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Debt in Africa

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2023

[Martin Vickers in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of debt in Africa.

I am extremely grateful to the House authorities for allowing me to secure this crucial debate on debt in Africa. I intend to cover the essential points that demand our urgent action. Today, I stand before this Chamber to confront a crisis of global magnitude—the escalating debt crisis in African countries. This is not merely an economic issue; it is a humanitarian challenge that demands our immediate and decisive response. The way in which we address this crisis does not just reflect on our policies but on the core values of Great Britain on the world stage. This moment is more than a test of financial acumen. It is a testament to our commitment to human dignity and global justice.

The decisions that we make in Parliament have far-reaching implications, shaping the futures of millions. In our interconnected world, the fortunes of African nations are intrinsically linked to our own. The Labour party has a proud history of leading international efforts on debt cancellation and relief for the world’s poorest. We remain committed to international development. I feel our response to this crisis will define our legacy in international solidarity and moral leadership.

The situation in Africa is increasingly alarming. Currently, more than half of the continent’s low-income developing countries are either in debt distress or on the brink of it. Debt distress refers to a situation in which a country is struggling to meet its debt obligations. That figure has worryingly doubled since 2015, and looking ahead to 2024 and 2025, those countries will face debt repayments six times higher than their total debt servicing in 2021. This drastic increase is a result of several factors, including the covid-19 pandemic and global tensions—such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Having liaised with the shadow Foreign Office Minister —my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) —I am cognisant of the fact that the Labour party has long advocated for debt relief as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. It steadfastly believes that the resources of low-income nations must be directed towards enhancing the lives of their citizens rather than being drained by unsustainable debt repayments. Our perspective must be rooted in the principle that investment in infrastructure and public services is crucial—not just for Britain’s societal stability, but equally for countries across Africa.

We need to see a model where an increase in GDP in those nations translates into significant investment in their own societies and infrastructure. That approach counters a current trend where a substantial portion of their national income is funnelled into servicing external debts, often with stringent conditions attached. We should envisage a world where economic growth in African countries is harnessed for their own development, fostering stronger, more resilient economies and societies. It is a vision where international co-operation and fair debt practices replace the cycle of debt and dependency, allowing those countries to realise their full potential on the global stage.

If I now come on to the middle east and north Africa region, the contrast between the accumulating wealth of the few and the deepening debt of the many is stark. The richest 0.05% in the region, with wealth above $5 million, saw their wealth surge by 75% from $1.6 trillion in 2019 to $3 trillion by the end of 2022. That boom in ultra wealth comes on the back of every country in the middle east and north Africa region sinking deeper into debt. For instance, in Tunisia, public debt increased from 43% of GDP in 2010 to 80% in 2021. In Egypt, it increased from 70% to 90%.

In the light of the escalating crisis, I ask the Minister: what steps are the Government taking to work with international partners to address the debt crisis that some African countries are facing, including debt held bilaterally, multilaterally and by private creditors? A World Bank report has highlighted a 35% increase in debt interest bills for the world’s poorest countries, further strained by the pandemic and increased food import prices. I ask the Minister to elucidate the UK Government’s response to that alarming development.

The G20 common framework for debt treatments was designed to deliver a sustainable solution to lower-income countries’ debt vulnerabilities, but it has failed. Only four countries have so far applied for debt treatment. Of those, only Chad has reached an agreement with both its private and bilateral creditors. That agreement appears inadequate, and has been criticised for its failure to reduce Chad’s debt burden and make it sustainable. Another example is Zambia. It defaulted in 2020, but has not yet reached a comprehensive restructuring agreement. The failure of the framework to deliver necessary relief is largely due to private creditors’ reluctance to participate in debt restructuring.

As a significant funder of debt relief initiatives and a supporter of international financial institutions, the UK has a role in ensuring that private creditors participate in restructurings. Some organisations, such as Debt Justice, argue that without firm action, English courts may end up enforcing repayment on behalf of private creditors who are exploiting official debt relief initiatives. Those organisations argue that the reluctance of private creditors to agree to restructuring creates a domino effect where other large creditors also refuse to accept a loss. It leads to a slow, uncertain process that consistently fails to deliver effective debt relief.

Given those challenges, I ask the Minister: what proactive steps are the UK Government taking to engage with, and ensure the participation of, private creditors in the debt relief process? How are the Government planning to address the issues raised by organisations such as Debt Justice to prevent debt relief initiatives from being used to pay off other debts rather than investing in the country? The United Kingdom, as a key player in global finance, has a crucial role in shaping frameworks that govern sovereign debt contracts. My challenge to the Government is: what initiatives are being pursued to reform the frameworks and facilitate effective debt restructuring?

I will turn to the impact on women and girls, who are being disproportionately affected by the debt crisis in Africa. I am aware that many hon. Members will elaborate further on this topic. The crisis leads to a reduced governmental investment in vital public services such as healthcare, education and social services. It also has an impact on supply-side factors, affecting those who work in health and social care. Globally, women account for 67% of the health and social care workforce. As we strive for a society where women are empowered globally, it is important that we look at the consequences of the debt crisis and its impact on egalitarianism and progressive values. Clearly, if Governments do not have the funds to support the basic needs of their populations, women and girls in particular will suffer. I call on our Government to outline how our international aid policies are addressing the unique impact of this crisis on women and girls in Africa.

Beyond that, there would be no good or relevant debate without mention of our effort to combat climate change. The debt burden significantly impedes African countries’ abilities to adapt to a changing climate and mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. As we know, reaching net zero is of critical importance for us all, here and around the world, and I know that the Labour party is doing all it can to acknowledge the impact that the climate crisis is having on African nations.

Sustainable development and climate resilience are urgent needs, yet the debt crisis presents a formidable barrier. I implore the Government to detail collaborative efforts, aligning debt relief with climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the countries that I am discussing.

I will now address the long-term consequences of the African debt crisis and the serious threat that they pose to development, poverty alleviation and progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals. The SDGs are fundamental pillars of the international organisations that the UK works so diligently to support.

Low-income countries trapped in a debt doom loop cannot access the transformational finance that would allow them to escape from extreme poverty, fight climate change and meet their global goals. So, I urge the Government to share comprehensive strategies for confronting those profound challenges.

This critical moment demands international solidarity and decisive action. The UK, along with other leading economies, must spearhead the search for fair and sustainable solutions. Therefore, I ask the Minister the question: how are the Government working with international partners to develop strategies for long-term economic stability and social wellbeing in African countries?

I understand from my hon. Friend the shadow Minister that a Labour Government will restore Britain as a trusted and long-term partner to tackle the great challenges of our time, to promote the rules-based order and to deliver transformational change with communities around the globe. In seeking to address the challenge of debt burdens and to foster sustainable and resilient economies in Africa, I say to hon. Members here in Westminster Hall and indeed the whole House that now is the time not to cling to existing strategies but to leave no stone unturned.

In conclusion, the gravity of the African debt crisis necessitates collective action. We must look beyond temporary fixes and address the systemic issues that are at play. I am sure that a future Labour Government will embrace a new approach towards development that is based on respect and a genuine partnership with the global south, which involves supporting its plans to eliminate poverty, tackle climate change and reach the global goals. However, we cannot wait for that future Labour Government; we must act now. So, I implore the current UK Government to act now to address the debt crisis facing African nations.

I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesmen from 3.25 pm onwards. I have four other Members indicating that they wish to speak, so I would be grateful if they could bear that instruction in mind.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing this very important debate and on such a well-informed and impassioned speech, which outlined the absolute reason for urgent action on debt cancellation.

I start my contribution by declaring an interest. Before being elected to this place, I was a Jubilee 2000 campaigner back in the 1990s, along with others, and I was then a trustee for the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is now Debt Justice. As a campaigner for Christian Aid, then for Methodist aid and then for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development or CAFOD, I led ordinary people in protests up and down the country. Those people all absolutely understood the stranglehold that debt repayments have over so many Governments that would otherwise use that money to educate girls, invest in clean water and sanitation, tackle climate change, and invest in infrastructure such as roads to increase trade and boost the economy.

Together, across the country, we wrote to MPs. Yes, I used to be one of those people who wrote to MPs, sending in postcards. We held protests in our towns and villages, and made endless amounts of red chains to symbolise the need to be free of unjust chains of debt. In 1998, 100,000 people circled Birmingham to make a human red chain to influence the G8 that was meeting there. In 2001, we went to Genoa. I remember coachload after coachload of all ages, sometimes very elderly. There were parishioners, people from faith groups across the country, going to Genoa for the G8, because they were so determined to make the change. In 2005, we marched through Edinburgh, and celebrated when the previous Labour Government made huge inroads, taking the lead in brokering a deal that cancelled £4 billion of debt of the world’s poorest countries.

Jubilee 2000 was a huge joint global campaign that led ultimately to the cancellation of more than £100 billion of debt owed by 35 of the world’s poorest countries. I saw the difference it made on the ground. Having campaigned for the reduction under the IMF’s heavily indebted poor countries initiative, I was delighted to see a teachers’ house in a village in Zambia bearing the huge letters HIPC. Enabled by debt-reduction payments, that house provided teachers for a whole generation, boosting opportunities and the economy, all from debt reduction.

But where are we now? There simply has not been the same UK leadership on this since 2010. That has been a glaring missed opportunity, which undermines any warm words the Minister might be about to say on leading on sustainable development goals. I welcome the Select Committee on International Development report on debt relief in low-income countries, published in March this year, but I do not welcome as much the lukewarm response from the Government.

I also welcome the inclusion of debt in many places in the international White Paper, published yesterday, and agree with its assessment that high and rising debt vulnerability poses a significant development challenge. There needs to be more focus on debt reduction for the world’s most fragile and conflict-risk states. That is vitally linked to climate finance but, again, will there really be the significant action we need to see following that White Paper?

Lower-income countries have been facing increasingly high debt over recent years, with external debt payments increasing by 150% between 2011 and 2023. They have now reached their highest levels in 25 years. There are currently 54 countries in debt crisis, including many in Africa, such as Zambia, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya. As the thousands of people from across the country who took action in the Jubilee 2000 campaign on debt know, those current unsustainable debt levels have a serious impact on the lives of millions of people across the continent, and on any chance of achieving the sustainable development goals.

A reported 72% of the sustainable development goals to achieve poverty eradication are off track. According to the UN, they are “woefully off track”, dangerously so. The increasing amount of unsustainable debt is one of the major reasons for that. Many countries were forced to reduce public spending during the pandemic, to keep up with debt payments. That is spending on education, health, water and sanitation. Lower-income countries spend five times more on debt repayment than on addressing the climate crisis.

Countries have had no choice but to turn to fossil fuels to generate the funds needed to meet their colossal debt repayments. I will be at COP28 in a few weeks’ time with a delegation of MPs, and I will make this case to those attending from across the globe. I look to the Government to make the same case and the links. I hope the Minister will say something about the link between debt cancellation and climate finance, which is essential.

The Government could show global leadership and rectify flaws, especially in the common framework agreed by the G20. Four countries have now applied to the common framework, but none has received any debt cancellation so far. Zambia applied in February, but there is a gap of a mechanism to induce private creditors to accept the same terms as other creditors, which leads to disastrous impasses; it is a frozen system. Zambia has £6.3 billion of debt and, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, is in that debt doom loop. Yet the UK is in a unique position to strengthen the legal framework to ensure the participation of private creditors, as 90% of the bonds issued by countries eligible for the common framework are governed by English law. The UK could pass legislation to incentivise private creditors to take part in debt relief. Two possible legislative options are to replicate the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010 and to extend UK corporate law on debt restructuring so Governments can restructure their debts in a similar way to companies. There are ways to fix the issue, but as it is currently set up, it just will not be the answer to debt cancellation that it should be.

I end by asking the Government and the Minister to take the action needed to end the debt crisis. Specifically, will the Minister commit to consulting on new legislation to compel private creditors to participate in debt relief to tackle the debt crisis in lower-income countries?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers, and to speak in today’s debate. I thank the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for leading the debate. We are all here because we have a passion for foreign affairs, and it is great to support him today and I congratulate him on how he has set the scene. It is also a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) for the second time in recent days, as she spoke before me in the COP28 debate last Thursday. I recognise that she has a deep interest and passion, shown through her work with Christian Aid, CAFOD and WaterAid and some of her other projects. I am pleased to follow her in particular because with all that depth of knowledge comes a contribution that makes the debate even more salient and interesting for us. I thank her for that as well.

There is no doubt that the covid pandemic had a profoundly negative impact on Africa’s sovereign debt situation. It has been stated that some 22 countries are either in debt distress or at high risk. That has meant that African Governments are struggling more to pay the debt incurred. Countries such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe were already in debt—and indeed, Malawi. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who will shortly speak for the SNP, has over the years that I have known him always spoken about Malawi and the strong relationships that he and his constituency have with that country. Those things are important when we discuss the matters under consideration today.

Research has shown that as of August 2022, countries in Africa owed the UK a total of £2,758 million, which accounts for 56% of all debts owed to the UK, with Sudan’s the highest. It is important to note that debt is not necessarily a bad thing in itself and can help with economic development. I say that because the increase in debt in the early 2000s was accompanied by a higher level of economic development in Africa. There is a history and I say that because I want to have it on record that it is not all doom and gloom. If we look back through history, we will see that countries were able to address the debt issue and grow accordingly. Sometimes, we have a duty to try and encourage those countries and work with them to get them out of a bad patch.

I was talking to the hon. Member for Glasgow North, and as I sat listening to the hon. Member for Slough’s contribution, I was reminded of the story in Matthew 25 where the master travels into a far-off country. Mr Vickers, you will know the story and probably everybody in the Chamber will know it. The master gives his three servants five talents, two talents and one talent. He comes back and the guy who had the five talents has made them into 10, the guy who had two has made them into four and we know the story of the one who did not invest his money and work hard.

The reason why I tell the story is because that is the Africa of the 2000s. Today, I believe that we in the western world have a duty to try to get them out of these bad times, to give them the advice and assistance they need, and to give them experience. We cannot just —I say this genuinely—pursue somebody and say, “We must get your debt” because that will lead to more debt for them and even higher levels of poverty, so I use the biblical story of Matthew 25 to illustrate in a small way, and hopefully in a strong way, what it means to help others.

According to the World Bank’s debt sustainability analysis, nine African countries were in debt distress and unable to fulfil their repayment requirements as of the end of September 2023. A further 15 African countries were at high risk of debt distress, with another 14 at moderate risk. If it were up to me—I am not the person to do it, so I look to the Minister and the Government to take on this task—I would speak to each of those countries individually. There has to be a two-way dialogue, whereby we can discuss how we manage debt repayments and help countries to grow at the same time.

None of us is a stranger to the impact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had on our ability to afford things and get our debt under control. I have constituents —indeed, I expect all Members do—who are still coping with the effects and struggling to regain control of their finances, especially when it comes to paying for gas, oil and electricity. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is causing a rise in the price of commodities, particularly food and gas, and the war is also disrupting food supply chains, which especially affects people in Africa.

Between 2010 and 2021, external debt servicing payments in Africa more than quadrupled, growing at over 60 times the pace of average fiscal revenues. In discussing how much debt, and by what rate, it should be paid back, we must show compassion for a country’s social and financial situation. There has to be realism about how much money can be paid back and the rate of repayment. Regardless of whether that means restructuring loans or helping them to balance or grow their economy, we should be trying to do it. For example, there must be repayment options for countries with negative human rights and social considerations.

Strengthening debt management policies to deal with repayment issues through Governments is one of the best ways to enable the stable payback of debts. If paying back will ultimately plunge a state into further demise and poverty, I do not believe that is the right way to do it. We have to find a better solution. I am not just saying that for the sake of it; if we want to recoup debts, we have to work with countries to make that happen.

The economic consequences of the covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have undermined the ability of many African nations to service their sovereign debt. Consideration must be given to that, to human rights abuses and to a nation’s ability to pay back its debt. I look forward to the Minister’s comments, and we as a nation should continue to be supportive to all those struggling, especially through aid. I know the Minister is compassionate and understands what we are asking for, but when it comes to dealing with the debt of African nations and others, there has to be a sense of realism and real compassion in order to try to get them out the other side. By doing so, we will help them contribute to their future. At the end of the day, it is surely about their future. Let us get it right.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers. I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing this important debate. It could not have come at a more timely moment.

The debt that Africa owes is equivalent to something like 24% of its gross domestic product. As of 2022, Africa’s debt burden was around $1.8 trillion. As an absolute number, that does not appear as high as some—Germany’s debt is larger—but compared with the living standards and available wealth of the people and their Governments, it is crippling. That debt has been placed on the backs of African nations as a legacy of centuries of colonialism and exploitation—exploitation that continues today, as western corporations make billions every year from the natural resources of the continent, particularly in the form of mineral extraction.

To demonstrate the extent to which western mineral exploitation damages Africa, out of all African nations, only Botswana’s Government retain ownership and control of their own country’s considerable mineral wealth. As a result, it has by far the lowest national debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product—barely a quarter of neighbouring South Africa’s, and even its closest rivals have double its debt. Botswana has stated that its aim in retaining control of its mineral resources is to maximise the economic benefit for its people—and it works.

For centuries, Africa was pillaged of its wealth: timber, oil, diamonds, and, above all, its people. Western nations grew rich on the backs of the slaves that they took and the exploitation of those who remained in Africa, and then from their colonisation of those same nations. Rich countries and their corporations continue to steal by deceit, by intimidation, and by fomenting unrest and division, particularly to obtain the rare earth minerals that drive our technological society and bloat the bank accounts of the companies that make and use that technology.

Africa is not poor; the west has stolen its wealth and is still doing so today. Aid and loans to Africa, along with personal remittances from Africans working abroad, are worth far less than what is taken out of Africa. That difference is at least $40 billion annually, making aid and loans little more than camouflage for neo-colonial exploitation. That piles debt on to the people of Africa, which drains away their ability to build themselves better economies and a better standard of living. And, as usual, the money going out of Africa is going into corporate profits, while the cost of loans and aid is borne by taxpayers.

The reparations that the UK and other nations owe to the people of Africa—and the other countries exploited for so long—is a huge debt, both moral and financial. Cancelling Africa’s debt would be one small step towards repaying what was stolen and making restitutions for centuries of damage done. Yet Governments will not acknowledge the debt that they owe to Africa, let alone put measures in place to do something about it or to claw back some of the obscene corporate and personal fortunes dug out of Africa and its people. It is high time that that situation changed.

Thank you. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on introducing this debate. It is timely. I think we all know that the crisis in Africa is real. We—as a world, not simply as a country—need now to address that. I would like to start quite a long time ago, rather like my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). When we look back over the history of the debate around indebtedness—to “break the chains” and all those phrases that used to trip off our tongues about the need for change—I believed that the world would be very different.

I want to relate something from around 30 years ago. I went to the funeral of a very young child in Mozambique. The baby died because the mother simply could not feed that baby. It was shocking at the time to see a baby denied the nutrition that I would expect for my own grandchildren, for my constituents and for our world. At the time, I would have said, “It will change.” I would have said that we would move down the path of debt relief. Had we had this debate 30 years ago—we probably did have it—we would have been told, “Don’t worry: with a combination of looking carefully and kindly at debt management, at the transmission of technical aid and assistance and at the growth of trade, the world will be very different.”

Well, the world is very different: it is worse for those in Africa. In practical terms, the little baby from all those years back, whom I talked about, is now replicated by many others. Debt is an enslavement of the generation to come, and that is, of itself, something that we ought to rail against. How can a child be born into the enslavement that debt causes? My hon Friends have given different accounts of debt, and we can probably argue about the figures. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) used a particular figure, but the figure I have about the GDP-to-debt ratio is that debt will now be something of the order of 60% of GDP across sub-Saharan Africa. Whether that is exactly right or wrong almost does not matter. It matters in general terms—we can talk trillions or billions of dollars or pounds—but debt impinges on the quality, the reality and the possibility of life of millions of people across the African continent. It is at the human level that debt matters.

If we look at the battle against poverty, the battle against poor health, the battle for education, the battle to create the health services and the battle around climate change, we are losing those battles. We are losing them in this generation—at the moment—and we have to change. We have to change in a particular way, because, at some point, we have to make our minds up and say whether we are prepared to create a very different relationship: the indebted no longer as clients of those who hold the debt but, instead, as partners. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough made some very profound points about this.

If we are not a partner to African nations and the people of Africa, we lose battles such as climate change, which is our common battle together. It would be remarkable for Africans to know that we are losing it together, because they make so little contribution to the problems that we have all caused around climate change. African nations as a whole are insignificant at the moment, although an Africa of the future, if not helped through transition to those climate change-consistent policies, will potentially be a major producer of greenhouse gases. We should therefore be partners, but if we are going to be partners, we have to be meaningful about what debt really means.

Those who were in the Chamber earlier heard the international development Minister, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) make a very good series of statements on the White Paper. I welcome that White Paper, but there is a challenge that the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) has to take back to the Prime Minister and others. It is not enough to print the words in the White Paper; we need the political will to translate that into national action in the UK and international action. On national action in the UK, when I looked into our history of debt relief, the only figures I could come up with showed that the UK’s spending on debt over the last 10 years or so has been £44 million. That is absolutely insignificant against the scale of the problem. We have to do more by way of debt forgiveness, but not simply on our own. We have to be a part of that global coalition that challenges debt and looks at debt restructuring in a real and rational way.

We have to look, for example, at Zambia and the number of people who have evidenced the situation there. Zambia could not come to an agreement, partly because it was the private debtholders who caused the crisis there. Zambia then offered to pay them some 73 cents on the dollar, compared with 55 cents on the dollar for intergovernmental loans. That was a massively bigger rate of return for the private investors, even though they charged massively higher interest rates on their debt. Bear in the mind that the reason for charging higher interest rates is relevant to risk. They put the risk premium in, but having put the risk premium in, they then wanted to be paid a superabundant return on their investment. The reason that failed is that it was inconsistent with the G20 common framework, which said that there had to be a rough equivalence between Government and private debtholders. That is right; there should be that kind of equivalence. We have to be in this together.

A challenge for the Minister is this: are this Government prepared? As a lot of that debt is operated through UK law, it is in our capacity to ensure that that debt, which is factored through the City of London and so on, is managed in a way that says to private debtholders that they have to pay their fair share of debt forgiveness and debt relief, if we are genuinely going to restructure on these issues.

We can make a change. I may not have been able to give hope to the mother of the child I talked about before, as I do not think I would have been so bold as even to say to her that something could be better at that stage of her life. Perhaps I would have said to other people that the world can change, and it can change for the better. Let us ensure that we can do it in this generation. Let us ensure that now is the time.

This has to be a political priority, and I believe my party will take this on board. I hope that in a year’s time or thereabouts we will be sat around having this debate again, and we will be sat on different sides of this little horseshoe. It will be about political will. As I have said to the Minister, the challenge is whether the political will is there from the Prime Minister. Is there the political will to say that the decision to cut the development assistance in the way this nation did took us in the wrong direction? Is the political will there to raise those very powerful points, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East did, about the history of post-colonial Africa?

Even now, we subsidise, for example, Rwanda and Uganda in terms of their education and health service. That is the right thing to do. In turn, however, the armies of those two countries have been part of the exploitation of the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which of course is then shipped over to the west, where it is paid not at a value-added rate, but at the market rate. Who controls the market? It is not the producers of those rare earth minerals that we take from African soil.

We need to think not simply about debt relief, but about the bigger picture and how we alter the terms and conditions of trade and exploitation, which our system is part of. I do not say that in any sense of whipping myself; I say it rationally, because if we are going to make that change, we have to think about that.

I say to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that I have always been puzzled by the parable of the stewards. I always felt it was little unkind on the perhaps slightly less competent steward with his one talent. I never quite understood why he should be treated so badly, because clearly there was a steward who thought he was doing the best—he buried the talent in the ground, and that talent did not lose any value in that process.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to just let me finish. He thought he was being a good steward. What he lacked was the technical awareness that would have allowed him to invest in whatever—perhaps rare earths or, in those days, fine wine for weddings. In that sense, if we are going to face the challenges together, we have to take that stewardship process. Technical assistance matters enormously.

I am not smarter than anyone else, biblically, physically or emotionally. I think the story of the parable is about those who use their talents wisely, and the steward who received five talents used them wisely. The comparison I made was with the economic decisions made by African countries back in 2000. When they did it wisely, their economies grew. Use talents wisely—the five and the two—and the economy will grow. Those who do not use their talents and hide them are not being fair to themselves, their families, or indeed their countries. The point I am trying to make, very gently, is that they could do better.

I agree. Perhaps I should not have picked up on the parable. It is just that I do rail a little bit against the prosperity gospel. It is not my style of Christianity. Compassion is part of what we should be about, and it has to be a part of what we are talking about here today.

I will finish with this. Part of that compassion is that we need to restructure debt and increase trade, but we also need to recognise the capacity to ensure that the steward with the single talent really did need assistance to do the things that the hon. Member for Strangford is talking about, to invest wisely. We need to invest in education and in the technologies that can allow us to challenge climate change in Africa as well as here in the UK, in Europe, in China, and even possibly in the post-Trumpian United States of America—who knows? We have to work together, because in the end this is not about simply asking us all to be kind to each other. It is about a common interest of what kind of world we want to live in. Yes, this is a tremendously important debate we are having today. I hope the Minister will begin to respond in a positive way to the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough and others have raised.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing what I think has been a very thoughtful and surprisingly theological debate, at a very timely moment in the context of the UK Government publishing their new White Paper. That White Paper presents a very welcome change of tone and perspective on issues of global development. I hope that the language of aid being a giant cash machine in the sky is consigned to the past, and that we can focus on moving forward in a much more constructive and consensual tone. I think that that has been reflected in the debate today.

The same is true of the memories of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which of course had very deep theological roots of its own, given the biblical concept of a jubilee. I might say again at the end that this is a concept that we perhaps need to come back to. Like the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), I worked with very committed campaigners, some of whom are now constituents, who wrote to whoever their MP was back in the day and who continue to write to me all these years later, because they are so passionate and so motivated. It was such an effective campaign in so many different ways. It went from being Jubilee 2000 to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, and it is now known, as we have heard, as Debt Justice. That is part of a wider movement for a fair economy, for corporate justice, and for climate justice.

It is interesting that whenever the word “justice” is used in the White Paper, it is in the technical, juridical sense relating to a country’s justice systems, rather than in the sense of striving for just, equitable and more peaceful solutions to the challenges that face the modern world. As everybody has said, debt is now one of those biggest challenges. Africa’s debt is at its highest level in over a decade. That is frustrating and disappointing, given all the work and effort that went into setting up the mechanisms for Jubilee 2000 and the Make Poverty History campaign. Progress and huge strides were made for a variety of reasons. Some of those were beyond individual control—such as the likes of the pandemic—but some were very much within our control, such as the way in which multilateral organisations have continued to work, avoidable conflict and, of course, the impact of climate change and the need to respond so quickly, leverage finance and look around to wherever that finance can come from.

That has led to a change in the structure and composition of the debt. Previously, the debt was owed to official creditors, high-income countries and multilateral lenders like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but now we see China holding a huge proportion of that debt and private creditors making up an increasingly large proportion, as well. At the moment, the debt is not subject to the kinds of structures that were put in place around the millennium, and the effect of that is that the cost of servicing the debt has also increased, and so developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa paid about $84 billion simply in debt servicing in 2021, with countries in the middle east and north Africa paying a further $45 billion. We have heard the expression “doom loop” on a number of occasions, from a number of Members, because that just builds and compounds and then has all the effects that a number of Members spoke of so powerfully, affecting the infrastructures of the countries.

The hon. Member for Slough and I were both in Malawi this year—I refer to our entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—with the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. Malawi is one of those 21 African countries we heard about that are in, or at high risk of, debt distress. Its external debt effectively tripled between 2009 and 2021, and we can see the impact of that simply in the country’s inability to get moving; there is a need for infrastructure, and it is simply unable to leverage the resources.

As the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) so powerfully said, we absolutely want countries to be able to realise the true potential of their riches. Africa is not a poor continent, and African countries are not poor; they are rich in resources and human potential, and yet that potential is not properly realised because they are not in a position to properly and fairly leverage that and they are tied to debt, especially unfair debt. As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, there is this idea of super-abundant extraction of resources through punitive interest rates and unfair deals, which simply compounds that cycle. The DRC should be the richest country in the world. Almost every single person in this Chamber walks around with a little piece of the DRC in our pocket, and yet it is one of the poorest countries in the world and, like so many other countries, it is saddled with debt.

We need fair trade, fair taxation, and a just and sustainable use of the continent’s resources. The responses that have been put forward so far clearly are proving to be inadequate. The analysis has shown that different mechanisms, such as the debt service suspension initiative that was set up in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, have not been fully utilised. The countries that applied to that scheme had an average of just 23% of their debts suspended. The remaining mechanism beyond the DSSI announced in 2020—the common framework for debt treatments—is also incredibly slow; only four countries have so far applied, and none of them has effectively seen any of its debt being cancelled.

Crucial to all of this, as we have heard from some of the contributions, is the lack of co-operation from private sector creditors, both blocking the progress of the countries that are applying and discouraging other countries from applying for those relief processes in the first place. Responsibility has to fall to the UK Government for a large part of this. There has to be multilateral initiative, and there have to be easier and fairer ways of accessing, financing and writing off or restructuring debt; but getting to the heart of this issue of how private companies are able to extract and apply debt is absolutely crucial. Even though the UK Government are not a massive creditor these days, some 90% of the bonds issued by countries eligible for these debt reliefs are governed by English law. The Government say in the White Paper that they want to pioneer new approaches to debt, so they should listen carefully to the proposals being put forward.

I was saying to a colleague earlier today that it is unlikely that legislation will come out of the White Paper, as it is really a statement of Government policy, but here we are in Westminster Hall a couple of hours later talking about firm proposals for legislation on the back of it, put forward by the Debt Justice campaign—the hon. Member for Putney spoke about those. They would have a number of practical effects, including easing the debt restructuring process by undermining the ability of minority creditors to hold out on agreements, easing financial settlements for debtor Governments in distress, increasing the speed of restructuring processes, reducing uncertainty for debtor countries and creditors, enabling borrowing Governments to access capital markets more quickly, and addressing the power imbalance between the single debtor country and often a large number of creditors.

It would be interesting and useful to hear the Minister commit at the very least to consult on what such legislation might look like and speak about how it could be taken forward practically. Of course, it would have to be taken forward in parallel, because there would not be much point in the UK legislating if all the debts transfer to another jurisdiction—New York is the other very popular area for binding these kinds of contracts. It would have to be an international initiative.

I wonder whether we need to think in the even longer term. The White Paper is supposed to take us to the sustainable development goals in 2030. The year 2000 was a jubilee year, which is a biblical concept—debts were written off and everybody had a fresh start—and Pope Francis has designated 2025 as a holy year of jubilee for the Catholic Church, but perhaps we need to think in the longer term about where we will be in the middle of the century. Will we continue in this doom loop, or will we seize the opportunity now to make progress towards the sustainable development goals and go beyond them to create a fairer, more just and more equitable system? Tackling pervasive debt absolutely has to be a part of that. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and others said—this is in the Debt Justice campaign material—people struggle with huge amounts of debt in the United Kingdom and other western countries. As the hon. Member for Leicester East said, we effectively end up in hock to incredibly powerful companies, and that affects the dignity of countries as a whole and the dignity and power of individuals.

If we do not rise to the challenge, the other goals—everything else in the White Paper and the sustainable development goals—will remain exactly that: goals and targets. They will never actually be realised because the money will continue to spiral and line the pockets of people who already have more than enough at the expense of people who do not even have enough to get by.

That is the challenge before us. This has been an incredibly thoughtful and useful debate, and I hope, in the new spirit of consensus that the Government have set today with the publication of the White Paper, that the Minister and the Labour spokesperson will respond appropriately, and that we can find just and sustainable solutions to the challenge of debt in Africa.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers. I sincerely thank my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for securing the debate. His record of standing up for people affected by crises in Africa and around the world speaks for itself—it is absolutely exemplary. He and I agree that working with African countries to address their concerns, challenges and opportunities is very important. As we know, Africa’s potential is massive. It has young, dynamic, talented, fast-growing populations, but African economies are being held back by climate heating, disasters, conflict and debt.

Debt sustainability is a terribly complex issue once we get into the details, but on one level it is very simple: Governments hamstrung by debt burdens cannot meet their people’s needs or aspirations. Currently, uncertainty around debt is driving away investment and undermining many African countries’ economic growth and climate progress. The average debt ratio in sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled over the past decade, going from 30% of GDP in 2013 to almost 60% last year. The cost of debt has become far more expensive, and even before recent crises, it was far higher than for higher-income countries.

Many countries are recovering from the economic damage wreaked by covid, climate shocks and conflicts, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so it is not surprising that 20 African countries are either in debt distress or at high risk of it. We have already seen the attempts of four African states to manage huge debts thwarted by the slow and cumbersome common framework process.

Ghana, for example—one of our key partners in Africa—is cut off from international markets while debt negotiations go on and on. Ghana cannot reap the full rewards of its resources and enormous human potential, and we in the UK cannot access the mutual benefits that would flow from its growth. The Bridgetown initiative, the Nairobi declaration and key figures at the International Monetary Fund are calling on us to speed up debt relief talks and make the global debt system fairer and more efficient.

I am pleased to see the Government’s international development White Paper recognise the need to improve global debt processes, but there are obviously huge questions about the Government’s commitment to take the necessary steps if we are actually going to do that. As we know, one of the problems with the common framework is that a small number of private creditors can hold up the entire process by refusing to take part in restructuring, in the hope of securing a higher return than others. We know that many of those private creditors operate under English law, because of the strength of the City of London in global finance. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister whether her Government have changed their position since May.

Will the Minister review the benefits and risks of legislating to stop creditors from acting in bad faith and holding up negotiations? Does she agree that the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010 did not have the negative unintended consequences that some feared it would? When the international development White Paper was being developed, why did the Government not see the cross-party consensus behind that Act as a starting point to build on over the coming years? Surely recognising the UK’s history of action and outsized role in private sovereign debt could strengthen our influence and credibility at the G20 and other international fora. It could enable us to work better with the United States, opening up opportunities for co-ordinated reform. It could supplement our efforts to improve multilateral systems and debt transparency.

In her response, I can guess the Minister might talk about the good work being done to roll out climate resilient debt clauses, but does she recognise that those clauses will not be enough on their own? It is not only countries in the grip of an extreme weather event, or a health disaster, that will need fiscal space. In many African countries, the huge swings in global interest rates and commodity prices are equally relevant.

The international development White Paper states that the Government will support suspensions of debt payments while negotiations are ongoing, and, “where relevant”. I would be grateful if the Minister said more about what the Government mean by “where relevant”, and what they are doing about bringing back consensus on debt service repayment suspensions at the G20. Does she agree that suspensions can speed up negotiations, which is surely in all our interests?

The Minister knows that calls have been made for the UK to use our influence at the IMF to produce a definition of unsustainable debt for the common framework. In May, her Government rejected those calls when the International Development Committee recommended action. Perhaps she could say a little about what she is doing to make the definition of unsustainable debt clearer and how she is helping to make progress more predictable.

I know that the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), understands the need for action, from his very welcome comments about vulture funds over the past months. The international development White Paper mentions support for voluntary collective action clauses and majority voting provisions. Does the Minister here today agree that those have not fully solved the problems caused by vulture funds?

When I speak to African ambassadors, Ministers, business leaders and civil society groups, they are clear about what they want from the UK: partnership, not patronage. I heard the same message last week in Kenya. When we talk about our collaboration with African countries, it is not just about development assistance or private investment—as the Minister knows, we would love to see more of both. It is equally about structural reform and smart collaboration with our partners. For example, I know that the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, has recently been working hard on the global food security summit. I gently say that if we did more to unblock the common framework process, that would free up funds for African countries to spend on their food security agendas.

We all recognise the role of humanitarian aid. It saves lives in massive numbers and is absolutely essential, but we know that supporting resilient food systems that prevent hunger and malnutrition would be a far better way to proceed. At very little cost to ourselves, we could take steps to make sure that the processes we influence, such as the global sovereign debt system, really do provide fair benefits to us and to the countries that use them. We recognise that these issues are complex and sometimes genuinely difficult, but none of us wants to undermine the basis for future private bilateral and multilateral investment in African countries. The mutual benefits and the need for such investments are huge. However, we need to seriously consider the argument that greater confidence in comparability of treatment between private and official creditors will not undermine investment; instead, it could enable investment by creating more transparency and certainty.

These debates are technical, but they are also really important for hundreds of millions of people. It took three very long years after Zambia’s default for a debt restructuring even to be agreed in principle. Even worse, the process is far from over. The issue of comparability of treatment between official creditors and bondholders is a core barrier holding Zambia back.

Doing our bit to solve the debt crisis is essential to being a good partner to our friends. It affects the UK’s long-term interests. Let me stick with Zambia for a moment: we are talking about a country that is likely to play a massive role in the global green energy transition through its wealth in copper and other critical minerals. By being a positive partner to Zambia, we can demonstrate the serious offer we have to growing countries across Africa and support progress on security, democracy and human rights in the wider southern and central Africa regions.

We have already seen Zambian leadership on these issues, through their role in election monitoring in Zimbabwe, for example. That is the positive side—opportunities can be seized. However, there is a negative side, too, because the debt crisis is one of the background factors that enables insecurity to grow in many African countries. Where Governments cannot provide services to their populations, people are left alienated and hopeless. We know that insurgencies, coups and armed groups thrive where trust and hope has vanished. By speeding up restructuring processes, we could do something to address the root causes of insecurity in Africa, at little cost to the Treasury.

When it comes to the threats that face us, the biggest is climate heating. Whether Africa makes its green transition in a fair and timely way matters to the UK, as we all live on the same planet, and there is enormous potential to mitigate and adapt to climate change across the continent. However, the funding is not there, and the international development White Paper acknowledges that it cannot all come from international assistance or private sector investment. We have to free up African public funds if climate change is to be tackled in a joined-up, strategic way—the same way we plan to tackle it here in the UK.

The Government’s White Paper acknowledges some of the harms done by our failing global debt system. That is truly welcome, but I hope the Minister agrees that what we need to do now is go beyond acknowledgement and act, because there is no more time for us to lose.

I apologise for my slightly tardy arrival earlier, Mr Vickers; it is a real pleasure to be here. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for securing this timely debate, and I pay tribute to his work as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on extreme poverty. This is such an important area, and I am also grateful for the thoughtful contributions from all hon. Members. I will try my best to respond to all the points raised, but I will ensure that officials write if I miss any or do not have the full information at my fingertips.

The Minister for Development and Africa, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), wanted to be here, but his responsibilities meant that he had to make a statement in the main Chamber on the White Paper today, as colleagues have mentioned, so it is a pleasure for me to respond on his behalf.

I want to pull out a couple of points that the Minister made in that statement. When speaking about the important role that development has played in transforming the lives of billions of people, he said:

“The UK can be immensely proud of our distinct contribution to this incredible success story. Two centuries ago, three quarters of the world lived in extreme poverty. When I was born, around half still did. By 2015, when the world met the millennium development goals, the proportion of a much larger global population had fallen to just 12%.”

Development does work, but as we all see, and as thoughtful contributions from hon. Members today have highlighted, after decades of hard-won, persistent progress, we are now living in a world facing a daunting set of new challenges. We are seeing rising poverty, and the UN sustainable development goals are nearly all off track for 2030. We are all cognisant of the challenges, and this timely debate, which focuses on a potential enabler of successful development if the world can make more progress on these debt issues, is an important one.

As colleagues have set out, debt is a major concern for many developing countries, not least those in Africa. I spend most of my time speaking as the Minister for the Indo-Pacific, and some of the big challenges are also clearly seen there. Recent trends paint a sobering picture. Debt levels in Africa are at their highest since the early 2000s, with debt repayments due in 2024 estimated to be six times greater than they were in 2021. Twenty-one of the continent’s 38 low-income countries are now either in debt distress or at high risk of entering debt distress in the next few years. Low-income countries are also increasingly exposed to a wider range of creditors. For example, Chinese debt accounted for 18% of their external debt in 2020, up from only 2% in 2006.

The debt burden of African countries rose over the decade leading up to the pandemic, and it was stoked significantly by the challenges of covid and the impact of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, disrupting prices for oil, grain and fertiliser. That has led to greater demands for borrowing, rising interest rates and huge pressures on spending and services. According to the UN, between 2019 and 2021, 25 African countries—nearly half the continent—spent more on interest payments than on health.

As colleagues have set out, successive UK Governments, regardless of political colour, have played an important leadership role on international debt over recent decades, from the work done to establish the heavily indebted poor countries initiative in the 1990s to the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005, for instance. To date, the UK has cancelled £2 billion of debt under these initiatives, and the international community collectively has agreed cancellations worth more than $100 billion. The Government have continued to adapt our approach in recent years in response to the evolving debt pressures on lower-income countries.

When the pandemic hit, we worked rapidly with G20 partners to establish the debt service suspension initiative, which deferred around $13 billion of debt repayments to the G20 and Paris Club. In November 2020, the G20 and Paris Club agreed to a new common framework, as colleagues have noted, to provide debt restructuring and relief to countries that require it. Although two countries—Chad and Zambia, as mentioned by colleagues —have reached restructuring agreements with official bilateral creditors through the new common framework, I think we would all agree that progress has been far too slow.

I will update colleagues on the specifics of UK debt relief; the figures are greater than some quoted by Members. We have provided £1.4 billion through the multilateral debt relief initiative, £150 million through the IMF’s catastrophe containment and relief trust, and roughly £600 million bilaterally as part of the HIPC initiative. So we are leading the way, and we have set out, in a number of areas, our new approach to debt and development in our international development White Paper.

First, we have committed to work with our partners to reshape and reform the debt architecture so that it is fit to address today’s challenges. We will push for the common framework to be more co-ordinated, predictable, transparent—which is important—and timely. We will use the UK’s position on official creditor committees, both within and outside the framework, to help return countries to debt sustainability. We will push more forcefully for the timely conclusion of debt treatments, including debt standstills, where relevant. Importantly, of course, this is a G20 initiative, built on consensus, and delays by some members, such as China, make the pace all the more challenging to achieve.

Secondly, we will ensure that key debt management tools are fit for purpose. That includes, for example, updating the IMF’s debt sustainability frameworks to take account of the impact of climate change—obviously, that is a critical element and many colleagues have highlighted it today—and the investments needed to address it and drive the adaptation and resilience programmes that are needed to support countries.

Thirdly, we will push forward best practice with the private sector, which now accounts for 19% of the foreign debt owed by low-income countries. We will encourage them to introduce contractual innovations, including climate resilient debt clauses, which pause repayments when a shock hits, such as a flood or cyclone. We have pioneered the use of such clauses in our lending agreements, enhancing the ability of developing countries to respond to external shocks. We want to see such clauses rolled out across private and official sector lending. We will encourage the private sector to embrace majority voting provisions in debt contracts to facilitate better outcomes in debt restructurings.

Fourthly, we will support debtor countries. We will continue to champion their voice in fora such as the global sovereign debt roundtable and we will work to find other ways to strengthen their voice. We will also help them to strengthen their debt management capacity with support from our new centre of expertise on public finance and tax.

Finally, we will champion greater debt transparency to build creditor confidence and keep borrowing costs down. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), highlighted that one of the really difficult and continuing challenges is that the risk profile adds yet another layer.

We in the UK are very proud of our record of transparency as a lender. In 2021, we became the first G7 country to publish details of all new Government lending on a quarterly basis, and we have secured a commitment from other G7 countries to do the same. We will continue to work to push transparency further, reporting on our adherence to the G20 guidelines for sustainable financing, and encouraging the private sector and lending and borrowing countries to disclose their debt agreements properly.

Alongside those five steps to address unsustainable debt levels directly, we are working to help countries to avoid debt distress. The UK Government have a strong track record in helping developing countries to collect more tax and manage their public finances. We will encourage Governments, through the responsible infrastructure investment campaign, to demonstrate that all major infrastructure projects are economically viable and have been competitively tendered.

If I have heard her correctly, the Minister has outlined a number of ways forward. Time is of the essence. Many of these countries are in extreme debt. I, along with others, am keen to get a timescale for when those debt decisions could be made and when those countries could move away from where they are. Is that possible? Can the Minister please do that?

The hon. Member challenges me on something that I cannot give him an answer to. I will ensure that the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, comes back to him and that that conversation can continue in more detail. I hope that is helpful. I am not the expert in the detail of this so I will ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that the issue is highlighted. To the hon. Member for Strangford’s point, I should say that none of this is immediately resolvable; it is very much around a consensus effort through international partners. However, I will ensure my right hon. Friend gets back to hon. Members accordingly.

As part of our work, we continue to support the debt sustainability challenge by encouraging international financial institutions to scale up their support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, which are particularly in Africa. We are a leading donor to the multilateral development banks that provide countries with more affordable concessional finance and have announced UK guarantees over the last two years that will unlock more than $2.6 billion in additional finance for African countries.

We have delivered on our commitment to channel a further $5.6 billion of our share of the IMF’s historic issuance of $650 billion of special drawing rights to the IMF’s concessional lending facilities to support vulnerable countries. Perhaps the biggest prize of all is stretching the balance sheets of our MDBs to get more from their existing resources. They could potentially deliver an extra $300 billion to $400 billion over the next decade by implementing the G20 capital adequacy review recommendations. We will continue to push them to do so.

The hon. Member for Slough highlighted the critical challenge that we all face in supporting women and girls, who are so often at the end of the line on funding, education, healthcare and, indeed, tools and investments to help them make the climate adaptation they need in their communities. That is why the international women and girls strategy, which we published earlier in the year, sets out clear commitments with more than £2.5 billion of live official development aid programmes at the moment for women and girls in Africa. The strategy also commits at least 30% of the FCDO’s bilateral aid programmes to focus on gender and equality through to 2030, which is absolutely at the heart of our commitment to the way we want to deliver those development aims.[Official Report, 4 December 2023, Vol. 742, c. 2MC.]

To conclude, we absolutely recognise the serious challenges that debt poses for countries in Africa. That is why the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, set out in the international development White Paper a wide-ranging and comprehensive approach to address them. I thank colleagues for their thoughtful comments and their cross-party support for the work that my right hon. Friend has set out. By building on progress in the common framework, innovating alongside private creditors and working to encourage debt transparency and sustainable lending, the Government will work to ensure that unmanageable debt is swiftly restructured so that countries can develop sustainably.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers, for what has been a thoughtful and emotive debate. I thank all hon. Members for their commendable contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) drew on her enormous experience as a long-standing campaigner who has worked in the field, asking the Government for effective legislation to address the issues. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about how we need to help African countries out of their difficult patch. He spoke about having compassion and realism when restructuring debts, because the United Kingdom must be a supportive nation. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) spoke at length about the legacy of colonialism and the exploitation of mineral extraction. She said that wealth is not benefiting local people and asked for debt cancellation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), who has substantial knowledge and experience in this area, said that the debt crisis is real. In his eloquent way, he said that debt is an enslavement of future generations. He said that the battles against global poverty and other ills are being lost, that we must be a true partner to our African friends and that we must work together.

The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), mentioned our recent visit to Africa, where we looked into the effects of malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and at how the growth of African nations is being hampered. We spoke at length to other stakeholders about that. He spoke about the need for co-operation from private sector creditors that are charging higher interest rates, which the Government need to address.

The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), said that Africa has a young, dynamic population. She said that although the international development White Paper is a welcome sign, our collective plea is that the Government must show commitment and compassion to deliver.

We need to break the downward doom loop of debt in Africa. There is so much potential in Africa, but we must help our friends there—yes, our friends and fellow human beings—to achieve that aim.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of debt in Africa.

Sitting suspended.