Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I share the hon. Lady's amazement given recent debates in the Chamber about the amount of money that was put into Railtrack as a percentage of GDP and the Conservative party's claims about how well it did compared with the Labour party. Does she agree that although the outstanding commitment dates back to about 1974, it was last reiterated at the Rio conference in 1992 when the Conservatives were in government? What was good enough for that Conservative Government is surely good enough for the Conservative Front Bench now.

Dr. Tonge: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. Tonight, we have witnessed, if not the earth moving, certainly a huge shift in Conservative policy on the delivery of aid and, indeed, their concept of raising taxes, which seems to be changing.

23 Jan 2002 : Column 967

I shall conclude, briefly, with the United States of America. If any country is guilty of not giving a proper proportion of its income, sadly it is the USA. The country currently contributes 0.1 per cent of its income, and is grizzling about it.

Mr. Hawkins: The point that the hon. Lady has just made demonstrates her shaky grasp of elementary mathematics and statistics. One cannot measure things simply by percentages because the United States of America, the greatest free democracy in the world, gives a vast amount in cash terms. Saying that that is 0.1 per cent. is a silly argument.

Dr. Tonge: I shall not respond to that ludicrous intervention. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand the concept of progressive taxation—I think that that is what it is called—or percentages, which I learned about in primary school, as I am sure many hon. Members did.

In recent months, the Americans have shown a lack of concern for the rest of the world. They have withdrawn from the Kyoto agreement, have not signed up to the land mines treaty or the International Criminal Court, and are withdrawing from the anti-ballistic missile treaty. We understand that they are unhappy about the target of 0.7 per cent. which has been set by the United Nations. In the two months in which they prosecuted the bombing of Afghanistan, they spent about a quarter of their annual aid budget. It appears to me—I hope that I am wrong—that the USA does not give a pretzel for the poor of this planet.

Mrs. Spelman: Since the record will be read tomorrow, may I make a factual point? Is the hon. Lady aware that the United States was the largest donor of aid to Afghanistan prior to 11 September?

Dr. Tonge: Yes, I was, but that contribution does not prove anything; we go back to the argument about each giving according to his means. The Americans are not giving in proportion to their country's income; through their policies, they give the appearance—that is how it seems to my constituents and me—of not pulling their weight.

We must put all the fine words that we have heard in recent months into action. For the sake of future generations, we must address the poverty gap world wide and give every child the chance of education and a better life, not just those children who are lucky enough to be born in the west. If we do not do so as a matter of urgency, we shall condemn our children and grandchildren to many more wars, terrorist activity and poverty.

8.33 pm

Roger Casale: The Bill is excellent and will come to be seen as a landmark Bill, underpinning the new approach to the delivery of aid and development assistance; it may not be necessary to sing its praises, but we must certainly embrace it at the start of the 21st century. It is not idle to speculate that the ambition of eradicating poverty will come to have the same symbolic and practical significance in this century as the drive to eradicate slavery did in the 19th century, and the

23 Jan 2002 : Column 968

drive to eradicate disease did in the last century. We must always remember that the great battles of the past are never won for good; even today, there are worrying signs of the re-emergence of slavery in certain parts of the world. Many murderous diseases that plagued the developing world in the early and mid-20th century are returning as well.

Each generation sets its sights on a new international agenda. Each tries to set its sights higher. The Bill represents the determination of our generation to act decisively and effectively to eradicate poverty. I believe that that aspiration will form the foundation of our development efforts for many generations to come. It is an aspiration that has grown not only out of the world of politics, although politics will be very important in advancing the cause. The determination to eradicate poverty is an expression of a deeply felt desire for a greater measure of social justice throughout the world. I believe that that desire is felt by the vast majority of decent, thinking people in our country.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of Sir John Vereker, who, rather like William Wilberforce in the 19th century, decided to live in Wimbledon when he had work to do in London and at Westminster, although he has been there for a little longer than Wilberforce decided to stay. We should also pay tribute to the work of church and other faith groups, non-governmental organisations and the growing body of academic work on international development, which has helped to establish the paramount nature of the principle of eradicating poverty, not least through the work of the international philosopher and holder of the Nobel prize for economics, Amartya Sen.

The Bill will put the United Kingdom in a leading position in relation to international development issues. We will have a much stronger voice in the world on how we need to respond internationally to globalisation and on how globalisation should be made to work for the world's poor.

Of course, there is still a great deal of work to be done on refining and making more exact the definition of sustainable development. Although an important feature of the Bill is the fact that we are breaking the link between aid and trade—there will no longer be tied aid in that sense—many of us would like to tie across other Departments the concept of sustainable development as we find it in the Bill and in the work of the Department. It could then be a leitmotiv that would help to give substance to our aspiration of ensuring a co-ordinated approach across Departments to trade and development issues, while never losing sight of the importance of tackling social justice as a means of securing stability and peace in areas of conflict around the world.

One thing has become much clearer as a result of the passage of the Bill: the central importance of a multilateral approach. I hope that, with the confidence that the Bill provides, the Government will continue to build on their work and strengthen our efforts to transform international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

All of us can take pride in the introduction of the Bill and the new direction that it will give to our efforts to eradicate poverty around the world. I commend the further passage of the Bill to the House.

23 Jan 2002 : Column 969

8.38 pm

Tony Baldry: One of the very few benefits of the last general election was that it meant that the Bill had to be brought before the House for a second time. That provided the opportunity for a number of further speeches, commitments and contributions to be made on international development, which, in the usual course of parliamentary business, is an area of policy that is all too rarely debated on the Floor of the House.

We all agree that we need a clear poverty focus in international development. The statistics on those who live in poverty are sometimes so large that they are almost impossible to comprehend and the numbers of people involved are almost unimaginable. The United Nations says that 600 million children—almost one in four of the world's children—now live in absolute poverty. Nearly 200 million children under five weigh less than they should, and more than 130 million children of primary school age are not in school. It is difficult to grasp such statistics.

The wider picture is similarly bleak, with 1.2 billion people living on one US dollar a day. The same number of people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion have inadequate access to sanitation.

Recent events have provided an opportunity. I do not want to make partisan points because those of us who are concerned about international development must try to explain to and impress upon many others that unless we bear down on poverty in the world, many other problems will not be overcome. To reduce poverty, we need clear objectives that everyone can easily understand. I shall therefore bang on for a few minutes about the need to try to meet the 0.7 per cent. target.

I shall read Hansard carefully tomorrow because I was not entirely sure what my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) was saying. Of course, I understand the arguments about cash and that if we have an economy that is growing in cash terms, the aid budget can increase. To be fair, I took such lines at the Dispatch Box when I was a junior Minister in the Foreign Office. I was not convinced by them then and I am not convinced now. However, their great weakness is that they constitute a political shorthand that hon. Members understand but does not grab our constituents and make them more willing and determined to support international development.

There is a danger that our constituents perceive international development in only two ways. First, when a major disaster occurs, such as events in Afghanistan and the recent volcanic eruption, they understand the need for humanitarian relief. Secondly, they hear about international development when stories appear about corruption in development aid budgets. We must try to grab people's attention and engage them so that they understand the need for a sustained campaign to ensure that the whole world gives more to development aid.

If developing countries fail to reach the 2015 targets, it is largely because developed countries do not give enough. That is not a criticism of the UK, which recently increased its aid budget. We are now the third largest donor according to the Development Assistance Committee statistics. We were fourth. However, with an aid budget of 0.33 per cent. of GDP, we have some way to go.

23 Jan 2002 : Column 970

The Select Committee visited the institutions of the European Union yesterday. We learned that the Community had had to raid almost every cupboard, nook and cranny to pay for the commitments to Afghanistan that were made in Tokyo. If a similar crisis occurs, the cupboard is bare. If Somalia, Sudan or any other countries that are in difficulty need significant help and support, the money is not available from one of the wealthiest multilateral organisations in the world. We must therefore make a commitment to meet the 0.7 per cent. target.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have recently made speeches about international development. The Prime Minister has spoken about Africa, and he made a speech in India at the new year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke at the Federal Reserve Bank. Hon. Members will have read most if not all those speeches. They are all welcome speeches that seek to establish a new partnership in Africa. In fairness, however, they will be but words if they are not matched by an increase in the financial commitment to international development. Those of us who are concerned about international development need to make as much noise as we can, in this Chamber and elsewhere, to ensure that the needs of the developing world are not forgotten when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and others take into account the various pressures that they have to consider, and divvy up resources.

We now have an ideal opportunity to persuade colleagues and friends in other wealthy countries that they can afford to make a greater contribution to development aid. I shall read with care in Hansard tomorrow what my hon. Friends have said about the United States. Yes, the United States gives a considerable amount of development aid, in total cash terms. That is not surprising; it is a huge economy, and the wealthiest nation in the world. It is also, however, a fairly parsimonious provider, giving only 0.1 per cent. Now is the time for us collectively to engage with colleagues and friends in Congress, and to persuade them that this is an ideal opportunity for the wealthier nations of the world to engage with developing nations and substantially to increase their funding for international development assistance.

I am not sure what phrase one could find, other than "failing states", to describe certain countries. I appreciate that it is not a reflection on the individuals in those countries, who often have to deal with the consequences of daily grinding poverty. Indeed, huge numbers of people do that with a nobility of spirit that humbles many of us. However, the fact is that in far too many parts of the world, civil society has almost entirely collapsed. It was interesting to ask leading members of the European institutions to name countries in Africa, for example, that could be held up as illustrations of success. There are all too few success stories in Africa at the moment, and all too many tragedies. Many of us have almost completely lost track of the tragedies occurring in countries such as Somalia and Sudan, because they are so horrific, they seem to have been going on for so long, and they are just so grim.

Recent events have provided us with the opportunity not only to put international development far higher up the international agenda but to say to those who elect us, our fellow citizens, that it is in all our interests that we should invest more in the developing world. We all deal with political shorthand. The target of 0.7 per cent. that was set some 30 years ago is a piece of political shorthand

23 Jan 2002 : Column 971

that we can all understand. It is not the most elegant figure—0.7 per cent.—but it must be possible for hon. Members to find consensus on a line to take on when we could hope, collectively, to meet that target.


Next Section

IndexHome Page