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5.30 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): If I had not been a Member of Parliament since 1982, and had not enjoyed the privilege of serving in the post that the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) currently holds, I would have found it difficult to believe that he could make such a speech. It was a mean-minded, unworthy little speech, which failed to address the Bill. Above all, it failed to acknowledge one of the Government's greatest successes: the creation of the Department for International Development, which is proudly led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Its success has been recognised not only in Great Britain and Europe but throughout the caring world. I am sorry that that has escaped the hon. Gentleman.

It was difficult to believe that we were being lectured at the Dispatch Box by a spokesperson for the party that was responsible for the Pergau dam and all its implications. I heard Sir Timothy Lankester's evidence to the Select Committee. He told us about the way in which the previous Government had repeatedly abused every aspect of overseas aid. I listened to Baroness Chalker and Lord Hurd, who failed to justify the combination of overseas aid and taxpayers' money with arms deals. The previous Government's attitude was repugnant and as indefensible then as it is today.

I welcome the Bill, and I am sure that most hon. Members and the majority of the British people welcome it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly seized a legislative window of opportunity. The Bill takes international development forward by several strides and I am proud to support it. The hon. Member for South- West Devon suggested both that the Government were doing too little, and that the Bill would do too much. There has been no legislation on the subject for 21 years and it is therefore right to tackle that gap.

The hon. Gentleman referred to non-governmental organisations, charities and voluntary organisations. I have spoken to representatives of several and, like other hon. Members, I have received briefings and letters. Not one expressed the view that the Bill was unworthy of

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support. Indeed, some would like the Bill to contain more than we can currently include. I shall deal with that point shortly. The Bill is greatly welcomed, and my right hon. Friend is right to press on with it. Through her excellent record and the White Paper, she has established that poverty reduction is a pivotal aim of UK development assistance. We accept that it is necessary to support the activities of organisations likely to promote awareness and understanding of world poverty. That is precisely what the Bill does. It is right to do so, and those organisations welcome that.

I also welcome the fact that the Bill addresses the whole of the United Kingdom. When I hear so many other mean-minded attempts to try to set parts of the United Kingdom against one another, I welcome the fact that, on the issues of development awareness and advocacy that my right hon. Friend welcomed in her speech, the Bill will embrace both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. That is excellent in terms of involving all our people, and, in particular, young people--pupils, students--in the vital issue of development and in our perception of what the British Government in modern times have achieved and can achieve.

My right hon. Friend has confirmed in her speech and in the Bill that poverty is a global crisis, and one that is begging to be addressed in sub-Saharan Africa. That was the kind of thing that I had expected to hear from the hon. Member for South-West Devon. The number of people in poverty rose from 242 million in 1990 to 291 million in 1998, and 5,500 people die every day in Africa as a result of AIDS. More people will be concerned about dealing with those problems--which the Bill, addressing poverty as it does, can certainly do--than about whether people buy cars in Malawi or whether a statesperson of dubious standing should dominate our approach to these important issues.

I have never believed that people should suffer because of the leadership under which they happen to live at a given time. I am glad that the Bill is much more forward-looking than to suggest that, and that it sets higher horizons than that. That is quite right, too, at a time when one in five of the world's population--two thirds of them women--live in abject poverty in a world of otherwise growing prosperity.

Of all the clauses in the Bill, I most welcome clause 8. It does what we want the Government and the House to do, which is to show--not just to speak of--our support for organisations likely to promote awareness of world poverty, and to show, as part of primary legislation, that they have an important role to play. The Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 failed to address that, and it is absolutely right that we should introduce legislation to address it now.

Hon. Members will no doubt speak of their own experience in these matters during the debate. I would like briefly to speak of a recent visit that I paid to Peru, and of the impact that the Bill will have on the important work going on there. I welcome the work of organisations such as the World Development Movement and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. Incidentally, on the subject of corruption, I believe that that aid work managed to influence the removal of Mr. Fujimori. I would welcome a comment from the hon. Member for South- West Devon on that step forward for democracy.

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Those organisations did even more. Organisations such as CAFOD in Lima, by supporting the women organising the soup kitchens--very welcome for people who have not eaten for days or, in some cases, weeks--are emphasising that women have a role to play in a developing democracy. CAFOD, in addressing the problem of HIV-AIDS in Peru, and encouraging people to support one another and to demand their rights from the Peruvian public health system, is doing what the Bill will encourage many others to do in other parts of the world.

I conclude my remarks on my experiences in Peru and, in particular, the input of CAFOD and other organisations by referring to this comment:

That is CAFOD's view, and it is mine as well. It is also one reason why I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Rowe: The right hon. Gentleman is skirting round a difficult question. He suggests that there is some merit in western aid agencies helping citizens to organise themselves to remove a corrupt Government, yet national Governments are extraordinarily leery about operating in such a way. Is not the extent to which such corrupt Governments should be respected, regardless of how badly they behave, a difficult issue? It is central, is it not?

Mr. Clarke: I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course that is an extremely difficult issue, which is why it perhaps ought to be approached with more sensitivity than was displayed by the Opposition spokesman.

In presenting the Bill to the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entitled to claim credit for the £195 million that she provided to civil society groups--17 per cent. more than in 1996-97. The need for poverty reduction has been well and truly established. According to the World Bank's 2000 development indicators, about 1.2 billion people were living in extreme poverty--on less than £1 a day--in 1998. That figure was about the same 11 years previously, in 1987. Surely that invites challenge.

The record of my right hon. Friend's Department exceeds the commitments set out in our election manifesto, progressive as they were. Representations have been made about tied aid, which, for reasons that I fully understand, is not dealt with by the Bill. However, it still covers such issues positively. I understand that the WDM and others welcome the Bill, but still suggest that perhaps a little more could be added to it. My response is that the Department is indeed going ahead and addressing those other issues. We hope that the Bill will be passed, but that does not mean that we are pulling back for one moment from the commitment to tackle important matters such as tied aid, especially in the light of our experience with the Pergau dam.

Clare Short: If tied aid is supplied, the goods or consultancies procured have to go back to the providing country. All the World Bank research shows that that creates gross inefficiency and aid is reduced in value by 25 per cent. The Bill, which states that poverty reduction must be the target, will make it impossible to reintroduce

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tied aid. As my right hon. Friend knows, we have announced that we are getting rid of it completely, so there is no need for an explicit provision about it. The Bill means that tied aid will not be permitted because it is not poverty focused.

Mr. Clarke: I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend says. I am sure that those charities and voluntary organisations that have been following our proceedings will note her remarks and welcome not only them, but what was said in "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor".

The Bill's main thrust deals with world poverty. Of course we should aim in that direction, and my right hon. Friend can say with pride that she has introduced the measure against a backdrop of substantial improvements in international development made since she took over. Between 1997 and 2003-04, the UK aid budget will rise by 45 per cent. in real terms, and nobody can take away from her and the Government the fact that it is the largest aid budget ever.

Moreover, there have been huge debt initiatives on the part of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and indeed the Secretary of State, which have made remarkable progress. Important and radical as they are, however, those initiatives cannot succeed unless we address world poverty and the need to help the poorest people in the poorest countries. I believe that the Bill seeks to do that.

Poverty reduction was not placed at the heart of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. That is one of the Act's major defects, and one of the reasons why the Bill is necessary. The Bill accepts the challenge of eliminating poverty abroad, and I am glad that it does--but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, that does not mean that the rest of her Department's many-faceted work will not continue. Despite what she may have heard from other Ministers, the world outside recognises that my right hon. Friend has put development at the heart of this Government.

I recall the days when Question Time on Mondays ended with 10 minutes of questions on international development. A junior Minister replied for the Government; a Minister of State in another place also dealt with international development. If the hon. Member for South-West Devon needs any reminding of his Government's role in international development, compared with where we are today, I can refer him to the open letter that the then Minister, Tim Raison--on the day of his removal from office--addressed to his successor, Chris Patten. In that letter, he said that the only discussion on international development in which he had ever engaged with the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, had taken place on the very day when she dismissed him. How different that approach is from today's attitudes!

I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State "Well done. We welcome the Bill. Get on with a great job: the country admires you, and so does the developing world."

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