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Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most useful things that the Commonwealth could do is to identify the big global issues--electoral practices could be one example--on which it could make a major contribution, rather than, as it sometimes seems to do, trying to produce valuable programmes that are very like those produced by other organisations?
Clare Short: Yes. There is such a clear role for the Commonwealth. It has tantalised many people, because it involves relationships of genuine affection that people want to sustain, despite historical forces pulling in the other direction. There are many countries outside it that could join: one thinks of Afghanistan, the US and the Palestinian Authority. Rwanda would love to join, and is trying to convince us that there is a small part of Rwanda that was once colonised by Britain. We are all worried about its not having a role, yet people have such affection for it and there are still countries wanting to join.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I am enjoying the Secretary of State's exposition of her vision, which I share, of Britain's future role in the world. Does she agree that, by pursuing policies of globalisation and development, we will help to solve the problem that the media are interested in and go on about day in, day out: asylum seekers and economic migrants?
Clare Short: I strongly agree. There are more refugees and asylum seekers in the world than there have ever been, and more of them are being housed in some of the poorest countries. There are more displaced people in Africa than ever before--from memory, about 10.5 million. Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries, is host to 300,000 refugees. That is misery for the people concerned and for their continent and its future. Clearly, many people are also seeking to come to Europe, where there are better economic prospects. It is cruel to turn refugees away without examining the forces that are pushing them out of their own countries, because everyone prefers to stay in their own countries, given the chance. The creation of a world of equal development, where people have the chance of education and a decent life at home and the opportunity to travel out of interest and to share ideas with each other, is achievable in a 50-year time span. That should be our objective, instead of the erection of barriers around our own country. That cannot be the solution.
No matter how privileged a country is, it cannot control the future of world trade rules, the international environment or the level of conflict. Africa, the continent in the greatest trouble with disease and other problems, is on Europe's doorstep, so we cannot make even the richest and most privileged children or countries safe. We either manage the world more effectively or the catastrophes will bite back at all of us, wherever we live.
I am proud of the fact that, increasingly, it is the UK's view that we should have a coherent attitude to the international economy. For example, we should examine international trade negotiations not only from the perspective of what we can achieve for the UK--although of course we must look after our own interests--but from that of whether they will lead to a more sustainable and fairer international system. We are getting a reputation for taking that approach, and our influence on making the international system more collaborative, coherent and focused on the systematic reduction of poverty is increasing. I hope that that work will continue for many years, whichever party forms the Government. It is a profound, historical and moral approach, but we cannot be complacent whatever we do because so many people are so poor and suffer so greatly.
Some people talk themselves into depression on those issues, as if everything is getting worse. That is not so. More human beings are being educated--including more girls--living longer and having access to clean water than ever before. Partly because of that, more human beings are surviving and the world population is growing.
The White Paper starts by clarifying the term globalisation, because it is the source of muddle in the international debate. Some people think that it means what neo-liberalism meant some years ago: letting the market and inequality rip and rolling back the state. In the era when those ideas were dominant, public services were run down and poor people were excluded from health care and education, as happened in Africa, Latin America and other areas. Those people opposed those ideas, see globalisation as a continuation, and therefore oppose it. I understand those emotions, but that is a muddled view of what globalisation means.
Globalisation started, perhaps, with the ancient Egyptians. It has existed since humanity started to trade, share ideas and technologies and move around the world. It accelerated at the time of the industrial revolution, with more production, manufacturing and trade across the world, and it has accelerated massively recently for two reasons. The first is the end of the cold war. We now have one global economy, instead of two blocs, and that integration has speeded up the movement of capital, investment and ideas across the world. The second is the new technologies. Information technology moves ideas around the world very fast, so capital is more mobile. That has led to a reduction in barriers to trade and a fall in the cost of international transactions. The global economy is therefore much more integrated now than it was even 10 years ago.
The good side of globalisation, which is rarely mentioned, is the diffusion of global norms and values, including the spread of democracy. More people--around 62 per cent., although some would argue about some countries on the margins--live in a democracy. The proliferation of global agreements on the environment, such as those on ozone-depleting substances, biodiversity and development targets, are the beginning of a global ethic of morality and the inclusion of all. That expectation of the same norms and values is an attractive part of globalisation.
Globalisation also brings with it rapid change and new challenges. The scale and rapidity of the change has generated uncertainty, anxiety and alarm across the world, including in our own country. Rapid change is difficult for us all to deal with, but that distrust and worry creates the danger that regressive political movements could start to appeal to people. There are also worries about the impact of globalisation on people's culture. For example, some deplore Hollywoodisation, with everybody eating hamburgers and watching the same films. The White Paper acknowledges those fears, but it argues that we are more likely to end up with such a world if the poorest countries are all marginalised and their cultures disrespected. In a world of equal development, in which different languages, cultures and music are respected, that danger will recede.
People rightly also worry about the environment and the inequality within and between countries. Many people believe that such inequality is growing, but international equality has narrowed recently; it depends on the speed of development and economic growth in the poorest countries. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries tend to trog along at 3 per cent. growth a year, and inequality will grow or shrink depending on whether poor countries do worse or better than that. The White Paper analyses the performance of individual countries, and some of the poor and middle-income countries that have opened up and liberalised have become more equal. Others have become less equal, but that is a matter of political choice, not a result of an invincible force that responds to globalisation.
The White Paper proposes ways in which the world can manage the forces of globalisation so that they are beneficial to humanity. The lesson of history is clear: open societies that learn from and trade with others are enriched materially and culturally. Societies that encourage education and services for all, that use modern technology and that distribute the resources of economic growth broadly are more civilised, just, decent, comfortable, happy and stable. That is how we should manage in this era, and those who turn their back on that approach will not bring its benefits to their countries.
In recent decades, those countries that have seized the opportunities offered by more open world markets to increase exports, and attract inward investment and modern technology, have made the greatest strides in reducing poverty. More people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 30 years than in the previous 500. The east Asian countries have performed spectacularly. China's performance in the past 15 years in the systematic reduction of the numbers of people living in abject poverty has been welcome, even though China may have other aspects--such as its treatment of Hong Kong--that we do not find attractive. Countries that liberalise sensibly, educate their people and have decent standards and access to modern technology can achieve the sort of economic growth that reduces poverty rapidly. We want to bring those lessons to parts of the world that have not benefited, especially Africa.
We are on track to reach the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, but that is because of the performance of China, India and Bangladesh, although there is much to do still in those countries. Some countries in Africa have reached that level, including Uganda, Mozambique and Botswana, but many have not. We could reach the target, yet large parts of Africa could continue to experience the misery of high levels of conflict and human suffering. We have to do better to bring progress to all countries.
Globalisation is creating an unprecedented opportunity to lift millions of the world's poorest people out of poverty. That can be done if we organise ourselves and share the ideas that make it possible, but it is not inevitable.
We are at a crossroads. Many countries could be marginalised and left to suffer in squalor and poverty while the rest of the world gets more wealthy. That would be morally repugnant and dangerous. As information is globalised, people will be able to see their own poverty and others' prosperity, and they will not accept it. The anger thus created could cause all sorts of disaster for everyone.
The White Paper argues that if the poorest countries can be drawn into the global economy and are thereby able to export goods and increase their access to modern knowledge and technology, the world could make massive progress towards the removal of abject poverty from the human condition. If we define poverty in relative terms, it may be true that the poor will always be with us, but abject poverty can be eradicated. It disappeared from Europe and north America at the time of the industrial revolution in the 1840s and 1850s. That shows that eradicating abject poverty from the world is an achievable objective.