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Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): I am very grateful to my good friend the Secretary of State. The legislation is a tremendous step forward, and I am very proud that our country is taking this action. Obviously, however, we cannot do it alone. It would be excellent news if we knew that other countries that are among the wealthiest in the world, and other bodies such as the European Union, were minded to set themselves similar policy objectives. Has my right hon. Friend anything to say on widening the participation by others in what we are trying to do in the United Kingdom?
Clare Short: I am sure that the whole House is very pleased to see my hon. Friend. We know that she has not been well, and it is delightful to have her in the Chamber today. I also honour the fact that, throughout her political life, she has worked on the issue of international development. It is lovely that she returns when we are discussing this legislation.
As I said, we have worked very hard to obtain central commitment to the poverty eradication targets, to try to co-ordinate the objectives of the entire international development system--including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, regional development banks, all the United Nations agencies and all the bilateral agencies. We do not want a plethora of fragmented, different projects in countries, but to pool our resources in the budgets of Governments who have clear, explicit and measurable poverty-eradication objectives. We are increasingly receiving co-operation across the international system in achieving that objective, which is increasingly being accepted as the way in which we should proceed. I am proud that our Government have led in much of that work.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): My right hon. Friend mentioned the issue of poverty reduction strategies, to which we are all signed up. However, is not one of the big issues in the world the need for poor countries to trade with rich countries? As poor countries are said to be losing out, to the tune of about £500 million annually, to the rich countries, that trade is clearly a transnational issue. Clearly, when we consider that that £500 million loss is 14 times more than those countries receive in overseas aid each year, trade is also a central issue. I am delighted that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor have mentioned that fact in some of their previous speeches.
As I said, the Bill's purpose is to entrench poverty reduction as the purpose and objective of United Kingdom development policy. We are working hard to entrench that objective around the world. We live in a time when--with the new wealth and technology created by the new information technologies, the abundance of capital and the way in which we can share knowledge around the world--there could be massive progress in poverty reduction. I think that we are at a turning point. We shall either make massive progress or see the poorest people and countries more marginalised and impoverished. The Bill entrenches in United Kingdom statute the certainty that United Kingdom Government efforts will be absolutely focused on securing a systematic reduction of poverty.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I agree with the spirit of the Secretary of State's comments, particularly when she described the world as we know it. The Opposition share a common objective with the Government: we seek to alleviate world poverty. We, too, seek a more stable world in which every person has access to basic living standards, a basic education and primary health care--a place where children are free from involvement in violent conflict. We also seek to pursue that vision. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and her Department for what they have done in the past four years to move towards that common objective.
In the past two years of doing this job, from something of a standing start, I have become absolutely persuaded that the right kind of help can make a very real difference. I have seen with my own eyes as I have travelled to some of the poorest parts of the world that focused development works. I have seen projects, relationships and work being done in all parts of the world that make me proud to be British, whether it involves our own Department for International Development, British charities or British people making their own contribution to alleviating grinding poverty and helping people to be free from poverty and stand on their own two feet. We can change lives and bring hope to many, and so we must.
I felt it was right to start by putting on the record very clearly the fact that we share a common goal and that we agree with many of the steps that the Government have taken to work towards it. We have always been happy to support the Government where we believe that they have acted in the best interests of developing countries. Hon.
So we are singing from the same hymn sheet this afternoon. We do not oppose the broad thrust of the Bill, but we have a number of questions and reservations about some of its contents, and I will exercise my constitutional duty in raising as forensically as I can, during my short remarks this afternoon, my concerns about certain aspects. Of course we will continue with that approach in Committee.
In the past four years, it has been a great pity that there have been so few opportunities for the House to debate international development. In 1997 the Government said that they envisaged an annual debate on international development. That has not happened. The Labour manifesto said that international development would be brought back into the mainstream of Government decision making, yet we have not had a single debate on international development in Government time since 1997.
Clare Short: I share the hon. Gentleman's view that we should have more debates on international development. I believe that there is a lag in all parliamentary systems across the world, in that international development is in the charity box and not in the mainstream of politics. That is immoral and an error as regards the future stability of the world.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the lack of a statement on the globalisation White Paper. As hon. Members would imagine, I pressed for a statement and was told by the usual channels that the Opposition would be irritated because they had other objectives. A bit of honesty about this is in order. Have the Opposition been pressing for more debates on international development, and did the hon. Gentleman try to exercise his influence through the usual channels to get a statement, as I most certainly did?
Mr. Streeter: I am flabbergasted by what I have just heard. We certainly pressed for a statement. As someone who used to be part of the usual channels, polluted though they are, I can tell the House that there was no way in which we would have tried to block a statement. We were calling for a statement on an important White Paper that was going to shape the forces of globalisation. You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I complained, on a point of order, about the absence of a statement on the
Mrs. Fyfe: To enable the House to gauge the sincerity of Opposition attitudes on this matter, will the hon. Gentleman remind us of how many White Papers on international development were published between 1979 and 1997?