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The UK’s Relationship with Africa

Volume 582: debated on Thursday 19 June 2014

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s relationship with Africa.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating this debate on the UK’s relationship with Africa. The debate was called on a cross-party basis at the request of members of the all-party parliamentary group on Africa, which I have the honour of chairing, and stands in the names, as well as my own, of the hon. Members for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), whom I see in their places today. I would like to thank, too, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) for his support in securing this debate; sadly, he cannot be here on account of parliamentary business elsewhere.

The all-party Africa group works across a broad range of policy areas of relevance to Africa—from business to foreign affairs and from international development to security. It provides an important forum for 191 Members, across both Houses, to discuss issues relating to the continent. We are indebted to the Royal African Society for providing the group with a secretariat, and I am particularly grateful for the support of Victoria Crawford, without whom we could not achieve a fraction of what we are able to achieve.

We often hear of politicians who are called Europhiles, but I am a new and different breed: an Afrophile or an “Afro-optimist”—a term I have heard used by Mark Lowcock, permanent secretary at the Department for International Development. We are not many, but we are a growing breed, and what we lack in numbers, we make up for in enthusiasm and commitment. I see that as I look around the Chamber today.

Having worked as a banker in Swaziland, the Ivory Coast and Botswana, and having travelled to half the countries in Africa on business and for pleasure, I am passionate about the continent. Outside the House, I enjoy contributing directly to the economic regeneration of Africa, and I draw Members’ attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which reflects that. Not everyone, however, has been so consistently enthusiastic about Africa, both in the United Kingdom and globally.

We can tell a lot from the covers of two editions of The Economist, a decade apart. In 2000, the cover showed an image of a young African man carrying a rocket-propelled grenade in the shape of the outline of Africa, with the caption “The Hopeless Continent”. By 2011, The Economist had changed tack: an optimistic, multicoloured African continent was floating up into the air as if it were a helium balloon, with the title “Africa Rising”. We could do with a little more consistency in our relationship with and view of Africa. In April this year, The Times put it another way: referring to economic development, it stated simply “Africa is Hot”. I agree.

The “Africa Rising” story is compelling. The International Monetary Fund estimates that, over the next decade, seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies will be African countries; six already are. Recent oil and gas finds, as well as the spread of mobile phones and the internet, have great potential throughout the continent. While we shall not see an M-Pesa every week in every country, technology can leapfrog some of the development stages that have been undergone by other now developed countries.

This is a critical time at which to ensure that the opportunities presented by the Africa growth story benefit African citizens, as well as people in the United Kingdom and in the world more broadly. The UK is beginning to respond to the developments in Africa and in the international arena. Getting it right in the coming years and decades will be crucial, and will have huge potential upsides for citizens of both Africa and the UK.

I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on initiating this important debate. I only wish that I could stay for its entirety.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole to pay as much attention to trade as to aid in its relationship with Africa? When I was working in Nigeria, I observed that Indian and Chinese companies were much more focused on trade than on aid.

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady, whom I thank for her contribution to the Africa all-party parliamentary group. Aid is, perhaps, a smaller element of the UK’s relationship with Africa than trade and remittances. Although it is an important element, we should not focus on it exclusively. I hope to say more about that later in my short speech, but other Members who have contributed so much to the debate on trade and economic development will be able to speak about it in more detail.

Fifty years ago, African countries were gaining independence from, among others, the UK as a colonial power. We should now view our relationship quite differently: we should view it as a partnership that addresses global issues, and is not UK-led but Africa-led. It is clear that our connections with Africa are complex and interrelated, and cross many policy areas and Departments. It is essential for our Government to operate in a collaborative and complementary way. A good example of that is the work of the Whitehall Africa Group under the stewardship of the FCO’s Africa director Nic Hailey, who does an excellent job in bringing officials together. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury does a great deal of work on revenue collection in Africa. In other words, he helps with the collection of taxes. That is not as sexy as feeding the millions, but it makes it possible to build long-term, stable economies that can free themselves from aid dependency, which is much more important to our relationship with Africa than Elastoplast aid solutions.

We should also consider the broader aspects of the relationship. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) mentioned trade, and I mentioned remittances. The Government are beginning to become more involved in those, and in financial flows more generally. In the financial arena, we need to leverage our long-term relationship, our experience of the capital markets, the pre-eminent position of the City of London, the UK’s legal system, and the fact that the English language is increasingly the language of business, not just in the “Anglosphere” but in Francophone countries such as the Ivory Coast and Rwanda. Those countries now prefer English to French when it comes to transacting business. I suspect that we shall see similar developments in Portuguese-speaking countries, and, indeed, in north African Arabic-speaking countries.

The FCO’s high-level prosperity partnerships with five African countries are an extremely good start. I understand that each of those countries has something different to offer, and that a mixture of French, English and Portuguese is spoken, which I think is of great value. If we were to add a sixth country, I would encourage the Minister to consider one that is less focused on oil and gas. That might enable us to prove that such a model works, and that we should see beyond the success of economies such as that of Mozambique, which have the potential to grow incredibly quickly and to add multiples to their GDP over a decade. I should like the Minister to give us more details of the lessons that have been learnt so far from the prosperity partnerships. What is the shape of the programme for the future?

I should also like to understand a little more about the excellent work that Lord Livingston is doing. I understand that considerably more resources will go into embassies from UK Trade & Investment, and that a number of African countries, some of which have already been mentioned, will benefit from them. I urge the British Government not to view embassies as exclusively the home of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I find it encouraging that staff from the Department for International Development can apply for posts as ambassadors and high commissioners, and I think that we should also enable staff from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Defence, who have strong relationships with Africa, to take on the most senior roles. Perhaps we should look to UK plc, and recruit ambassadors and high commissioners from outside, particularly in countries where trade can help Africa to grow out of poverty.

The Africa all-party parliamentary group conducts a number of inquiries. I commend our recent report “Democracy Soup—Democracy and Development in Africa”. It explores some of the complicated relationships between democracy and development, and the influence of the United Kingdom. I hope that other Members will refer to our Parliament’s potential to help those relationships to become deeper.

Let me now say something about “the golden thread” and the post-2015 development goals. “The golden thread” is a term that was used by the Prime Minister to describe the conditions that enable open economies and open societies to thrive. The rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions are some of the key factors that ought to feature in the successor to the millennium development goals, which will expire in 2015. The Prime Minister has shown clear leadership on behalf of this country and the United Nations high-level panel, which he chairs. However, as we head towards the UN General Assembly negotiations in September, following the next session of the open working group, it is essential for some of the governance and economic development issues to be teased out.

The Africa narrative is a positive story. It represents an opportunity for the UK as well as Africa, an opportunity of which we should be unashamed. Our relationship is complex, and involves a number of interrelated issues. There is a need for collaboration between sectors, Government Departments and our global partners, particularly in regard to economic development and the golden thread that constitutes the post-2015 goals. The UK continues to be a world leader on those issues, but our fundamental relationship is now a partnership.

Africa is rising; Africa is hot. I hope that the debate will highlight the UK’s role and its relationship with an exciting, entrepreneurial and rapidly developing continent.

In view of your requirement for brevity, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have thrown away half my speech. I had intended to speak about the excellent report that the all-party group on Africa recently published, “Democracy Soup”, and some issues to do with conflict, but I will focus my remarks on the latter so that there is time for others to contribute to the debate.

I am a Europhile, but also an Afrophile, if that is the word to use, and I greatly welcome what the chairman of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), had to say about the need for optimism about Africa’s future. It matters to us because Africa is our nearest neighbour and because of the great trade opportunities in both directions between our country and Africa.

There are problems of organised crime and people trafficking. Some 5,000 African women are trafficked to Europe every year. We have a Bill to deal with the problem of modern slavery, and this is modern slavery because the vast majority of those women end up against their will as sex slaves in the sex trade.

Our Government have wisely decided to earmark 30% of our bilateral aid to conflict and fragile states, because they rightly take the view that conflict undermines development. According to the latest International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook, Africa’s four poorest states are the Central African Republic, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia, and they have all experienced conflict in recent years.

It is not just poor states that face conflict, however. Libya, of course, was engulfed by civil war a few years ago, and it is one of the richest countries in Africa with a per capita income of over $10,000 a year.

I welcome the Government’s focus on conflict. Trying to avoid conflict is a good thing for its own sake. The United Nations’ responsibility to protect places an onus on countries to intervene where the Government of a third country fails to secure the safety and human rights of its own citizens. One should respond initially by non-military means where one can, by using soft power—aid, UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions. The use of military force should always be the last resort.

Sometimes, however, a very low level of military commitment can make an enormous difference. I remember going some years ago with the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) to Rumbek in southern Sudan just one week after the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement that led to the independence and separation of South Sudan some five years later. A small contingent of six or 10 British servicemen with a couple of Land Rovers were doing an immensely valuable job, keeping hundreds of Government of Sudan soldiers and hundreds of Sudan People’s Liberation Army fighters apart. Perhaps I should add in this World cup week that they organised football matches between the two teams to try to deal with male testosterone, while a peace framework was constructed.

There are also enormous risks in deploying hard power—military force—however. We know from recent campaigns in Africa and elsewhere that for a well-equipped and well-trained military such as ours, or those of other NATO countries, winning a military victory is usually easier than building a sustainable peace.

In Libya, faced with an imminent threat made by Muammar al-Gaddafi against civilians from his own country in Benghazi, the UN Security Council passed a resolution permitting a coalition of the willing—led by NATO, but including other countries, including Arab states—to use military force to protect civilians in Libya. This force eventually toppled the Gaddafi regime, which led, not through our willing it, to the killing of Gaddafi himself. Almost three years later Libya is still awash with militia and state-sponsored armed groups, who refuse to disarm and who are intent on grabbing a share of power and a slice of Libya’s immense oil wealth.

In September 2012 the United States ambassador and three of his staff were killed. In October that year Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped, threatened and forced to change his policy. The country still has no national army. Prime Minister Zeidan subsequently left the country and went into exile. His successor, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, appeared to resign after gunmen attacked his house, but then different gunmen attacked the Parliament to prevent his being replaced. For a time, Libya ended up with two Prime Ministers: al-Thani running an Administration in eastern Libya and Ahmed Maiteg, an individual who is close to a number of Islamist groups, running an Administration in Tripoli until his election was ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court. Now, former general Khalifa Haftar is using military force to try to take over the country, but the security situation is clearly deteriorating. Benghazi is once again a war zone and a curfew has recently been introduced.

When the United Kingdom—and the international community—engages in military action, I believe we have a responsibility after the action is over to help pick up the pieces, and I do not think we have heard enough from the Foreign Office about post-war reconstruction and development in Libya, so I suggest to the Minister that we should have regular, perhaps quarterly, reports on the political situation in Libya and on what the UK and other institutions, including the European Union and NATO, are contributing to that. They could, perhaps, be written reports—I am not necessarily saying they should be statements to the House—but I do think we need to be kept more informed than we currently are.

I also want to say a few words about Mali. It was once seen as a beacon of democracy in Francophone west Africa, but in 2012 it faced three interlocking crises. First, there was a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country, fuelled by arms which many Tuareg mercenaries who had worked for Gaddafi in Libya brought back to Mali when the Gaddafi regime fell. Secondly, there was a political and institutional crisis precipitated by a military coup against the then President. Thirdly, there was an influx of extremist Islamist groups into the northern regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, which established very harsh and abusive rule in those parts of Mali.

At the end of 2012, those northern armed groups moved very quickly towards the capital in the south, Bamako, and the French launched Operation Serval, supported militarily by the UK, the United States and others. It swiftly defeated the uprising, creating conditions for a new President, President Boubacar Keita, to be elected, and set about retraining Mali’s army. I have seen British soldiers engaged in training—jointly, as it happens, with soldiers from the Irish Republic, which must be the first time British and Irish soldiers have worked together in a single military unit for many years.

Mali faces many long-term development challenges, including the need for job creation, for security sector reform, and for tackling trafficking and organised crime, which funds the activities of the insurgents and extremists. A year ago, there was a pledging conference, where some €3.25 billion was pledged by donors to fund Mali’s plan for sustainable recovery. The UK was a very small player because we do not traditionally have a bilateral programme in Mali. The trouble with our bilateral aid programme is that it is largely built around countries. In parts of Africa, we need to complement those country programmes with regional bilateral development programmes. Ever since decolonisation, many Africans and indeed Europeans have pointed out that Africa’s national borders make little sense; they were imposed as a result of colonisation with little reference to local and regional languages, ethnic differences, kingdoms or even religions.

The Islamists who created such a threat to Mali have been dispersed by Operation Serval, but many of them have slipped over the poorest borders and are regrouping in southern Algeria.

I think, as so many Members are trying to get in, I will continue.

The point I made to the Minister is that to confront the problems that we face in the Sahel, we need to have a transnational response—a transnational response to transnational terrorism and transnational crime—and to promote growth across the region. We should be working with regional African organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. I wish to see a proportion of British aid to Africa being allocated regionally, so that much of the money, though continuing to be spent by national Governments, could be spent on transnational projects, such as road and infrastructure, trade promotion, training and joint international security arrangements. The Department for International Development’s special areas of expertise in health education and water could be brought to bear in Francophone countries, and other countries’ expertise could be brought to bear in those former Commonwealth countries where most of our bilateral programmes remain.

Finally, the Africa all-party group submitted evidence to the last UK strategic defence and security review about security risks from Africa. A new review is imminent, and I hope that, within it, there will be a chapter looking at the African security risk. Indeed, there have been two military operations embarked on during this Parliament, both of which have been in Africa, and so those issues require some attention in the security review.

I hope that no one in Africa, on seeing this debate taking place today, believes that the UK Parliament has the impertinence to believe that it can dispose of this country’s relationship with Africa in two and a half hours. They should be assured that this is just another extremely welcome opportunity for hon. Members who have considerable affection for, and knowledge of, the continent to be able to express further their views.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on obtaining this debate for us this afternoon. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) whose knowledge of Africa is both deep and extensive. He has made many important contributions on the subject in debates in this House.

There is a slight risk in thinking of Africa as a whole. We do not necessarily talk about Asia as a whole. We sometimes divide Africa, and say Africa south of the Sahara to differentiate it from the countries on the Mediterranean coastline. There is just a risk that we forget the very different characteristics and interests of some of the emerging African nations.

Europe’s evolution into a more peaceful and stable framework has taken about 2,000 years and we are still arguing intensely about its nature. I do not believe that the term African Union suggests that, at any time soon, there will be coherence of economics and politics in that continent. In the meantime, various countries will wish to develop in their own way, with their own national characteristics, and to capitalise on their resources.

Inevitably, my slant in this debate is from the point of view of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which I have the honour of chairing. I want to draw the House’s attention to a paradox that I cannot help noticing after my years of involvement. Colonialism has not entirely been drained from the system, and there is a risk that some people in politics in the African countries are all too ready to accuse people from the former colonial powers of being patronising in talking with them about various matters. Yet that totally contrasts with the fact that there is huge respect for this institution here at Westminster. That is exemplified by the fact that we have this week the CPA’s Westminster seminar, which is attended by 92 delegates, 36 of whom—parliamentarians and Clerks—come from the continent of Africa. Next week, when we go on to a public accounts workshop, there will be 44 from Africa out of a total of 90 delegates. After regularly talking to those people, we appreciate that they like to have this interaction and believe it is in their interest so to do.

Another legacy of the colonial rule was an emerging commitment to parliamentary democracy. Every Parliament will always be restless in wanting to change, improve and develop the way in which it handles business and seeks to control the Executive. The CPA seeks above all else to encourage that process of thought and to exchange ideas through multilateral colloquia. I pay tribute to colleagues over the years, especially now, for their work, and that includes the Clerks of the House, not least of whom is the present incumbent Sir Robert Rogers, who has a real belief in the Commonwealth family of parliamentarians and has contributed so much to it.

Out of all this has come a mutual flow. The very idea that it is the former colonial powers that are trying to teach others how they should conduct themselves has developed to a point where we pinch ideas from other legislatures, because innovative ideas have been developed in other countries. That is as true in Africa as it is in other parts of the Commonwealth. In doing that, it is all too easy for us to be condemned by the media as simply engaging in fun pastimes and not seeing it as a serious purpose, but we have as much interest in this country as African parliamentarians in ensuring that representative democracy flourishes.

It is the recognition of good government that is likely to encourage trade and investment in the countries of Africa. More especially, the success and stability of parliamentary democracy in those countries seems to be the only way in which we will keep the faith of those many millions who are still struggling for a decent standard of living, and who might so easily be seduced into thinking that the elected parliamentarians have failed and therefore some other form of approach is necessary for their interests to be advanced. I have perhaps known South Africa the longest—over a span of years. I look at the level of unemployment among young people and think, “How long will their patience hold if we cannot demonstrate to them that their grievances can be best dealt with through a parliamentary system of Government?”

Importantly, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association can, through interaction with other parliamentarians in Africa, promote parliamentary strengthening in their countries and improve understanding of some of the difficult issues on the conflicts that exist in Africa, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East and the hon. Member for York Central referred. Warm words are not sufficient to wipe away some harsh differences of view on certain issues, such as the education of girls and the very safety of women. I have tried to encourage various improvements during my time as chairperson of the executive committee. It is good to see that we have a strong Commonwealth parliamentary women’s network in the continent of Africa. I have tried to suggest to colleagues that individual mentoring should be sustained and expanded, so that people can ring up a colleague whom they have got to know who will give them some tips on what they might do, or exchange views as to how to tackle a joint problem.

Above all, I have done what I can to encourage the growth of the network of youth Parliaments, because such a high percentage of the population of the Commonwealth is aged under 25. We must make sure that they believe that their voices are being heard through representative institutions. That is not just a CPA job; it is the job of all bodies in the Commonwealth family that have an interest in the cause, whether it is the Westminster Foundation for Democracy or even the Department for International Development. We should be co-ordinating our efforts to ensure that the money that is made available can be directed towards the strengthening of democracy, because that is the key to other things. That may be the most incisive way of ensuring that aid money, if one wants to call it that, can be deployed in many of the countries of Africa to ensure better concentration of resources in that direction.

Africa contains countries that are of enormous importance to the future of world development. It seems to me that it makes sense for us to use every possible occasion, at parliamentary level and in wider parliamentary activities, to demonstrate our wish to strengthen the bonds of friendship with our African colleagues. To adopt a word used by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East when he opened the debate, together we can be partners for progress.

I want to concentrate my remarks on two issues. First, I will speak about the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report on instability and extremism in north and west Africa—that covers Mali, to which my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) referred—and secondly, I will talk a little about my impressions of Egypt, having been there at the weekend.

My first point relates to our earlier debate about the global nature of terrorism. Unfortunately, there were some serious adverse consequences to the liberation of the people of Libya from the Gaddafi dictatorship. Huge amounts of weaponry were dispersed, some of which ended up in Syria, as we have heard, but much of it is in the hands of mercenary fighters who had been part of Gaddafi’s military and protection forces. Bands of Tuareg went out across the ungoverned spaces of the Sahara desert, and existing terrorist groups were reinforced by weaponry and personnel. That raises, once again, the problem that although it is comparatively easy to go into a country and to remove the leader, the crucial period is not the declaration of victory but the subsequent construction of a stable political system. That can take years, if not decades, and it can be very difficult, particularly in failed or failing states.

Before it produced the report, which was published in March, the Foreign Affairs Committee went on several visits in 2012. I was part of the visit to Algeria, where we discussed the terrible consequences of the attack on the BP facility at In Amenas. I went separately to Mali, where I met our very small diplomatic post. The Committee’s report makes several recommendations based on our visits.

I also went last year to Nigeria and met, among others, members of the Nigerian security forces who showed us horrific captured DVDs of atrocities carried out by Boko Haram. We also discussed with the governor of Borno state the ongoing struggle of the Nigerian authorities, at governor level and centrally, with that dreadful terrorist organisation. The world knows about Boko Haram, because of the great publicity provided by the Amnesty International campaign about the captured young women. They have still not been found, months afterwards, and nobody knows whether they will be returned safely.

Boko Haram has been carrying out such activities against Christians and Muslims for a considerable period of time, and the Nigerian authorities need support. They need political support, because they are, after all, a democratically elected Government. It is no good simply condemning them for failing. The fact is that Nigeria is a large country, and it does not have the resources or the armed forces that it needs to deal with such issues adequately. Assistance from the international community is required to give the Nigerian authorities support in their difficult role.

What sort of assistance can we give when even with all the technology we have, we have not been able to find those girls from the skies?

We are talking about long-term issues. The Nigerian armed forces are already getting some support with training and other activities. I believe, and the Foreign Affairs Committee has said clearly, that much more must be done to give them the help and assistance that they need. Nigeria is not only the biggest country in Africa by population, but a potential economic powerhouse. It has oil and other resources, and yet it has tens of millions of people living in abject poverty and millions not in school. There are huge issues of development, as well as of governance and security. There is also a large British Nigerian diaspora community in this country, who are mainly from the south of Nigeria and from Christian communities. We must recognise that the matter is of concern to us, and we must support Nigeria.

We were struck by the UK’s very limited diplomatic footprint in Mali and other parts of North and West Africa. That is mainly because many of the countries in the region are former French colonies, and there has been an assumption that France will take the lead role on its historic associations and the UK on others. However, it is interesting that President Hollande of France recently called a summit to discuss the situation in Nigeria and how help could be given. It is important that we recognise that in many Francophone countries—I certainly picked this up in Mali—there is a desire for us to have a larger presence. As the Foreign Affairs Committee said, we should work with our French partners and allies, with the United States and with the European Union’s External Action Service in a more co-ordinated way with the countries of the region.

In the time that is left to me, I want to say something about Egypt. The all-party parliamentary group went to Cairo last weekend, where we had a long meeting with President Sisi. President Sisi was elected with 23 million votes, and we must recognise that there were observers for that election and it was generally accepted that the result was fair. President Sisi’s total vote was significantly higher than that of President Morsi, who received 5 million votes in the first round and 13 million votes in the run-off second round. The people I met in Egypt—people from the Christian community, leading figures in the Islamic organisations in the country and members of women’s groups—were unanimous in their feeling that the President has the authority to introduce a political change to bring all Egyptians together.

There are huge problems in Egypt economically and with unemployment, particularly among large numbers of young people. A parliamentary system is not yet in place and parliamentary elections will probably be held in September or October. We need to recognise that Egypt is a very large country within Africa and, if we can sort the issue out internationally, it could become a permanent member of the Security Council. It is not just an African country but one of the leading largest countries in the Arab world, as 25% of the world’s Arab population live in Egypt.

We need to recognise that, historically, we have had important political, economic and cultural relations with Egypt. The recent past—unfortunately, I do not have time to go through it all—has seen the emergence of great aspirations since the events of 2011, particularly among young people, followed by the period of the Muslim Brotherhood President, which led to huge demonstrations against how he was governing and what he was thought to be trying to create. Then there was the intervention of the army and now there is a second election.

Egypt is in transition. It is an important country for the future of Africa and to the peace and security of the middle east region as a whole. I shall conclude my remarks and hope that the Minister will respond to those points.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who has always shown a great deal of knowledge and expertise. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on securing and introducing the debate and I declare my interest as recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I want to say something about trade and investment in Africa, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East pointed out, there is phenomenal potential in the continent of Africa. This is not only about its natural resources—in addition to those mentioned by my hon. Friend, Africa has 80% of world reserves of platinum and chromium and 40% of gold reserves—but about the growing middle class who are increasingly living in the 52 cities with a population of more than 1 million. One need only look at the extraordinary revolution in mobile telecoms to see that, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there is almost a leapfrogging of technologies. The potential is phenomenal.

The UK is doing pretty well, although not yet well enough. The figures for 2013 show that our total bilateral trade with sub-Saharan Africa is just under £20 billion and for the whole of Africa it is about £30 billion. That is positive, but let us put it in context. Our total bilateral trade with the Republic of Ireland is more than £40 billion and with Denmark is about £30 billion, yet we are talking about all those countries in Africa.

I am very glad that the culture at the FCO under the Foreign Secretary has become more proactive towards trade. On his first day at the FCO in May 2010, he made it crystal clear that every single head of mission had to go out and promote UK exports and UK trade. I remember that on my second day at the FCO as Africa Minister I went around the Africa directorate and the first question I asked each desk officer was, “What is the bilateral trade between the UK and your country? Where is the flag flying for Kenya, Uganda or Ghana?” Very few knew the answer, but from that moment onwards every brief started with the figures for bilateral trade. I am very glad that there is now a huge amount of emphasis on that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his pursuit of the high-level prosperity partnerships, which are undoubtedly making a big impact. What more can UK Trade & Investment do in those countries that are not covered by high-level prosperity partnerships? I welcome the opening up of new missions in Africa, because unless we have people on the ground and have a footprint it is very difficult to make an impact. That is why I am delighted that embassies have opened up in Mogadishu, Juba and Abidjan and that there are plans to open one in Madagascar. If it is not possible to open up a new embassy in countries such as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi or Burkina Faso, we should at least put in place a prosperity or economics envoy with a small back-up staff as a prelude to opening up a full-scale mission.

I also want to mention the work being done by the Department for International Development. One thing that has struck me under the previous and current Secretaries of State is that DFID is considering the role of the private sector much more. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) has been pressing that point incredibly hard over many years. In the past, DFID was in too much of a narrow silo but it is now working incredibly hard to help improve the business environment in many of these countries and is working with the private sector. It was noticeable that on her recent visit to Tanzania the Secretary of State for International Development took a large trade envoy delegation with her. That would not have happened in the past and certainly not under previous Governments. Excellent progress is being made, and above all else DFID understands that the best way to relieve poverty is through trade. That is about creating wealth, empowering people and improving their circumstances.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to go on pushing the trade agenda. The potential across the whole of Africa is huge and there is enough to go around for different countries. People say, “What about the Chinese, the Turks or the Brazilians?” but there is enough to go around for everyone and although the UK is doing well, it can do better.

We all know that Somalia was, with the honourable exception of Somaliland, a complete and total disaster until quite recently. I have been very impressed with the progress that has been made over the past 18 months or so since the end of the transitional Federal Government under President Sheikh Sharif, under which very little progress was made. The TFG never controlled more than a few quarters in Mogadishu. We now have a new Government in place under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and they have a great deal more control across Somalia, across south and central Galmudug and elsewhere.

It is one thing to remove al-Shabaab from many parts of south and central Somalia and to get control of cities such as Kismayo and large towns such as Baidoa, but there has to be follow-up so that the democratic deficit in those towns is met and so that the rule of al-Shabaab is replaced by strong, proactive local government. What more are Her Majesty’s Government doing to assist the new Government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to ensure that those structures are put in place very quickly? DFID is doing a good job in many of those areas. Specifically in Kismayo, where there is obviously a very complex clan structure, it is incredibly important that people are served by the new Government and have local democracy, local government and services delivered to them. Progress has been remarkable and the progress on countering piracy has been very impressive indeed. However, there is of course some way to go.

In closing, let me say something about Nigeria, which was covered eloquently by the hon. Member for Ilford South. Nigeria was the great hope in Africa and in many ways still is. It is the most populated country in Africa and has phenomenal resources, but the sadness is that it has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. I agree absolutely with what the hon. Gentleman said about Boko Haram. We cannot merely consider the Chibok incident in isolation, because over the past five years we have seen a series of appalling attacks on Christian communities and other communities in the north and around cities such as Kano, Maiduguri and Kaduna. Last week, there was the appalling murder of the Emir of Gwoza, Shehu Mustapha Idrisa Timta, who was a highly regarded individual, by Boko Haram.

What more can the UK do? Obviously more regional input is needed, because the border around those parts of northern Nigeria is incredibly porous, so we need the support of countries such as Cameroon. The Nigerian army is unfortunately diminishing in size and capacity. It has very poor intelligence capability and hardly any special forces capability. In addition to supporting the regional intelligence fusion unit and giving direct tactical training and advice to the Nigerian military, what more can we do to help regional partners? Can we do more to provide assets, such as Sentinel aircraft, which are very useful—although, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) pointed out, if the terrorists hide the kidnapped girls in deep jungle, it does not matter how good the assets are, because they will be unable to find them without more intelligence.

We used to look to the north of Nigeria as a beacon of stability, because there were wars raging in the south, for example in Biafra. It is from the north that some of Nigeria’s great business men, such as Aliko Dangote, have emanated. The country now has this appalling blight. I simply say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if Nigeria, the most influential and populous country in Africa, is unable to rebuild stability across the whole country, the prospects for Africa as a whole will be greatly diminished. I urge him to do everything he possibly can, working with other European countries and regional partners, to find a solution to this appalling problem.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I represent a constituency that has one of the largest groups of African diaspora communities in the UK. As I always say to constituents, one of my principal missions is to try to educate much of the British population that Africa is a continent, not a nation. Unfortunately, that observation has a hollow ring of truth for many of my constituents, who get fed up having to explain that to people.

I represent one of the largest Nigerian and Ghanaian diasporas in the UK, but we also have significant communities from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Africa, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. In fact, French is the second or third most spoken language in Hackney, because of the number of French speakers and Francophone Africans. I even conduct some of my surgeries in French, because for many constituents English is a third, fourth or even fifth language, and when distressed it is easier to speak in a more familiar tongue.

My comments today will focus on Nigeria, as I chair the all-party group on Nigeria. Although they have been mentioned by several colleagues already, I think that it is worth touching on some of the major issues in our relationship with that country. When the all-party group hosts events, members of the diaspora turn up and we usually have standing room only and waiting lists for attendance, because they are very concerned about the country of their origin or that of their parents.

I will touch first on human trafficking, which is a huge concern. I do not need to say much about what the Government should do, because the new Bill on trafficking, which of course has cross-party support, is a really important step forward. I welcome its introduction. However, it is worth highlighting that Nigeria is the biggest source country for trafficking into the UK. I had the pleasure of visiting Nigeria last year—my most recent visit—with the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), where we met the agencies trying to tackle trafficking. I observed, as we fed back to the Minister at the time—it is worth getting on the record—that they are battling against a huge onslaught. It is a big international crime. We need to ensure that there is as much support as possible between our nations if we are to tackle the evil people who traffic others across continents to the UK.

As a constituency MP, I often meet the victims of trafficking years later. I talked recently with the Nigerian Catholic Chaplaincy in the UK, which is based in a Hackney parish, and heard that they also see that. We find that people come to us later without leave to remain in the country or full legal support, and often they are not related to the people they have been brought up with as a family member. These issues rumble on in the diaspora, so it is a living issue in my constituency.

I want to talk about a number of issues, but in the brief time available I will have to canter through them. Security and trade in Nigeria are very much linked. As other Members have said, Nigeria is Africa’s largest country, in terms of both population and economy, and a significant player in west Africa and the continent as a whole. The UK and Nigeria have a long history of bilateral engagement. I welcomed the pledge between President Jonathan and our Prime Minister to double bilateral trade from £4 billion in 2010 to £8 billion in 2014. Growing insecurity, of course, puts that at risk. With two thirds of the population aged under 25—this is an issue I looked at when I visited with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) in 2012—there is a real potential for Nigerian businesses to do business in Nigeria and in the UK, and vice versa. Many Nigerians in the diaspora are keen to expand their business opportunities. That is a huge resource for the UK: a group of people committed to Britain, but also with a footprint in Nigeria, who can be a real tool for us in engaging as a nation and for different businesses.

Other Members have talked about Boko Haram. We cannot talk about Nigeria today without mentioning that scourge and the threat it poses not only to the country, but to the region and, indeed, the world. Nigeria has been grappling with that threat for two decades, so it is not new, although the headlines are more recent. Boko Haram remains focused on destabilising the Nigerian Government. The crisis spills over into neighbouring countries, with an influx of refugees into Niger and Cameroon, so there are big regional impacts. Boko Haram’s radical form of Islam rejects not only western education, but secularism and democracy. Muslims who do not share its views are just as legitimate a target for that terrorist group as Christians are. The causes are multiple, complex and difficult to address in a short debate, but we know that local political and socio-economic factors have become fused with wider political and religious-ideological influences in fuelling that group. Of course, corruption and poor governance also play a role.

It is important that the UK continues to provide support, and not just in military terms. The Nigerian Federal Government are attempting a new “soft approach” to countering terrorism, with an holistic framework incorporating de-radicalisation and community engagement. There are examples of good work from the UK. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation recently held a programme for northern Nigerian Muslim and Christian faith leaders to come to the UK and work together to enable them to go back and try to educate from the grass roots up. We need more of the same.

I recently met the Metropolitan police’s Nigerian police forum. The Minister might be interested to know that up to 900 officers in the Metropolitan police alone are of Nigerian origin. In the past fortnight I mentioned that to the Prime Minister, who promised to look at the option of having some of those officers go to work with the police in Nigeria to help educate them in human rights policing, because we know, as a recent Amnesty International report has shown, that there are serious concerns about extra-judicial action by the Nigerian police. I do not have time to go into that today, and I do not need to educate the Minister about the challenges, but we have very experienced professionals in this country who are keen to make further links with Nigeria, so I hope that he will promise to look into that and meet the Nigerian police forum, which is a very committed group of individuals who are keen to do that.

In the run-up to Nigeria’s 2015 elections there is a real risk that we will see further politicisation of this complex situation. It is important that the UK Government and the international community support both Government and civil society in Nigeria, particularly in relation to criminal justice, investigative capacity and humanitarian relief. Of course, if we can tackle the terrorism at its source, the humanitarian relief needs will be far less great.

When I visited Nigeria in 2012 with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, we went to Minna in Niger state. At the time we were able to travel that far north, although sadly restrictions now mean that we cannot travel much further north of Abuja. We went there to see a scheme supported by DFID that was training young women to become teachers, because it was finding that in the north of Nigeria many girls were not going to school because there were not enough female teachers. The girls were living in a compound surrounded by barbed wire, because their husbands and fathers were keen that they should be secure while away from home.

It was also striking, particularly for two British women MPs, that the member of staff from the aid agency sponsoring the programme, Save the Children, told the girls in our presence, “When you go back to your homes, do not act too western. Stay the same as you are.” We found that quite jarring, because many of the girls had ambitions to study further. There is a real challenge there. Even where there is progressive thinking and girls are encouraged to be educated, there is a desire for them to go back to their communities and help educate the next generation, and going back in such a transformed way, with regard to their education, runs the risk that their fathers and husbands will not let the next generation be educated. That demonstrated in a very human way the challenges that remain when it comes to educating girls and women in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Government recently pledged to educate a million children in northern Nigeria to boost development, but more than 10 million children in the country still do not go to school. Some 60% of six to 17-year-old girls in northern Nigeria are not in school. On the same visit, I went to a school where I met parents who were very ambitious for their daughters—for all their children—but there is a need for support to get the children into school and ensure that they stay there, rather than having to earn money to support their families.

I do not have time to go into all the trade issues in Nigeria, but we know that the country is Africa’s largest producer of oil and gas. But other sectors are important, too. Agriculture accounts for 42% of GDP; sadly, however, it is underdeveloped—the majority of Nigeria’s produce is now imported. There is a real opportunity for UK agribusiness—perhaps some of our big supermarkets—to work in Nigeria to help improve food processing.

The Minister is nodding; I would be grateful if he commented on that in his response.

I mentioned the youth of the Nigerian population, which means that there is a growing demand for education and training services—another issue I have looked at in recent visits. That demand has grown faster than the Nigerian Government can meet it. There is a real opportunity for Britain to export some of our excellent education sector and work with Nigerians in Nigeria to ensure good quality education for that growing cohort. I am thinking of technical skills as well as academic education.

The Government must ensure that the bilateral trade, which has started, continues. They have not yet met the target. Will the Minister comment on that? Nigeria’s imports from the UK rose by 99% in 2012. That is good news, but a lot more can be done. Clearly, the security situation dampens down activity and businesses that I talk to worry about it a great deal. Will the Minister reassure them that the Government are aware of the situation and are willing to support them? Parts of Nigeria are still safe to invest and work in. We need to make sure that businesses not already in the country get across that confidence threshold.

I am aware that my time is running out. I turn briefly to the issue of oil; it is impossible to talk about Nigeria without mentioning that. Nigeria produces 2 million barrels of oil per day, making it the world’s 13th largest producer. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, at least 100,000 barrels a day were lost to theft from onshore production operations and the swamps alone. That causes environmental damage and affects communities. The stolen oil is exported; the proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria, polluting markets and financial institutions overseas. It also compromises parts of the legitimate oil business.

This is a real issue. Nigerian officials are aware of the problem, but we need transnational action to tackle it. Nigeria’s partners, including the British Government, should prioritise the gathering, analysis and sharing of intelligence so that we tackle this scourge on communities in the oil-producing parts of Nigeria. It is not good for the world as a whole.

It is a pleasure to follow so many well informed and thoughtful speeches. I used to work for a development non-governmental organisation—Oxfam. I suppose that over the years what development organisations have tended to emphasise in their presentation of African issues has been the real challenges of poverty, ill health and lack of rights, although they have also tried to put across some positive images.

The theme of today’s debate, however, is that the story of Africa is increasingly about resilience in the face of many of the challenges, about potential and about growth. The economic success story is extraordinary now. The average growth in the continent since the year 2000 is 4% or 5%, which we would be pleased with. The GDP of about a quarter of African countries grew at 7% or higher in 2012; if the current momentum continues, more than half of sub-Saharan African states will be middle-income countries by 2025.

There are obvious signs that the Department for International Development and the Government in general are working hard to improve African governance and remove obstacles to investment in Africa as part of our development focus, but it is good to hear in this debate about more emphasis on UKTI and trade missions, to help British companies make the most of the economic opportunity as well.

We are not alone in noticing the transformation of African economies. China is well known as a massive trade partner of Africa’s, but it is also increasingly a source of foreign direct investment there. Some 80% to 90% of that investment goes into the energy and metals industries, but Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises are increasingly investing in manufacturing and construction, some of them taking advantage of the fact that the Chinese Government are providing generous loans for infrastructure investment. We have to be aware of that growing economic relationship.

I have seen a Foreign and Commonwealth Office analysis paper that points out that the slow-down in the Chinese economy and the structural changes there, given the rising labour costs, may pose something of a threat to the African economic success story. However, the situation may also present opportunities, particularly as labour costs rise in China, for investment in manufacturing in Africa. That might be a great opportunity coming down the track for many African economies. It would be good to hear from the Minister how we are encouraging British companies not to miss out on that potential economic revolution.

Many Members, including the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), have emphasised the political context. Political reform and good governance are integral to Africa’s future success. In the 21st century, new political relationships are developing around the world. China is also politically involved in Africa and has been tolerant of some pretty unpleasant regimes, including Sudan and Zimbabwe. If there is a failing in its relationship with Africa, it is that it has not paid enough attention to human rights and good governance. We can encourage good governance and champion democracy in Africa.

The transformation towards democracy in Africa is spectacular. It happened before the Arab awakening and is on a par with what has happened in eastern Europe and Latin America. Although the process has often been faltering, with some countries seeming to take one step forward and two steps back, it is a long time since we talked about Botswana as virtually the only stable long-term democracy in Africa.

The Mo Ibrahim index emphasises the rule of law, accountability, personal safety, education, health, participation, human rights, and the business and public management environment. It showed that in 2012 almost 70% of African countries were improving their scores. The roll of honour—the top 10—are Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Tunisia, Lesotho and Senegal. Many of those were not remotely democratic only a few years ago.

Cape Verde is extraordinary. When I worked for Oxfam, it was probably one of the archetypal basket cases of African development. It was one of the least developed, poorest countries in the world and a byword for failing systems. Yet the Mo Ibrahim prize, which goes to former democratically elected African Heads of State and Government who have shown exceptional leadership, went to former President Pires of Cape Verde, who was singled out for his contribution to a country that is now characterised by stability, democracy and progress. That extraordinary transformation shows what is possible. Mo Ibrahim himself, who set up the prize, is a Sudanese philanthropist and telecoms millionaire who is also an example of how Africa can change and has changed in many respects already.

We need to look politically at Africa in a different way. We need to seek out strategic allies among the leading democracies there. South Africa is an obvious ally; we have a strong relationship with it and it is a fellow Commonwealth member and democracy. The issue of LGBT rights is still a problem across Africa; homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries. However, it is not always the best strategy for the former imperial power to lecture those countries about such issues. South Africa, however, has gay rights enshrined in its constitution, it has legalised same-sex marriage and it is a powerful advocate for LGBT rights. It can lead the attempt to change the political situation in some other African countries.

In Africa as a whole, and particularly South Africa, the other positive political relationship is the development of multi-party democracy. I am very proud, through the Liberal Democrats, to be a member of Liberal International, which probably has more African members than ever before. It includes the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, which in 1994 polled just 1.4% of the vote—even less than we got in the Newark by-election—whereas at the last general election in 2014, spectacularly, it got 22% and is now the official opposition to the African National Congress. It is no surprise that we are now taking strategic political advice from Mr Ryan Coetzee, formerly of the Democratic Alliance and now of the Liberal Democrats. We fully expect him to have a similarly spectacular impact on our political fortunes in this country.

There is not only a political and economic relationship, but a military one. British Government funding accounts for some 7% of UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, making us the fifth biggest donor in the world. Those operations include forces in Western Sahara, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Central African Republic, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, with British personnel on the ground in the latter two. We also have permanent operations for the UK Army in Africa, including the British peace support teams in east Africa and in South Africa, the British Army training unit in Kenya, the international military advising and training mission in Sierra Leone, and many others. That is all part of contributing not only to good governance in the democratic sense but to the good conduct of Government operations through, for instance, the security services.

This is a positive story in many respects, but we still have an important development relationship as well. It is right to emphasise the work of DFID, not only in terms of aid. It is no longer just about aid but about development in a broader sense. I am proud that we have as part of our Government’s record the achievement of the historic goal of spending 0.7% of our national income on international development assistance, but that is not the whole picture. Among other things, that money has contributed to the GAVI Alliance funds—where we have committed billions of pounds, much of which is going to African countries—and to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which since 2002 has contributed £200 million in South Africa, leading to a dramatic scaling-up of anti-retroviral medical treatments for HIV and AIDS and, in turn, to a dramatic drop in HIV. Since 2005, life expectancy in South Africa has shot up by six years, and that has had a dramatic impact. Millions of lives have been saved across Africa—across the world, in fact—by the British Government’s commitment to initiatives such as the global fund and GAVI, and we should be enormously proud of that.

We should also be proud of what we are doing to encourage private sector growth, which the Secretary of State for International Development has strongly emphasised. SMEs and small companies are often the engines of growth in African economies just as they are in this country. That is a very positive story.

There are also positive stories such as CDC, formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has created an enormous number of jobs by leveraging capital that it already had—so there is no extra cost to the British taxpayer, which will please my Conservative friends. This Government are very proud of having created 1 million private sector jobs in this country since the coalition began. CDC has helped to create 1 million jobs a year, contributing some £2 billion to local taxes. That is an amazing boost to development. CDC’s focus is now much less on dramatically growing economies such as the emerging markets in China and elsewhere, and much more on Africa, where it is seeking out hard-to-invest businesses. That is a real success story of which we should be proud.

Development work should be about good development. We need to check that everywhere we are working to support development it is having positive impacts. If I have to raise one concern, it is about areas such as the Lower Omo valley in Ethopia, where we are a contributor to the promoting basic services programme. That is part of an operation that includes the Gibe II dam project and the Kuraz sugar project, which will inevitably displace many traditional peoples from their pastoral lands. If some of that is forced relocation, and if the principle of prior informed consent is not being properly followed, that is a matter for real concern, and the British Government should be paying attention to it and raising it with the Ethiopian Government. Ethiopia is, in many ways, a great success story for economic development and progress, but there are human rights concerns there and elsewhere of which we need to be mindful.

The story of Africa these days is not so much about aid, charity and poverty as democracy, innovation and opportunity. For this country, it should be about seeking and developing strategic relationships with countries such as South Africa. However, we must also guard against any harmful consequences of the work we are doing and the development we are encouraging so that Africa does not repeat mistakes that countries in Europe might have made over time, and so that we have an entirely positive political, economic and development relationship with the countries of Africa.

I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate and to the Backbench Business Committee for bringing the subject to the Floor of the House. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood).

I want to concentrate my comments primarily on education. With our partners, the UK can do much to build on the work of extending educational provision to more children in the poorest families in the poorest countries in Africa. Education is one of the most effective ways of helping development in poorer countries. It contributes to greater economic growth, healthier populations, and more stable societies. Equal access to education for all reduces inequality and poverty and increases empowerment.

Much progress has been made towards achieving the Education for All goals set by world leaders in 2000. As many Members have said, it is important to be positive, not least because that underlines to people in the UK that the money they pay in their taxes to support international development is well spent and brings about real change. It is good that since 1999 the number of children out of school around the world has fallen by almost half. Nevertheless, UNESCO recently reported that by next year many countries will still not have reached the Education for All goals. The situation is particularly serious in parts of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, where 30 million primary-age children are out of school. Girls suffer most from this lack of provision. One in four girls is not receiving a basic education, and at the end of the last decade only 23% of children from the poorest households completed primary education. If recent trends in the region continue, although boys from the richest households will achieve universal primary education by 2021, universal primary education for girls from the poorest households will not be reached until 2086, and girls are not expected to achieve universal secondary education, even at the lower level, until 2111— 97 years away. That is clearly an unacceptable situation.

Unfortunately, just when funding for education is urgently needed to accelerate progress, that funding is in crisis. Although some African countries have managed to increase their domestic education budgets, others still spend too little—in some cases, less than 3% of GNP. Meanwhile, external aid for education from multilateral organisations and bilateral support from richer countries is declining. The UK is not in that position—it is leading the way in supporting basic education in poorer countries, including in Africa. That is happening under this Government and of course happened under the previous Labour Government. We have been increasing our aid to education at a time when several other donors have been making worrying cuts, not only in education support but in international development assistance.

Given what I said about the particularly serious situation regarding education for girls in poorer countries, I welcome DFID’s continuing commitment to supporting the education of girls, which is recognised across the House. The UK is also, of course, the single largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education. That leadership role gives us the opportunity to play an important part in influencing other donors to step up both their direct bilateral aid for education and their support for GPE.

The Minister will know that GPE’s four-year replenishment campaign will begin with a pledging conference in Brussels a week today, which will be attended by global leaders. It is not clear whether the UK Government will send a Minister to the conference or whether the UK will make a financial pledge to the fund. I certainly hope that the Government will send a Minister, so perhaps the Minister could tell us later. That would be an important way of emphasising our commitment to action.

UK non-governmental organisations have been calling on the British Government to make a number of commitments to the replenishment process. In particular, they have called for the UK to make a pledge of £525 million to the fund, thereby providing 25% of the target, if other donors also step up. The NGOs have called on the Government to continue the existing bilateral funding to education in developing countries, and to support developing country partners to increase their own domestic education funding, which is particularly important.

The campaign backing education for all has widespread popular support in this country, particularly from schoolchildren, who want to see children from poorer countries enjoying the same right to education as they do. Many Members will be aware of the “Send my Friend to School” and “Send my Sister to School” campaigns. Many schools in my constituency and, I am sure, others have taken part in them in this and previous years. I give a special mention to the children and staff at St Mary’s primary school in my constituency in Edinburgh, who a few days ago delivered just over 300 “Send my Friend to School” buddy cards to my office. Almost every single child in the school was involved and they were inspired by the school’s connection with a school and project in Tanzania.

Given the support for action from constituencies across the country, I reiterate my call for the Government to send a senior Minister to the pledging conference in Brussels next week and to make a financial pledge to the fund along the lines suggested by NGOs. If we do that, we can play a leadership role to influence other donors, help ensure a successful conference and allow the vital work, in which our country is playing an important and leading role, to continue.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz).

My involvement with Africa started with a visit to Ethiopia in 1981, a couple of years before I was first elected to Parliament. I found Ethiopia to be a beautiful country and I subsequently became chair of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society. It was perhaps not surprising, therefore, that in late 1983, when Oxfam and a number of other non-governmental organisations were concerned that the international community was not taking sufficiently seriously the famine in Ethiopia, I was one of the small team of parliamentarians asked to travel with Oxfam to Addis and across the country so that we could report back first-hand to Parliament what we had seen.

By coincidence, our visit to Addis coincided with the now famous and simultaneous visit by Michael Buerk and a team from the BBC. They had been filming in South Africa and were due to come home but had some spare time and were looking for another story to cover. They were told there may be some food problems in Ethiopia and they arrived to discover, as we did, not just food problems but famine and starvation on a biblical scale.

As has happened so often in recent history, BBC film footage instantly flashed around the world and the international community responded. Literally within days, I found myself standing next to the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, who had flown in, and suddenly the attention of the whole world was on Ethiopia, with airports there soon supporting RAF Hercules planes and Russian transport planes delivering emergency food aid to rural populations.

Later that year, just before the House rose for Christmas, I made a speech on Africa, which I have re-read for the first time in many years for the purposes of preparing for this debate. I observed:

“This year the rains have failed in Africa, a continent where two-thirds of the world’s poorest people scratch a living that is precarious at the best of times…more than 20 million people are facing starvation in Africa…The Save the Children Fund estimates that some 1 million people face immediate starvation in the area of Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Sudan…food produced in Africa has increased by less than 2 per cent. a year…Africa is now the only part of the world that grows less food for its people now than it did 20 years ago…The areas hardest hit by drought and famine also seem to be those areas of civil war and political unrest, which in turn means that there are now millions of political refugees seeking safety, food and shelter in parts of Africa other than their homes.”

I concluded:

“I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to do all that he can to initiate an urgent programme to help Africa feed itself”. —[Official Report, 19 December 1983; Vol. 51, c. 232-36.]

Interestingly, I also noted that the then Minister for Overseas Development had the previous week written a letter to The Guardian indicating that there were difficulties in giving food aid. It is interesting to note that, even as recently as 1983, giving food aid and humanitarian support was still seen as politically difficult. It was all too often regarded as being a value judgment on the country or the regime of the country to which the food aid was being sent.

I have been fortunate in my parliamentary career over the intervening 30 years to make frequent visits to different parts of Africa, including when I was a Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for overseas development before the Department for International Development was set up, and when I was fortunate to Chair the International Development Committee. I have also been fortunate to travel to Africa either in my capacity as a barrister or at my own expense, as happened recently when I visited Somalia and South Sudan.

Africa today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), who opened the debate, has made clear, is a continent of the most amazing energy, dynamism and enormous potential. It is a young continent with huge numbers of young men and women working hard to improve their lives.

It was to the credit of Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, that he set up the Commission for Africa. In fairness, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), as Chancellor, did much to support the development initiatives so that at Gleneagles in 2005 the major countries of the world agreed to double aid to Africa, provide 100% debt relief to eligible countries, and create the Investment Climate Facility for Africa, the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa and the business action plan for Africa. Gleneagles gave support to the creation of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, which led in due course to the UN commencing discussions on an international arms trade treaty later that year.

It is fair to say that since 2005 Africa has made extraordinary progress. It continues to have sustained average annual growth rates of about 6%, and foreign investment and exports have quadrupled. This overall progress has been largely driven by the efforts of African Governments themselves to make it easier to do business in their own country, supported by increased African and international investment in infrastructure.

There have been record levels of demand for African goods and particular demand for Africa’s natural resources. The relief for debt of way over $100 billion and a nearly 50% increase in aid to Africa over the past decade have helped African countries increase their spending on health, education and civil society. There has been a substantial increase in investment in infrastructure in Africa. Growing donor support for initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation have meant that more than 300 million children have been immunised with GAVI-supported vaccines. African Governments’ commitments alongside strong donor support have ensured access to antiretroviral treatments for HIV/AIDS to grow from below 15% in 2005 to well over 50% now. More children in Africa get to sleep under a bed net that can protect them from malaria than ever before, and more children go to primary school.

It is clear that Africa’s potential is enormous. Realising that potential is not just in Africa’s interests—it is in all our interests. During recent years, we have seen significant economic growth in Africa; a surge in trade investment; new relationships with countries such as China and other non-traditional partners; ever-increasing demand for African resources; and increased investment in areas vital to growth, paving the way to ever greater investment. There has been growing spending power in African households, and increased external aid alongside debt relief has helped to support African Governments’ efforts to promote growth and development. It has also helped to increase school enrolment rates, check the spread of HIV/AIDS, expand vital infrastructure and support African efforts to attract investment.

Many positive achievements and developments in Africa would not have happened if it had not been for the encouragement and persistence of international development aid, including international development from the UK. For example, Africa has continued to expand as a major market for mobile phone technology. For a long time, it has been one of the world’s fastest growing mobile phone markets. Mobile phone technology in Africa is now estimated to employ more than 3.5 million people, and the spread of mobile phones continues to change the way in which Africans communicate and to bring a wide range of benefits. African farmers and fishermen are using them to get better information about market prices for their goods, which enables them to make better judgments about when and where to sell their products. For example, the Kenyan Agricultural Commodity Exchange has partnered with Safaricom, Kenya’s largest cell phone company, to equip farmers with up-to-date commodity market prices via their phones.

There are, however, some serious buts for Africa, some of which are structural. African economies remain among the least diversified in the world, with approximately 80% of all African exports coming from oil, minerals and agricultural goods. Only 12% of recent growth in Africa has been in the agricultural sector, which employs 60% of the work force.

Increased investment in and improvements to Africa’s infrastructure have been major drivers in its recent growth, but massive gaps still remain between the infrastructure Africa has and the infrastructure it needs. It is disappointing that there has been little or no movement towards an agreement on the Doha development agenda for the removal of agricultural subsidies, or more significant trade agreements between the EU and African countries.

Africa is still hobbled in all too many areas by conflict, by corruption and, often, by limited governance. On conflict and violence, I do not think that we should allow the eruption of events last week in Iraq to overshadow the very considerable contribution made by the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict. It is worth noting that only as recently as the establishment of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone on war crimes that the international community and international law held mass rape to be a war crime.

I think the whole House welcomes the lead taken by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who have campaigned for several years to arrange the global summit, because we all believe that the time has come to end the use of rape in war. Governments, experts, civil society, survivors and members of the public were brought together last week in an unprecedented concentration of effort and attention. On Thursday, representatives from 117 countries met to agree international protocols on the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence during war. I hope that last week’s summit will act as a catalyst, and that it will inspire concrete action to tackle sexual violence around the world so that conflict-related rape can no longer—and will no longer—be considered as an inevitable by-product of war.

The House will not be surprised, given my particular responsibilities in this place, if I mention the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury at last week’s conference. He observed that it is very often Churches around the world that pick up the pieces after rape in war zones and are the main bulwark against such brutalisation, and that Churches throughout the world show women who have been violated love, humanity and dignity, and challenge the culture of impunity that exists in many war zones, besides seeking to promote equality between the sexes.

On corruption, it is good that the UK Government have taken an international lead with the Bribery Act 2010, and that the recent Queen’s Speech includes a new public register of beneficial ownership, through the small business, enterprise and employment Bill. The Bill is one of the outcomes of the 2013 UK-hosted G8 summit. It aims to limit the use of shell companies for tax evasion, fraud, money laundering and corruption, which is estimated to cost the developing world billions of dollars each year.

The recent initiatives by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on conflict and for reducing the impact of sexual violence are much to be welcomed—I am sure the Minister and other hon. Members will comment on them in detail—but it is difficult to underestimate the damage done to Africa by conflict.

For example, when I visited Somalia earlier this year the security situation was so bad that the Foreign Office would in effect allow me to make only a day visit to Mogadishu—and then to go no further than the British embassy, which is located in the airfield complex in Mogadishu—all because of the activities of al-Shabaab. The President of Somalia very kindly came to the British embassy to meet me. He and his Government are clearly working extremely hard to try to bring some normality to Somalia. However, the very day after I visited Mogadishu, there was a significant car bomb attack on the presidential palace, which killed a large number of people. It is of course difficult to see how any country can make progress in the 21st century if it is impossible for members of the international business community, journalists or other interested parties physically to visit the country, given such a terrorism threat.

My next visit—via Nairobi—was to Juba. The complexities of the conflict in South Sudan perhaps merit a full debate, and I hope that there may be time for one on Sudan and South Sudan in the Chamber or Westminster Hall at some point. There is no doubt that the conflict in South Sudan has set the world’s youngest country back a very considerable way. I did not get beyond Juba. On his visit, however, the Archbishop of Canterbury went to Bor, where he saw for himself the mass graves of those slaughtered in inter-community fighting. I was glad to learn from press reports that, in Addis last week, the President of South Sudan and Reik Machar agreed that they would work together, as I understand it, in a Government of national unity, which I hope will take South Sudan from now until the presidential elections next year. However, I do not think that any of us can in any way underestimate the potential humanitarian disaster just around the corner in South Sudan. I hope that the cessation of hostilities will enable food aid, as well as humanitarian international agencies and NGOs, to reach all parts of the country.

In Nigeria and other countries in Africa, we are seeing a rise of organisations such as Boko Haram and of Islamic extremism. The President of the Republic of Sudan is a wanted alleged international war criminal. There are still far too few countries in Africa where the transition of power from one democratically elected Government to another is the norm.

We need to take stock of the progress of the millennium development goals and agree what to put in their place post-2015. I understand that President Obama will convene in Washington in early August a summit to which all African Heads of Government are invited. That will allow the United States and African Heads of Government to have a significant dialogue on what the agenda for Africa should be.

The United States has increasingly found itself involved in peacekeeping in Africa—it has a very large military base in Djibouti—but, similarly, China is taking an ever-closer interest and wants more involvement and investment in Africa.

Lastly and significantly, we also need to secure a global agreement on climate change. We must never underestimate the potential of climate change seriously to damage the economies and people of Africa.

The number of Members wanting to speak shows how important it is to have a debate on Africa. I hope that a general discussion on Africa will become at least an annual event, because it is a way of drawing attention to a number of subjects. I will be brief, because we do not want to take time out of the next debate.

In any debate on Africa, we should have some thought for our role in Africa in the past, with the colonisation, slavery and brutality, as well as the incredible wealth made by British companies and families from colonial Africa right through to independence in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In such debates, I always remember the prescient remarks of the former Member for Tottenham, the late Bernie Grant when he spoke about the African reparations movement and the need for justice in Africa. He was talking not just about money, but about justice in attitude towards Africa, as well as in trade and aid arrangements.

Owing to lack of time, I will restrict my remarks not to the whole continent, but to one area—the African great lakes region. I am a vice-chair of the all-party group on the African great lakes region. I have a considerable diaspora community from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in my constituency, as well as numbers of refugees from other conflicts in the region. The Minister will not be surprised that I raise such matters, but I hope that he will help me in his answers, or at least correspond with me afterwards. Next year, the year after and the year after that, there will be very important elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, which I will consider in order.

We discussed the Democratic Republic of the Congo at some length in a recent Westminster Hall debate. Suffice it to say that its history is one of the most appalling brutality and exploitation, first by forces under King Leopold’s control in the 19th century, later by Belgian colonialists and then, following independence and the death of Patrice Lumumba, by a series of brutal military Governments. That has left the country with very limited infrastructure, while the majority of the population is extremely poor and life expectancy is very low. State organisations have very limited reach in any part of the country.

The death rate as a result of the internal conflict in the DRC and the fighting in the east is of almost first world war proportions. The number of people who have died in conflict in the DRC in the past 20 years runs into the many hundreds of thousands. The motive force behind much of that conflict is a combination of local determination and the huge mining interests in the DRC, as well as the other huge natural resources in the country, such as the forests.

One piece of good news—very little good news has come out of the Congo over the past few years—is the protection of the Virunga national park through the ending of oil exploration projects there. I hope that that is a permanent feature and that there is continued protection of that park. Other Members have referred to the protection of natural resources in respect of ecology and the ecosystem. Such protections are best enforced through local participation and support, rather than through quasi-military control.

As a result of the conflict in the DRC, the UN set up MONUSCO, which is the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world. Its mandate is due to end fairly soon. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline in his response, or perhaps in correspondence, what the British Government’s attitude is towards that. What does he think of the performance of MONUSCO over the years?

I have been an election observer in the DRC and have made separate visits to the DRC, mainly on behalf of constituents. We have to look at the performance of the DRC Government, the use of EU and British aid in the DRC, and the human rights that exist there. The abominable treatment of women, particularly in the eastern DRC, where rape is a routine weapon of war, is appalling by any standard anywhere in the world. It is uniquely bad in the eastern DRC.

Although I recognise that there is now much greater world attention on all these issues, there is a big question mark over the transparency of the mining operations, what happens to the huge amounts of money that are made out of those operations and the very limited amount of tax income that the DRC Government get as a result. There is no reason why the DRC should be such a poor country. There are legitimate and important questions to ask.

Much European Union aid has gone to the DRC. One of the monitoring reports states that the EU

“needs to be more demanding of the Congolese authorities when monitoring compliance with the conditions agreed and the commitments made.”

It asks for the strengthened

“use of conditionality and policy dialogue”,

and for “time-bound” and “clear” conditions to be placed on aid, particularly EU aid, in future.

Anyone who meets any member of the DRC Government or anybody from the opposition groups will find that the conversation turns rapidly to relations with Rwanda and the strong allegations about Rwandan forces, and indeed forces from Uganda and other countries, operating in the eastern DRC. There are legitimate questions to put to the Rwandan Government about the behaviour of their forces and agents in the eastern DRC. Although an agreement was reached recently on a peace and reconciliation process, that has to be monitored carefully. Only a week ago, on 11 and 12 June, there was fighting between Rwandan and Congolese forces in which there was an exchange of fire.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Rwanda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. My hon. Friend might go on to talk about the challenges for Rwanda in having a nation with the problems of the DRC on its doorstep, such as all the refugees coming into Rwanda. It is a difficult situation to manage and stability in the region is an issue.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is right that it is an extremely difficult situation to manage.

The genocide that happened to the people of Rwanda is one of the most abominable pages in the history of the planet. One can only have a sense of sympathy and horror at what happened to the lives of so many people during that genocide. One would support peace and reconciliation efforts and the development efforts in Rwanda. I accept that it is a well-run country in comparison to many others in Africa.

However, I have serious concerns about the treatment of opposition figures and the freedom of expression in Rwanda. In particular, I am concerned about the pursuit of opposition members by President Kagame and, of course, the death of Patrick Karegeya in South Africa on new year’s day this year. We have legitimate questions to ask of the Rwandan Government.

I will quote the International Development Committee:

“On our visit we met with human rights NGOs, lawyers and journalists in Kigali. They explained how difficult it was to have a mature discussion about human rights with the Government. A recent ‘genocide ideology law’ had made it difficult for journalists or human rights groups to express any concerns. Tensions were building up under the surface because people were unable to speak openly. The press reported that the Government of Rwanda was attempting to assassinate Rwandans in exile in the UK and that the Metropolitan Police were investigating this.”

Very serious concerns are being expressed about Rwanda. Given that Britain provided £45 million in aid last year, which is more than half the budget of the Rwandan Government, there are legitimate questions to be put.

Lastly, I have some questions about Burundi, which I hope the Minister will help me with when he responds. I visited Burundi as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation some years ago. Although it has had far less publicity than Rwanda and the DRC, the genocide that happened there and the poverty of its people are very serious issues that have to be addressed. They can be addressed partly through aid, but there are also issues with human rights and the freedom of expression. There are concerns about the freedom of expression of journalists and opposition figures in Burundi.

There are also concerns about the conduct of the upcoming election. The report made by Mary Robinson, the special envoy of the Secretary-General of the UN to the great lakes region of Africa, noted that she was

“very concerned about the constraints on political space and civil liberties which hinder the efforts of the opposition, civil society, and the media, in the lead up to elections in 2015. Burundi has made commendable progress in overcoming a history of conflict, but that progress risks being lost if action is taken to undermine the electoral process and prevent the full participation of all stakeholders.”

The African great lakes region has enormous resources and enormous potential. It has a dreadful history that includes how it was treated by its colonial masters and the genocide that happened after independence. I hope that we can put appropriate supportive pressure on it to bring about a more democratic, pluralistic society that has much greater respect for the human rights of the people of the region. The waste of human resources in war and conflict is appalling. The loss of life and the treatment of women are appalling. We should at least be able to make our views on those matters known in an appropriate way to the Governments of those three countries.

It has been interesting to listen to so many informed speeches by hon. Members, not least that of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). If I have a concern about this debate it is that at times we have been far too congratulatory about the progress that is being made in Africa, far too uncritical of the tools that our Government are using to assist people in Africa and far too confident of the progress that we believe Africa will make over the next few decades.

I speak as someone who, before becoming an MP, spent almost all of his professional life living in other countries that were at different stages of development. I have become a firm believer in and, I hope, a passionate advocate for political liberty and freedom, and economic liberty and freedom. There is nothing more powerful than seeing someone who has never been able to vote go and cast their vote. There is nothing better than seeing someone who has lived and worked in an industry throttled by monopolistic powers or corruption starting their own business and building a future for themselves, and nothing better than reading a press that is free rather than craven before its political masters. I believe passionately in those things, and as a British citizen I am proud that I can go around and say that I am from the United Kingdom, and that we as a country will stand up for those values wherever they need to be supported and nurtured.

However, I speak also as someone who has to validate to my constituents the expenditure of 0.7% of our GDP on international development. I applaud our Prime Minister for accomplishing that goal, and I support it, but I naturally have to ask some tough questions on my constituents’ behalf about whether that money is being spent effectively. That is particularly important when we examine the record in sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the past 20 years, a substantial amount of the resources sent from this country to Africa has gone through our aid budget. World Bank statistics show the impact of that aid: in 1990, 56.5% of people in Africa were living on less than $1.25 a day, whereas today the figure is just under 50%. For the billions of pounds that have been spent in aid, that is a very poor return on investment. Our Government need to challenge that by seeing where that money is being spent effectively and how we can be better.

I will not, because the hon. Gentleman has had his chance to speak and time is critical. I know that you want to move on to the closing speeches, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Aid is often incidental to, rather than responsible for, much of the progress that is made. I do not doubt the role of aid agencies, but I want to look critically at whether their tools and their role are what is needed to achieve the next level of development. I am also concerned to ensure that our Government support Africans with what they want, not our aid agencies with what they want for themselves. I am concerned that too often, we rely on institutional inertia: we carry on doing what we have done and lose sight of the original goal and how people’s lives and environments have changed. We need to change how aid is used, and I am proud of some of the changes that the Government have made recently.

Collier, in his book “The Bottom Billion”, which many hon. Members will have read, said that overseas development is not well suited to overcoming some of the challenges of the bottom billion in the world’s economy.

I am not going to give way, because of time. I know that the hon. Gentleman worked for Oxfam and has a record on the matter, but he should make his own points on a later occasion. It is fair to say that our Government have to examine whether our money is being delivered effectively to the people who need it.

No; I think I have made my position clear. Because of time, I am unable to give way. The hon. Gentleman can continue to attempt to intervene, but I will not give way. I am not being disrespectful to him; I am trying to be respectful to the Front Benchers.

Recipients can often see aid as being more about the donor than about them. I am concerned that insufficient attention is often given to the distortion that aid causes to local markets, local wages and supply chains. The public naturally support aid tremendously, but if we are to overcome institutional inertia, we must ensure that we get people out of poverty and into successful, safe and stable lives. We therefore need a Government who are prepared to ask challenging questions and set themselves targets for change. Equally, we need our NGOs to recognise that they may have to yield their role at times because they do not have the skill sets needed to get to the next stage of development.

I am pleased that the Government have announced changes to their development budget. They have shifted towards economic development by seeking to double the amount of expenditure on it by 2015-16. It is also commendable that they are focusing on jobs, which are an essential part of getting people’s income levels up. I would like to know what the Government are doing to encourage competitive markets—perhaps the Minister can talk about his work on that. As part of our policy, we need to support not only trade but the development of competitive markets. I draw his attention to the report that I wrote with Samuel Kasumu on entrepreneurship in Lagos, in Nigeria.

The Lagos state Government are creating a benign environment for the development of small businesses. The UK Government can give more help through the co-investment fund—many Members have mentioned the value of CDC—and through skills qualifications and skills transfer, particularly basic skills and education. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who chairs the all-party group on Nigeria, mentioned that point. The Government can help also through the establishment of a diaspora fund. It is important that they are seen as supporting the march of the African entrepreneurs. We need to be the champions of that positive change in Africa.

I wish to hear from the Minister on one other matter—what our Government are doing to support the rights of lesbian and gay people in African countries. Some mention has been made of that today. The Human Dignity Trust has brought to my attention two specific pieces of legislation—of course I knew about them before, but it told me the specifics of the penalties. In Uganda, under the Anti-Homosexuality Act, there is seven years’ imprisonment for attempting to commit homosexuality, and in Nigeria, under the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, there is 10 years’ imprisonment simply for going to a gay club. Those are despicable infringements of human liberty.

I have heard the concern expressed that it is poor for the old colonial power to express its opinion on such matters. Rubbish. We have to stand up for what we think is right. I do not care about the colour of someone’s skin or where in the world they are—a gay person or lesbian woman should have the same rights everywhere. In a free country, where people of all backgrounds and sexualities have freedom, if our advocates in government and representatives in Parliament are not prepared to stand up and challenge other countries where rights and freedoms are not permitted, we are not living up to the beacon of freedom that is the country of which, in all the years I spent abroad, I was proud to say I was a citizen.

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), so that I can stress the importance in my job and the Minister’s of talking truth to Governments and adhering to principles. The hon. Gentleman eloquently explained why that is important.

This has been an excellent and extremely wide-ranging debate. It will be a challenge, in 10 minutes, to commend sufficiently the eloquence and knowledge that I have heard over the past couple of hours. I will try to refer to all Members who have spoken, however, because every one has made a valuable contribution. I will also go through various points that I want to make and touch on various issues as I do so.

I thank the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) for securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee, because we must continue to talk about the hugely important continent of Africa. A close relationship exists between the United Kingdom and Africa, and we need to reflect our knowledge to our constituents and show them that engaging with and meeting individuals from Africa is an important part of how we can do our job better.

Of course, as a Labour spokesman I am proud of the emphasis that the Labour Government who left office in 2010 gave to Africa. I thank the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) for referring to the work of Tony Blair and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and their commitment to Africa. At that time, organisations in all our constituencies, such as Jubilee 2000, placed on their agenda support for what has at times been a troubled continent. They got behind us as politicians and forced us to act, and the Government responded to that.

I congratulate the current Government on agreeing to achieve, and indeed achieving, the 0.7% of GNI target. The approach to the subject has been one of the best changes that I have seen in Conservative party attitudes in recent years, and I pay tribute to the Government for that. Within that consensus, it is important that we carry forward our perceptions across the Chamber.

We mentioned Africa’s strategic and economic importance, and we emphasised trade. The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) worked hard as Minister for Africa, and was as assiduous and unfailingly polite as ever in carrying out that job. He was always keen to develop trade between Africa and the UK, and the envoys whom the Government have appointed have helped enormously with that. We must carry that forward.

Africa has not just close business links but also cultural links with our constituencies. I could not fail to mention Lesotho, which, as a number of Members know, is close to my heart. It was referred to as one of the beacon countries for democracy, and it has a close relationship with Wales and my constituency. Lesotho’s Commonwealth games team will be based in Wrexham this summer, as a follow-up to basing its Olympic team there. We are pleased that that relationship continues in civic life at a local level, and in our constituencies there is a huge interest in Africa as a whole.

As the hon. Member for Bedford said, it is important that our relationship with Africa is principled, characterised by consistency and built on partnership—I was pleased to hear that word. We have seen in Wrexham, and I am sure across the UK, how important it is that we learn from each other. I am unfailingly impressed by young people in Africa and their attitude to valuing education, health and family—I wish that some people in our country felt as deeply about those things as they do, because we have a lot to learn from Africa.

I join other Members in congratulating the Government on last week’s summit on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, and I hope that we can build on those efforts with our international partners in areas of concern. We need increased co-operation between the UK Government and Governments in Africa to combat practices such as female genital mutilation—for example when it is expected that young girls are being sent to such countries to have that horrific form of abuse inflicted on them.

During the conference the UK national action plan on peace and security was launched. I welcome that and I met a number of women who expressed the need for women to be at the heart of security and Government issues. I am sure, however, that other Members would be as grateful as I would be for more detail on the implementation of that action plan, as we work on this matter in the days and months ahead. There is currently very little information on that, and if we are to work together to take forward that agenda we would like as much information as possible as soon as possible, so that we can co-operate.

Alongside the conference I had meetings scheduled with representatives from African countries, but they were unfortunately cancelled because visas could not be secured in time. Visas are often raised with me in my communications not just with Lesotho but with other African countries—particularly smaller ones—and across the House we would like to improve access to visas for people from Africa who want to come to the United Kingdom. That is a continuing problem, which I am sure inhibits trade and cultural relations between us.

May I put on record my concern about the difficulties with visas faced by the Scotland Malawi Partnership, of which my hon. Friend and the Minister may be aware? I hope that some progress can be made on that.

I thank my hon. Friend for agreeing with me about visas and for highlighting the Scotland Malawi Partnership, which is almost as good as the Wales Lesotho partnership—high praise indeed. We need to work together, and we had some discussions in the Africa all-party group about visas. Perhaps we need to liaise on that with the Home Office in more detail.

A number of Members mentioned the importance of human rights across the continent, and I wish to refer to some of the smaller African countries. A number of representatives from the Gambia raised concerns with me about serious human rights abuses in their small west African state. Only last week, I wrote to the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Warsi, about the continued detention of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu in Swaziland. They were first arrested in March following their publication of an article criticising the High Court in Swaziland, and they now face charges of contempt of court.

The Government must do more to ensure that mechanisms are in place so that small African countries are heard and not overlooked. It is often difficult for those in countries with which we do not have the closest relations to exert pressure on Governments, but I imagine that a cell in Swaziland is as bleak as a cell anywhere else to the person involved. What is the UK doing, together with its international partners, to ensure that such mechanisms are in place?

Earlier I mentioned religious extremism, and we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) about the challenges in northern and north-west Africa. I commend the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee to which he referred—he serves on that Committee—which is valuable in explaining an area of Africa that is not focused on enough but is extremely important. The collision of cultures that is taking place across northern Africa, from Somalia to Mali and across Algeria, is of massive importance and linked to the issues we face in Iraq. We must have a collective focus on why people are turning to extremism and the most appalling behaviour as some sort of warped way of seeking to improve their lives.

We have seen many dreadful incidents of terrorism in recent days and weeks, and Kenya has returned to the news over the past few days. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) does much positive work with the CPA, and through its auspices last week I met some Kenyan parliamentarians and we had a good discussion. I was therefore saddened to see further problems in Kenya. We also heard from various speakers about the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria, and the dreadful ongoing situation that reflects more generally the problems of extremism across the Sahel and northern Africa.

Bilateral and international efforts must focus on finding a long-term solution to combating Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram. Further to discussions at last week’s ministerial meeting on security in northern Nigeria, will the Minister outline what leadership role the UK will play to help improve regional co-ordination to counter the threat of Boko Haram? More broadly, what steps are being taken on governance to try to improve and achieve a more successful approach to these massively important issues?

Stability is best achieved where countries can achieve economic progress that is balanced with stable consensual government based on democratic values. Whenever I visit Africa, it strikes me that the key to all of this, if I had to choose one word, would be “governance”—governance without corruption, and governance that people in that country believe in and think will improve their lives. The right hon. Member for Banbury spoke about Ethiopia, which he visited in the 1980s. For my generation, that was a hugely totemic country and a totemic issue that brought much political activity. There has since been great achievement and progress in Ethiopia, and it has performed well economically in many ways. We also heard about Rwanda, which has also economically progressed. There is, however, a political challenge in Rwanda and Ethiopia to develop a consensual form of government that deepens democratic activity and achieves economic success. That is the challenge for Africa and for all of us, and we need to work together to achieve that in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), and the hon. Members for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), on securing this important debate on the UK’s relationship with Africa. All hon. Members who have spoken have done so with a huge amount of knowledge and passion, setting out the UK’s modern approach to its relationships with African countries and being clear about the belief in Africa’s prosperous future in the context, as the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) rightly said, of a modern 21st century partnership.

This has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate, with significant expertise and knowledge on show. Historically, aid has been important, and it still is, with UK taxpayers’ money making a positive difference in Africa, but there is now a forensic focus by most African Governments on private sector investment driving economic growth, creating jobs and thereby alleviating poverty. As other hon. Members have rightly pointed out, all too often when Africa is mentioned people automatically think of conflict or poverty. We do need to focus on those issues, but Africa is much more than that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) rightly pointed out, Africa is not a homogeneous country but a vast, complex and varied continent fuelled by a rising middle class with middle-class aspirations, with improved governance and stability in some African countries. There is much evidence that Africa is rising. Everywhere I go across the continent I see ambition, determination, talent and entrepreneurial flair.

As Africa has risen, the Government have transformed their relationship with African countries. We have opened six new embassies, often in countries where historical engagement has been limited, including in Juba, Bamako, Mogadishu and Antananarivo. We have added more than 20 prosperity experts to our Africa network to develop the business environment. We are considering in detail expanding our UKTI platform and presence across sub-Saharan Africa. We have pulled together expertise from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence. They are now working together effectively as one team across the continent and across Whitehall, using our combined efforts and resources, including the FCO’s network of 36 posts and more than 2,000 staff, DFID’s 17 missions and 11 defence sections, including defence attachés, and the permanent training teams already mentioned.

Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. Last year, five African nations outgrew China, and 17 African nations are ranked higher than India in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. In 2013, trade investment between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa was almost £20 billion. This, however, is not sufficient. Africans tell me that they want British companies to invest. They want our expertise and they respect the ethical approach of our firms. I do not want this to be just London-centric; I want it to include the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why, later in this Session of Parliament, I will be taking part in a tour of the north of England to explain the opportunities to our entrepreneurial businesses in the north. These opportunities are not just in the traditional African markets, but in Francophone and Lusophone countries too.

I would like to address briefly some of the key points raised by hon. Members. In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East rightly highlighted the optimism and positive economic activity that is already happening in sub-Saharan Africa. He was also right to say that there needs to be a balance between getting a fair return on capital invested and the benefit to Africans. That balance has not always been right. He asked about high level prosperity partnerships. I assure him that they are aligned with the priorities of the host African Governments and increasing building capacity.

The hon. Member for York Central was right to note the correlation between conflict, poverty and a lack of economic development. He also rightly raised the challenges of hard power. He gave us a very good example, Operation Serval, where in the short term hard power had made a positive difference—but it can only ever be a part of the solution. A medium to long-term developmental and economic plan needs to be put in place. He also raised the issue of whether the UK is committed to supporting the Libyan people and the Libyan Government across a whole range of areas, and I will consider his request for more information. He was absolutely right to say that these problems do not stick to traditional geopolitical boundaries, which is why the FCO and DFID, working in a joint team and working closely with the French, have put in place a north-west African strategy which we discussed at length with the Foreign Affairs Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) rightly highlighted the importance of the Commonwealth, and our ability and willingness to share and take ideas from elsewhere. From within the African continent there are internal Africa peer review mechanisms, particularly on transparency and governance. They are an essential cornerstone in providing confidence for business investment. He may be interested to know of the enthusiasm from non-Commonwealth countries in Africa to join the Commonwealth, demonstrating the respect in which it is held and its ongoing value.

The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) also raised the issue of Libya. He will be well aware of the work that we continue to do regionally with countries around Libya to try to protect and shore up some of the very porous borders. He raised the important ongoing challenge of Boko Haram. I do not have time to go into exactly what we are doing to support the region, but we made announcements after both the Paris summit and the meeting we held on the fringe of the end sexual violence in conflict conference. I can assure him that we are working together on a multilateral and bilateral level with the French, the US and countries in the region.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), my predecessor, gave a hugely well-informed contribution, in which he articulated some of the very powerful contributions he made to the relationships between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, and, in particular, on the positive contribution he made to progress in Somalia. I have been fortunate to visit Mogadishu twice in my time as a Minister. I noticed positive progress the second time I went, but it is still fragile. We therefore need to all work together with the region and the international community. There are in place new deal compacts that were set out in the Brussels conference. The Federal Government of Somalia are working towards finalising the constitution in the run-up to the 2016 elections.

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) has a huge volume of knowledge, interest and passion about Nigeria, which I share. She was right to raise the importance of inter-faith work, and I saw for myself in Kaduna the work being done between the bishop and some of the imams. She was also right to raise the importance of human rights and the challenges in both the Nigerian police and Nigerian military structures. The positive contribution that the Nigerian diaspora can make is essential to trade and to building capacity. I will look at the suggestion she discussed with the Prime Minister. I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the agricultural and horticultural expertise we have in the UK, which can make a positive difference.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) was absolutely right to raise the Chinese involvement and to highlight the potential opportunities for manufacturing and adding value. However, there are already some good examples of that, whether it be the Lonrho prawn-freezing factory in Maputo, the juice factory in Ghana or the glove factory in Ethiopia. All are examples of British companies investing in Africa, creating huge numbers of African jobs and exporting high-quality goods to the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman made many other good points, using his extensive knowledge of Africa, in particular about the significant contributions that the United Nations makes and our financial contributions through United Nations mechanisms.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) rightly raised the importance of education, and not just basic education. I suggest that there are already significant higher education links across the African continent, with many more coming to fruition, and a greater appetite for the further education and vocational expertise we have in the UK, which is being demanded by African Governments and educational establishments. That is in addition to the excellent work the British Council does teaching the English language and a focus on girls’ education in particular, as well as the large role that private sector education in the UK has to play.

We also heard hugely important contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who talked about Ethiopia and the positive progress that has been made, and the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who spoke with great passion about the great lakes. He will be interested to hear that I met the World Wildlife Fund to talk about Virunga national park only this morning and I am going to Angola next week to talk about ongoing stability and how we can work in the great lakes region with the Angolans, who are currently in the chair.

I will ensure that the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) are followed up by DFID Ministers, but I think the general thrust of this debate has been extremely positive. In every African country we now have FCO, DFID and UKTI teams working jointly on these partnerships to continue to drive economic development and progress across the African continent.

I think we have clearly demonstrated that there is a greater appetite to discuss these issues. I will not go on a tour of everyone’s speech, but I will mention the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I agree: this should be an annual affair.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the UK’s relationship with Africa.