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9.6 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I welcome the Bill as a useful summary of the Government's position on international development. I declare a slight disinterest: I am not a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I never have been a member and I am never likely to be a member. On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I also welcome the way in which the Government have worked on this issue. As we always say, not enough money has been devoted to development, but the Government's aims and intentions are welcome.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) mentioned the large public meeting that was held in his constituency. I regret that when the Secretary of State came to Wales yesterday, she was greeted by a custard pie. Although we can throw many brickbats and even custard pies at some Ministers and members of the Government, we should not treat the right hon. Lady in such a way. She has done sterling work in government to try to raise the level of debate on international development. She has also done excellent work throughout the United Kingdom to enable us to debate the issues.

Although we do not have frequent opportunities to debate these matters in the House, I join other Members in saying how widely popular such measures are in our constituencies. In that regard, I pay particular tribute to Jubilee 2000, which has organised one of the most successful campaigns that I have seen. The Prime Minister described it as one of the most successful grass-roots campaigns, and many Members will still have in their offices little sacks and plastic bags full of red "drop the debt chain" postcards.

We know how successful the campaign has been, because 22 of the most heavily indebted countries have received the debt relief that was promised to them. Others will receive debt relief as they introduce their poverty reduction programmes. Although I am sure that the Government would have worked to a certain extent for debt relief, Jubilee 2000 clearly shows how NGOs in this country, with their strong links abroad, can work to persuade the Government to act as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to those organisations.

The question has been raised whether the Bill is necessary because the powers already seem to exist. The Secretary of State gave a cogent and clear argument about why she wanted to entrench measures for poverty reduction in a Bill. After 21 years, it is time to debate the future of international development and this country's role in supporting developing countries.

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However, for me, one watchdog has not barked. I am concerned about the definition of sustainable development. For the first time in legislation on international development, there is a clear reference to the need for international assistance to be provided to further sustainable development. That is an important advance. It is only the second time that sustainable development has been cited in a Bill. It was first mentioned in the Government of Wales Act 1998, which obliges the National Assembly for Wales to have regard to sustainable development.

The Secretary of State was asked about the definition of poverty. However, does the Bill contain an adequate definition of sustainable development? It states:


no doubt we will hear more of that tomorrow--


That sweet definition sounds acceptable, but I do not trust future Secretaries of State to have the right view of sustainable development. It is too open-ended. We are getting rid of tied aid and it must not return by the back door, but the definition might allow that to happen. The likelihood of generating lasting benefits means that a future Secretary of State could argue that the tie-up with aid is for the benefit of the country in question and will support its sustainable development strategy. The Government and the Committee should consider including a phrase similar to the Brundtland declaration on sustainable development, which refers to the need not to compromise the requirements of future generations. That would be a huge advance.

The Secretary of State has the most able lieutenant. The Minister, whom I welcome to his new job, knows about sustainable development from his previous role. He has huge experience of responding to no end of debates on the environment in Westminster Hall, at all times of the morning and afternoon. He will help to produce a firmer definition of sustainable development. We need that because global warming and climate change are perhaps second only to warfare in the effects that they will have on developing countries in the next 50 years. Those countries are suffering most from climate change. Some 96 per cent. of deaths from natural disasters occur in developing countries, which are less able to deal with such catastrophes, as we know from events in Mozambique.

A quarter of people live in the developed world and devour three quarters of natural resources. We are also responsible for most environmental damage. The poor and deprived in the developing world suffer from the ill effects of that. We have heard much about our moral duty to support developing countries financially, but we also have a moral duty to consider how we run our economies and environment. According to one estimate, 10,000 people have been killed in the past two years by the effects of climate change. The vast majority of those were, of course, in poor countries.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has doubled the worst-case scenario. It mentions the loss of food crops, the disappearance of fisheries, the melting of glaciers--which provide millions of people with a summer water supply--and a rise in sea levels, which will cause massive economic disruption and

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migration. There is no doubt that Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, will be hit hardest by climate change in the next 25 to 50 years. People will be forced off their land in ever greater numbers because of the way in which the developed world has run its economy in the past 50 years. They will see this country, and Europe in general, as the promised land.

We have to be careful in discussions on the Kyoto targets--which, I hope will resume between Europe and the new United States Government--that we do not transfer the burden of dealing with climate change and emissions to the developing countries themselves. The Kyoto targets are global, and we must ensure that we in the developed countries take due responsibility. I therefore hope that the Government will continue to press for domestic measures to achieve those targets, rather than engage in backdoor deals, emission trading, a clean development mechanism and all the other things that have been suggested as a way out of the present impasse between north America and Europe on the Kyoto targets. Clearly, developing countries should not pick up the tab for our aims on the clear Kyoto targets. We should not and cannot transfer the burden to them.

Another issue of concern covered by the Bill is the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services and the World Trade Organisation, which have continued since last February and are expected to conclude in the next year or so. Reading the White Paper, "Eliminating World Poverty", I got the impression that the Government feel that globalisation and institutions such as the WTO can help to eliminate world poverty by investing in developing countries and creating decent jobs. However, those developing countries need a greater voice in that investment and should not simply be exploited by multinationals. Sustainable development, the protection of workers rights and the creation of a more equal world should be central duties for the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; indeed, they should be part of the remit of the reformed United Nations.

We must accept that at the moment, the WTO dances to the tune of corporate America, not developing countries. We must get that issue across in the current GATS negotiations. The poorest 20 per cent. get just 1.1 per cent. of global income, but the richest 20 per cent. get 86 per cent. There is therefore a differential of more than 80 per cent., which cannot continue. No matter what is set out on paper in agreements, that income differential will always mean that developed countries and multinationals and companies within those countries will put the squeeze on developing countries. That will always be the case, so we need to use agreements such as GATS, and the WTO, to protect developing countries.

The Government have not recognised that argument, and still believe that those institutions can be used to eradicate poverty. I do not think that they are misguided, but we need a much more severe examination of what trade liberalisation means for developing countries. Although world trade has increased 17-fold in the past 50 years, Latin America's share of it has shrunk from 11 per cent. to 5 per cent. and Africa's from 8 per cent. to 2 per cent. The current goal of promoting economic growth by orienting economies to boosting exports and attracting direct foreign investment is an economic model that has not yet been proven to deliver to developing countries. In the past few years, trade developments in

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sub-Saharan Africa have resulted in a decline of almost 30 per cent. in gross domestic product, and we must take account of that in debates on GATS and the WTO.

GATS involves difficulties, and the potential impacts, both positive and negative, are enormous. So far, however, it has received only superficial scrutiny in the House. One reason is that we do not often have these debates--which is an excellent reason for having them more often. Another reason is that GATS is intensely complicated and difficult for us to take on board. In passing, I support the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun on events in South Africa and the need that they underline. Almost half South Africa's health spending is on drugs; the current challenge against it by the international drug companies in the courts will have a huge impact on the way in which it deals with AIDS and other health issues. International trade agreements and international drug companies may have the law on their side, but surely we must recognise that morally they have very little case indeed. It would be useful if the Government would help to negotiate with the drug companies based in the United Kingdom.

After a long debate, it seems that we are running out of time. I conclude by reiterating my party's policies. We support an increase to 0.7 per cent. of GDP to be spent on international aid. We would support any party which set that as its objective. We want to see a switch from military expenditure, which unfortunately is to rise by £4 billion in the comprehensive settlement, to international development. We would argue the virtues of a Tobin tax on international currency exchanges, with the proceeds of that tax diverted directly to international development.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in the debate.


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