|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The Secretary of State mentioned southern Sudan, which I have visited. I am very concerned about the situation there. Does she think that when conflicts have gone on for decades, as they have in southern Sudan, we should concentrate a little more on development aid? We are very good at giving humanitarian aid to areas such as southern Sudan, but the provision of more educational facilities, for instance, would only need to be very simple and might lead to a more rapid resolution of the conflict.
Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Lady's aspirations, but I do not agree that that is the way forward. The crunch is that in such disorder, most of the people are displaced. Of course, when people are in refugee camps, we must try to ensure that the children are educated so that they are not under a life sentence but can look forward to a settled life in which they can improve their circumstances.
What Sudan needs is peace, desperately and overwhelmingly. I believe that if there were greater efforts and energy in the international system, there could be a prospect of a confederal solution for Sudan that would bring peace to that tortured country, where poverty is growing and people are suffering. If it were possible to enhance humanitarian aid in ways that enabled people to survive, we should do that, and we do. However, those who call simply for enhancement of humanitarian aid should realise that 90 per cent. of those resources are spent on aeroplanes and airlifts; very little of it gets through to the people, and it has been proved that the fighters take some of the resources. Therefore, more aid
Dr. Tonge: The Secretary of State has not visited southern Sudan. Does she not agree that the simple provision of primary education--and the training of the southern Sudanese people to give simple primary education--would require no school buildings or special equipment, and that if the people were displaced the education could go with them? Generations of children in southern Sudan have had nothing to do except wait for the next attack by the raiders from the north. It is very sad that we cannot provide such simple facilities for them.
Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Lady that the situation is very sad, but I do not agree that the answer is to try to provide spots of education or health care for people who are constantly being displaced, impoverished and threatened with violence and fighting. We should do what we can to keep them going, and to provide services to displaced people and refugees. The answer is a peace settlement, and, in my very strong view, not enough people in the international community are making an effort to achieve peace in Sudan. It worries me when people who are concerned about the situation there focus all their efforts on calling for more aid, because that will not provide the answer. The people there desperately need peace.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Further to what my right hon. Friend was saying about countries with awful Governments--I can link this question a little to Sudan--and about encouraging people to press for a change of Government, I feel quite desperate about the situation of the women in Afghanistan. Can my right hon. Friend offer any small ray of hope on what we could do through aid to help the women of Afghanistan become something more than machines for bearing children, which is how the Taliban regard them?
Clare Short: I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation in Afghanistan is terrible and deeply worrying. As well those beautiful old Buddhist statues being destroyed, girls have been deliberately excluded from school and women from hospital. Women doctors are not allowed to work and provide health care. That is so backward and unbearable. The situation is deeply distressing and I cannot offer her the hope of immediate change, but we have worked hard to ensure that the United Nations system will not concede on the principle of equal provision for women and girls. If everybody stands together, there is a prospect that there will be no collusion with the undesirable ruling that the regime has made, and we shall hold on to that.
The UK has been disadvantaged in trying to help in Afghanistan because there was clear security information that UK nationals were probably under threat. However, we shall reconsider that policy. I can promise my hon. Friend that we shall do all in our power to ensure that women and girls receive education and basic health care, but I cannot tell her that we are optimistic about achieving major change in the short term.
Mrs. Gillan: I am most grateful. May I take the Secretary of State back to the remarks that she made before so generously taking all those interventions? I am trying hard to understand exactly what will be ruled in and what will be ruled out by the new focus on poverty reduction. Can she explain whether it will exclude aid to projects such as using Customs and Excise to improve taxation systems, drugs monitoring, and systems in the overseas territories where aid has gone in the past? Will projects such as good governance, which she mentioned in relation to Africa, also be excluded? The focus on poverty appears to move us away from any focus on good governance.
Clare Short: I have already dealt with that point--the hon. Lady cannot have been listening. As we say in our globalisation White Paper, poverty reduction is maximised by an effective modern state creating the conditions for a private sector that is not allowed to be monopolistic or to abuse its powers, which happens behind high tariffs in some countries where nationally owned private sectors have high prices and shoddy goods. Another condition for an effective private sector that will grow the economy and attract inward investment is the provision by an effective modern state of regulatory arrangements that encourage good banking and good revenue systems.
We do such work all over the world and there is no question of our not continuing to do it. Countries need those arrangements. That is what good governance is, right across the board--not just action against corruption, important as that is, but effective systems that enable an economy to grow and to provide proper services for people. That has been the central focus of our efforts since we formed our Government and that work will continue.
The Bill includes new powers such as the provision that we can support work that improves development awareness and advocacy, both at home and overseas. I am concerned that there is a mindset that considers development to be not part of the mainstream of creating a more just world order and modern, effective government, which enable countries to grow their economies, but a residual that comes after politics and provides funds that are charitably distributed to those who are lacking. If we are to have any kind of safety and security, we need a UK public who understand the urgency of those efforts.
We also need to be able to support work in developing countries so that people there have sufficient knowledge and feel entitled to demand of their Government better governance and better use of public resources. That work, which we have strengthened since we formed our Government, will be funded under new powers, but such funding is currently committed under the annual Appropriations Act, and not the main legislation under which we operate.
The Bill also provides for the use of a wider range of commercial instruments--the taking of shares, loans, convertible loans, options and guarantees. Let me give a couple of examples of the way in which the powers will be used. We have done some work in this regard, but currently we must obtain permission from the Treasury as a one-off on each occasion.
I do not know whether hon. Members have come across the Day chocolate company, which produces Divine chocolate bars. It is a fair trade company, owned partly by a Ghanaian cocoa farmers co-operative and partly by some British non-governmental organisations. It is marketing the chocolate throughout the country on the basis that towns can become Divine towns. If hon. Members would like their constituencies to be Divine, they may wish to sign up. The aim of the initiative is to create a commercially viable enterprise that will improve the lives of Ghanaian cocoa farmers who have experienced a deterioration of their terms of trade and hence their income levels over the years.
Under our legislation, we have only the power to provide a grant, and grants are not always helpful to enterprises that need to be commercially viable. We therefore wanted to guarantee a loan from the National Westminster bank, which was not willing to make the loan without such a guarantee. The Day chocolate company and its trade in Divine chocolate bars now seem to be prospering. That is the kind of intervening that we want to be able to do, and under the Bill we shall no longer have to obtain one-off permission from the Treasury to enable countries to grow their economies and local people to improve the activity of the private sector.
My Department has been lobbied by a number of bodies seeking to embed certain policies in the draft Bill--for example, a commitment to children, to empowering women, to dealing with HIV-AIDS or to whatever their favoured objective might be. Let me make it clear that we will resist all such pressure. We agree that children are key to development, and that our task is to ensure that this generation of poor children have the chance of education and health care so that they do not become parents of even poorer children. We also agree that dealing with HIV-AIDS is a major international priority. The Department is giving ever growing commitments to such work, not just in Africa but in China, Bangladesh and India, where HIV-AIDS is also spreading and needs to be contained before it reaches the vast population of the rest of Asia. We agree, too, that poverty has a woman's face: 70 per cent. of the world's poor are women, and the poorest children come from women-headed households.
Nevertheless, we believe that any attempt to entrench such objectives in legislation will impair our adaptability and flexibility. The flexibility of our current arrangements makes the United Kingdom one of the most effective development organisations in the world. The needs of countries and regions vary; performance varies from country to country. We hold all those objectives dear, but we deploy our resources where they can make a difference to a country's need and what other development partners might do. Tying down proportions of our work or focusing on particular priorities in the Bill would create a rigidity that is illustrated by the United States development programme. Its legislation involves a lot of earmarking, which prevents it from responding flexibly in many of the countries in which it is working.
I strongly commend the Bill. Its purpose is simple, but profoundly important. One in five of the world's population--the 6 billion people who share this planet--still live in conditions of extreme poverty: the sort of conditions that our country experienced at the time of the industrial revolution. There is a lot of child labour, and many people cannot expect to live beyond their 40s. Many are illiterate, and many die of simple diseases such as diarrhoea and measles.
Given the world's levels of abundance and knowledge, it is a shame and a disgrace that the world still has such levels of poverty and inequality. It is a profoundly important moral issue. However, it is not only a moral issue. If the world continues with such division and those levels of inequality, we shall hand on to our children mounting instability and environmental degradation that will endanger their future, wherever they are.