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Norman Lamb: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Baldry: No, I want to want to finish this point.

I am not expecting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he can meet the target in the next spending round, but I would have thought that we could establish consensus that we should aim to meet the target of 0.7 per cent. by a particular date. I hope that we are in agreement that our development policies need to be poverty focused. Well, we have willed the policy. Can we not now, between us, collectively will the means to ensure that it can be achieved?

8.49 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas: The second book in the "Dark Materials" trilogy which has just won Philip Pullman the Whitbread prize is "The Subtle Knife", and we have just seen the subtle knife exercised by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on the arguments of his own Front-Bench colleagues. I hope that his subtle admonition was effective.

I rise to give the Bill my strong support and that of my colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party. I am pleased that the Bill is proceeding through its stages in the House. As hon. Members have said, all parties have supported the Bill, worked to improve it and have tabled amendments to tease out arguments from the Government. On the whole, that has been a beneficial process, twice over.

I am a little disappointed by the only flaw that I see in the Bill, which is that it does not contain a better definition of sustainable development. During its first passage through the House, I moved an amendment to use the Brundtland definition. At that time, the Government said that there are too many definitions, it is hard to keep track of them all and each one has its failings as well as its advantages, so we should stick with what we have got.

Labour Members and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) have talked about the importance of sustainable development as a tool for reducing poverty. However, I am still concerned that we do not have a fuller definition of sustainable development. There is talk of the goal of sustainable development being rolled out to all Departments, and I am worried that we will have too many different definitions working in too many different ways.

I predict that sustainable development will be included in future Bills, not only those on international development but those relating to work within the United Kingdom. I predict that several different definitions will be used, and we will have to return to the matter in a few years and draft a composite definition for the Government to use. Apart from that the Bill is excellent and it will provide a framework for the Secretary of State and her Ministers to achieve poverty reduction targets.

I agree with the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) that amendments tabled by Conservative Members had one particular failing. They were good amendments in the sense that they addressed

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issues of the day. Those are issues that should be addressed and on which the Executive should be challenged. However, they should not be included in the Bill because it sets up a framework for robust work towards poverty reduction over 10 or 15 years. Lumbering ourselves with issues specifically to do with Burma, Zimbabwe or anywhere else would have proved somewhat restrictive.

It is the task of all hon. Members, particularly those on the Opposition Benches, to hold the Government to account. They have said that they will achieve poverty reduction through sustainable development, that the Bill will get rid of tied aid and that they will work towards good governance. It is our job to hold the Government to account on the aims that they have set themselves in debates on the Bill.

We must now move on to the next stage of international development, which, as the hon. Member for Banbury said, is to achieve cross-party consensus on reaching a contribution target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP. I was hoping that we would achieve that consensus, although there may be a question mark hanging over those on the Conservative Front Bench. Certainly when I questioned the Secretary of State at the last International Development Question Time, she seemed to be open to the idea that there should be a timetable and that it is no longer good enough to have an open-ended commitment to an international treaty obligation that we have never fulfilled.

Of course, I accept the argument that richer countries pay more even if they pay a smaller proportion of their GDP. One of the countries that I am aware has reached its target of 0.7 per cent. is Luxembourg, and I am sure that it gives less than we do in our 0.33 per cent. of GDP. Nevertheless, the people of Luxembourg understand that they, as part of the rich west, are sharing a proportion of their wealth with developing countries. We have to aspire to be like Luxembourg. It is an interesting task for us to aspire to be like the smallest country in the European Union. I hope, in good time, that Wales will join Luxembourg as one of the smaller members of the EU. We must move forward to fulfil that obligation and reach that target. That is the only blot on the Government's copy book in this regard and they have done excellent work on debt reduction, which is another issue altogether.

The Bill represents the first genuine assessment of international development aid for about 20 years and it may provide a robust framework that lasts another 20, although I hope that the fact that this is our second attempt to legislate does not mean that it must last 40.

I leave the Minister with this thought: the proposal on annual reports was rejected, but we have a better framework for international development aid debates and that should enable us to achieve a better understanding of the progress that the Government are making towards the international poverty reduction targets.

Let there be instituted in the House of Commons an annual debate so that we can hold the Government to account, feed in our ideas and study practice elsewhere. As much as possible, we must work on the basis of cross-party consensus.

8.55 pm

Hugh Bayley: In order to be brief, I shall not repeat any arguments made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the figure of 0.7 per cent. I simply

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say that Labour Members share his view that it would be helpful to have a timetable against which to measure the Government's aspiration to reach the target. They are moving in the right direction, but we need more clarity as to the time scale. That view was expressed by the Select Committee, of which I am a member, and we eagerly await the Secretary of State's response. We wish her good luck in her discussions with other Ministers, who obviously need to be consulted about the matter.

It is music to my ears to hear such a clear cross-party consensus on the importance of a poverty focus in aid. Of course, that consensus did not always exist. When I introduced a Bill to amend the Conservatives' Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 and put a poverty focus in our aid programme for the first time, I did not receive the wholehearted support of all Members.

It was the father of my hon. Friend the Minister who said that when new proposals are made they are usually ignored—they were in my case—and then derided. However, if the proposals are good, the mood changes over time. Eventually, everybody says they agreed all along and that they are a good idea.

I simply say "well done" to the Secretary of State, her Department and her Government colleagues. It is terrific that the legislation is before the House and I hope that it reaches the statute book shortly. Of course, legislation is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. It will provide a clearer focus on the need for our Government to support global efforts to work to, and reach, the vital anti-poverty international development targets by 2015.

I wish the Government good luck in their endeavours to ensure that those crucial goals are attained and good luck in their negotiations with our allies and friends in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union. They, too, must make substantial contributions if the targets are to be met.

8.58 pm

Norman Lamb: Like other Members, I begin by making clear my strong support for the Bill. As a new Member of the House, I was delighted to debate it while serving on my first Standing Committee. Its objectives are laudable and it rightly has at its heart the concept of poverty reduction and the need for sustainable development. However, I must direct my brief comments to three areas in which, if we are not careful, its objectives could be undermined. I very much hope that they will not be, but we must be alert to such matters.

First, I want to deal with the adequacy of the total spend. I absolutely endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). He made a somewhat diplomatic criticism of his Front Benchers and stressed the need to focus on the 0.7 per cent. target, which was set by the United Nations Assembly back in 1970. It was that we would achieve a 0.7 per cent. of GNP rate of spend on aid by the middle of that decade. International progress since then has been lamentable, and in this country the percentage—I agree that we must focus on the percentage—of GNP that the Conservative Government spent on development assistance between 1979 and 1997 halved.

Since then, there has been an improvement, but even at the rate of improvement that we have seen, it would take us 30 to 40 years to achieve the 0.7 per cent. target.

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I would like the Minister to give some indication of the timescale that he envisages; I would suggest 10 years to achieve that target. I would also like to hear Conservative Front-Bench Members make a recommitment to the target because, listening to them tonight, I was concerned that they might have abandoned any drive towards a 0.7 per cent. target and that the total cash spend by a particular country was more important.

It seems self-evident that 0.7 per cent. for Luxembourg or the UK is less than 0.7 per cent. for the United States, which is the world's largest economy. We are talking about the same size slice of cake, irrespective of the size of the cake.

Thus the first issue is the adequacy of the spend. It is essential that the international community achieve a more equitable sharing out of the world's resources, not solely because it is a moral imperative but because it is in our collective interest to do so. The hon. Member for Banbury was again correct in saying that it is incumbent on us all to convince others that other objectives depend on our eradicating poverty. We live in a highly interdependent world, and we cannot have peace and security in our own land in a world full of trouble. We must build peace and security across the globe, and we cannot achieve that if extremists can prey on desperation caused by poverty.

The second issue that I wanted to deal with was that of consistency of Government policy. I refer in particular to the case of the Tanzanian air traffic control system. That country spent £28 million on a system which the World Bank says is redundant and inappropriate. The World Bank reckons that Tanzania could buy an appropriate system for about £7 million. Tanzania has eight military aircraft—

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