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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Would she consider it appropriate to consider in this context the aid that we might give in Sierra Leone? As the right hon. Lady is well aware, we are giving a great deal of military aid to Sierra Leone, where there is an amputee camp which her hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) and I visited recently. More than 200 victims of the Revolutionary United Front rebels had their hands chopped off--in one case, a little girl aged only 13 months. We were shocked to see people trying to manufacture artificial limbs unaided by any skilled help or, apparently, any outside help. In that context, will she consider providing aid for the victims of war in especially deserving cases?
Clare Short: Yes; indeed, we already provide such aid. I have visited the camp about which the hon. Gentleman speaks, which was a deeply moving and distressing place. The Government are absolutely committed to the current effort in Sierra Leone to retake 50 per cent. of the territory that is held by the Revolutionary United Front, a criminal gang that is interested mostly in diamonds and which seeks to use the power of terror instead of fighting. That is why it uses amputation, and it should be defeated. We have provided help to the amputees in the past and we will continue to support such objectives. As a country, we are the biggest supporter of the part of Sierra Leone that is controlled by the Government. We provide about £35 million of support a year and we will see it through until all of Sierra Leone is in Government hands. Thus, people who have suffered amputation can at least look forward to peace and a decent life in future.
The House should understand clearly that the overriding objective of poverty reduction does not mean that development efforts are restricted to the provision of social assistance or charitable handouts. Our second White Paper, "Making Globalisation Work for the Poor", makes clear the conditions that are needed to reduce poverty in developing countries: economic growth that benefits all people, not merely a small number, and the provision of quality education and health care for all. To achieve those conditions, Governments need all the
Work on security sector reform, which is relevant to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), is also needed. Over-large armed forces that are not transparently funded or properly accountable to a democratic power are often a cause of coups and instability. Work to ensure that the security sector is properly accountable and properly and transparently funded is part of developing an effective modern state that can give people the stability and security that they need to grow their economy and reduce poverty.
We also provide support to health and education Ministries. Such aid seeks to ensure that a quality basic primary education system is in place for all the children of a country rather than only those who attend city schools that serve better-off people. Similarly, the presence of primary health care systems throughout a country is important, and health Ministries should be capable of maintaining and sustaining such services.
When we say that poverty reduction is our main objective, it should be borne in mind that that means helping countries to create modern and efficient states that will enable their economies to grow and ensure that good quality services can be provided to all their people. We are speaking about an effective state and a well organised and well regulated private sector that can grow, attract inward investment and thus reduce poverty.
The test of any of the work that we currently undertake is whether its purpose is the reduction of poverty. Such work can also be done for other reasons, but the Bill requires its purpose to be the reduction of poverty. It will not allow priority to be given to the commercial or political interests of the UK. Under the previous arrangements, the Overseas Development Administration of the previous Government had a sort of semi-autonomy, but was accountable to the House through the Foreign Secretary. The UK's development effort was always subject to considerations involving its commercial and political interests. Every country has legitimate interests of that sort, but development is a different business. It takes more than short-term considerations to help some of the poorest countries to establish arrangements to enable them to grow their economies and provide better services for their people. Such considerations, which were allowed and encouraged under previous arrangements, are not permitted by the Bill, and I hope that the House agrees that that is desirable.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The Secretary of State raises an interesting point about the way in which the House will call the Department to account. The Bill's objective is to reduce poverty. If it is clear that matters have not improved, but deteriorated after a long period of involvement with a country, will that be a reason for withdrawing from it? If not, how can the House call the Department to account?
A country could do everything in its power to achieve the objectives, and there could be a military uprising, such as that in Sierra Leone, or a natural disaster. None of us wants to turn away from a country in trouble, which might have slipped backwards through no fault of its own.
There is another problem: how can we support people who live under bad Governments? They are often the poorest and most oppressed people in the world. Clearly, we cannot support their Governments, but neither can we turn away from those people. We must find methods of providing humanitarian, and, if possible, additional aid to enable some of the poorest people in the world to demand better Governments and thus a better future.
Such matters are complex, but we are open in publishing our objectives and our methods of measuring our success. We are much more transparent about that than previous Governments. That enables us to have intelligent and detailed discussions in the Select Committee and to be properly accountable to it. I hope that Select Committee members agree that that has helped us to improve the quality of UK overseas development assistance.
Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): We cannot turn away from people who live under bad Governments, neither can we abandon people who live in areas of conflict. Millions of people are denied access to humanitarian or development assistance because they live in countries that are ravaged by conflict. How will the Bill and the Government's policy make Departments work together to tackle the resolution or prevention of such conflict?
Clare Short: My hon. Friend is right. Twenty per cent. of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live under conditions of conflict. Post cold war, most conflict breaks out within rather than between the poorest countries in the world. In some countries, one group tries to take all and thus divides the people, and in some weak states, such as Sierra Leone, which are rich in natural resources, groups try to plunder them.
The Bill makes clear our duty to provide humanitarian assistance to all who are in need, wherever they are. That provision is not governed by the requirement to reduce poverty. We must simply respond to people's need. We and the international system do all in our power to provide humanitarian relief to all those who are affected by conflict. However, in, for example, Burundi, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) visited, the circumstances are too dangerous for United Nations and non-governmental organisation workers. People in such countries are in desperate need, but do not receive help.
The answer for grossly impoverished places such as southern Sudan, where conflict has continued for such a long time and 1.5 million people have died, is not the endless provision of humanitarian relief but a greater effort to resolve conflict. We have established joint funding arrangements to achieve a more tightly collaborative effort between my Department, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and thus use our influence to improve the capacity of the international system to resolve conflict.
Sierra Leone is the first big test, and we will succeed there. Sierra Leone has the largest UN peacekeeping operation, costing $500 million a year, although it is a small country of only 4.5 million people. The first problem that we had there was that many of the UN peacekeepers were taken hostage. Secondly, although there is supposedly a ceasefire agreement with the Revolutionary United Front, the UN forces have not moved forward.
We must all be determined to succeed in Sierra Leone, but we must learn from the arrangements there how international peacekeeping efforts can and must be improved. We are, of course, going on from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has not had good government since Leopold of the Belgians. I hope that it had it before him. That country is as big as western Europe, and the task for the international community of bringing peace to the DRC, which is crucial to the development of Africa, will require a greater strength, capacity and effectiveness than we have at the moment. The operation of the joint pool is meant to improve the UK effort in that regard.