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4.28 pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I should warn the House about the mutual admiration society that we seem to be creating this afternoon. Despite that, I still want to say how grateful I am for the kind remarks made about me by the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter).

However, I am not alone on the International Development Committee. We have a superb Committee, whose members are dedicated and work extremely hard. We have produced more reports than most Select Committees, all of which have provoked enormous interest. I should like to extend the kind remarks that have been made to the members of the Committee, including the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who played a remarkable part in the first two years of that Committee. The Committee has supported and helped DFID's effort to build consensus and to make this the important subject that it is.

The Secretary of State's energy and conviction have undoubtedly driven, led and inspired the Department for International Development and others. Discussions on pro-poor policies and achieving international targets have taken root in all international organisations, although some are not as good as others. We recently discussed regional development banks. The Asian Development bank will focus on and operate a pro-poor programme, which will totally change the way in which it has operated since its foundation. The Secretary of State has encouraged that sort of achievement and vision, and we should congratulate her on the globalisation White Paper, which is the second such document that the Department has produced since she took up her post.

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The globalisation White Paper encompasses almost all the subjects that the Select Committee on International Development has confronted. One of our early papers was on conflict. We all agree that conflict drives back development, and it is important to find ways in which to reduce it, especially in places where it is rampant, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Another important report covered women and development. We cannot begin to tackle the problems of the poorest of the poor until we empower women to take charge of their lives, their children and families. Currently, 70 per cent. of those in abject poverty cannot do that. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Many others who are very poor are not in a position to take control of their lives or begin to contribute to their escape or that of their countries from abject poverty.

I want to complain to the business managers about the lack of opportunity for debate on the Floor of the House. The first White Paper that the Department produced was never debated or the subject of a statement.

Clare Short: It was the subject of a statement.

Mr. Wells: Yes, but not of a debate. That was disgraceful. As the Select Committee report on globalisation requests, business managers should provide for a debate on international development at least once every Parliament. I believe that we should debate it more often. After all, the Department's budget is set to increase every year and it will soon spend more than £3 billion. If the Secretary of State continues her success in getting money from the Treasury, the Department will have an even bigger budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has attended our Committee proceedings more than once to discuss debt, which the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) mentioned, and I know that he is also dedicated to tackling the problems of abject poverty not only through debt relief but in other ways.

The expansion of the budget should be seriously debated. We do not have to worry about the press. I am sure that all hon. Members will have noticed that no members of the press are here because we do not intend to have an argument, slag each other off and make their news. I am grateful for that, but it does not make the debate less important. Indeed, it probably makes it more important.

Mrs. Gillan: Opposition Front-Bench Members have strongly supported the Secretary of State's efforts to secure an annual debate. Today, the International Criminal Court Bill is being considered in Committee. I was supposed to attend the proceedings and several hon. Members, who take a specific interest in international matters, are serving on the Committee and cannot be in the Chamber. That applies not least to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), who interviewed earlier. Surely it is not outwith the wit of man or the usual channels to timetable our business so that those who take a special interest in international development can be in the Chamber.

Mr. Wells: I agree with my hon. Friend. Select Committee members often serve on Standing Committees.

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Those hon. Members should be spared their duties on Standing Committees, including the Committee that is considering the International Criminal Court Bill, and given time to attend the debate.

The approach of The Economist to globalisation has infuriated the Secretary of State. It claims that she has abandoned her convictions and ideals by wholeheartedly adopting the liberal free trade ideas of the past. Such commentators miss the point. The Secretary of State constantly says that we need growth and extra money to tackle poverty. I agree with her. Contrary to the old liberal theories on free trade, she and I believe that the process must be managed. As she constantly says, there is nothing automatic about growth leading to the diminution of abject poverty in any country. It has to be managed and the goal of diminishing poverty must be wholeheartedly pursued if we are not to find that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and we make no progress on expanding the wealth of countries, and introducing good governance, democracy, the rule of law, a sound civil service, an independent judiciary and a free press.

That is the difference between the globalisation White Paper and old-style liberal economics. The Economist is almost always profoundly wrong about everything. If The Economist claims that something will happen, almost invariably it will not. If hon. Members want to know what will not happen, they should read The Economist. The Secretary of State was right to take it to task for accusing her of being a Whig, an old liberal in the 19th century sense. The Secretary of State is trying to create the right conditions for growth. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon also wants to do that.

In 1996, sub-Saharan Africa earned six times more from exports than from overseas development assistance. Exports, trade, the expansion of agriculture, surpluses and markets to which surpluses from rural areas can be transported over good roads will lead to growth, education, health for women and children and thus bring under control the serious problems that population increases will cause. In 25 years, there will be 8 billion people in the world. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a world population of 1 billion; we are now contemplating a population of 8 billion. The idea of doing nothing, sitting still and not searching for methods to create economic growth is not sustainable. The population in developing countries will increase by 97 per cent. in the next 25 years. If we are not careful, abject poverty will increase, not decrease.

As a result of HIV-AIDS--on which the Committee produced a report--life expectancy is being driven back in some countries. Life expectancy had grown from 46 years, on average, to 64 in 20 years. It is now being driven back. As we discussed with the Under-Secretary of State in Westminster Hall, we will be driving back 30 years of development in Africa if we do not help the African countries to manage HIV-AIDS. We cannot ignore that important issue.

However, let us not get too depressed. In a publication, the World Bank--commenting on international development targets--says:


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The task to which the globalisation White Paper is putting our shoulders can be achieved. We are not pursuing a lost cause. We must strengthen our determination that we are going to achieve our targets.

We are not doing as well as we should at the moment. The publication to which I referred mentions the target of reducing abject poverty by half by 2015, and suggests that we are running below the target level that we should be achieving at the moment.

Clare Short: We are on track for the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, but we are below the target on maternal mortality and some of the others. The trouble with the target is that it is an average across the world and Asia is doing a lot better than Africa. I agree that people who see the sad images care but feel very depressed. They should know that we have had a lot of success and that if we could universalise that success, we could make progress. We are on track for the target of halving the proportion of people in poverty; it is achievable, but we have to do better in the countries that are missing out.


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