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Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Several hon. Members clearly wish to speak. If speeches are brief, more may succeed in catching my eye.

5.2 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on publishing her Department's second White Paper. It is not simply a wish list of noble aims; it constitutes a practical approach to lifting millions out of poverty. I am proud that our Government are setting realistic targets, and leading the push for positive change. If the ambition is to be realised, it will take many years but decisions made now and in the coming months will help to shape a better future for people in developing countries.

It was encouraging to note the consensus among Opposition Members, and their support for the White Paper. I confess, however, that the vast majority of my constituents are hostile to the idea of accepting anything that is said by the Conservative party.

I have a special interest in the debate. Having been born and brought up in Pakistan, I understand the importance of investment in health and education for developing countries. Moreover, I represent the Scottish constituency

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with the highest ethnic minority population. The vast majority are from Pakistan and Kashmir, but many come from India and Bangladesh.

Interest is heightened when decisions made now will affect constituents with families on the other side of the world. Let us bear in mind the stark figures. A fifth of the global population live in abject poverty: that means that more than 1 billion people exist on the equivalent of less than $1 a day. We live in a world of growing material wealth, yet the outrage of abject poverty persists. Now we have a real chance to end poverty. It is our moral obligation, but it is also in our interest.

The biggest problems facing Scotland and the United Kingdom are fuelled by poverty. I am thinking particularly of the drugs trade, which breaks up families and communities and kills young people in Govan and other parts of Scotland and Britain.

The heroin trail starts in some of the poorest and most underdeveloped parts of Asia. It is very much in our national interest to make globalisation work for the world's poor. When Martin Luther King said around 40 years ago,

we may have seen his point most clearly in our cereals, coffee, tea and fruit, but it has now taken on greater significance.

Greater movements of people, goods, services, capital and information are bringing every part of the world closer. With every passing day, we are increasingly dependent on people thousands of miles away in our modern world. Globalisation is powered by advances in technology, particularly e-mail and the internet. It is as fast and simple now for someone in Indonesia or Peru to contact me by e-mail as it is for my constituents in Ibrox and Pollokshaws. The costs of international transactions have been reduced and capital is much easier to move. The poorest developing countries must be part of that. We must not allow them to be left on the fringes of progress. Decisions by political leaders throughout the world now and in the immediate future can end poverty.

We must not underestimate the importance of good government. Globalisation will work for people in poverty only where their Governments are effective and responsive to their needs. Where there is conflict and corruption, the people who have the least will always suffer the most. I am pleased that the White Paper makes it clear that reducing world poverty is a goal for all in our Government--for all Departments.

At present, there are great disparities through globalisation. The far east has clearly benefited, while millions in Africa have yet to see any change. Thirty years ago, Korea was poorer than Ghana. Now it is richer than Portugal. Governments of poorer countries must create conditions that help the poorest in their communities to find work or a marketplace for goods that will keep their families. Developing countries must attract foreign investors who can conduct their business safely and with a reasonable return. If not, investment will quickly go elsewhere. That demands a stable legal system that punishes theft and bans bribery and corruption. By the same token, people's human rights and working conditions must be protected.

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If a developing country has good government, it will have a better chance of growing economically. We must do everything that we can to encourage decent education and health care, fair law enforcement and proper financial management. It is noticeable that healthy democracies with a free media and open debate about government have the best chance of making globalisation work for the poor in their countries.

Those investing in basic infrastructure such as water and sanitation, electricity, transport and telecommunications have a key role in giving poor communities access to global markets. One of the biggest barriers to development is armed conflict and the threat of conflict. India and Pakistan invested vast sums of money developing nuclear capabilities while large sections of their populations lived in abject poverty. Conflict threatens investment, stability and security and hinders any chance of growth. I warmly welcome the White Paper's commitment to increasing international efforts to resolve conflict and regulate the arms trade.

The greatest disparities in wealth are caused by disparities in the availability of education to rich and poor. More than 110 million children of primary school age have never attended school. Moreover, 150 million other children have dropped out of school before attaining basic literacy and numeracy. Education is the quickest way out of poverty. Countries that invest in primary education develop much more quickly, and girls especially benefit from it. Women constitute two thirds of those living in extreme poverty, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for giving such priority to providing education and health care for women and girls in poverty.

Better-educated countries attract business investment because of their skilled and flexible work forces. Education makes globalisation work. Nevertheless, there is a danger of what the White Paper describes as a "digital divide". Only one in five people in the world have access to reliable telecommunications, fewer than half of people in Africa have ever used a telephone, and there are more computers in New York city than in the whole of Africa. Ever more international business is conducted by the fast global transfer of information. Such technologies must benefit traditional industries, as is beginning to happen with the development of internet marketing.

Investment in education must be coupled with affordable access to telecommunications. The introductory version of the White Paper provided a good example of how such arrangements can work. People in remote villages in Bangladesh can obtain a loan to purchase a mobile telephone, enabling them to establish a tiny call centre for community use.

Good health care also is needed to lift people out of poverty. More women will die in India during pregnancy this week than will die in Europe this year. Illness can ruin a whole family's livelihood. When one family member becomes sick, another family member often has to care for him or her. At such times, the family may need more money for medicine.

I welcome the decision to hold this debate during save the children week. Children are most at risk from sickness and disease, but they have to be healthy to get the most from any available education. We must act now to provide decent health care for the 600 million children around the world who live in poverty.

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Globalisation should enable us to share medical knowledge and make a real difference to the health of the poor. At the most basic level, people must have clean water and sanitation. Every year, diarrhoea ends hundreds of thousands of lives although it could be treated with simple rehydration. However, globalisation also entails increased travel and the spread of more killer diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS; 16,000 new HIV infections every day decimate communities. Zambia lost 1,300 teachers to AIDS in less than one year.

International institutions are badly in need of reform. I congratulate our Ministers on leading the debate on poverty reduction and reaching agreement with bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, those bodies do not provide a strong, clear voice for developing countries. We must make bodies such as the World Trade Organisation fully involve the world's poorest countries and include them as part of an open and fair global economy. International trade rules must change and not simply serve the most powerful interests. The greatest growth in developing countries has consistently been achieved where exports have received the greatest promotion. Such promotion has been most clearly evident in the far east, where poverty has decreased most rapidly.

We must also ensure that the trade rules work for all countries. Britain's largest merchant shipbuilder is in my constituency but it has suffered at the hands of heavily subsidised overseas yards. Recently, Korea has taken the lion's share of world shipbuilding but its yards have undercut competition by building ships at a loss. We need the WTO to work fairly for all countries, including the United Kingdom.

The tide is not always against developing countries. ActionAid is among the many British groups campaigning to stop patents on food crops. This week, the United States patent office threw out 13 of 16 claims by the American company Ricetec seeking patents on basmati rice plants and grain. Farmers in India and Pakistan were appalled by the patents, and there was considerable lobbying and campaigning worldwide to have them struck off. International pressure may have paid off in this case, but crop patents are still a reality under WTO rules.

The world's poor must be heard on this issue through the WTO. I am not advocating flagrant disregard for intellectual property rights. In my constituency, there is an established firm of highly trained intellectual property attorneys, Murgitroyd and Company. I have seen the importance of its work, protecting and enforcing property rights over ideas and inventions. It could operate from anywhere in the world, but chooses to base itself in Glasgow. What I advocate is proper respect for intellectual property. The idea that an American company could claim a patent for basmati rice would be treated as a bad joke in the Punjab if it were not so serious. There is much to do before the WTO shakes off its image as a rich man's club.

There is also much to do to meet our global responsibilities towards the environment. The goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth by 2010 received a major blow when President Bush decided against implementing the Kyoto agreement. I do not envy my right hon. and hon. Friends the job of trying to persuade the Governments of developing countries that we must all act to protect the environment while the United States disregards the agreement with impunity.

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We must lend support to those in America who continue to press their President to take action to protect the world's environment and future.

The best chance of progress comes when people are organised in their demand for change. In Britain, that has been seen in the successful Jubilee 2000 campaign to end crippling debt, leading to substantial commitments to cut the burden on heavily indebted countries. Most recently, in my constituency, Queen's Park and Pollokshields church members have written to me expressing fears over ethnic conflict in Indonesia between Muslims and Christians driving more people into abject poverty.

There has also been a successful postcard campaign by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund calling for global trade to work in the interests of the poor. Hundreds of constituents have expressed their personal commitment to the issue, focusing the minds of Scottish Members on the White Paper. There is a broad alliance of Church and faith groups, charities and campaigning organisations, amounting to a huge 3 million people throughout Britain, demanding policies that will meet the target of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

There is also pressure to provide more funding for development, rising to 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product, and to allocate more of our aid to the lowest- income countries. I welcome the Labour Government's strong commitment to the issues outlined in the White Paper. While such a movement can influence Government policy in Britain, we see a need for similar action by civil society in developing countries. Their Governments are more likely to address the needs of the poor if their own people demand that they do so.

I welcome the assertion in the White Paper that globalisation can work for the world's poorest people. It is a great challenge for developing countries, and for our country, but we now have the framework for success and can look forward to ending abject poverty for millions.

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