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6.43 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): One thing among many that impressed me about the speech of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is that I think that she demonstrated that eight months is indeed a long time in politics. When her predecessor sat down after his contribution to the debate at our last attempt at introducing the Bill, I said that he was extremely mean-minded. Nobody would dare say that about the hon. Member for Meriden. She has been generous and constructive, particularly with regard to the OECD convention, and I look forward to progress in that respect.

I welcome the Bill, as I did last time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put it before the House. It is about poverty reduction, which is pivotal to the aim of the United Kingdom development assistance programme. She touched on the huge challenges that exist. We see conflict, drought, famine, a growing population and the compelling issue of globalisation. I was pleased that that was addressed today not only at Prime Minister's Question Time, when my right hon. Friend made a plea for access to markets for developing countries, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she spoke about the forthcoming conference in Doha. We wish the conference well in its considerations and her well when she makes her contribution.

I believe that the House and the country alike will support as a matter of urgency the Government's determination not only to reduce poverty but to eradicate it—consistent with the title of the White Paper that my

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right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development produced towards the end of 2000. A Government who are determined to tackle social exclusion at home are all the more likely to fight poverty abroad and to be convincing as they approach that task. In my view, a Government who are set on reducing health inequalities for children in Coatbridge and Chryston are a Government who have the moral authority to improve the life chances of babies born in Karachi or Cambodia. I believe that that is central to the Bill.

In June 2001, after our last attempt to introduce the Bill, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published a report on refugee children in Africa. Its conclusions are chilling for the world's children. Poverty is at the heart of the problem. The report says:

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to the fore in seeking to challenge that picture.

UNICEF produced a report with children at the heart of its thinking. I draw it to the attention of the House because it is relevant to the Bill. The report, entitled "State of the World's Children 2002", outlines progress made during the 1990s towards goals set at the 1990 world summit for children. It says:

It says specifically that over the decade the absolute number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa actually increased. Between 1990 and 2000, the mortality rate for under-fives increased in 14 countries, nine of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Again in sub-Saharan Africa, only 47 per cent. of children are immunised against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. A woman in sub-Saharan Africa faces a one in 13 chance of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. Finally, the report said that AIDS

As we face that challenge, it is right that the reduction of poverty should be at the heart of our approach and that we should endorse measures to address what is happening in the developing world.

The hon. Member for Meriden referred to Afghanistan. We have—rightly—held several debates on that country and, no doubt, our focus on Afghanistan will continue. However, even prior to the events of 11 September—indeed, on 4 September—the UN produced a report, "The Deepening Crisis", which drew our attention to what was happening in Afghanistan and what was of concern to Afghans at that time: the war that had gone on for more than 20 years; the refugee problem; and the inability to ensure that food was delivered to those who needed it. Although the difficulty has increased immeasurably since 11 September, it would have been important none the less for us to address the problems of Afghanistan tonight.

One of the issues that has been raised in another place—I shall refer later to the discussions held there—is close to my heart, as many hon. Members know: disability. Baroness Wilkins drew attention to its importance during debates in the other place, and it is also important for us to consider what the issue means for us

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and what can be done. The World Bank estimated that about one fifth of the world's poorest people have disabilities. UNESCO studies tell us that only 1 to 2 per cent. of children with disabilities receive any education. With 300 million disabled people in developing countries—often hidden away—it is not surprising that Howard White, the author of the 1999 "Africa Poverty Status Report", concluded that disability was the hidden face of African poverty. He was right, and that point is also relevant in our debates on human rights.

The Bill encourages us to discuss humanitarian aid. There is agreement on both sides of the House that aid—like debt relief—has often helped the interests of the donor rather than those of the recipient. My right hon. Friend is anxious that her Bill should avoid that outcome.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was correct in his intervention: by increasing the focus on international development, Parliament has done that cause a great service. Furthermore, Parliament has enabled us, without being patronising, to invite other European Union nations, and those members of the international community who are able to participate, to emulate what we are trying to do. It is important to them in respect of world peace and in bringing about the kind of world in which we assume that they, too, want to live.

I welcome the provisions that allow the Secretary of State to give guarantees and acquire securities as well as to dispense grants and loans. I know that my right hon. Friend will continue constructively to question the EU—as she has done in the past—about how funding is made available, how it is spent and where the accountability that we all want comes into the picture.

I also welcome the Bill's emphasis on development education. We all know of, and have particularly recognised during these recent unfortunate weeks, the tremendous role played by the aid agencies: Oxfam, Care International, CAFOD—the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development—and in Scotland, SCIAF—the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. They, among others, are playing a vital role as non-governmental organisations are expected to do—and indeed do—to ensure that humanitarian aid is made available not to Governments for prestigious projects but to those who need it, thereby continuing that attack on poverty that we are all determined to pursue.

I congratulate the Overseas Development Institute for its focus on these matters, especially its emphasis on empowerment—a point mentioned by my right hon. Friend—including empowerment for women in the developing world as well as elsewhere.

My right hon. Friend clarified the issue of tied aid. I quote briefly from her intervention on my speech on Second Reading of the previous International Development Bill when she said:

We very much welcome the progress made on that in April.

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I congratulate the Government, especially my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development, on their remarkable contribution on world debt, which lies at the heart of so many problems. The reform of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative is welcome and it is right that we should continue to review it. My right hon. Friends have pushed for 100 per cent. bilateral write-offs with considerable success.

The goal that the Government have set for the reduction of world poverty—halving it by 2015—mean that dealing with debt is crucial. Solving that problem is of the utmost importance and we look forward to even greater achievements in the months and years to come.

Today and on other occasions, several right hon. and hon. Members have referred to previous debates on the Bill in another place. Lord Judd said that he wanted a more definite date for the achievement of the 0.7 per cent. of gross national product target. That is not in the Bill, nor would I have expected it to be, but perhaps the time has come to make a bit of a push on that—perhaps 10 years could be the target. There is something to be said for that and, in principle, I should welcome the setting of a definite target if the opportunity arose.

In the same debate, Lord Hughes, with his immense knowledge of South Africa, made the point that there should be stronger support for the South African Government's medicines control Act—a model of WTO-compliant but poverty-focused legislation—to increase access to medicines for the poorest people, providing a balance to a purely commercially driven policy. There is something in that. South Africa is offering us as many lessons on dealing with such matters as it did on the achievement of democracy. The country has a colossal influence on development policy in the third world, including the rest of Africa.

In the House of Lords debate, the strong view emerged that, to make certain that globalisation helps the poor and does not increase inequalities, Britain's development policies—especially on Africa—will sometimes have to take precedence over vested interests. I know that my right hon. Friend will push that view forcefully in whichever forums she is given the opportunity to speak. Some people are concerned about Angola. That problem must be addressed, notwithstanding the other problems in Africa.

The growing concern about the environment was reflected again today during questions on the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That is something on which the House should continue to focus.

I end with a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. I work closely with our friends the Kurds, and I wonder whether in view of the concern that 60,000 people will be affected by the Ilisu dam, he is in a position to give us some more information about it. That would help those of us who are worried about it.

I wish the Bill well. It is practical. It is inspiring. It offers hope to developing countries. That is welcome because disenchantment has prevailed far too often in the past.

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