International Development Bill

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Mr. Tom Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman develop his thinking on transparency in light of his various visits? When, for example, I visited Uganda with the former leader of the Liberal party, David Steel, we found that the Government were working hard to balance their budget, but 50 per cent. of their revenue was spent servicing debt. They were dealing with the World Bank, which they did not consider to be as transparent as they would have liked. They had several questions about structural adjustment, but as they sought to make progress they felt that they were obtaining less transparency than they wanted from it. Its impositions on structural adjustment made their objectives on issues such as women's education and health more difficult to attain.

Mr. Rowe: I have considerable sympathy with that point. Under Jim Wolfensohn the World Bank has taken great strides towards being more transparent, but it must go further. One benefit of the new World Trade Organisation is that, because it has so many members, it is potentially much more transparent than the Group of Eight, which used to take such decisions on behalf of the rest of the world. The big international organisations should be profoundly transparent. I have great sympathy with the view that Governments, especially if they have reached a level of sophistication whereby they can recognise an organisation's failings, should be listened to when that organisation is restructured. There is still a danger of rich countries taking the de haut en bas attitude that they are responsible for restructuring international organisations. That is not so. There should be an equal partnership between the recipients of the organisation's money and the people who put the money in.

It is tremendously important to remember that good governance cuts both ways. Why are we so backward in this country at controlling international crime? I know that the Government are taking the matter seriously, but we still have not seen the results of that. Money laundering has been in the newspapers again this week. Why is the UK apparently the only developed country that is capable of absorbing the Abacha millions and incapable of freezing the account? That is an important question for the Government to answer.

Democracy worldwide is being undermined by the cost of elections—a phenomenon that is as important in developed countries as it is in developing countries. The other day, I heard that it costs a minimum of $25 million to become an American senator. There is no doubt that that is highly corrupting. The extent of that corruption was well demonstrated during the banana war, when the evidence suggests that one of the driving forces in upsetting the quota arrangements that had protected the Caribbean producers was the large donations that the American banana companies gave to both the main political parties.

In this country, in Germany and in many other countries, the cost of elections is undermining democracy. Yesterday, when I met a group of Members of Parliament at a meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I explained to them that I had won a CPA fellowship to consider elements of the problem. With one accord, those people from all over the world said that it was an enormously important issue, and several told me that they would like to help. I had thought that I would have difficulty in persuading them to give me any information. Far from it—they were keen to do so. When we say things like, ``It's disgraceful for a Member of Parliament to receive money from a constituent'', they say, ``Get real: we're talking about our having to find election costs that no-one else will bear and none of us can afford—how are we ever going to pay for them? Somebody has to give us the money.''

Mrs. Gillan: Like my hon. Friend, I have been involved in some of the Commonwealth events that are taking place around Commonwealth day, which was yesterday. A huge Commonwealth seminar is taking place in London. On Saturday, in Colchester, I was asked by a parliamentarian from Africa, ``How do you deal with the problem of the constant demands on your purse?'' When I asked him what he meant, he said, ``People come to me and say that they need money to buy a house or for treatment for their sick child, and I have to give it to them because that is how I retain my position as an elected Member.'' The problem cuts both ways. Good governance encompasses major issues in terms of helping countries to move on from appalling situations.

Mr. Rowe: I thank my hon. Friend. She is right. It is important that clause 1 should cover good governance because it is such a central issue. Corruption affects the poor more than the rich. In many countries, land distribution is dominated by a corrupt system. Whatever the rules may be, most countries have no land registration system; even in this country our system is not complete. In other countries, people are constantly made homeless by the rich who pay them a bribe and evict them from the land.

My colleagues on the Select Committee on International Development and I were shocked by evidence from some UK companies that suggested insouciance about paying ``hastening money'' if the climate of the country in which they were operating made that appear to be a sensible approach. I am glad to report that one witness turned on the others and said that he thought that that behaviour was ridiculous: his organisation believed that corruption was corruption. None the less, the situation is worrying. The idea that developed countries are somehow different from developing countries in that respect is nonsense. The rules in developed countries are often effective, but that does not mean that the behaviour of individuals is any better.

The reduction of conflict is essential to sustainable development. It is no coincidence that a high proportion of the poorest nations are either in conflict or emerging therefrom. It may be difficult, but we must give high priority to the rehabilitation of former members of armed forces through a comprehensive programme. It is no good paying off guerrillas or soldiers with a lump sum, thanking them for their services and telling them to go away if they have no job to go to nor land to farm and all they have is the rifle in their hand, because they will revert to terrorising their neighbours so that they can live.

We underestimate the enormously destabilising effect of using children in inappropriate roles—we all need to think hard about that. I was appalled when I visited the genocide museum in Cambodia and was told that it was Pol Pot's policy to use eight to 12-year-olds to torture of adults. The variety, ingenuity and sheer horror of the ways in which children tortured adults makes the work of Hieronymous Bosch look like a kindergarten illustration. It was awful and depressing. When I asked some Cambodians where those now 35-year-olds are today, I was told that they are in the villages. They have never had a chance to think about what they did or talk it through, except in the in the privacy of their own lives. Apparently, violence in the villages is very high, partly as a result of those damaged individuals returning to the countryside.

We have been told about children in Sierra Leone that 10-year-olds who had been cheerfully shooting people cannot now think of anything else to do. NGOs that work with handfuls of those children have stories to tell that would dismay anyone; I am sure that the same is true of the Army of God in Sudan. Within those damaged people lie the seeds of the next conflict. As an international community we need to think hard about how we deal with that appalling, large-scale problem. It will not be easy.

12.30 pm

Does the Bill allow the Secretary of State to support mediation efforts by Governments or NGOs? There has been an interesting growth in mediation efforts and projects among NGOs. I have no idea whether those are good, bad or indifferent, but it must, prima facie, be a good thing to get people into a room to talk about their problems, conflicts and difficulties. I am sure that some NGOs are good at that, yet some tell me that it is extraordinarily difficult to obtain financial support for the work. I am somewhat sceptical of the colossal growth of the counselling industry in the UK, which I think might be slightly out of kilter, but to learn that people who give up a great deal of time, effort and resource in trying to broker a peace in Sudan—assuming that they are doing a good job—cannot obtain support for their next conference disturbs me. That is another issue that the amendment raises.

Private and foreign direct investment are important and should be included in the Bill. We should direct attention to not allowing foreign countries and firms to choke the growth of indigenous activity. There is disturbing evidence that if a local entrepreneur, either with the support of development assistance or by some other means, manages to form a successful company, some of the NGOs in the same field behave as they might towards a competitor in the developed world and do quite a lot to squeeze the enterprise out of business. That disgraceful phenomenon must be dealt with.

It is important to give as fair a wind as we can to the welcome growth in this and many other countries of fair trade initiatives. The ability of local producers, manufacturers or small-scale craftsmen to achieve a realistic price for what they make is indispensable to progress. With our well known propensity for buying food as cheaply as possible and allowing the real cost of that policy to be borne by the general taxation budget when we are struck by foot and mouth or some other affliction, we are only too ready—I am as guilty as anyone—to go round the supermarket and, if we spot a cheap jar of coffee, buy it, even though that deprives people whose coffee crop is their only means of sustaining a proper living.

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Prepared 13 March 2001