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Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): In earlier times, we might have considered some of the tasks the Secretary of State has described to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. Does she see any future role for the CDC, or can we now write it off as a private sector bank?
We are talking about big, long-term investment, however. The CDC is trying to move more in the direction of equities. The objective is to strengthen, for instance, share-management capacity in developing countries, but to use the £1 billion of public sector investment to attract private sector money to countries that do not currently receive it, and show the private sector that a reasonable return can be obtained.
There has been some misleading writing, particularly in The Economistnot my favourite publicationsuggesting that some of the restructuring is moving away from the poorest. The argument goes like this: in the poorest countries it is possible to obtain only a low rate of return, so the CDC should stay in old-fashioned agricultural investments with a very low rate of return, or it will turn against the poor. If that is trueand I do not believe that it isit leads to despair. It means that the poorest countries will never be able to attract private sector investment providing the return that the private sector needs. I am thinking of pension funds and so on.
Often, agricultural investments with a fairly low rate of return are sold on to local people; they do not cease to exist. The CDC, however, is trying to become involved in more added value and equity to show that the private sector can go to the poorer countries. I assure the hon. Lady that we are still determined to use that instrument to secure more investment in poor developing countries: that is the purpose of the exercise, and there will be no diversion from it. Hon. Members must not believe everything that they read in The Economist.
Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as well as being the best Parliamentary Private Secretary in the House, is also Chair of the Catering Committee. He has ensured that many fair trade products are available here, and that has been supported by hon. Members on both sides. I am sure that we are all proud of that chocolate and want to consume more of it, even though we have to watch our waistlines.
In the course of discussion of the Bill in Parliament and elsewhere, several proposals have been made for emphasising particular sectors or issues, such as a commitment to children, empowering women, or ensuring good governance. We have resisted all those pressures and will continue to do so. That does not mean that we reject the importance of the issues. Far from it; we agree that children are not only vulnerable but the key to future development, and that we must ensure that this generation of poor children has the opportunity of education and health care denied to its parents in order to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. We recognise that, as Kofi Annan put it, poverty has a woman's face. Some 70 per cent. of the world's poor are womenand poor children often come from female-headed householdsand securing girls' literacy is one of the most effective ways to combat poverty. We also agree that failings of governance, as I said earlier, are one of the major causes of poverty and wasted resources.
We still believe, however, that any attempt to entrench specific reference to the importance of those issues in legislation would weaken the capacity of my Department and impair our adaptability and flexibility. The flexibility of our current arrangements makes my Department one of the most effective and respected development organisations in the world, and the country is entitled to be proud of the Department. That was underlined just last month by the OECD's development assistance committee's peer review of our programme. The needs and performance of countries and regions vary, and we must be able to deploy our resources where they can best meet those needs and complement what other development partners are doing. Using legislation to tie down proportions of our budget, however well intentioned, would impair our flexibility and effectiveness. USAID has had that problem, because Congress has decreed that so much should be spent on this, so much on that and so much on something else. It is done with good intentions, but it leads to a lack of flexibility with every organisation having to ensure that its budget meets those proportions.
During the Bill's passage through the other place, some very misleading claims were made about the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the IPPF. In case that confusion extends to this House, I should make it clear that UNFPA is the largest UN provider of sexual and reproductive health assistance to developing countries. It works in poor countries across the globe. The fund provides support to enable millions of women in developing countries to go through pregnancy and childbirth more safelymaternal mortality still causes enormous loss of women's lives, which throws families
The IPPF also provides much-needed family planning and sexual and reproductive health services through its family planning associations in many poor countries across the world. The reality is that without those associations, many women would have no choice in matters of their own sexual and reproductive health.
Both organisations do fine work that we support, and we should all honour what they do. However, despite the valuable and essential work of the organisations, there are those who would prefer that they did not exist, or that the Government did not support their work. Those critics' favoured route for attacking both organisations is to make false allegations about their programmes in China. The critics accuse UNFPA and the IPPF, and by extension the British Governmentit is a cross-party accusation, because it was made when the Conservatives were in power, tooof supporting coercive family planning practices. Let me reassure the House, yet again, that those allegations are without foundation. Obviously, coercive fertility control is practised in China. We condemn such practices unequivocally. But those are the reasons why the work of UNFPA and the IPPF in China is so important. UNFPA's programme in China is designed to demonstrate that people can be provided with modern services and make their own choices about family size without coercion. That is the point.
The reality is that the work of UNFPA and the IPPF has led to real advances. A service in which women and men are provided with information and choice in their sexual and reproductive care is now being developed in 860 counties, which is about one third of the total number of counties in China. In 1995, only five counties were piloting that approach. Birth quotas have been dropped in all the counties where UNFPA is working. It is unlikely that those changes would have happened without the influence and work of UNFPA and it is vital that we continue to support its important work.
In conclusion, I remind the House that 6 billion people share this planet, of whom one in five are still living in extreme poverty with shortened lives, poor nourishment, lack of education and health care, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Some 10 million children die each year from malnourishment and preventable illness. Some 500,000 women die during childbirth for lack of simple medical interventions. Some 800 million people cannot read or write and 113 million children do not have access to primary education. That is the biggest moral challenge facing the world and that level of poverty and division endangers the future security of all our countries.
The Government have been working to focus the international community on a commitment to greater equity and justice across the world. We have made gains. We are on track to help 1 billion people make their way out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015, but that is not enough. World population growth by 2020 to 2030 will leave another 1 billion or more in poverty. On present rates of progress, we will not have all children in school, or access to health care for all people, by 2015. Much