments this afternoon, but we also need to prioritise support for social and legal measures that stem the widespread practice of early marriage of young girls in many parts of the developing world. For a number of reasons, we in the west have shied away from this issue, but it is fundamental. It goes without saying that getting girls into school is important, but if we simply rely on primary education for success rather than the full range of secondary and tertiary education, we will not make much change.
Sixty per cent. of the world’s out-of-school children are girls, and they are less likely to progress to secondary and tertiary education as a result. Children of mothers who can read themselves are likely to achieve significantly higher results and accordingly continue their education longer. Tackling illiteracy, particularly among girls and women needs to have priority if we are going to give women better opportunities. We also need to give greater support to initiatives to encourage girls to continue their education and address the cultural barriers to female employment. Currently, 82 million girls in developing nations who are now aged 10 to 17 will be married before their 18th birthday. Where the birth rate in countries has fallen, between 25% and 40% of economic growth is attributable to demographic changes. Tackling those issues would bring fundamental and permanent improvement to the rights of women and tackle the millennium development goals on which we are most lagging behind.
What we need most in the year to follow is political will of the type that saw the birth of the MDGs and was prepared to look not just at the latest emergency but at how we want the world to be in the next 10 to 15 years. The outcome of the G20 summit last week was disappointing for development; there is no doubt about that. We need the UK Government to provide continued leadership in the tough times as well as the good. September’s summit gives us an opportunity, and I hope that it will be grasped.
I think the whole House will have agreed with the comments by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) until her peroration about the UK Government not showing leadership. As I hope I will show, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister showed considerable leadership in Canada. Until she spoiled her speech with that last bit, it was actually a very good speech. The whole House is grateful to her for the work that she does on the all-party group on trade, aid and debt.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) for an outstanding speech, which was fluent, articulate and very much to the point. I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing her speak in future debates on many topics that she also highlighted. It is heartening that the maiden speeches, certainly on this side of the House, have been of the highest quality that the House has heard for many a new Parliament.
I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in his place. He showed outstanding commitment as shadow Secretary of State and he has shown extreme grip by what he has done already in the Department. I know that he will do an extraordinarily good job for international development during his time as Secretary of State.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Secretary of State on his fantastic work in Rwanda, where he has led Project Umubano for several years now? He took the then Leader of the Opposition to Rwanda and the then Secretary of State, who is going back to Rwanda this summer, as am I for the second time on this fantastic project.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for what he did with the project in Rwanda. It reinforces one of the three points that I want to make.
I am conscious that others want to speak. What I would like to say in this debate can be summed up by one paragraph in the Prime Minister’s statement to the House earlier this week on the G8 and G20 summits. He said:
“Even at a time when our countries face difficult budget decisions, it is important that we maintain our commitment to helping the poorest in the world. The UK is maintaining its commitment to increase spending on aid to 0.7% of gross national income. That gives us the opportunity to exercise leadership on behalf of the poorest. At the same time, in order to take the public with us, we also need to ensure that every penny will reach those who need it most. That means transparency and accountability along the lines that we are introducing. It also means that the projects we support must be deliverable, practical and measurable, addressing the causes of poverty and not just alleviating the symptoms.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 566.]
My first point is that it is good to see so many Members in the House this afternoon for a debate on international development. We will all have to recognise, as times get difficult when the spending cuts bite, that we continually need to make the argument that spending on international development is valuable and is in our national interest—in terms of stability, security and a sense of common humanity, and, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions, because it enables us to have our voice heard much more clearly in the world. We are also entitled to look for the support of the non-governmental organisations in making that argument.
Secondly, there has, quite rightly, been a lot of talk this afternoon about Britain meeting the 0.7% target by 2013. We are not far off that already. According to the Muskoka accountability report, published at the end of last week’s G8 summit, the Development Assistance Committee estimates that in the 2010 calendar year the UK’s official development assistance spend will be equivalent to $15.5 billion, or 0.6% of GNI. We are far and away the country that is nearest to meeting that 0.7% target. The nearest to us is France, at 0.46%.
Even with a ring-fenced commitment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, skilled as he is, will not be able to extract from the Treasury during the lifetime of this Parliament any more than 0.7% of GNI for his Department’s budget. That means that if various NGOs or others think that extra money should be spent on a particular policy area, they will have to demonstrate to us all which parts of existing DFID spending should be reduced. DFID is not a bottomless pit, and the situation will become very competitive. If NGOs or pressure groups argue that a particular area of spending should increase, it will be beholden on them to explain to Ministers, and the rest of us, where they think spending should be reduced.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not think any further resources should be made available for climate finance, and that if, as a result of the climate negotiations, further resources are asked of the developed world by developing countries, Britain’s contribution should not go beyond the 10% that the last Government said would come from DFID, and that other cuts in other programmes in DFID should take place?
It is a bit rich for Opposition Front Benchers, who left this Government with absolutely no money at all and in a situation where this country is the most indebted in the world, to have one chorus, which is “more money”. It does not lie in the hon. Gentleman’s mouth to give the impression that DFID and every other Department should receive further funding from the Treasury. The reality is that most ministerial colleagues face substantial cuts in their departmental budgets and spending lines. DFID is fortunate, because its spending is protected, but it must be clear to everyone, including Opposition Front Benchers, that, if they call for extra spending from the DFID budget in one policy area, they are beholden to explain—[Interruption.] I am answering the hon. Gentleman. They are beholden to explain where DFID spending will be reduced. They and some NGOs cannot just come along and suggest that somehow DFID has a blank cheque, and that, if it does not increase spending on their policy area, it is failing. That is intellectually dishonest.
Thirdly, we all agree that between now and 2015 it is important that we meet, in so far as it is humanly possible, the millennium development goals. I hope that as many Members as possible will read the accountability report that was published following the G8 summit, because NGOs such as Oxfam, which the shadow Secretary of State prayed in aid, would do well to start working out how they engage with other G8 countries to ensure that they meet the obligations that the UK has already met. Some of the amounts that are being spent are pitiful. Russia spends just 0.07% of GNI on overseas development, the United States spends 0.19% and even Japan spends only 0.18%. If the other G8 member states spent anything like as much as we in the United Kingdom spend on official development assistance, as agreed by the Development Assistance Committee, the volume of money going into international development would increase substantially.
The Prime Minister reported to the House on Monday, and I hope that the NGO community joins him in making it clear that we need not just accountability and transparency at DFID, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has guaranteed, but to ensure that all G8 member states live up to the commitments that they made at Gleneagles. Otherwise, come 2015, we will all be frustrated by the lack of progress. It cannot be made by the United Kingdom on its own, and if people think that it can they will be disappointed. The United Kingdom is effectively at its 0.7% target, and there will be a finite amount of money available to DFID, however committed we all are to international development.
I hope that the NGO community, including organisations such as Bond, and all the various NGOs that subscribe to and are members of Bond, will see that there is a need for them to start focusing outwards and engaging other countries in meeting their 0.7% target. The same could apply equally to climate change. Copenhagen did not fail because of what the UK Government did or did not do; it was a disappointment largely because the international community had not engaged sufficiently with China on that country’s aspirations and concerns.
If we are going to meet the millennium development goals, we will have to ensure that the other countries which promised so much at Gleneagles and have so far delivered so little live up to and deliver on their promises. In that way, I hope that by the time we get to 2015 we will see that as many of the millennium development goals as possible have been met.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their posts and wish them well. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on an issue that, perhaps more than any other, defines how the UK is seen in the wider international community, and matters to people in constituencies across these islands.
Five years ago today, in 2005, I was in The Meadows in Edinburgh making final preparations for the Make Poverty History march and demonstration that took place ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles. I was privileged to play a role in organising that event and in the movement that grew up around the Make Poverty History campaign. The Gleneagles summit was very much a defining moment for the anti-poverty movement, not only because of the international commitments that were made there but because civil society made itself heard on that occasion. Some 250,000 people marched through Edinburgh that day. For a city of half a million people, that was a phenomenal outpouring of civic statement about what was really important to those people, and indeed to those from all over the UK and further afield who joined the demonstration.
Citizens demanded that the G8—the richest countries of the world—take action. As the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) said, the £50 billion in commitments that was made at Gleneagles is currently about £20 billion behind. For example, in real terms, the £25 billion pledged for Africa has translated into only £11 billion. That is a shameful shortfall. Frankly, last week’s manipulation of the statistics that came out of Gleneagles, whereby people used the fluctuation in the value of the dollar to make it look as though they were giving a lot more than they are, was a real disgrace. In that context, I welcome the commitment by the new Government that they will honour the 0.7% aid target and focus efforts on achieving the millennium development goals. I am very pleased that DFID’s budget is being protected in the current spending round. I am also glad about the non-partisan approach that the new Government are taking, which is a reassurance to Members across the House.
I welcome the emphasis that is being placed on transparency in how aid money is going to be spent. Much has already been said about transparency and accountability. Increasing transparency has obvious potential to improve accountability in aid delivery. It is important to say, however, that a great deal of work is already going on to make aid spending accountable and transparent. Many NGOs are already highly innovative in how they monitor the effectiveness of aid. At an international level, organisations such as CIVICUS are improving the practice of aid delivery and ensuring that there is a highly regulated and well-monitored and evaluated sector. I urge the Government not to reinvent the wheel when they consider their own moves forward.
It is also important to recognise the potential of increased transparency in raising public awareness of the fantastic work that is being done by DFID and the organisations that it funds, and in making visible the positive impact of development aid. We always hear about the downsides of aid—the mistakes, the failures, the things that go wrong—but we do not hear nearly enough about the success stories. It would, however, be unfortunate if increased transparency were to result in a proliferation of more abstract data and increased monitoring and evaluation at the expense of an enhanced profile for the life-changing impacts of aid. In that respect, I am concerned that the new independent quango charged with impact assessment that the Government are proposing will add little to the existing accountability mechanisms. It is somewhat ironic that they are keen to encourage civil society in developing countries as a means of holding their Governments to account, while they are slashing funding to the excellent civil society and educational organisations here in the UK that are equipping our own young citizens to hold the Government to account. That is deeply regrettable.
It is important to emphasise that aid really does work. Since 2005 and the Gleneagles summit, 4 million extra people have received life-saving antiretroviral HIV and AIDS treatment, 4 million more children have survived beyond the age of five and 33 million children are in school who would not otherwise have been. However, let us acknowledge both the scale of the problems and the impact of the shortfall in the aid commitments. As others have mentioned, 350,000 women are still dying in pregnancy and childbirth every year, and almost all those deaths are preventable. Some 9 million children under five are still dying every year, also almost all from preventable causes. On current projections, millennium development goal 4 on child mortality will not be met until 2045, which is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility by the international community.
I should like to outline some of the challenges in improving accountability and transparency in aid. One of the key questions that we need to ask is: transparent and accountable to whom? Clearly, citizens here and in the countries that receive aid need to be involved in the process. One of the practical challenges that we face is that developing countries receive support from a range of governmental and non-governmental sources, which all have different reporting requirements, some of which are highly bureaucratic.
The hon. Lady, whose constituency I visited during the general election campaign, is making an excellent speech. She asks to whom the accountability should be extended, and she is absolutely right to do so. The answer is, first, to our own taxpayers, who need confidence that their hard-earned money is being spent well, but secondly to the people in poor countries whom we are trying to help and support. If we place in their hands the ability to see what is happening to the money, we help them to make their own civic leaders and politicians accountable for how it is spent.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I reiterate that the way to do that is not to slash funding to the very organisations in this country that will make the work that is going on far more transparent to taxpayers and put it in a format penetrable to people other than policy wonks and statisticians. I urge him to think again and go back to the drawing board on that point before we see a lot of very good work undermined and destroyed.
There has been some progress in recent years on streamlining and co-ordinating reporting mechanisms for NGOs and developing country Governments, and I stress the value of doing that. The resources that are spent on servicing bureaucracies could be better utilised elsewhere. Another concern about the accountability of development spending is that a lot of it tends to be project-based, short-term and unco-ordinated and to duplicate existing structures. Consequently, it is often monitored in technocratic ways and measures inputs rather than impacts.
There is a dreadful monitoring and evaluation culture in the development sector, which has grown up around very short-term interventions. I would welcome assurances that the Government’s plans will not add to the pick-and-mix plethora of short-term, fashionable projects that fail to have any sustained, long-term impact and that just create a full employment scheme for highly paid, and often highly qualified, consultants based in northern countries. I would rather make a plea for monitoring that is commensurate and proportionate and does not place an undue bureaucratic burden on developing countries, and for impact assessment that is qualitative and longitudinal, not just quantitative, and helps people to improve how they work rather than simply tick boxes.
Let us face it—most people working in development already have an ultimate accountability mechanism in the aid sector. If they do not deliver within a year or two, their funding is cut. It is as simple as that. That contrasts rather markedly with how Government Departments operate in many parts of the developed world and even more sharply with the UK, where bankers in failed businesses seem still to be receiving bonuses.
Much has been said this afternoon about the importance of economic development and questions have been asked about how DFID will take forward its engagement with the business community. No one would deny that foreign direct investment has an important and invaluable role to play, especially in middle income countries. However, I wish to stress to the Secretary of State and others that it cannot be a substitute for aid in meeting the millennium development goals. There are few examples of places where foreign direct investments generate enough economic growth to finance essential services such as health, education and access to water. Those are the services that underpin poverty reduction everywhere it has been achieved.
It is fascinating to note that regardless of the political ideology and economic philosophies underpinning the success of countries in poverty reduction, they have all ensured that their citizens have access to basic health care, education and clean water. We are talking about countries as disparate as Cuba and the so-called tiger economies of south-east Asia. They could not be more distinct in their philosophy and ideological approach, but they have all had essential public services at their heart. They have also had strategic economic investment and planning, as well as proper investment in infrastructure. Those are the things that will create the necessary pre-conditions in which businesses can thrive, but one cannot be done without the other.
One of the key economic challenges in the efforts to address global poverty is that women are significantly over-represented among those living in extreme poverty, those missing out on school and those unable to read and write. They are also grossly under-represented in political forums, corporate boardrooms and decision-making bodies around the world. We will not be successful in addressing global poverty unless we tackle the economic, political and social exclusion of women. There is no doubt that economic investment and growth have the potential to lift people out of poverty, but women need to be part of that and they need education to be able to be part of that.
Increasingly, people connect to global markets for labour, goods and services, but a lot of evidence suggests that the benefits of economic development bypass the poorest, most of whom are women. In and of themselves, the markets will not address poverty and, in particular, will not address the inequality between women and men—indeed, they can compound existing gender inequalities. I hope that the Government will look closely at that issue and consider how the support that the UK offers in business development overseas benefits both women and men.
Part of the answer lies in improving the accountability of business and corporations operating in developing countries. I warmly welcome the fact that the Government are committed to establishing a grocery ombudsman, as that has the potential to improve significantly the welfare and working conditions of the predominantly women workers in the global food supply chains that supply our supermarkets. Numerous constituents have written to me on this issue, and I hope that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work closely with DFID to bring forward concrete proposals in this area. Incidentally, the ombudsman will also have the potential to deliver benefits to agricultural producers in the UK, including thousands of people in my constituency who work in farming, fishing and food production.
My final point on accountability is about our own accountability to the global community with regard to climate change. Developing countries are already experiencing the adverse effects of increased flooding, droughts and extreme weather events associated with man-made climate change. Few poor countries have the resources to invest in mitigation measures. Nor do they have the resources to rebuild infrastructure and houses that are damaged or destroyed. Climate change is destroying habitats, reducing food security, fuelling conflict and creating refugees. I hope that the Secretary of State can assure me that he intends that, distinct from the aid budget, we should meet our obligations to those countries that have not caused climate change but have to cope with the consequences. I echo the questions posed earlier about climate financing and ensuring that aid money is not vired over to deal with the effects of climate change.
Poverty reduction is fundamentally a matter of political will and priorities. That will does exist in our civil society, and the challenge for Members of Parliament will be to rise to the expectations of our own citizens and keep the aid promises that we made five years ago.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), who spoke warmly and eloquently about her constituency, and the issue being debated. I also thank the people of Stevenage for placing their trust in me. I will endeavour to repay that trust by working hard to represent their interests in the House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Barbara Follett, who is well known within the House and the constituency. I hope that she will be remembered for her many impassioned speeches against apartheid. She followed Tim Wood, who is still remembered fondly in the constituency as a man dedicated to helping local people.
The constituency of Stevenage is centred predominantly on the town of Stevenage and the surrounding villages of Knebworth, Datchworth, Codicote and Aston. The town of Stevenage grew out of a small Saxon settlement in the early 700s, but began to expand massively when, in 1946, it was designated as the first new town and the building of large-scale housing estates began. The town continues to expand to this day. However, it is a very green area, with more than a third of the space being parklands and green spaces. It has few traffic lights, for which we are grateful, and an integrated cycle network. Furthermore, Stevenage football club won promotion to the football league this year, and we are very proud to be hosting league football for the first time ever. The town is also home to many high-technology major employers, such as MBDA, which builds complex weapons systems, Fujitsu and GlaxoSmithKline, which has one of the largest research and development facilities in the area. Arguably, it could even be called the space capital of the UK, as Astrium builds its satellites there and the Mars Rover is under development in Stevenage.
Coming back down to earth, on the edge of the town is the village of Aston, which has a long history and was the home of Aston house, where the Special Operations Executive designed, tested and produced secret weapons. Near this is the village of Datchworth, which is a typical English village with an enormous village fête that attracts people from many miles around and illustrates the sense of community present in the area. Then we have Knebworth, which is a much larger village with an interesting history. It is one of the largest open air concert venues in the UK and has seen numerous acts play, from Led Zeppelin to Robbie Williams. The latter drew a crowd of more than 300,000 people, while 3.5 million watched on television. The southern most point of the constituency is Codicote, where there are dynamic plans to improve sports facilities for the whole community for many generations to come.
The fantastic history, transport links, high-tech industries and sense of community show why so many people choose to come to my constituency from all over the UK to set up home and make a better life for themselves and their families. It really is a microcosm of British society today, which brings me to the issue that I would like to tackle. We must move away from a culture where spending money is seen to be the answer to all the problems in our society. We have to target our resources both at home and abroad to focus on activities that deliver results and will make a real impact on the lives of millions of people.
I will take two examples of where significant progress can be made quickly. The first is the millennium development goal to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under the age of five. There is concern that this, like many of the other goals, will not be achieved by 2015, but if we take targeted action we can make real progress. At the moment, around the world, one child dies every 15 seconds from pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children under the age of five. The majority of those deaths are preventable because there are effective vaccines that can protect against the majority of strains of the disease and effective treatments such as antibiotics.
Increasing evidence shows that pneumonia is linked to global poverty, and 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world, mostly in marginalised communities. Yet pneumonia is a disease that can be managed relatively simply if the resources are available. I am proud of the leading role that GlaxoSmithKline, a major employer in my constituency, has taken to try to save the lives of millions of children in the world’s poorest countries. GSK is one of the first manufacturers to sign an advanced market commitment, which, by guaranteeing an affordable long-term price, will support the sustained use of vaccines. GSK has worked closely with GAVI and IVAC—the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the International Vaccine Access Centre—the leading NGOs in trying to sort the problem out, and whose work I commend.
Turning closer to home, we know that here in the UK, it is possible to help a child out of poverty and improve their chances in life if they receive a good education. However, we are not doing enough; we are not lifting enough people out of poverty. In my constituency, like in so many others across the UK, there are children who have tried so hard in school. There is a cadre of dedicated and professional staff who have helped them along the way and invested so much of themselves in helping those children try to improve their life chances, but the system does not seem to work. Those children are being forced through an education system that pushes them out the other end with little chance of getting a job, as they do not have the skills that local employers want.
We need to encourage employers to work with local schools and colleges, to get fully involved in education, to highlight the skills that are missing and even perhaps to take preventive action, possibly by designing some of the more vocational courses. Perhaps the prize at the end of the course should be a job or an apprenticeship with the employer. We need to be innovative and flexible, so that courses can reflect the skills gap locally and more local people can get local jobs. Only by focusing on results here and abroad will we be able to help people lift themselves out of poverty.
Finally, I would like to finish by urging us all to remember that it is very easy to discuss statistics in these debates in the House, but we must never forget that behind the figures are real people—real families and real lives—who have to live day to day with the decisions that we take.
I, too, would like to make my maiden speech and contribute to the debate. Before I do that, however, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). I was particularly pleased to hear that there are very few traffic lights in Stevenage, which makes me concerned that there are far too many in Rochdale.
As is customary, I would like to start by paying tribute to my Liberal Democrat predecessor. Paul Rowen prided himself on being Rochdale born and bred, and I have no doubt that he would have contributed to this debate. Indeed, he devoted much of his time to overseas issues and was often a champion for countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Kashmir. I am sure that he will be sadly missed by those with an interest in such issues.
I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Mr Woolas), who had Milnrow and New Hey within his constituency boundaries until general election day. He is an exceptionally good MP, and I consider him to be a good friend.
Although Rochdale is commonly perceived as a classic Lancashire town with problems of its own, there is also much debate about international affairs. I started as the candidate in 2007, and it was not long before people were impressing on me the importance of the problems faced by the Palestinian people. The concern was so great from people in Rochdale, who felt passionately about Palestine, that in 2008 I visited the west bank for myself. The most saddening aspect of the situation is that the poverty experienced by the Palestinians is caused by an Israeli state that seems, to me at least, determined to wear the people down, to push them into a smaller and smaller area, with fewer and fewer resources, and to hide the Palestinian people behind what can only be described as an apartheid wall. Although our Governments find a strong voice to criticise other countries whose actions inflict such poverty on their neighbours, for some reason our Governments cannot or will not speak up enough on the Palestinians’ plight.
Earlier this year I visited Bangladesh, and I hope to visit Pakistan and Kashmir in the near future. There are lots of Rochdale residents whose origins are in those three countries. The reason I mention them today is that although poverty exists in those countries, there is also much potential for economic growth. We as a country need to do what we can to help them prosper, so that the poverty can be reduced. What we can also do for those countries is help them learn the lessons that the people in Rochdale have already learned about asbestos. Rochdale was home to the largest asbestos manufacturing plant in the world, and residents have suffered and continue to suffer from this deadly product. Indeed, Spodden valley, where the factory was located, is still heavily contaminated, yet we have developers wanting to build on it—something that I will continue to oppose.
The lessons learned in Rochdale are important. There are companies in developing countries that are playing fast and loose with asbestos, still creating years of illness, injury and death, which then leads to poverty for the families involved. That is why the global economy is so important. The jobs provided by the asbestos plant in Rochdale are long gone to businesses abroad—but at what cost to human life? Many of Rochdale’s textile mills and engineering firms have also gone abroad and we find ourselves in a position where unemployment remains unhealthily high. Our town centre has gradually deteriorated to the point where we have about 50 empty shops and a real loss of retail jobs.
The previous Government did much to invest in Rochdale, but that investment was not always handled well locally. Rochdale’s Kingsway business park has got off to a slow start; the council has not handled our town centre’s redevelopment well; and we now face financial delays and cuts. The new Government have put our transport interchange on hold, there are question marks over school building funds and they are proposing to close our magistrates court.
Although I have described a relatively bleak picture, there are many positives associated with Rochdale. Our football club moved up a division this year after languishing in the bottom of the league for more than 30 years—well done, lads. We have some amazing countryside, including Hollingworth lake, and great architecture such as our town hall. As many will know, Rochdale is the birth place of the Co-op, and co-operation continues with communities coming together cohesively. The churches and mosques and the voluntary sector do a fantastic amount of work across our town, and we have many excellent businesses and local entrepreneurs.
It is our people for which the town is most famous. They are the warmest and most honest people anyone could wish to meet. Hon. Members may not be aware of it, but during the general election, the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), had the opportunity to receive a real Rochdale welcome. I spoke with Mrs Duffy just before her conversation with the former Prime Minister and I have also met her subsequently. On a serious point, she is a very good woman; she was articulating what many people feel, which is that times are tough and that it is ordinary working people who are feeling the pain.
Sadly, I genuinely do not believe that ordinary working people are going to be helped by this Government’s Budget or its cuts. For instance, I, like many other people, was brought up on free school meals in a one-parent family helped by the welfare state. It was hardly surprising that I left school with no qualifications and little confidence to get on in life, but it was the availability of further education and the support of my trade union that combined to create a second chance for me. Now is not the time to attack public institutions that are vital for working people to move on in life. My worry now for the people of Rochdale, and for the people of Britain, is that the VAT increase, the cutting of free school meals, the growth in unemployment, the cuts to public services—all these things and more—will recreate the 1980s society in which I grew up, and that the second chances will no longer exist.
I am in no doubt that my primary responsibility as the MP for Rochdale is to fight for opportunities in our town, to make sure our people receive the life chances that are available in many other parts of the United Kingdom, and to make sure that Rochdalians are given the hope to succeed. It is a privilege to represent the people of Rochdale, and I will work hard in that endeavour.
Order. As Members can probably see, a great many wish to speak. If contributions can be limited to 10 minutes or less, I may manage to fit everyone in. May I gently remind Members that others wish to contribute to this important debate?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will keep it brief.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), on their excellent and thoughtful maiden speeches.
More than 60 years ago, the Beveridge report was published. It identified the five giants that threatened Britain in the wake of post-war reconstruction: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. It showed a country scarred by the events of the great depression—one of the worst financial disasters that the world has ever witnessed—and sought to find a way in which to bring about a fairer society. Perhaps now, in the wake of the most recent recession—the deepest since the 1930s—we should reflect on how to reconstruct a fairer global community.
Fortunately, in our own country we have made great strides in tackling each of the five giants that Beveridge identified. Elsewhere across the world, people have not been so lucky. The facts and figures may be over-told, but they still make for sobering reading. According to the most recent millennium development goals report from the United Nations, 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, while it is believed that more than half the world lives on less than $10 per day; 17% of the world are undernourished; 11% of the world’s children still do not receive a primary school education; 74 out of every 1,000 children die before they are five years old; 536,000 women and young girls die every year across the world as a consequence of complications in pregnancy; despite falling infection rates, about 2 million people die of AIDS every year; and 36% of people in the developing world live in poor housing. The statistics go on and on.
As we enter a new decade, has the time not come for the developed world to put an end to rhetoric and meet the fundamental challenges that confront the world in dealing with global poverty? The most important of those challenges is economic development, an issue that has been brought further to the fore by the global economic crisis. It is believed that, as a result of that crisis, nearly 100 million more people have remained in poverty than would otherwise have been the case.
According to the United Nations, while productivity—a primary indicator of economic development—has steadily risen in the developed world, productivity in the developing world has been sluggish. Between 1998 and 2008, output per person employed—measured in 2005 United States dollars—rose from $60,000 to $71,000 among those working in the developed regions, while in the developing regions output per person rose from $8,000 to $11,000. That is just over a quarter of the growth of the developed world. Limited increases in productivity indicate that an economy has little potential to create new jobs. Moreover, that can lead to stagnant wages, which keep hundreds of millions in poverty and prevent the creation of the stable domestic markets that are essential to further economic progress.
The link between economic development and reducing poverty seems obvious, but while a great deal of the focus has been on aid, it ignores the necessity of encouraging growth in developing countries. That is less eye-catching and more difficult to achieve, but in the long term it will produce better results.
A report published in 2006 by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, highlighted the position of South Korea and Ghana. In 1950, South Korea’s per capita income was $770. Ghana’s was slightly higher, at $1,222. By 2000, however, South Korea’s per capita income had risen to $14,000, while Ghana’s remained at around $1,280. The figures for life expectancy, literacy and infant mortality have improved dramatically in South Korea since 1950, but the problems continue to dog Ghana. That is despite the hundreds of millions of pounds given to Ghana by Britain alone over the past few decades.
Although I do not doubt the necessity of aid to assist people in developing countries who live in poverty, we must not allow ourselves to mistake aid for the cure. Aid must be used as a short-term means in order to achieve economic development, which is the long-term end. Schools and hospitals, the beginnings of a solid infrastructure, are the things that aid can help to achieve. However, the real work of lifting people out of poverty will be done only by a growing economy, with the creation of jobs and rising wages.
That work can be done enough through encouraging a fiscal and administrative reform. Countries can, thus, be helped to adopt tax systems that are fairer, easier to implement, less vulnerable to corruption and less distorting to economic activity, in order to help to develop transparency. We also need to ensure that strong monetary frameworks are in place. I am glad, therefore, that the Government have taken such a keen interest in ensuring that economic development is placed at the heart of our poverty-reduction strategy. I welcome, for example, our support for a pan-African free trade area, which we hope will lead to the greater development of markets within developing countries and help to generate a cycle of prosperity.
Moreover, an issue that goes hand in hand with economic development is that of governance. As was worryingly reported only a few years ago by the National Audit Office, aid is often open to abuse. Poverty reduction budget support—that is money given directly to the Governments of recipient countries—represents more than £1 billion of DFID’s budget and is the preferred method of distribution. That comes with the risk of funds going missing and being misdirected for the private gain of individuals within Governments. We must ensure that Governments that receive this aid do not do this, and I welcome the coalition’s commitment to supporting the development of local democracy and civil society in order to create the environment necessary for stable governance to follow. Moreover, the commitment to ensuring that there is full transparency in aid and to publishing details of all UK aid spending is also a step in the right direction.
Aid given by this country has the potential to help tens of millions of people across the world and, as part of larger multilateral packages, to help hundreds of millions. However, I am reminded of the fact that the Department that deals with reducing global poverty is called the “Department for International Development”. That title recognises the simple truth that development—in particular, economic development—holds the key to reducing and eventually eliminating global poverty. As we look forward to tackling the great giants of global poverty, we should ensure that we place long-term economic development before eye-catching spending commitments. I am glad that the Government seem to be taking that course, and I hope that they continue in that direction.
First, I congratulate all the new Members who made their maiden speeches today: the hon. Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who so powerfully highlighted the plight of the Palestinian people. I am sure that he will be a great voice for peace, equality and justice throughout this Parliament, and I congratulate him on his election to this House. I also congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on his new role and wish him all the best in his endeavours. I am also delighted to see the Chair of the Select Committee on International Development in the Chamber, and I look forward to serving with him on that Committee.
In this country, we are extremely proud of the fact that everyone has access to clean water, nutritious food, quality health care and a first-rate education, thus ensuring that everyone has a good basic standard of living based on equitable principles. If we really do believe in such rights and principles, we cannot limit their application to ourselves alone. In this regard—I use a legal phrase here—equity truly is equality. I strongly believe in the principles of equality and justice, both at home and abroad—indeed, they are the very reasons why I engaged in the political process in the first place. I passionately believe that every child, regardless of where they were born, should have the same chances in life.
Many hon. Members, in their travels to and from Parliament on the underground, may have seen the amazing photo of a young African boy playing football with his friends. The caption reads:
“Abello is also tackling hunger, poverty and disease”.
This incredibly moving charitable advertisement highlights the fact that even while the entire world is gripped with the outcomes of the football World cup, there are still millions of people around the world, many of them children, who are fighting poverty on a daily basis. Surely, in this day and age, that cannot be right. This is an age that the formidable former Member of Parliament Tony Benn has described as one in which
“we have the power and technology to be able to resolve many of the problems the world faces and improve the lives of so many people”.
I am fiercely proud of my party’s record on international development while in government. Since 1997, we have created a dedicated Department for International Development, and Britain’s aid budget has trebled, helping to lift an estimated 3 million people out of poverty. Britain was the first country to sign up to the United Nations agreed target of spending 0.7 % of gross national income on development assistance. We have also led the way in cancelling debts owed by the world’s poorest countries, and we are now the world’s second largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. We have stopped aid being tied to commercial interests, enabling poor countries to use the money to buy goods and services from the most cost-effective sources. That is a legacy that we on these Benches are rightly extremely proud of, but it is also a legacy that must be built upon, not diminished, because a tremendous amount of work remains to be done.
Approximately 80% of people in the world still live on less than $10 a day. Thousands of people die every day due to lack of food, and nearly 30% of children in the developing world are estimated to be underweight. Millions of people die every year due to preventable diseases, around half a million women die every year while giving birth, and more than 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. The list is endless.
I really cannot stress enough to the Government the importance of continuity, through ensuring that the millions of people we have helped over the past 13 years do not fall back into poverty and through continuing to take millions more out of poverty every year. We can do that only by maintaining pressure on the international community and working with our international partners to ensure that the eight millennium development goals—ending poverty and hunger, universal education for children, the elimination of gender inequality in education, improving child health, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, achieving environmental sustainability, and the creation of a global partnership for development—are all met.
The millennium development goals have galvanised extraordinary efforts to help the world’s poorest people, but it is widely considered unlikely that they will be achieved by the 2015 deadline, especially following the results of the recent G8 meeting and the G20 summit. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) in his question to the Prime Minister yesterday when he said that our commitments to international development must be maintained because
“our national interest, security stability and sense of humanity very often begin overseas”.—[Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 860.]
Hon. Members will therefore appreciate how hugely disappointed I was to learn that the Prime Minister did not manage to persuade other members of the G8 to stick to the historic aid commitments that they had made at Gleneagles, which were kept out of last weekend’s G20 communiqué. This is doubly disappointing when we consider the fact that the global economic downturn is having a devastating effect on the lives of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The failure of France, Germany and particularly Italy to deliver on the commitments that they made at Gleneagles represents an unforgivable betrayal of the world’s poorest people, because, in the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
“we cannot balance budgets on the backs of the world’s poorest people. We cannot abandon our commitment to the most vulnerable.”
For international development to be effective, it has to be a truly global effort on behalf of all developed nations. The Government must therefore do more to ensure that the future of the world’s poorest remains high not only on their agenda but on the agendas of other members of the international community.
If we are to address global poverty, we must address its root causes by making the global economy work better for the poorest nations. On a practical level, that means that we must ensure that the consistent and coherent approach adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander)—to whose contribution as the former Secretary of State for International Development I pay tribute—is kept as a part of our international trade policies by firmly placing development as their core guiding principle.
We also need to reform global financial institutions such the World Bank and International Monetary Fund by making their decision making processes more transparent and inclusive. We need to do much more to monitor and regulate international business and the impact that it has on the environment, because the effects of climate change are making it even harder than before to tackle global poverty. Developing nations now need significant sums of additional finance just to help them adapt to climate change.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to prevent tax avoidance in developing countries by helping to build and strengthen their tax administration and collection systems. More effective tax collection is vital because not only does it provide a sustainable stream of finance for developing countries but it promotes stronger governance through an accountable state-citizen relationship. The increased stability that it brings significantly enhances the prospects of economic growth.
The UN millennium development goals meeting in New York later this year represents a major opportunity to agree urgent action on behalf of the world’s poorest children. Globally, millions of children still have to work to survive and are having their rights denied as a result of poverty. In order to secure the best possible deal, the Government must, from the outset, put forward a clear agenda for the meeting in terms of the key objectives they wish to obtain. Otherwise they will risk having a re-run of the shocking episode that took place over the last weekend.
At a time when people question whether there is a global role for Britain to play in today’s world, what better role can there be for us than that of the leading voice for international development?
I am very fortunate to have in my constituency two of the only charity shops in Britain that donate all their profits to UNICEF, which campaigns to fight child poverty and exploitation around the globe. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able personally to give them an award earlier in the year for their sterling fundraising work and to see first hand the dedication of the volunteers and staff who make such a difference to children around the world.
In 2006, before the bubble burst, triggering the global financial crisis, the British public donated more than £33 million just to UNICEF and its global campaigns through direct appeals and fundraising activities in communities all over the UK, including the two shops in my constituency. In 2009, the year after the collapse and at the height of the global financial crisis, the British public donated more than £40 million to UNICEF and its global campaigns. Following the tragic earthquake in Haiti in January, the Disasters Emergency Committee—the umbrella organisation for the independent humanitarian relief agencies in the UK—raised a staggering £38 million in individual donations in less than one week from members of the British public who were horrified by the sheer scale of human suffering thousands of miles from our shores.
It is clear from those facts—I am sure that colleagues from all parties will agree—that the British public have not wavered in their generosity towards alleviating the suffering of the worlds’ poorest and most vulnerable people in the face of the world’s global financial crisis, and neither should we. However, I am sure that I am not alone in this House in being asked by constituents some searching questions about the Government’s commitment to ring-fence the foreign aid budget. There is worry about it, particularly given the pressure across all other budgets as we approach a spending review in the autumn and what will be economically challenging years ahead. Worse still is the sense that the aid budget might be poorly targeted or siphoned off due to corruption.
In an era of global responsibility, where 24,000 children die in poverty every day and more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, it is right that we should maintain our international aid budget and do all we can through trade, diplomacy, business investment and climate change policy to ensure that our efforts to help the world’s poorest are not damaged by the uncertain state of the global economy. It is also right that in the current economic climate, more than ever every pound of taxpayer’s money that we deliver in aid must provide the most value possible and be distributed through a system that is completely transparent.
I am sure that many people in this House were alarmed by recent reports that billions of pounds in cash have been flown out of Kabul airport since 2007, suggesting that huge sums of aid from us and our NATO allies has been falling into the wrong hands and has been used for the wrong purposes. The misuse and mistargeting of international aid resources is still a big obstacle in the fight against global poverty and we need to seek out new ways to guarantee that aid is getting to where it has the greatest effect and does the most to alleviate poverty.
One issue that many people feel strongly about, which we have already covered today, is the aid that we have given to China. In the 2008-09 financial year, we donated £118 billion of aid to the People’s Republic, £40 billion of which came through the Department for International Development. By anyone’s observation, the British taxpayer is not getting value for money by continuing to give millions of pounds of aid to the second-largest economy in the world. I welcome the Government’s commitment to withdraw from its bilateral aid programmes with China and Russia. Similarly, the British taxpayer was not getting value for the money that they expected to go towards tackling global poverty. Millions of pounds were spent on UK-based awareness projects by the Department for International Development under the last Government.
As well as gaining more value for money from our aid budget, it is vital that the giving of all forms of Government aid is as transparent as possible. Taxpayers should easily be able to gain a real understanding of how their money is going to make a difference in the fight against poverty and they should also have access to as much information as possible so that they can form an opinion on where that money should go and on how effectively it is being spent.
I sincerely welcome every commitment that was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his speech at Oxfam’s “21st-Century Aid” report launch earlier this month. I particularly welcome the introduction of the UK aid transparency guarantee to ensure that the most value possible is squeezed out of every pound of aid under this Government and that people can be fully reassured about where their money is going. I also strongly support the clearer linking of aid to the work and ambit of the National Security Council. One of the tragedies of Iraq was the failure to put in place a proper plan to restore and maintain the infrastructure that no doubt extended the insurgency. Linking our development work to our military work and responsibilities is difficult and includes risk. Many of the organisations that we work alongside will no doubt have reservations, but we cannot do anything but regard Afghanistan as a major priority development area. The focus on development and reconstruction is absolutely essential if we are to leave that country able to look after itself. Of course, the NSC allows us to take the broader view on which development projects both have intrinsic moral value and work towards our national security interests in the long term.
In conclusion, I want to underline the generosity and moral focus of the British public towards tackling global poverty, which has strengthened, if anything, in the recent global financial crisis. There is still a monumental battle to fight against global poverty; we are right to protect the aid budget and we look forward to providing greater value and transparency. In doing so, we can not only ensure that we lift as many lives as possible out of poverty but reassure the British taxpayer that international development works not only to the benefit of the developing countries but in Britain’s best interests.
May I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today? The hon. Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) all made excellent contributions. My contribution will not be anything like as expert as those of my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), who made wide-ranging speeches that covered many aspects. I want to highlight two specific points about global poverty, the first of which is the importance of trade, particularly fair trade. The second is the important role of democracy in tackling global poverty, particularly in relation to backing up organised labour in poor countries and supporting people on very low incomes in fragile employment.
On fair trade, we are all aware that aid is not the final answer but a tool to assist economic development. I have felt strongly for many years about the possibilities of Fairtrade labelling. The idea that started many years ago is now coming to fruition: by telling people in consumer countries that the goods that they buy somehow back up people on low incomes in producer companies, we have a mechanism for delivering on economic development. I pay tribute to the previous Government’s achievements in supporting the Fairtrade Foundation. There has been a massive expansion of the Fairtrade label, with 70% of people in Britain now recognising the label and understanding what it means—seven out of 10; that is a real achievement. Also, the Fairtrade label has been adopted by major brands in this country. Many people around the UK are choosing to back producers in other countries, and that is a victory.
I put this challenge gently to the Government that they should continue to support the Fairtrade Foundation. We are rightly seeking to reduce the deficit but, although the sums devoted to assisting international organisations to monitor free trade labelling are small, they have the power to do real good. I feel particularly strongly about this matter, as it combines two of my biggest passions in life—shopping, and supporting people on low incomes abroad. I have a personal commitment that I recommend to all Members of the House, and it is that I always buy any new product that carries the Fairtrade label, whatever it is—and then, before we know it, we are always buying Fairtrade coffee, which is great. As I said, I encourage the new Government’s Ministers to look at that programme carefully, to see what more we in this country can do to back up Fairtrade.
My second reason for speaking in this afternoon’s debate is that I came across an example in my constituency of Wirral South of trade union members in this country backing a campaign being run by trade union members in Pakistan. I found it quite inspiring and I want to share with the House the success that has been achieved but, before I do, I shall read a quotation from the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. He is a fine philosopher and economist who has done extensive research into the subject of famine and food security. He said that
“no major famine has ever occurred in a functioning democracy with regular elections, opposition parties, basic freedoms of speech and a relatively free media”.
I think that the lesson for us all is that we must support the good functioning of democracy in other countries. We cannot allow a discussion about global poverty to pass without recognising the politics that exists in other countries.
In that light, well-functioning trade unions are especially important. I mentioned that that had been highlighted for me by local members of a trade union in Wirral South. The company Unilever is based in my constituency and, by and large, it is a fine employer. I hear great reports from people in my constituency, who say that it is fantastic to work for. However, Unilever has a tea production plant at Khanewal in Pakistan, where 723 workers were contracted through an agency on a no-work, no-pay basis.
Now, I am from Merseyside, and I grew up with the tales of what used to go on in the Liverpool docks. There are memories in my family of what it was like to go down to the dockside without knowing whether there was any work or whether the family could be fed. Therefore, I feel passionately that we must seek to end these practices, wherever they are. What happened in Liverpool all those years ago was not right, and it is not right if it happens anywhere else in the world today.
The workers in Pakistan had no sick leave or annual leave, and no right to join a trade union, but they organised themselves. With the support of the IUF, an international trade union, they were able to make representations on how to deal with the problems that they faced, and they received support from trade union activists all over the world. Eventually, the IUF helped them to undertake negotiations with Unilever, which took place under the auspices of the UK’s national contact point responsible for the application of the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises.
The two sides came to a settlement, under the terms of which Unilever agreed to create 200 additional permanent jobs, and many other successful outcomes were also achieved. The IUF general secretary said:
“The Khanewal agreement…is a great moment for hundreds of our members in Pakistan who will now take up permanent employment…It brings better livelihoods for their families and some dignity and security at work…Unilever’s willingness to work with us so constructively through the OECD process suggests we may be able to look forward to an ongoing and structured dialogue with Unilever.”
I wanted to highlight that because it is a real success. That shows what people can achieve when they are given the dignity to stand up for themselves and their work, and to influence their terms and conditions. That is one small example, but it is the pattern we need to follow. I call on the Government to work across Whitehall to stand up for low-paid workers internationally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North had much to say about the importance of considering employment as a factor in poverty, and Professor Sen, whom I quoted, has also investigated that in great depth. We should all learn that the things that we are calling for in other countries are what we would want for our friends and families in employment in this country. I hope the Government go forward on that basis and I look forward to debating such issues in future in this Parliament.
I congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches today. They have made the afternoon fly by, such has been their quality.
I wish to express my wholehearted support for the vision for UK aid outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, especially in so far as it is driven by a desire to focus the UK programme on outcomes and value for money rather than on inputs and on what quantities of money are shovelled overseas. I particularly welcome his comment that he intends to review the UK’s aid relationship with India. As he said, there is now a double duty to demonstrate not only that aid money is well spent but that it is spent where most needed so that the Government can carry the country with them at a time of intense budgetary squeeze and retrenchment.
Under the coalition Government, the Department for International Development is already curtailing aid to China and Russia and promising much greater value for money. I believe that it is time to scale back DFID’s substantial India programme. I say that in response to the question asked of the Opposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who asked them to show where money could be saved in the DFID budget.
When we look at DFID’s expenditure, we see that the India programme is the single largest country programme by quite some distance—it is worth £825 million over the three years to 2011. By my calculations, that means that the flow of grant aid from the UK to India is greater now than at any point for at least the past 20 years and, although I cannot trace the figures, perhaps more than at any time since independence in 1947.
Defenders of the aid programme to India can legitimately argue that progress towards meeting the millennium development goals by 2015 hinges on India—that is quite right. However, nuclear-powered India can now fund its own development needs, considerable though they are in a country that is home to 450 million poor people and a third of the world’s malnourished children.
Those who follow Indian affairs will know that it has a defence budget of $31.5 billion and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) mentioned, it has a very ambitious space programme, including plans for an unmanned moon shot. It also has a substantial aid programme of its own. It is obviously not yet at China’s stage of development—India is not China—but it is a claimant to a permanent Security Council seat and to a place at the top table of world affairs. As such, it is hardly a natural aid recipient.
Of course, the moral arguments are very finely balanced—a poor person is a poor person wherever he or she is in the world—but to my mind, common sense suggests that it is a better idea for the UK to prioritise aid to countries that cannot afford to fund their development over those that take the money just because it is going free. Many other donor countries in recent years have been kicked out of India for being too small—managing their donations was simply too bureaucratic and cumbersome a process to be worth the Indian Government’s while. The aid flows of others such as the US peaked 50 years ago in 1960. The US has stated that it is “walking the last mile” in India. The result is that the UK, perhaps inappropriately, now accounts for as much as 30% of all foreign aid to India. That is arguably money that New Delhi could allocate to its own development if it chose to do so. My view is that we must, as the coalition programme states, work towards a new partnership with India for the 21st century —a “new special relationship”, as the Conservative manifesto originally put it. It must be based on strong bonds of trade, not anachronistic ones of aid that hark back to a previous relationship between our two countries.
I should like to say a few words about the issue raised by the withdrawal of a grant to an organisation based in my constituency, which I raised briefly in an intervention on the Secretary of State. I appreciate that we are considering many issues of great international significance in this debate, and I do not want to take up too much time on what some may regard as a relatively tangential matter, but I want to raise my concerns about the way in which, certainly on the information I have, a small organisation doing good work has been unfairly treated. That decision also raises issues about the Government’s approach to development awareness activities in the UK funded by the Department, and the Minister should say something about it in his reply to the debate.
I shall first give some information about the grant that has been withdrawn and the organisation that received it. Hon. Members will recall that at the start of the debate the Secretary of State, as he set out his decisions, headlined one of the five projects from which funding has been withdrawn—a Brazilian-style dance troupe with percussion in Hackney. That project was certainly given some attention in the media. I presume that the only reason why the Secretary of State headlined that project was that “Brazilian-style”, “dance troupe with percussion” and above all “Hackney” are phrases that set every bell ringing in the right-wing media and pressure groups. If one mentions “Brazilian-style dance troupe” and “Hackney” together, one does not really have to argue any further in some people’s minds. That is an unfortunate approach to the debate and I suspect that it stereotypes that particular group in Hackney. I have no knowledge of the group, but I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) who intervened on the Secretary of State wanted to suggest that it was somewhat more than the latter had portrayed.
In any event, I assure the House that when I visited the very small office of the organisation based in my constituency, there were no samba bands practising in the room and no indication of anything to which anyone would have any objection if they studied its work. Scotdec—the Scottish Development Education Centre—is based in my constituency but does work in many parts of Scotland. It is a respected educational organisation that works with local authorities, the Scottish Government and development organisations and has been supported by DFID for work with teachers over many years. I can only assume that the work was recognised by the further grants that were given to it for the current project, which has now had its funding withdrawn just one year into a three-year project.
Scotdec tells me that it works with almost half the schools in south-east Scotland. That is a lot of work for just three staff, not only answering inquiries but going into 228 schools. I have had letters from staff at Jewel and Esk college in Edinburgh and other organisations with which Scotdec has worked, saying that it performs valuable work that fits into wider educational programmes and teacher training programmes in south-east Scotland. Mention was made of the fact that the project works with nursery teachers, as if that was sufficient to say that it must in some way be a bit dotty. Let me assure the Secretary of State that, according to my information, the project works not only with the occasional nursery teacher but with further education colleges and their educators as part of programmes that have been validated and recognised for their value since the project started just over a year ago.
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for his constituents and the organisation that is based in his constituency. We are endeavouring to get him a copy of the letter that should have reached him this morning; I hope that it will arrive during the debate.
The issue is not really whether the expenditure that he has identified is of good quality; it is whether it should come from the budget that I mentioned earlier. The hon. Gentleman may wish to consider whether it is an appropriate way to deploy international development expenditure or whether there are alternative forms of support that his constituents might be able to attract.
I know that the Secretary of State’s office has been trying to get a letter to me this morning and this afternoon. Unfortunately, despite contact with both my office here and my constituency office, it appears still to be lost somewhere in cyberspace. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have to proceed on the basis of the information that I have.
I shall address the Secretary of State’s comment about whether this project is the type of work that should be funded by DFID, but I want first to say something about the project itself. The Secretary of State has almost given support to my argument because he does not appear to suggest that there is anything untoward about the project. I understand that he had no criticism of the work that the project has undertaken. Indeed, I am informed by Scotdec that it was about to submit its first-year report to DFID, but had not actually gone into the Department, so presumably the decision to withdraw the funding could not have been based on any knowledge or understanding of the project. The Secretary of State’s comments seem to suggest that that is the case: the decision was based on a general principle rather than any criticism of the project’s work.
The project organiser was very unhappy—I can see why—about the fact that the first information the organisation had that the project was going to lose its funding was a phone call and e-mail received late on a Friday afternoon, followed by a press notice on the Monday. Apart from being extremely discourteous, that was hardly a fair way to allow a small organisation to respond to a withdrawal of funding which has severely impacted on its ability to carry out its work.
I shall look at the letter that the Secretary of State is seeking to send me. It may well arrive by more conventional means during the afternoon.
Behind the Secretary of State’s decision there is, as he has indicated, a clear political choice to stop funding for projects of this nature. Is there now a general policy of not funding projects promoting development awareness and education in the UK? If so, that takes matters further than the Department’s press statement on 17 May, in which the Secretary of State said:
“There is a legitimate role for development education in the UK, but I do not believe that these projects give the taxpayer value for money.”
No evidence has been given that these sorts of projects do not give value for money. The project in my constituency has been cut just over a year into what was to be a three-year project. A lot of preparatory work has been carried out for the next year, which suggests that it would not be good value for money to cut it at this stage.
In any event, the press notice from the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that there might be some circumstances in which development education was to be funded in the UK by DFID, but if the policy is now that no development education will be funded in the UK, that is extremely regrettable.
The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister face criticism from some of the more right-wing elements on their Back Benches and in the media for agreeing, with all the qualifications that we have heard in this debate, to maintain spending on international development. It seems that a few projects are being thrown to the wolves—a bit of red meat for the right wing—in order to distract their attention from the rest of the Department’s work, and if that is the case it is extremely regrettable. If the Secretary of State is, indeed, withdrawing support for development education in the UK, I ask him to reconsider that decision in respect of the project in my constituency and more generally, because it would be a retrograde step and a reversal of what Governments of all parties have recognised as a minor, but important part of the activity that DFID funds here in the UK.
I shall briefly make the case for Government support of development education in the UK. Everyone in the debate so far has recognised that an essential component of international development is justice—trade justice and debt justice. That requires action not only by Governments and international organisations, but by civil society, including citizens, business organisations, trade unions and many more besides. Such action is more likely to be achieved, and Governments are more likely to move towards greater trade justice and debt justice, if as many people in this country as possible are able to engage with and understand the issues—yes, through awareness-raising work among the general public.
If the Government are withdrawing funding from such programmes, I find that extremely regrettable. In terms of the project in my constituency, where better to start on awareness-raising work than with our youngest citizens-to-be? I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision on that project and, if it reflects a wider policy, the wider policy as well.
It is a real privilege to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate, and I congratulate all the new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They put mine to shame. This is only the second time that I have spoken in the Chamber, and I was very excited at the prospect. However, I was a little disappointed to hear the tone that the shadow Secretary of State chose to take and, especially, the fact that he cast doubt on our Secretary of State’s attitude to development, because we only have to look at his leadership of Project Umubano, in which he has taken hundreds of Conservative activists and Members to Rwanda and Sierra Leone, to see exactly what commitment he has. It is a practical commitment and an effective commitment, and the shadow Secretary of State might like to take some advice on how to behave in opposition.
In Oxford we have a proud tradition of playing our part in international aid. After all, Oxfam takes its name from the city, and in the midst of this discussion about the value that the public place on aid we should give our electors more credit for their compassion and personal commitment to the issue, not to mention their understanding of the basic fact that global poverty promotes global instability. I have seen the evidence of that compassion and understanding in my constituents again and again, and it is in exactly no one’s interests to let the poorest countries get poorer.
Just last week, I was so proud to attend the sixth anniversary of Helping Hands, a local charity that works to improve child health in Uganda. The celebration was at Cumnor primary school, which has long been linked with a school in Uganda. The children whom I met were so excited to tell me about how they fundraised to buy equipment, wrote letters to their friends in Uganda and, if they are able to raise the money, will visit that school in October. Not one person there—child, teacher or governor—expressed doubt about the value of that investment.
However, speaking to those girls and boys, whose enthusiasm and resourcefulness would be a lesson to all Members, I was struck by the fact that, were I speaking to a similar class in parts of Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa, I might well find similar levels of ingenuity, but I would not find similar numbers of female pupils or staff. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) said, the statistics on gender inequalities are still shocking. Women and girls are affected disproportionately by poverty, and they are more likely to become victims of the main causes of poverty. That means that women still make up a staggering 70% of those living in extreme poverty. They perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. Of an estimated 93 million children who are out of school, the majority are girls, meaning that women make up two thirds of the world’s 1 billion people who can neither read nor write. An estimated half a million women die every year as a result of pregnancy complications in childbirth, with 99% of those deaths occurring in developing countries.
These statistics, shocking as they are, do not convey the humiliation and suffering that they are intended to represent, and they do not show the ripple effect that poverty, lack of education and poor access to health care have on entire communities. Fatima’s story does, though. It clearly shows the dire consequences that a mother’s death can have for her entire family and community. Fatima and her husband Ahmed already had nine children and were barely surviving on his salary as a security guard when she became pregnant again. He nearly lost his job taking care of the family during her difficult pregnancy. Then Fatima died giving birth to twin boys in a Kabul hospital. Because of Afghanistan’s shattered health care system, one in every six Afghan women will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
Fatima’s hospital expenses put Ahmed into even deeper debt, so he took their 13-year-old son out of school to work. The twins had to be fed on expensive formula, and they were often ill with diarrhoea or acute respiratory infections, the most common killers of infants worldwide. The family’s 11-year-old daughter was then taken out of school to care for them. At seven months, the smaller twin died. Ahmed remarried, increasing his debt and poverty, so he married off his oldest daughter when she turned 13. She became pregnant at 15, before her body was ready, and suffered an agonising obstructed labour. Her baby was born brain-damaged and she was left with an obstetric fistula that made her incontinent. As a result, her husband abandoned her, and she had to return to her family to live in increasing poverty.
Stories like that are all too common, and they are the reason millennium development goal 5 calls for massive reductions in maternal mortality. International failure to stay on track with this MDG undermines progress in achieving all the other MDGs on education, gender equality, child health, and poverty—for everyone, not just for the women who die unnecessarily. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has recognised that improving performance on MDG 5 needs to be a DFID priority, and I am sure that the UK’s representations at the September summit will include strenuous calls for other countries which are not living up to their international commitments to do the same. I hope, too, that those discussions will include in-depth considerations of the impressive impact that abolishing user fees for maternal health has had in Sierra Leone—despite the fact that I do not want to agree with the shadow Secretary of State. Finding a workable way to deliver this policy alone may go a significant way towards meeting MDG 5 by 2015.
This is not exactly breaking news: it has long been recognised that women face greater obstacles to escaping poverty than men, and there have been many campaigns to try to improve the situation; the MDGs are evidence enough of that. However, while this campaigning has been superbly effective in catalysing Governments and multilaterals into developing strategies to address these obstacles, there has been an unintentional and unfortunate side effect. All too often, women are seen as helpless victims—the passive recipients of aid programmes that can never quite manage to stem the tide of violence and disease that preys on them. This is complete nonsense, and it is dangerous nonsense, because by consigning half the population to victim status, we dismiss 50% of a developing country’s human resources—a 50% who are already active and engaged.
This trend is particularly noticeable in the area of food production, security and climate change. Despite traditional stereotypes, women are engaged in agricultural production in increasingly large numbers. Data offered by the UN hunger taskforce suggests that of the 4 billion poor and hungry, 50%—2 billion—are smallholder farmers, and the majority of those are women. The Food and Agriculture Organisation further suggests that women account for 70 to 80% of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa, 65% in Asia, and 45% in Latin America and the Caribbean. That so-called feminisation of agriculture means that women are becoming increasingly important to agricultural production systems. The reasons for the trend are wide-ranging but include rural-to-urban migration of men, war and its demographic impacts and mortality linked to HIV/AIDS. In many instances, it actually means that the role of men in agricultural production is becoming less significant than that of women.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the context of food security, the production of crops and produce is frequently divided along gender lines. Men are often involved in non-food produce such as tobacco or higher-value food crops for export. Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to be involved in the production of staple food crops for sale in the local market or for household subsistence. In that respect, they are the ones who ensure that the food security needs of families and communities are met.
Climate change is only increasing the challenges that they face. Where it has acute effects on land productivity, women run a higher risk than men of losing their means of livelihood. There is already evidence of that in areas with prolonged drought or heavy flooding, where men have left the rural areas in search of employment leaving women and children on farmland with dwindling resources.
Because women continue to be regarded as home producers or farming assistants and not as economic agents in their own right, they continue to be left out of policy support for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Climate risk insurance, for instance, is unlikely to reach women farmers if farming policy continues to ignore small-scale food growers. In fact, women in forestry, fishing and agriculture receive just 7% of total aid, and in Africa women receive just 10% of the credit for small-scale farmers. When women do obtain credit, the average value is 42% of what is granted to male farmers, and they often require a much higher percentage of collateral. That is clearly unsustainable. As the realities of climate change and food insecurity are beginning to bite—I am thinking particularly of the Sahel food crisis—it is becoming increasingly clear that one hope of effectively increasing the resilience of communities at risk is to engage, resource and train women who are already doing more than their fair share to clothe and feed some of the poorest communities in the poorest countries.
I hope that I have gone some way to showing what effective agents for development women in agriculture already are. As developing effective strategies to tackle food insecurity and climate change becomes ever more urgent, I hope that investing in women in agriculture will be seriously considered as a cost-effective and sustainable way of creating more sustainable communities in the areas in question.
May I take this opportunity to welcome you to your post, Mr Deputy Speaker? This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in a debate with you in the Chair.
I also welcome the Government Front Benchers, and I welcome much of what the Secretary of State said in his opening contribution. The political commitment to ring-fence the international development budget is extremely significant, particularly given the huge cuts that are being announced in other departmental budgets. My hon. Friends are right to say that there will be political pressure from some quarters to reconsider that over the coming period, and I am sure that many Members in all parts of the House will speak up on the matter and provide support to ensure that the level of funding provided to the Department is maintained.
The previous Labour Government had an excellent track record on international development. They trebled the amount spent on aid during the period from 1997, and, on top of that, a huge amount of work was done to ensure that the types of project that the British Government funded were as effective as possible. It is important that we say that again and again, and that the coalition Government build upon it.
As we have heard, huge numbers of people on the planet struggle in abject poverty, and I would like to focus particularly on the impact on those people of the global economic crisis that we have gone through and are still going through. The situation is getting worse rather than better. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) has already mentioned the estimate by the World Bank that by the end of this year 64 million more people will be in poverty than at the start of the year. It also says that 53 million more people were trapped in poverty during 2009 as a direct result of the global economic crisis. The World Bank says that that will have a long-term effect, with estimates suggesting that by 2020 poverty rates will be higher, even if everything goes well from now on, than they would have been if the global economic crisis had not taken place.
The concern is that the cuts announced in this country and in other European countries may have an impact on growth, and the developing countries will feel the effect if people in this country do not buy their products and provide a market for their goods. It is therefore vital that we maintain the levels of aid that we provide. We should also do everything that we can—at the international events in which the Government are involved—to ensure not just that Britain moves towards the 0.7% target, but that as many countries as possible make similar progress, because this will be a very difficult time for developing countries as their exports decline, prices fall and pay rates are lowered.
Developing countries are also dealing with a food crisis. In 2008, because of international events, the prices of the foodstuffs bought by people in many developing countries soared. According to the most recent millennium development goals reports, food prices remain high, and that will have a significant impact on malnutrition rates in many countries.
Members on the other side of the House have mentioned the scepticism about aid in some quarters among the British public, but I suggest that only a significant minority are concerned about Britain spending money on aid while we are also cutting back at home. It would be unjustifiable for Britain to take any other course. If we do not do everything that we can to try to take people out of poverty in other parts of the world, we—and they—will have to live with the consequences. We are already seeing the impact on human rights in those countries, with significant amounts of unrest because of long-term increases in economic inequality within countries as well as between countries.
We have already seen, for example, an increase in the number of trade unionists being killed. In a recent report, the International Labour Organisation, which is part of the UN, said that there had been a 30% increase between 2008 and 2009 in the number of trade unionists killed. Similar figures are being recorded relating to other aspects of human rights.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the position of women, and I welcome the fact that the Government have said that they want to put women at the heart of development issues. Several colleagues have talked about the figures on, and the concerns about, maternal mortality. United Nations millennium development goal 5 was aimed at reducing maternal mortality by 75%, and I urge the Government to maintain the previous Government’s strategy of putting women at the centre of their policies.
We need to consider other ways of providing further funding for aid. However, I ask the Government to consider not just aid, but some of the suggestions from the various non-governmental organisations campaigning on this issue, particularly the suggestions for a Tobin tax and international forms of taxation, the funding from which could be earmarked for, and directed towards, trying to do something to bridge the huge gap in the world between rich and poor, both within and between countries. I have heard the comments about providing aid to relatively well-off countries, but although countries such as Colombia are relatively well-off in international terms, they still have huge inequalities of wealth and millions of people still living in shanty towns. Even for relatively well-off countries, where there is abject poverty and where people are living in squalor, it is appropriate that the British Government take a stance and look for ways to provide assistance.
It has been a pleasure to make a contribution to this important debate. I hope that all Members will do all they can to hold the new coalition Government to account on this issue and maintain the politic pressure that clearly exists in the country to ensure that Britain is at the forefront of efforts to address global poverty.
It is a privilege, if a little daunting, to speak in the same debate as my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who made outstanding and passionate maiden speeches.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, aid is not the final answer. Nations become sustainably prosperous not through our charity or redistribution, but when they can create their own wealth. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) mentioned the letters and e-mails that a number of hon. Members are getting from people who are unhappy that, at a time when the Government are having to cut back severely on spending programmes, we are still committed to spending money on aid. I do not know whether, as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) said, those people constitute a small or a significant minority, but they certainly exist, and we have to work hard to carry them with the programme.
The line “charity begins at home” holds a certain attraction, but, as we see again and again from the generosity of the British people when called upon, charity here certainly does not end at home. The moral and altruistic argument for aid is strong, but as politicians we can, and must, do better than hitherto in explaining to, and convincing, people why aid can also be in our own interests when properly targeted and as long as we know that other wealthy nations are also making their proper contribution alongside ours. A larger world gross domestic product benefits not just newly developing countries, but the entire world economy, through bigger markets, specialisation and trade. It ensures that the world’s scarce resources, including human resources, are put to better use, and through the promotion of stability in otherwise volatile parts of the world, it contributes to our security. Furthermore, there are benefits in terms of climate change, economic migration and so on, and often direct benefit can be had from strategic bilateral relationships, which of course are competitive exercises between countries.
Private enterprise is the single most important driver of development. It creates jobs, wealth and opportunities. It also harnesses the talents and the enterprise of entrepreneurs, who in turn, through their ingenuity and drive, will create opportunities for their countrymen and women to prosper. However, in the world’s developing economies, just as here at home, that hinges on access to credit.
Like everybody else, poor people need money if they are going to start businesses. However, mainstream banks often do not want to deal with them, because the sums of money involved are so small and because it is difficult to find an attractive return once the full operating costs have been factored in. A key to successful development is microfinance, providing loans to some of the world’s poorest people and playing a key role in generating a real private sector. In some countries, such as India and Bangladesh, the microfinance sector is already well established. The Grameen bank, which is the best-known example, having pioneered the sector in 1983, has since made loans to more than 8 million borrowers. In other countries, however, there is still a lot of work left to do.
My introduction to microfinance came in Rwanda in 2008. Like a number of my hon. Friends this afternoon, I have had the opportunity a couple of times to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on two of the volunteering projects that he has organised in that country, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) referred earlier. In the short time spent on such a project, the contribution that one can make is tiny. However, although one’s contribution may be modest, it is fair to say that what we learned could hardly be overstated.
One of the things that I learned about was microfinance. I had the opportunity while in Rwanda to pay a short visit to the country’s largest microfinance institution, the Urwego Opportunity microfinance bank. We saw the two extremes of that organisation’s operation. The first was the bank’s flagship city branch, which looked a bit like a small branch of Barclays and was very high-tech, with all sorts of fingerprint identification technologies. The second example, at the other extreme, was what one might call the field operation—quite literally—in a market on the edge of the city, where no such technology would be available. Instead, gathered on a patch of ground were the 30 or so members—most, but not all of them, women—of a microfinance circle. The majority were sole traders in that market.
Microfinance there works in cycles of four months. People get the money at the start of the period and, so long as they pay it off at a rate of 3% a month, they can borrow again in the next four-month period. Critically, each member of the circle vouches for the others, and if someone defaults, the other members have to pick up the slack. The system is therefore largely self-policing, and before someone joins a circle, Mr Deputy Speaker, you can bet that the other members will ensure that their business is viable.
In that circle and that cycle, a lot of money changed hands. For example, 9.6 million Rwandan francs, which is almost £10,000, was brought to the circle by a female Urwego employee in a paper bag—it is quite astounding that there is not more theft on such occasions. The biggest borrower—a lady called Veronique—had borrowed almost £800, which, when we consider that this would be almost £2,500 over the three cycles in a year, is quite a lot of money. She uses that money to finance her bar and pay for the satellite television service, so that she can charge keen Rwandans to watch English premiership football teams—notably, I am pleased to say, the Arsenal—on her television set.
The sums of money involved in such projects are now such that one could say that they straddle microfinance and mainstream finance. Indeed, one needs credit at all levels to finance the development of such an economy. In rural areas of Rwanda, there are much smaller-scale operations, sometimes involving loans as small as just £1. Around the world, microfinance programmes have shown again and again that poor people can and do have a strong repayment record—in most cases over 95%. However, according to the World Bank, the industry is not even close to meeting the demand for its services. There could be up to 500 million poor people in the world for whom a small business loan would be a great opportunity, while two thirds of the world’s population have no access to a bank account at all. The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa.
The chance to witness microfinance in progress in Rwanda left a great impression on me. People talk about developing market economies, but there was a market economy developing before our eyes. I hope and trust that, in our programme of help for the poorest of the world, we will focus very much on those helping-hand programmes, which enable people to help themselves. I also hope that more airtime is given to those programmes, so that the British public can increasingly see aid as an investment in the future and in a rising rate of world growth, and not just as money spent.
I begin, like others, by paying tribute to three excellent maiden speeches. It was delightful to hear those speeches and I am sorry that the Members who delivered them are no longer in the Chamber to hear my speech. They are probably celebrating in the Tea Room, having got through the first milestone here in Parliament. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), who spoke passionately and with great knowledge about his constituency; to my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), who is clearly going to be a great contributor to the field of defence and, indeed, international development; and, last but not least, to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). Those of us slightly older in the tooth on the Government side—and that might include yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker—might recall her giving a passionate speech at the annual conference in Blackpool on the theme of “What is a girl like me doing in the Tory party?” That was a fantastic speech, and from her performance here again today, we can see why a girl like her is in this place. I am sure that she will represent her constituents well.
Before moving on to my main theme, I would like to respond to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), who made a passionate plea to keep funding based in the UK, which has been stopped by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. [Interruption.] Let me quote to that hon. Member—
I stand corrected; I mean the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar). What it says on the tin—I presume that this was true from when the Department for International Development was created—is that DFID is
“the part of the UK Government that manages Britain’s aid to poor countries and works to get rid of extreme poverty.”
That is not in line with what the hon. Gentleman was pleading for—for funding to remain in his constituency—so perhaps he wants to see the definition of DFID change. I will come back to the definition and its importance later in my speech.
What do we mean by poverty? It is not just about an individual, a community or a country being poor; it is about being economically challenged. Poverty is multidimensional. It is lack of food and water, yes, and it is a lack of shelter; it is also the lack of health and access to medical support. Poverty is also about the lack of education and the inability to read, not having a job, and fearing for the future, living one day at a time. In essence, poverty is about powerlessness, lack of representation and lack of freedom.
I am pleased that we are having this debate so early in this Parliament in order to discuss the issues and the role Britain can play in the future. It is an important debate. I—like many other Members, I am sure—was challenged during the election about why we were ring-fencing funding for international development when there was so much economic pressure on all the other Departments. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelled out the importance of keeping aid working and of making sure that we are able to support the countries that need it so that they can help themselves. Otherwise, immigration issues and environmental issues will grow, and the problem will become much bigger in the long term.
The causes of poverty can be broken down, crudely, into two areas—the natural and the man-made. On the natural side, there is the swell of population in places like India, or crop failure in places like Sudan or indeed disease and epidemics such as HIV/AIDS in places like South Africa and southern Africa. On the man-made front, equally affecting, we have things like corrupt leadership as we see in Somalia, or civil war as we see right across Africa and particularly in places like Angola. Then there is economic failure or even the deliberate denial of funding to poor communities for necessary projects.
Climate change can also be seen to be man-made as well. If sea levels continue to rise, places like Bangladesh would be hugely threatened. What is called water stress would be the result, and the lack of drinking water is estimated to affect 1 billion to 3 billion people. These are issues that we in the developed world need to debate, even though they may affect more people in the developing world.
The yardstick for our debates is now the millennium development goals, put forward in September 2000 by the United Nations with eight clear aims. The first is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Unfortunately, we are a long way from achieving our 2015 target in that respect. The second is the achievement of universal primary education. The number of children receiving primary education has risen to 89% in the developing world, but we are still short of our millennium goal target. The third is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. That remains out of reach, as, indeed, do the reduction of child mortality and improvement in maternal health, which are the fourth and fifth goals.
The sixth goal is the combating of HIV and AIDS; the situation seems to have stabilised in many regions. The seventh is the ensuring of environmental stability, and the eighth is the development of a global partnership for development, which involves developing open trading and financial systems. My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) spoke passionately about his attempts to establish and promote such systems in Rwanda.
Those are the eight themes that we will use as our benchmarks. When the countries meet for the summit in New York in September there will be much to discuss and much food for thought, given the huge shortfall between where we are now and where we would like to be by 2015.
What is our role in all this? What can the United Kingdom do to tackle the problems, either individually or with other countries, and how should we contribute? I believe that there are many ways in which the UK can make its mark. We often put our hand up when other countries do not, and it is fantastic that we continue to be willing to step forward and encourage other developed countries that may be reticent.
As I said in an intervention on the shadow Secretary of State, the G8 and the G20 are new organisations that have been able to bring in many voices that may have been excluded in the past. They make decisions and agreements, and issue challenges. Older organisations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which were created when life was very different during or just after the war, have to pick up the pieces and deal with the details of those challenges.
The older organisations are out of date, and are in dire need of modernisation. While we have renewed and are reinvigorating the methods with which we distribute aid to ensure that we receive value for money, I do not believe that the same can be said for those major organisations. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been hesitant about handing over money before he has guaranteed to ensure that it will be well spent.
Let me gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that confusing Glasgow and Edinburgh is not a practice that he should try to repeat. However, he has made an interesting point about the current management of the World Bank and the IMF. Does he agree that we should try to ensure that donee nations have a much bigger say in management and decision making than they do at present?
The purpose of the debate is to enable ideas such as that to be put into the pot. In this instance, we are not taking about minutiae, but about the need for a root-and-branch change in the way in which organisations both operate individually and interconnect. Afghanistan is a good example of the failure of huge organisations to co-ordinate their activities sensibly in order to assist with post-conflict reconstruction.
As long as conflict continues in developing areas, poverty will thrive. Only when it ends can peace flourish, which will allow support and investment to move in, and business and trade to flourish as well. That is our role. It is dual-faced. We can use what Joe Nye used to call soft and hard power, or soft and hard influence. On the soft side there are, for instance, the Fairtrade initiatives, and ensuring that we support businesses in developing countries in the knowledge that buying a product in the supermarket will genuinely help people in need rather than corrupt organisations. The setting of tariffs can also help, as can targeted investment and funding—which has already been mentioned—and choosing support responsibly.
Any of us who have travelled to African countries will have observed that China is taking full advantage of those countries’ desire for hard currency, but I am afraid that it is doing so in an irresponsible way. The Chinese are not allowing local skills to be developed. They bus in their own people, rob the country of its minerals, drain it dry and then go home or move on to another area. That is happening on a huge scale, and no one seems to want to challenge it.
I will finish my contribution by discussing conflict and the relationship between DFID and other organisations. For 10 years, DFID has been waking up to the fact that it has had to do something very different from what it was set up to do. It does tackle poverty well, and it has been congratulated on that, but it has had to develop a new role in working in insecure and dangerous environments. I am pleased to say that the stabilisation unit and the other work being done are working well, but we took an awful long time to get there. For the first year in Afghanistan the budget was £47 million but the current budget is £5 billion a year. Had we bothered to get the reconstruction and development right when there was a small window of opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the locals, we would have been out of Afghanistan by then. I am pleased that DFID has moved forward, I am glad that the new management have pledged to ensure that there is better scrutiny, and I wish the new team well.
Sadly, I, like many other Members in the Chamber, have received letters and e-mails from constituents saying that we are going to be subjected to cuts in most departmental budgets, so we should also cut DFID’s aid budget. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that “charity begins at home, but it does not end there”, because I will be able to go back to my constituents to tell them that we have a duty in this relatively wealthy country to help others.
I know that this will upset many of those correspondents, but I am very pleased to see that the Chancellor, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State and his team understand the importance of the budget for developing countries. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the start that he has made in changing the priorities in his Department because, as many Members have said, we need to ensure that money is well spent. There is a lot of corruption and we must ensure that the money goes to the people whom it needs to help and does not just go into the pockets of some politicians. That is why I am particularly keen to see measures put in place that stop that money going astray.
We do have poverty here in Britain, but the poverty in developing countries is very different and we can make a difference. Even in these difficult times, 0.7% of our gross national income is not a huge sum, but it might save some lives and help countries to escape from the worst life expectancy rates and early deaths from disease. Places such as Africa have to deal with many illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. If we can help these places by providing the correct medicines at an affordable price and bed nets to save children from mosquito bites, which cause malaria, we will help with the population’s education. Children cannot go to school if they are ill; if they do not get an education, they cannot get a job; and the cycle is perpetuated. Much of Africa does have primary education but many children never go to secondary schools. Even if they do, girls may have to miss one week in four because they have no sanitary protection and have to stay at home. That cannot be right in 2010.
Aid money must be spent well, because we need to reduce the difference in the life expectancy of people in developing countries and that of ourselves—that is crucial to the well-being of these countries. I was one of those people who went on Project Umubano with the Secretary of State, and we saw so many things that impressed us. It is not that the people in these countries are stupid or unable to study; they have fantastic minds, but they do not always have the opportunities.
I have organised my own aid project in a small way in Uganda, so I have seen at first hand what direct aid can do to help communities. Such aid could be for an education project—we constructed one school and helped another to finish the building that included a hall, now called Derby hall, having been named after my constituency—or it could provide a water butt to collect water because there is none on site and people have to walk half a mile to collect it. We started a women’s co-operative using old British Singer hand-sewing machines to give AIDS widows the opportunity to learn to make school uniforms and to have an income, rather than live without money.
We are also helping farmers to start to become self-sufficient in growing crops. We give each farmer that has cleared 1 acre of ground 10 kilos of maize seeds to plant. At the end of the season, they give 10 kilos back, replant another 10 kilos for the next season and either sell or consume what is left. That is a highly sustainable way of getting farming off the ground. Those farmers should now be able to make money each season from their very fertile ground, which was previously underused because of a lack of leadership in the area. This year, we have given money to enable some farmers to start growing upland rice on the same principle.
That is just one of many thousands of private projects. The students I have taken out there and I have not changed poverty in Africa, but we have helped one small area of Uganda, and we hope to continue to do so. There are many thousands of projects in Britain helping countries throughout the developing world, and I suggest that we harness that tremendous enthusiasm and get them to work with us—rather like the big society idea and the fact that we are asking people out there what laws and regulations they want to see scrapped. Why not ask churches and schools that have their own projects, along with the many other volunteers, to tell us what has worked for them and whether any projects financed by outside aid have failed? That would give us a clearer insight into the matter. Big charities such as Oxfam do fantastic work, but they sometimes get carried away with what they are doing and do not see what is happening in small pockets of the country where the small groups of volunteers are working.
I should like my project to help in that way, by helping the coalition Government to come up with inventive ideas for helping people in Africa and elsewhere. We have the expertise out in Africa. My project in Uganda is in an area not far from Kampala—it is only two and a half hours’ drive away—yet most of the people there had never seen a white person before we started going out to them. As with everything else that the coalition is trying to do, we need to ensure that there is value for money, and that every pound we spend in a developing country gets to where it can make the maximum difference to the real people, and not to corrupt politicians.
Rwanda’s President has a fantastic vision of what he wants his country to be like, and it is possible to see the difference that he has made, year on year. It is a clean country that is improving its environment day by day. In fact, it is the cleanest African country I have ever been to. Much of Kigali has pavements, which few other poor countries would even think of having. That is because the President has a vision of what he wants his country to achieve.
Uganda has oil, but I fear that the people will not benefit from any revenue. Oil could put the country into a completely new ball game, providing money for decent housing, sanitation, education and better health care. We have a duty to persuade Presidents in this situation to use their country’s natural resources to produce wealth to help everyone, not just themselves. I urge the Secretary of State to take this into account whenever he speaks to the leaders of such countries. Those Presidents should enable their countries to become self-sufficient through their own wealth, and give it to the people to spend rather than spending it on their own pet projects. That would create wealth-generating communities, and we would need to provide less aid, which in turn would enable us to help more people in other countries, rather than having to spread the aid too thinly.
I congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk).
Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), whom I welcome to his position as Secretary of State, wrote:
“In a globalised world, we are all bound together, our destinies linked.”
I fully agree with that. He has made a compelling case for the importance of the UK’s international development programme. That case is a moral case, and we have heard the reasons behind it, including the fact that 25,000 children die of preventable diseases every day. However, there is also a case to be made for our national interest, and I would go beyond saying that it lies simply in ensuring that people no longer wish to flee the conditions in their own countries to seek a better life elsewhere. That is part of it, but I would echo the words of Sir Terry Leahy this week. He said that
“we need to think more about how we can engage in the world as it is and will be.”
He went on to say:
“I think it is a wonderful thing that already a billion, and potentially billions, are going to be taken out of poverty”
“an incredible business opportunity where Britain is well positioned.”
I pay credit here to the work of the previous Government on international aid.
For much of my working life, I have worked in developing countries in business and I therefore declare an interest. I remember that in the late 1980s there was always a lot of tension between those involved in business and those involved in development. These days, it is very different. It is accepted that the best way to tackle poverty is through economic development and that the private sector will play the leading role in that. Indeed, the private sector has come a long way in recognising that it, too, has social responsibilities. It recognises that Government and development organisations are its partners. If there is no functioning health system, its staff and customers will suffer. If schools are inadequate, where will it recruit the staff that it needs? I have the good fortune of being married to a doctor who ran a health education programme for 11 years in Tanzania, and she always reminded me of the importance of that sector.
There are three areas in which aid has an important role to play in economic development. The first is agriculture, which has been so eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). There was a tendency in some parts of the developing world to see agriculture, and in particular smallholder agriculture, as a business of the past, to be superseded by the brave new world of state-owned industry. Many of those factories have long ceased to function while the smallholders continue to earn their living from the land.
Agriculture is a business of the future, certainly in Britain, in my constituency and around the world. Any country, including ours, that ignores the potential of agriculture does so to its cost. The OECD’s report on sustainable agriculture states that in 2005 to 2030, food demand is expected to increase by 50% across the world. That is a huge opportunity for farmers in developing countries. Agriculture, especially on small farms, is an excellent way to promote economic development. The International Fund for Agricultural Development has found that a healthy agricultural sector acts as a multiplier in local economies, spurring higher incomes and increasing access to markets. That is why I am delighted that the Secretary of State has highlighted agriculture as an essential building block of wealth creation.
The second area in which aid is important is small businesses, which have been mentioned. I might as well say “other small businesses”, as smallholder farmers are business men and business women. In the UK, we recognise small and medium-sized enterprises as the engine of the economy, and it should be no different in developing countries. Employment and unemployment are critical, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) said, yet anyone wishing to set up a business in many developing countries faces great problems: the cost of registration, tax authorities that often want taxes to be paid before the business has started trading, and, above all, lack of finance. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who talked about microfinance.
Of course, the growth of microfinance has been a great success story in the past 15 years, but there is a gap between microfinance and the level at which private risk capital will lend—typically, $50,000 or $100,000 and above. Banks do not fill the gap and they usually require security, which the entrepreneur cannot provide. I urge the Secretary of State to consider how the UK can work to overcome that financing gap. It is not straightforward, as I know from being involved over the past six years in helping to finance small businesses in Tanzania through a charity, but it can be done. Well-managed revolving equity or quasi-equity funds enable a pound of aid to be used several times over. The Secretary of State rightly emphasises the importance of the effectiveness of aid, and that is an opportunity.
The third area in which aid is important is infrastructure. It is of little use to produce crops only for them to rot in the field because they cannot reach the market. Transport costs in Africa have been estimated to be on average double those in Asia. Infrastructure projects in the past have been riddled with corruption and beset by special interests, but if countries come forward with serious business cases for not only building but maintaining the necessary infrastructure, we should look at them. As the Conservative party’s Green Paper states
“we are convinced that effective support for infrastructure has a central role to play in boosting growth and development around the world, particularly in Africa.”
I have spoken about agriculture and infrastructure, and to some this might seem a throwback to the early days of international development. People might point out that many countries have not yet thrown off the shackles of poverty, but it was precisely because agriculture was ignored for 20 years and infrastructure was built and not maintained that the benefits of that investment were often not realised. What is, perhaps, new is the appreciation at last that no country will develop economically without allowing its small businesses, including smallholder farmers, to flourish. Give them firm property rights, fair taxation, access to affordable finance that will not take the shirt off their back if things go wrong, and a good basic infrastructure, and they will create the jobs that are so desperately needed. They will also create the tax revenues that will pay for the health, education and other services on which they depend, as well as the stability without which no real development is possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on their excellent maiden speeches. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), whom I met at the beginning of her 10-year journey. I think I will remember her class P for ever.
There has been much talk since the emergency Budget about austerity and hardship, and it will be a tough few years for many as we deal with the excesses of the past and move our country back on to the road to recovery. As a developed nation with a Government who are committed to the principles of responsibility, freedom and fairness, we cannot turn our backs, even in these difficult times, on those in greater need than ourselves.
As we are talking about the ongoing challenges caused by global poverty, it will be useful to define poverty. The World Bank says that people who live on less than $1.25 a day in developing countries are living in poverty. That is the level of income deemed necessary to fulfil basic human needs in the developing world, where some 1.4 billion people have been living below that poverty line. We need to address that. The concept of poverty is brought to life more vividly by this World Bank description:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.”
None of us can listen to that description without feeling a call to action and a need to do all we can to address the unfair balance that is suffered by people purely because of the lottery of where they were born.
Many people have talked about the eight millennium development goals, which represent the human and basic needs that every individual around the world should be able to enjoy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has described those goals. The confirmation of the goals was a real step forward in international efforts to combat global poverty, but, as the Secretary of State said this morning, measurable outcomes of the goals are needed to make them effective.
It is fair to say that progress has been made, with some countries achieving many of the targets, but others are not on track to achieve any. Key successes include the significant progress towards eradicating poverty, the major progress on getting children into school, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and the reduction in child deaths owing to HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases. However, the report on the goals concedes that progress has been severely challenged, particularly given the global economic crisis of the past few years. Without a major push forward, many of those goals are likely to be missed. We need to address that.
There is considerable regional variation, with areas such as eastern Asia benefiting most from the continued economic growth in China and India. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa suffered from low levels of economic growth and faced significant challenges to reaching targets. Even within countries, there are major differentials between rural and urban areas, which we must address. We have to get aid to where it is really needed.
There has been some criticism of the implementation of the G8-backed funds, which some believe have at times been hijacked to pay for natural disasters. Although worthy, that use of the money might not have a direct impact on the achievement of development goals. Others have criticised the distribution of funds, suggesting that elements of cronyism can be detected in the allocation of funds. Some feel that not enough has been done to tackle corruption in the countries receiving aid and to ensure that aid gets to the right places. However, despite increases in international development aid over the following years, in 2007 a total of $103.7 billion was committed, which represented only 0.28% of developed countries’ GNP. We still have some way to go to achieve our goal, but I welcome the announcement made by the Prime Minister at this week’s G8 summit in Canada. He confirmed the UK’s commitment to 0.7% of GNP being spent on international aid, and said it was an
“opportunity to exercise leadership on behalf of the poorest.”
I have been fortunate, in my time as an ambassador for ActionAid and as part of the Leaders’ Quest programme, to have visited many countries that suffer extremes of poverty. They include China, India, Mozambique, South Africa, and I also visited Rwanda with the Secretary of State. Although seeing the difficulties that people face every day can be distressing, more often than not I have found it to be an uplifting experience and have been inspired by those who have so little.
Sometimes, not only money but connections make a difference. I found that with the school twinning exercise that I organised between Kayonza modern secondary school in Rwanda and Brentford school for girls in my constituency. Many of the people I have met have been full of hope and optimism for the future, just looking for a way to help themselves get out of the situation that they have found themselves in through no fault of their own. The famous Chinese proverb states:
“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”
In the same way, providing support for building skills and education is critical to creating the self-sustaining cycle that will break developing countries out of poverty.
As I said, it is not sufficient just to provide effective aid internationally. We also need to ensure that there are fair global policies in place to ensure access to finance and remove trade barriers so that developing countries are able to compete in the global marketplace. Alison Evans, the director of the Overseas Development Institute, put this succinctly when she said:
“Think aid, think smart aid but also think beyond aid.”
It is critical that Governments from the developed world play their role in ensuring fair practices to support developing nations. I visited sugar plantation farmers in Mozambique who were desperate to be able to trade with us to create a strong, stable and sustainable economy for the long term in their country. They pleaded with us to remove EU tariff barriers so that they could achieve that.
In my constituency of Brentford and Isleworth is a company called Microloan Foundation. We have heard already from my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) about the role that microfinance can play. What Microloan Foundation does is a real example of how we can provide loans to people in rural areas to enable them to set up their own self-sustaining businesses. Peter Ryan, the founder of Microloan Foundation, said:
“The challenge of building the operation from the ‘ground up’ has resulted in the creation of a social model which, coupled with strong business management, is beginning to yield exceptionally good results.”
This week, the company launched its Pennies for Life campaign, and I encourage everyone to join it. People who sign up pay an extra lp every time they buy something, and that money helps to support this microfinance initiative. This is a great success story.
Finally, I believe that, even in these difficult times, as a developed country we must do our utmost to maintain our commitment to eradicating the causes of global poverty. In so doing, we will all benefit from a safer and more secure world.
I applaud the UN’s efforts to focus the hearts and minds of the developing nations on making progress towards reducing global poverty, and the role that the millennium development goals have played in that regard.
As we move forward, I believe that we need to focus on the best way to translate the MDGs into bottom-up, practical projects that achieve the shared objectives as well as value for money in terms of aid spent. I endorse what the Government are doing with their aim of transparency and their desire to address the causes of poverty.
We have an important role to play in reducing extreme poverty globally, and in creating a world that is more stable, more just and more secure.
Some sceptics say that charity begins at home and use that argument to resist spending on international aid. I agree that charity begins at home, but it depends how one defines the word “home”. There are geographic boundaries but there are also moral boundaries, and we are all neighbours. Just because someone lives thousands of miles away does not mean that the moral boundaries are any different. We should be building bridges, not walls. When aid is well spent, it is hugely in the national interest. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of that, as he came to my constituency before the election and met the paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, who does so much work with Africa. However, for aid to work we need three things—more bilateral aid, more know-how and more transparency.
I believe that aid must cut out the middle man. For example, why do we often give aid through the EU, for the EU to distribute? Why do we not give it directly? Why not give more aid directly to schools and other community institutions? The localism for which we yearn here is yearned for abroad as well. As the policy paper “One World Conservatism” states, when aid is well spent, it
“has worked miracles: eliminating smallpox, almost eradicating polio…helping get millions of children into school and saving millions of families from hunger and disease.”
The best form of aid is sharing expertise and knowledge—know-how. Many of my hon. Friends spoke about Project Umubano in Rwanda, which I have been privileged to go on for two years to teach English. People are hungry not only for food and work but for knowledge. Voluntary Service Overseas does a huge amount to share concrete practical skills. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with which I worked a few years ago in Uganda and Tanzania through the Conservative party, shares knowledge with democratic parties abroad. All the evidence shows that greater democracy means less poverty. By democracy, I mean not just regular elections but the rule of law and property rights. Perhaps in future, as part of the sharing of expertise, businesses could sponsor aid apprentices through their social responsibility initiatives to build up technical capacity overseas.
On transparency, we need a much clearer idea of where our money is going. When Hillary Clinton pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid to Palestine in 2009, she said that it must not benefit Hamas. Why? Because she knew that aid to the Palestinian Authority had ended up in the wrong hands in the past. That is just one of many examples from around the world, but it proves that transparency must be at the heart of what we do and what we demand from our partners.
That is why the revolution in open government is welcome. Taxpayers ought to be able to track overseas aid on the internet from the moment it is allocated to the moment the results are delivered. I also welcome the proposal in “One World Conservatism” for the £40 million “MyAid” fund, which would be controlled by taxpayers, because it would introduce popular competition among aid projects and increase democratic control.
Bilateral aid, know-how and transparency must be our watchwords in reducing global poverty. Now that we are united in our coalition, I should like to conclude by quoting a Liberal. Gladstone said:
“Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.”
I agree. Helping our neighbours overseas is morally and politically right, and it will ensure that the British Isles continue to be a beacon of light and hope for the most vulnerable in our world.
I welcome this early opportunity to debate global poverty, but with the UN’s poverty summit so close, this debate could and should have been on the Second Reading of Labour’s 0.7 % legislation. As I reviewed the speeches of the Secretary of State and the Minister in preparation for this debate, I saw many of the themes and examples that recent Ministers have used, so I certainly warmly welcome many of the concerns highlighted by the Secretary of State. However, recent events and the debate have revealed both the lack of action at a key moment by the coalition Government and a lack of strategy for the Department’s future work. That should alarm hon. Members and those outside the House who see the declaration in 2000 that gave birth to the millennium development goals as a direct challenge to our generation to help the world’s poorest.
We heard three excellent maiden speeches, the first of which was from the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). The pupils of class P at Hayfield school can indeed be proud of their work in support of the 1GOAL campaign, and indeed for influencing their Member of Parliament to speak up on their behalf. She rightly raised the continuing plight of 72 million children who are still denied the opportunity of an education.
The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) also made an excellent maiden speech. It takes a certain talent to work Led Zeppelin and Robbie Williams into a speech on global poverty, but he did so with some panache. He also raised the important issue of access to medicines and the need for continuing work on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) made a particularly impressive maiden speech, deploying humour about one particular election moment to make a nevertheless important point about the views of many of his and, I suspect, all our constituents. As someone who has the honour to chair the Co-operative party outside this House, and having attended the Co-operative Congress in Plymouth only last weekend, I warmly welcomed my hon. Friend’s reference to the contribution of the Rochdale pioneers to this country. In the context of this debate, I welcomed his reminder about the profound challenges facing the Palestinians, and his call for all of us to do more to help them was particularly timely.
We heard a strong speech from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) who, having worked for Oxfam and helped organise the Gleneagles rally five years ago, has real authority on these issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) crucially reminded us of the importance of the decent work agenda and the continuing need to champion labour standards. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), whose election to the International Development Committee I welcome, she raised the important need for progress on tax issues, which, as she rightly reminded us, Christian Aid does so much to champion so well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) reminded us that we all need to continue to buy Fairtrade goods—a point also raised by the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). She also referred to the need for democracy and a strong civil society as basic pre-requisites for development progress, making a particularly acute point about the role of trade unions in civil society, which was heard, I noted, in absolute silence by Government Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) made strong cases for continuing investment in developing countries. In the case of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, her argument was spoilt only by two mild reproaches to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), which I suspect were designed more to please those on her Front Bench rather than made because she took them particularly seriously. I was tempted to put a membership form for the Labour party in the post to her, so good was her speech.
The Secretary of State highlighted the particular challenges of unsafe abortion. It would have been helpful if he had mentioned the last US Republican Administration, who bear a particularly heavy responsibility for the fact that more progress was not made more quickly in their eight years to provide proper facilities for women to have an abortion. The previous Government strongly supported investment in health care to tackle this issue directly and funded international bodies such as the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which remain pivotal to further progress.
I also welcome the Secretary of State’s interest in the broader issue of maternal mortality. We committed to scale up support for maternal and newborn health to help save the lives of 6 million mothers and babies by 2015; so if the right hon. Gentleman intends to continue our work in this area, I certainly welcome that commitment.
I worry about the growing number of aid sceptics in the Conservative party. The honest speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) was an interesting example of that. I wonder whether that is the reason why the Secretary of State will not or cannot announce a timetable for introducing legislation to put the 0.7% contribution goal on our statute book yet.
The Secretary of State made important points about the case for development, which I welcome. There is a moral case for not standing by in countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma, where the Governments are failing to help their peoples, as well as for helping Governments in countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Ghana, who want to do the right thing by their people, to build up their economies, health systems and school systems.
The right hon. Gentleman also made the crucial point that there is a strong self-interest for Britain in championing the needs of developing countries, perhaps most acutely at the moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a point touched on by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) in the final Back-Bench speech of the debate.
What is now needed is action to back up those fine sentiments from the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central were right when they made it clear that other countries must meet their commitments on aid. It is for exactly that reason that the failure to fight at the G8 for meaningful language on the Gleneagles commitments is a deeply worrying sign of the extent to which the Government are really willing to champion the needs of the world’s poorest. A supposedly new initiative on maternal health, with no extra money behind it, is frankly a dismal return from the Prime Minister’s first international outing. Indeed, his failure to fight for the world’s poorest does not augur well for any effort the new Government are intending to put in to make a success of the UN review of progress to meet the millennium development goals in September. If the Secretary of State cannot get his own leader, or even No. 10 staff, to press for the world’s poorest at meetings of the richest nations in the world, it suggests that his influence at the heart of Government is not particularly high. Coming so soon after the Gracious Speech, which talks not of legislation on the target of aid being 0.7% of GNI but of a mere parliamentary mention, challenging scrutiny of his performance is what the right hon. Gentleman must now expect from Opposition Members.
The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) have played on this point. The hon. Gentleman makes assertions about the Prime Minister not doing enough in Canada, but what is his evidence? I can only assume that he was not in the House for the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday, when he made it very clear that he had stressed the importance of transparency and accountability, and of meeting the MDG targets. What my right hon. Friend said to the House bears no relation to the travesty of the facts being put forward by the Opposition today.
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the fact that this G8 communiqué was the first in five years not to include any mention of the Gleneagles commitments and that organisations as significant as Oxfam—which he has praised in the past—damned the communiqué and the actions of the Government for failing to get such language included should be a gentle reminder to him of why we are concerned about the Government’s performance.
I can understand the Labour party’s desire to protect its record, but has not the problem been that we have had a commitment to the Gleneagles goals in every communiqué from every G8 in the last five years—and absolutely no delivery? Words are no use unless we get delivery.
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been elected to resume the chairmanship of the Select Committee. The notion that there was no delivery on the Gleneagles commitments in the last five years is simply wrong. I accept that there was not enough delivery, and the hon. Member for Banbury and others are right to say that some countries need to do more. The Secretary of State has yet to prove that his Department is as influential and as central as it was before 6 May.
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman, of whom, as he knows, I am a great champion, should descend to this level. What matters about Gleneagles is that those solemn commitments, made, rightly, in front of the whole world community and its press, should be acted on. If, after the debate, he looks at the reports that have come out of the summit, reads the statement made by the Prime Minister and sees what organisations such as ActionAid said about the summit, he will see that our Prime Minister banged the drum for standing by those commitments and made it absolutely clear that Britain’s commitment leads on this point.
I want to champion the right hon. Gentleman’s career, too, and I suspect that he will need me to, so I say gently to him that the G8 was the international community’s pivotal meeting before the UN’s poverty summit, and not to refer to the Gleneagles commitments in the communiqué sends a powerful signal to the rest of the international community, which, I worry, will be a signal for them not to do what they should do at the UN poverty summit in September. It would be a terrible shame if the Department developed a reputation as the place where the Prime Minister sends not only those he does not want to sack yet, but those he does not want around. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that the Secretary of State and the Minister are in danger of becoming Parliament’s answer to Jedward: they are both political treasures, and there is plenty of sympathy for them and a strange fascination about what they will do next, but at one performance soon neither will be in their usual place.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said, what is striking about the Secretary of State’s speech today and, indeed, his speeches so far outside the House is the lack of any clear strategy for the Department. Under the previous Government, DFID sat at the heart of development thinking. It was sought out by Governments internationally, valued in Europe and respected by development bodies throughout the globe, from UNICEF, which the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) mentioned, to the Grameen bank, which the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) rightly praised.
Under this Government, the Department should be at the centre of development thinking, but it simply is not yet. It could champion reform of the World Bank, which, despite doing a lot of good, needs to evolve quickly, get its staff out of Washington and into the African countries that it is supposed to help, and continue the reform of its governance. However, there has been nothing from the right hon. Gentleman on that issue yet. Under him, DFID could champion reform of the UN development system in order to help all developing countries, including those with whom we do not have bilateral aid programmes. It could continue to demand a change to how the UN humanitarian system works—or, in the case of Haiti, did not work anything like well enough. The Department could demand that UN agencies work together better in developing countries, but we have heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman on that topic, either. He could certainly lead the development community on highlighting the finance that is necessary to help developing countries deal with the impact of climate change, but there has been radio silence on that issue, too.
What signal does the right hon. Gentleman think the £10 million loan that he announced today to the Turks and Caicos Islands sends to his Back Benchers, who are desperate to see more impact made in developing countries to help the needs of the world’s poorest? The lack of clarity about the Government’s strategy for the UN’s millennium summit was particularly striking in his speech, because he spoke more about what he will not fund and will not do than about what he will fund. In particular, he said very little about what he plans to do about the principal development event of the year. He wants an action plan to emerge from the summit, but what does he want to see in it, and how will he get it? What conversations has he had with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is due to represent us there, and what are the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister going to do to help secure the outcomes that the Secretary of State desires?
The Department is a great place in which to serve, and I join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the officials who serve there. The Ministers who serve there have a heavy responsibility to champion, challenge and mobilise for the world’s poorest, but the striking thing about what the Government have said and done so far is, first, the lack of any clear strategy on what they will do next in order to help those poorest people, and, secondly, the failure in international meetings to do the heavy lifting that is required in order to keep development at the centre of global political attention. I hope that things will change, but I fear that they will not.
I start by being nice about the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), even though he does not seem to have been inclined to be nice about me this afternoon. I do, after all, sit at his former desk. I have lifted the chair a little so that I can see things, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, as my predecessor, he remained in post for almost seven years—a record in the Department, I think—and did a lot of good when he was there. Indeed, having heard the debate this afternoon, such is my affection for him that, should he so wish, I am very happy to endorse his application to become Governor of the Pitcairn Islands.
It has been a genuine pleasure to listen to this debate. It is evident from the quality of the contributions and the passion with which they have been delivered that global poverty is a topic about which Members on both sides of the House care very deeply. I should like to thank them for their observations, and I will turn to their contributions in a moment.
In opening the debate, the Secretary of State made it clear that we cannot allow current economic pressures to deflect us from our goal of helping the world’s poorest people. We will not turn away and abandon those whose need is so great. True leadership is forged in the heat of adversity, and this Government will not be found wanting. However, neither will we be prepared to squander the hard-earned money of British taxpayers.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the radically new approach that this Government will take to international development—an approach that has accountability and transparency at its core. These are not empty words. It is these principles that will allow us to demonstrate to the British public that their money is being put to good use: that it is saving lives, creating futures and, ultimately, securing a more prosperous and peaceful world for us all. Combating poverty is not only morally right: it is, as the Secretary of State has said, very much in our national interest. Abroad and at home, development is the right thing to do.
Last weekend, the Prime Minister took to the global stage to reaffirm Britain’s commitment to meeting the internationally agreed goal of 0.7% of GNI to be spent on aid from 2013. We all know that some G8 members have not kept to the promises they made five years ago at Gleneagles, and that is utterly shameful. However, those who say that we should cut our aid budget are asking us to break our word; we are not prepared to do that, and nor would we ever wish to. Two wrongs do not make a right. Since when has someone else’s weakness been a good reason for us to surrender our belief in a fairer, safer and more secure world? We will do our bit, and we will continue to hold others to account at each and every opportunity.
Britain is in the lead on international development. Indeed, developed countries are looking to us for inspiration as much as developing ones are looking to us for help. We are the first country to say that we will enshrine the 0.7% contribution in legislation; and unlike America, for example, our aid is not tied to commercial interests. We have a dedicated Whitehall Department whose Secretary of State has a seat in Cabinet, and now, too, a seat in the National Security Council. This Department has a voice, and this Department is being heard. Put simply, Britain can be proud that it is the standard-setter and principal leader in a world in which charity confined to home would be an abrogation of our wider responsibilities. As many hon. Members have said, charity may start here, but it must not end here.
Despite all this, we must be frank and honest: there are some who, through the pages of the press or elsewhere, still question the validity of spending taxpayers’ money on international development. They speak of money given in good faith but diverted into the hands of tyrants or used to prop up corrupt regimes. The natural corollary seems to be that we should therefore give up and go away, at whatever human cost that might entail. I, and we, and I think Members on both sides of this House, profoundly disagree.
As the Secretary of State has said, the answer lies in greater rigour, more transparency, and full accountability. It lies in the new UK aid transparency guarantee that will help us to track money far more accurately. It lies in our conviction that internal evaluation is not enough and that we must set up an independent body to scrutinise where and how we are spending taxpayers’ money. The answer, in short, lies not in passive defeatism but in active resolve.
I wish to acknowledge all the speakers who have contributed to the debate. The first after the Front Benchers was my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who said that it was good that we were trying to measure results but pointed out how difficult it is to measure everything easily and consistently. No doubt the Select Committee that he chairs will look into exactly that type of issue in the months ahead.
The hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) made a strong plea for us to engage fully in negotiations on the structure of IDA16. We will do that, and indeed we are doing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) made a charming, thoughtful and generous-spirited maiden speech, and I think it is fair to say that it was listened to admiringly by all of us in the Chamber and also, I noted, by the noble Lord Hunt, her Conservative predecessor.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) rightly wants aid to be so successful that it does not need to be permanent. We wholly agree. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what the “development” bit of international development is all about. We look forward to the continued wisdom and consistent expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), and the House, and particularly we on this side, appreciated the consensual tone of the contribution of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford).
My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) made his maiden speech. It took me a little time to tune into his Stevenage accent, and I hope he will let me know when Robbie Williams is next playing locally. His thoughtful comments on international development were much noted, and I hope that his interest in the issue will continue. Likewise, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), in his maiden speech, made a passionate defence of the interests of beleaguered Palestinians, an issue that will figure in both our foreign and defence policy. I am sure that he will make many such comments on the topic in future. I enjoyed his warm account of his own meeting with Gillian Duffy as well—someone I would quite like to have met, I have to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) said that we need to tackle Beveridge’s five evils globally. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) made a very good speech, and I look forward to his contribution to the International Development Committee. Many other Members spoke, and I fear that I will not quite have the time to go through their contributions, but I think I have covered all the maiden speeches. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not mention everyone who has spoken. I certainly urge everyone who has contributed to continue to participate in our debates and oral questions, and to form a cadre of informed opinion in the House that will continue to raise international development to the position that it deserves in our deliberations.
Many of the speeches this afternoon rightly referred to the human rights of women and girls around the world. Will my right hon. Friend make a brief comment on the extent to which the human rights of gay people are under threat in some parts of the developing world with which we have significant ongoing relationships? I am wary of any sense of using aid as a political weapon, but I hope that the influence of the Department can be brought to bear as appropriate.
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I have a particular interest in that issue, and I follow it and feel for it closely. I see the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in his place, and he is also a champion of the issue at home and abroad. We do not want to use aid as a weapon, but we will always be very forthright in defending people’s rights. The whole issue of gay equality is moving from a domestic argument to a global one, and that is where our passions should now more sensibly rest.
I have mentioned the good speeches that we have heard today, but sadly I have to say, and I think the House feels, that the tone set by the shadow Secretary of State lived down to our expectations rather than up to them. It added to our deliberations a nasty and divisive flavour that simply does not need to exist on this topic. The right hon. Gentleman has experience, which we value. Might he not have had the inclination to share that experience and appreciate that his reputation and the House would both benefit from learning from it? We would much rather do that than watch him hop around looking for a scrap in the playground. Also, for him to use his former position to say that he knows the name of the particular official who worked on the speech for his successor as Secretary of State is nothing short of contemptible.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to blame half the world’s poverty on a strange historic conspiracy between General Kitchener and the Conservative party. If he wants to know the real feeling of the modern Conservative party on this issue, he need only look at the number of people on the Benches behind me today to realise what they feel. He accused us of being ideological, but I can assure him that we are wholly non-ideological. To us, what matters is what works. On user fees, for instance—which he mentioned—we want to get children into school, and in many cases we are paying for those user fees out of our budget. He laboured the point about 0.7% this afternoon—talk about giving a dog a bone—as if there were a great issue about a departure from the clear policy on which we stood at the election. We are committed to enshrining 0.7% in law from 2013. As he well knows, we are considering how to proceed, not whether to proceed, as he implied. He will just have to wait for an announcement at the appropriate time.
Additional climate finance, as the previous Government made clear, will come from the existing aid budget. On the question of how the G20 working group on development will be held to account—something that he knows all about as a former Secretary of State—it will report to leaders through their sherpas. On the forthcoming millennium development goals summit, the UK ambition is to agree on an ambitious action agenda for attaining the MDGs. The shadow Secretary of State absurdly asked for our post-2013 spending plans. But so badly did his party mess up the public finances that he could not even, when he was Secretary of State, give us his own figures for next year.[Official Report, 6 July 2010, Vol. 513, c. 1MC.]
I have acknowledged the insightful contributions that we have heard from Members today, but I now wish to acknowledge the influence and record of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. His passion for international development is known to all in this Chamber and none can doubt his genuine commitment and considerable expertise. Indeed, rarely has a Member of Cabinet shadowed their portfolio for the length of time—nearly five years—that he has done. Only yesterday, Jon Snow said:
“Andrew Mitchell is unquestionably the best prepared Secretary of State—nobody has waited longer in the wings and everyone in the sector knows of his commitment to the sector”.
It is telling that within a few short weeks my right hon. Friend has already set in train a number of initiatives that will allow us to bring about a fundamental re-think of the way we give aid. He has, for example, launched two critical reviews—a bilateral review that will look at how we spend money directly with specific countries, and a multilateral review that will follow the money that we are channelling through other bodies such as the EU, the World Bank or the UN. Meanwhile, the full scale value-for-money review that he has commissioned is already yielding savings that can be directed back to the front line.
In today’s economic climate, we need—more than ever—to be able to show the British taxpayers that their money is going where it can do most good, and that when it gets there, every single penny of it is put to the best possible use. Our focus will be at the sharp end, where it matters—on results not process. It will no longer be the number on the aid cheque that matters, but the number of people it helps. As my right hon. Friend said, our thinking and action will not stop there. We will look ahead to the millennium development goals summit and we will push everything that we can to focus on poverty.
Britain can be proud of its position on international development. We can hold our heads high and I hope that Members on both sides of the House will join us in the fight and the cause ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of global poverty.