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8.30 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome the Bill, which will be a milestone in our changing approach to international development issues both in the United Kingdom and internationally. I also welcome the Bill's emphasis on the elimination of poverty, which from now on is to be the overarching strategic objective of all our development work, entrenched in statute, I hope, as an immutable goal.

No more will we have a situation in the United Kingdom, as we have unfortunately had under previous Administrations, in which overseas aid was given on the condition that it would be used to buy goods or even arms from this country. The Bill will ultimately help to boost our exports by making poorer countries richer, but not by offering the type of crass trade-offs between aid and trade that we have seen before. Instead, with trade liberalisation and the forgiveness of debt, aid will be one of the complementary instruments to liberate the potential of the world's poorest countries.

Despite my remarks about previous Administrations and past events, I welcome the cross-party support for the Bill. I know that the support that was voiced by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), is genuine and based on personal experience and support. I hope that that support will be sustained as we build on the foundation of this new Bill to expand our development work and development efforts.

I welcome too the Opposition parties' support for the Bill. We must all recognise that the elimination of global poverty has become not only a political project, but one of the great if not the greatest moral issues of our time. That point was driven home to me when, last year, I had the honour of leading a delegation of more than 20 Members of Parliament and peers to take part in a worldwide parliamentary assembly that was convened by the Vatican as part of the jubilee year celebrations in Rome. At the conference, I spoke of the lead that Britain is taking in promoting debt relief around the world, moving ahead of other nations to cancel debt owed to Britain by some of the world's poorest countries, and pushing the international community for faster, deeper and wider debt relief.

It is not only in the Christian faith that the moral imperative of eliminating debt is so emphatically stated. I think that there is a growing collaboration around the world between religious leaders of the great religious faiths, to make the elimination of poverty the central focus for the international community and for all international work, and to ensure that that objective of poverty reduction is placed at the top of the international agenda and stays at the top for years to come.

Underpinning that moral concern which is drawn from religious inspiration lies a strong and potentially universal conception of justice. We have an obligation to ensure that in moving to a world in which there is more economic growth and opportunity, we do not do so at the cost of the world's poor, or in a manner that leaves behind part of the world or prejudices and harms the interests of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

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Each generation re-dedicates its commitment to those goals of global social justice and human rights, and the Bill represents the aspirations of this generation as we seek to rededicate ourselves to those aims. Those aims and goals are widely understood and shared in Britain, where so many respected non-governmental organisations have over the years established themselves as world leaders in the field. They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children and ActionAid, to name only a few. So much is done in this country by individuals and by charitable and voluntary organisations to improve the human condition of people around the world.

It is in Britain's best interests to respond generously to international crises and disasters. Despite our imperial past, we have a long tradition of positive engagement to relieve poverty, save lives, and develop and sustain communities around the world. I am pleased that the NGOs that I mentioned, and others, were so closely involved in the drafting of the Bill.

It is 20 years since a major landmark Bill of this kind was passed here, and even that—as we have heard—was a consolidating measure bringing together existing provisions. I was heartened to hear the Secretary of State say that we have subsequently worked to narrow the gap between rich and poor, although I hope that the Minister will give further statistics to confirm that.

Great progress has certainly been made, especially in improving the world's health, but, as has been said, more than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty, of whom 70 per cent. are women; and 320 million children have no access to primary education. That is why it is so important for the world community to re-dedicate itself to the international development goals set for this generation, which include reducing by 50 per cent. the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

We now live in a world shaped by global economic activity and financial flows, from which no nation and no society can seek refuge. Well-intentioned as their concerns may be, the anti-globalisation protesters cannot themselves get outside the process of globalisation, and the same applies to the world's poor. Nor can we, in today's world, seek simply to compensate those threatened with poverty, living in poverty, or at risk of being left behind by the forces of globalisation.

Although $50 billion is now being spent on aid around the world, we shall never be able to establish a system of transfers that would compensate the poor for their condition or bring sustained relief. What we can do is refocus that aid, increase it, and put it to use through measures that will be effective in eliminating poverty, as the Bill seeks to do. We must learn to use the $50 billion as an investment, rather than just as money that we spend on the poor.

As well as committing public investment, we must open up the economies of the poorest countries to private capital and investment flows. We must work to invest in good governance and better public services in such countries—especially health and education—and in infrastructure to make them more attractive and more fit to receive the benefits of trade and investment flows rather than just aid.

That is behind the notion of sustainable development, which is being restated for the present generation in the Bill. It has been restated by the Secretary of State, who has spoken of lasting benefits for the population of the

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country or countries for which provision is made. Our aid must be an investment that will sustain the development of the world's poorest societies for many years to come.

If we succeed in refocusing our aid as investment in the world's poor, we should then work to increase that investment. Despite all our efforts—despite the Department's increased spending—this country is still some way from achieving the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product being spent on aid. I hope that the Secretary of State will use the success of the Bill to set out a clear timetable for the reaching of that target very soon, and I also hope that that will have cross-party support.

There is, I believe, an overwhelming political, moral and practical case for refocusing our development assistance on the elimination of poverty around the world, and that is what the Bill will achieve. It will help to ensure that aid is provided in a way that will sustain the development of the world's poorest societies. We shall come to see aid as an investment that, over time, will help to close the gap between rich and poor, and alleviate the terrible suffering that is still so much a part of the human condition. As I have said, every generation restates its case for making the world a better place.

In the 19th century, my constituency played host to William Wilberforce, who lived in Wimbledon while he was working in this place for the abolition of slavery. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her Department, under the leadership of Sir John Vereker, who is also my constituent, on the lead that this country is taking in raising the elimination of poverty to the top of the international agenda, and helping to reform not only the way in which UK aid works but the whole international approach to debt relief and aid. My right hon. Friend rightly has the support tonight of the whole House, and that of the vast majority of decent, caring people in Britain who want the Government to succeed in alleviating the plight of the world's poor and in entrenching the search for more global justice to make the world a better and safer place.

8.40 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I recall speaking on Second Reading of the earlier Bill and on its later stages. Many hon. Members complained then that we had not had enough debates about international development, but somehow that complaint has not been heard tonight. I wonder why. Given that we are having a second bite at the Bill and that we debated the heavily indebted poor countries initiative in Westminster Hall last week, hon. Members feel that they have had an opportunity to make their comments before.

I take this opportunity to make some points on the Bill on behalf not only of my party, Plaid Cymru, but of the Scottish National party. We have formed a parliamentary group so I speak for both parties tonight when I welcome the Bill very much.

Two issues connected with the Bill have arisen following the events of 11 September. The first arises from the fact that many people in Wales have asked since those terrible events what the National Assembly can do to help. Many people have asked me whether the Assembly can provide development aid itself, or whether Wales can raise money for the needs of Afghanistan. I looked into the matter, but I regret to say that we have not yet had the devolution of international development to the National Assembly.

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It is interesting, however, to reflect on clause 9, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), because it contains an element of devolution. There is a provision in the Bill for agencies such as health authorities—although we are abolishing those in Wales—health trusts or tourist boards, such as the Wales tourist board, to become involved in international aid, albeit in terms of agreements and not financially. In that context, I wonder whether it is possible to re-examine that issue, in the light of the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and whether the National Assembly could play a different and more practical role in helping its employees—for example—to become involved in international aid agreements. Certainly, one of the consequences of 11 September in Wales was a massive concern, led by the churches and supported by many others, to encourage aid from the Welsh people to go to the needy people in Afghanistan.

The second issue is the interesting concept, reflected by several hon. Members who have spoken tonight, that although we will get rid of tied aid through the Bill—now that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is content with it, so must I—some political influences on aid giving will remain. That is especially true of debt relief which may be tied to aid, and in that context what has been happening in the European Union is worrying. For example, the Minister and his colleagues will soon have to address the issue of the Ilisu dam. It has received a damning environmental assessment, but we still hear rumours that it could be given the go-ahead because of the need to keep Turkey in the international coalition in the fight against terrorism.

I am sure that it is important that we retain the support of Turkey, despite its history in countries such as Cyprus and Kurdistan, but it would be remiss of the Government to give approval for the construction of the Ilisu dam to ensure that Turkey stayed on board. The dam would destabilise the middle east and help create a humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan. It would exacerbate the water difficulties in the middle east and even perhaps lead to the possibility of water wars in the area. It would make the Pergau dam look like a puddle.

Labour Members have spoken a lot about the Pergau dam scandal. They should reflect on what the Ilisu dam could do for their Government. I am sure that they will pressure the Government to reject any export credit guarantees for that dam.

I come now to the meat of the Bill. We still have some concerns about its definition of sustainable development. I raised this matter on Report earlier this year, and Lord Judd mentioned it in another place. The problem is not so much that the Bill's definition is wrong but that it is not the definition most commonly used internationally.

I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the Brundtland definition, which states that sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That has been accepted as the standard international definition of sustainable development for many years. The sustainable development strategy of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions under the previous Government referred to the Brundtland definition as the international definition.

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The National Assembly of Wales is under a statutory duty for sustainable development, even though the Government of Wales Act 1998 contains no definition of sustainable development. The Assembly has also come across the Brundtland definition, and in its sustainable development strategy states that that definition is the one that is most appropriate and workable.

The Standing Committee considering the Bill will be able to explore the question of why the Government have chosen the definition of sustainable development that appears in the Bill over the Brundtland definition. It is important to emphasise that the Brundtland definition is not narrowly focused on the environment. Social and economic factors must be taken into account in any decisions that the Secretary of State might make on international aid in the context of sustainable development.

It would be a good sign if the Government were to adopt the Brundtland definition. It is the most appropriate and telling definition of sustainable development and would give the Secretary of State enough freedom to make her decisions in the light of both environmental factors and of the very important social and economic factors.

I tabled an amendment on Report to include the Brundtland definition in the Bill, and the then Minister responded that it was too narrowly focused. I do not accept that, and the matter is well worth exploration in Committee.

We must all bear it in mind that, after warfare, climate change is likely to have the greatest impact on developing countries. The Tyndall centre last year released a report on the countries most affected by climate change, where sustainable development would best be targeted. The report found that the country most likely to be affected by climate change was Afghanistan. The present drought there makes it clear why the report came to that conclusion.

I come now to the WTO, and I associate myself with the telling observations of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin). She said that Britain should address the question of trade liberalisation and explained how it could be used to eliminate world poverty, and how it is not being used in that way at present.

I do not doubt that the Government's motives on that matter are clean, and that the White Paper on eliminating world poverty makes it clear that the Government believe that trade liberalisation in international development.

However, I am a sceptic about the present WTO system; I believe that the WTO is dancing to the tune of corporate America. We have seen a recent example, with the pressure put by the US Government on the producers of the anti-anthrax drug, Cipro, to cut the price that the Americans had to pay to a quarter of what it should be. I contrast that with what happened with anti-HIV drugs in South Africa. Double standards are being applied, and we need to address that within the WTO as a matter of urgency.

If we look at the history of global trade, we see that the poorest 20 per cent. get 1.1 per cent. of world income, while the richest 20 per cent. get 86 per cent. Although global trade has increased 17-fold over the past 50 years, Latin America's share of it has decreased from 11 to 5 per cent., and Africa's share from 8 to 2 per cent.

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Although trade liberalisation could be said to be working in certain parts of the world—South Korea, for example, and the rest of east Asia—Africa, which all hon. Members tonight have accepted as one of the scars on the face of poverty, has not benefited from world trade. The WTO needs to realise that its current role in promoting economic growth by orienting economies towards boosting exports and attracting investment does not appear to be working for most developing countries, and certainly not for the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has lost 30 per cent. of its GDP over recent years, rather than gaining anything. Global trade liberalisation works in some places, but not for the world as a whole, and if the WTO is to do anything in Doha over the next few days, it must think about how it can reorient trade liberalisation for the benefit of the poorest countries, not just the richest countries.

Earlier today we heard a very positive statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in which there was mention—no, I shall be generous and say that there was more than mention—of such issues. However, I am not convinced that they will be properly discussed this weekend. As we have already heard, the draft statement published by the WTO has already been accepted by the secretariat as the final statement. It is a real issue if the secretariat, in consultation with a small number of countries, sets the agenda for the WTO without listening to the whole membership.

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