Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.30 pm

Glenda Jackson: If the hon. Gentleman cares to check in tomorrow's edition of Hansard, he will find that I referred to Conservative Governments and their endless period in power. The period to which I referred was from 1979 to 1997, during which, if memory serves me rightly, this country slipped from being third in the international league of overseas aid donors to eighth or ninth in a list of 10.

Tony Cunningham: I want to explain what the figures are, so that we can all understand. I have them before me. When Labour came into Government in 1974, ODA as a percentage of GDP was 0.36 per cent.; when we left in 1979 it had risen to 0.51 per cent. When the Conservatives left office in 1997 it had gone down to 0.26 per cent., the lowest point that it had been at in 30 years.

Glenda Jackson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving those figures, which are irrefutable.

Let me return to the central thrust of the new clause. The hon. Member for Castle Point seemed to argue in a time warp in terms not only of the Labour Government's approach to international aid and its disbursement but of the extraordinary work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and, it must be said, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There has been a transformation in the world's approach to how aid should be disbursed, to whom it should be given and the purposes for which it should be given.

I do not wish to make a party political point out of this, because Labour Governments were guilty of it as undoubtedly were Conservative Governments, but in the past, aid was often linked to the economic needs of the donor country. We all know stories about tractors given to African countries being found, two years later, rusting at the side of the road because nobody had thought to fund those nations to pay for the spare parts that they needed. Nobody had considered that such countries could not afford the fuel for such vehicles. Virtually every hon. Member in the Chamber would have a story about that type of unproductive aid.

However, the world has moved on. The hon. Member for Castle Point constantly repeated that his taxpayers did not wish to see their money going to Governments whose human rights record was lamentable. Nobody wants to see that, and that is not where the money that this country gives the developing world goes. All donor nations have acknowledged that the root cause that must be tackled, if the developing world is truly to develop in a sustainable way, is poverty. Poverty expresses itself in ways that are simple to see. It means that far too many children die of preventable diseases; far too many people have absolutely no access to clean water; millions of people lack the most rudimentary basic health treatments; and massive numbers of people can only hope to be able at some point to give their children an education.

That is where the hon. Gentleman is way out of time—as I said, he is in a time warp. We all acknowledge that the best delivery of aid is via non-governmental organisations directly to people on the ground. That ensures that,

23 Jan 2002 : Column 923

in giving aid to third world countries, we help to take those millions of people out of poverty in a way that is direct, recognisable, easy to monitor and moderate.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The hon. Lady said that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) was in a time warp. In my hon. Friend's defence, he was talking about how future legislation should be shaped. Much of her argument was predicated on the calculation of aid as a percentage of gross domestic product. Is not the percentage of GDP spent on aid a misleading measure if the size of the economy is not taken into account at the same time? When the economy is strong, the percentage of GDP may fall in absolute terms but there may be a cash increase in aid. To talk in percentage terms can be misleading, but that is what her argument is predicated on. I am sure she will accept that my hon. Friend was referring to legislation about the future.

Glenda Jackson: If the hon. Lady's description of what her hon. Friend's new clause is about is aid in the future, it is rather bizarre, because that would be a gross waste of taxpayers' money. Perhaps she has not learned the lessons of the past, when aid from Government to Government significantly failed to transform the lives of the people who needed it most. Heaven forfend that a Conservative Government should ever come back into power. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that if that were to happen, aid would go from Government to Government? That would be absurd.

I am perfectly prepared to accept what the hon. Lady said about the percentages changing from year to year, but I am not prepared to accept that the diminution in aid during the Conservative Governments' regime was anything other than shameful for this country. Her argument seems to be predicated on the assumption that there will always be a need for the developed world to fund desperately poor countries. Surely we have learned that aid should enable the people of poor countries to equip themselves so that they can develop their own countries in a sustainable way. That is why the Department for International Development is giving primacy to the eradication of poverty, and to ensuring that children are educated, that there is basic health care, and that children have clean water to drink. I pay tribute to the Department for that.

Mrs. Spelman: It is good to have an exchange of views on this point. If the hon. Lady applies the word "shameful" to a diminution in the percentage of GDP spent on aid during the last Conservative Administration, would she apply the same description to the decline in the percentage of GDP on aid during the early period of the Labour Administration?

Glenda Jackson: No, I most certainly would not. [Interruption.] Hon. Members had better wait. The Labour Government made it abundantly clear when they first came to office that they were attempting to deal with this country's problems, which the Conservative Government had created—[Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Castle Point to laugh. If I remember rightly, he was laughing on the other side of his face when he lost his seat because the Conservative Government had failed to convince the people that they

23 Jan 2002 : Column 924

could govern. People had clear evidence of the economic incompetence that had placed this country in the economic position that the Labour Government found when we first came to power in 1997.

Jim Knight: The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) raised an interesting point when she said that the percentage will vary slightly if the economy is performing well. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) will agree with me that we should look at the trend. Under the Labour Government, the percentage has risen. The percentage in the United States, which the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) referred to, has consistently been appallingly low considering the wealth of that country.

Glenda Jackson: My hon. Friend reiterates a valuable point that has already been made. However, there is something more important in the points that the hon. Member for Meriden elucidated in her interventions. There is a perception—I do not accuse the hon. Lady of this—that the developed world's responsibility towards the developing or undeveloped world is based exclusively on the percentage of gross domestic product a country feels it is capable of handing out around the world or tossing into the various receptacles that are held out. That is not my perception of the responsibility shown by the developed world.

The developed world should do a great deal more. DFID has led the way in many areas, and I give credit to those who believe that the money given is never going to be enough and that there must be a sharing of knowledge, ideas and techniques. I suppose that a brilliant accountant could tell us what that would represent in pounds, shillings and pence or dollars, but the idea that the Government have been at the forefront of developing has to do with valuing human beings. That is infinitely more powerful than a Government's commitment—although I like that commitment—to meeting United Nations targets.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the hon. Lady recognise that the issue of percentages was raised by her hon. Friends in their interventions on my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink)? It is easy to see how the Government could increase their percentage. All they have to do is to continue to wreck the economy, and as our GDP declines, the percentage will go up and more and more people will realise how wise the voters of Castle Point were when, after four years of a disastrous Labour Government, they brought back my hon. Friend.

Madam Deputy Speaker: As interesting as these points about percentages are, we should get back to the main point of new clause 1.

Glenda Jackson: I have to say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that if that was his attempt to cover up or half-heartedly apologise for the Conservative Government's shame, he should have stayed sitting on the green Benches. It was as lamentable an intervention as the Conservative Government's policies during their terms of office on the aid that this country should have been giving to assist the development of the third world.

23 Jan 2002 : Column 925

I come to the nub of my opposition to the hon. Gentleman's new clause. As my hon. Friends have said, if the percentage of GDP is the overriding decider of the disbursement of aid—whatever the definition of aid, and I have defined it as more than merely financial—that punishes the very people whom we should be most actively engaged in supporting. There has been a shift in the disbursement of aid. If that is the overriding policy, it negates the possibility of assisting the people who are suffering gross infringements of basic human rights to stand on their own feet and get rid of their Governments, not necessarily by violent means.

One of the reasons why there is so much conflict in the world and why there are endless factions in Africa and the terrible stand-off in Colombia at the moment is that people have not been encouraged to free themselves of the view that they are perennially and eternally victims, because the basic tools have never been put into their hands. The basic tools are health, education and sufficient food to move out of the daily prison of ensuring that they have a life the day after.

I remember going to Ethiopia in 1985. The worst of the second great famine was over, but to me it was absolutely fascinating how much time, energy and creativity people spent gaining enough in one day to ensure that they could live the second day. That was true for every member of a family. As soon as children were able to stand unaided, they had a job to do. When they became a little more capable, they would be given more demanding jobs. Babies might have to do no more than collect grass to feed animals; bigger children might have to herd animals, and once they could handle sharp implements they might cut the grass. The whole family worked all day simply to ensure that, perhaps, they could live throughout the next day. There was not even a perception of being able to live until the end of the week.

That constitutes a gross waste of human energy and human creativity, in a country in which, despite the appalling nature of what the people had suffered, social structures remained firm. There were no riots. People were not murdering each other, or stealing. It was an amazing privilege to visit that country. If the new clause is passed, however, the hon. Member for Castle Point will condemn generations to the same circumstances, in which survival is all.

Next Section

IndexHome Page