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5.32 pm

Mr. Leigh: With the leave of the House, may I briefly thank, on behalf of the members of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the Financial Secretary, who has shown his characteristic skill and humour, for summing up this debate? I apologise to the Financial Secretary for the fact that he has not been invited to our away day. I will certainly issue an invitation if he can promise to turn from gamekeeper to poacher for a day.

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I am reminded of a recent conversation that I had with an NAO official. I was double checking that none of the illustrative questions prepared for Members are ever given to permanent secretaries or their staff. Of course, the members of the Committee are independent; they ask their own questions. The NAO official, who used to work for the Treasury, told me with great glee that the Clerk of the Committee once made a mistake and sent the illustrative questions to the Financial Secretary, and that they were then promptly distributed all around Whitehall. Although the Financial Secretary is a member of the Committee, we have an interesting relationship with him. We have a very good dialogue.

I do not think that any hon. Member has thanked those who are currently sitting in the place to which no reference must be made. They always attend PAC meetings. Sometimes, after perhaps an hour or two when they have not had to say anything, a Member will fix an eagle eye on them and ask a question, and they immediately come up with a good response.

I thank the Financial Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury—the Opposition spokesman—and the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who feels so strongly about the NHS, and the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies), who dealt so expertly with the PFI, the NHS and the railways.

I thank my two new colleagues—my hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) and for Tatton (Mr. Osborne)—who have been so keen and determined to get to the nitty-gritty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said, they have led the way in the charge against arbitrary targets. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk is, of course, a management consultant, so he is ideally placed in this Committee.

I also thank those hon. Members who have not spoken today—my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who listened carefully to the debate, and the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), who attended the earlier part of the debate. I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams)—he really is a friend. His work is a tremendous tribute to the House. He has given a generation of service to what is not a bipartisan but tripartisan Committee, as shown by the welcome presence of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) in the debate. Without the work of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West, the Committee would not work in the way that it does.

I read a report in a national newspaper that is usually sceptical—indeed, downright rude—about Parliament. It said that the Committee was one part of Parliament that was deeply impressive. I hope that, in the time that I am the Committee's Chairman, I can maintain that fine tradition.

Question put and agreed to.


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Fair Trade Chocolate

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger]

5.35 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): May I say how pleased I am to have secured this dabate and to be able to talk about my involvement with Fairtrade chocolate and cocoa, which began by chance. I had gone for a break at lunchtime in Victoria street and went to The Body Shop to purchase a few cosmetics. However, I succumbed to the temptation of what I believe is called an impulse buy. Next to the cash machine was a cleverly sited row of chocolate bars and, as I am a self-confessed chocoholic, my hand strayed towards them. I added one to my purchases.

It did not take long to investigate the contents of the bar. It was so good that I was prompted to investigate the wrapper and I then discovered that Divine chocolate was a Fairtrade product which is supported by Christian Aid and Comic Relief as well as The Body Shop and the Department for International Development. It is the product of The Day Chocolate Company, which is based in the United Kingdom and is part-owned by a co-operative of Ghanaian cocoa growers.

Later that day, while having a cup of tea—Fairtrade, of course—with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey), I asked her whether she had come across fairly traded chocolate. She knew it well, having helped to launch it in her constituency. In fact, there are "Divine cities" that co-operate with The Day Chocolate Company to market the product the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, but I am not sure whether Bristol is one. As we left a cafeteria in the House, we put a comment in its book. "We have Fairtrade tea and coffee. What about Fairtrade chocolate? Divine chocolate is yummy!" Shortly after, a note appeared to say that the brand was "being investigated" and, in February 2001, Divine chocolate arrived next to the cash tills in the House of Commons. An early-day motion on the Order Paper welcomed its advent and quickly attracted signatures from many hon. Members.

Fairtrade has a good and growing track record across a range of products sourced from countries across the world. The fair trade movement is well under way in the United Kingdom and there are currently more than 90 Fairtrade Mark products. They range from bananas to tea and chocolate. In fact, a recent survey suggests that the majority of people would prefer to buy Fairtrade Mark products.

Backed up by the Fairtrade Foundation, the Fairtrade Mark is an independent guarantee of terms and conditions. They include a guarantee of a secure price above market price for the raw material, an extra social premium, long-term trading contracts, decent health and safety conditions and a commitment to support community programmes aimed at empowering farmers to increase their abilities to be self-sufficient.

On a visit to Ghana this summer, I learned the story of Kuapa Kokoo, the farmers' co-operative that produces the cocoa used in Divine chocolate, and how it has taken the concept of fair trade a step further. Kuapa Kokoo is linked to The Day Chocolate Company in the UK and owns one third of the company's shares. This unique arrangement means that the producers are able to play an active role in

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decisions about how Divine is produced and sold as well as to share in the profits. Consequently, cocoa growers will receive more than the fair trade premium and very soon, when the company reaches the profit stage, the profit from the end product will start to flow back to Kuapa Kokoo and its farmers.

Cocoa is at the heart of Ghana's economy and everything has developed on the back of it—its roads, hospitals and schools. In the late 1970s, the price of cocoa plummeted by two thirds. Droughts and fires in the early 1980s caused further damage and the economy was devastated. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund intervened and advised that liberalisation of the cocoa market would be necessary to rescue the economy. Kuapa Kokoo was a response to the Ghanaian Government's policy to liberalise the internal market in 1992 in response to the advice of the World Bank and the IMF.

Farmers, led by the late Nana Frimpong Abebrese, and with help from the British non-governmental organisation, Twin, were behind the move. Abebrese was the farmers representative on the executive board of the directors of the Ghanaian cocoa marketing board. He was concerned about what would happen to the cocoa farmers after liberalisation of the cocoa market, fearing greatly the entry of the private market. He saw the need for the farmers to have their own organisation to participate in cocoa trading and set out to establish that with the help of Twin, which provided the finance for Kuapa's establishment, as well as technical support and contact with the fair trade partners in Europe.

By trading their own cocoa, the farmers are able to manage the selling process more efficiently than the Government agents, and thus receive more of the profits. Kuapa Kokoo prides itself on transparency and democracy and sets itself high standards in its business practices. It uses accurate weighing scales that can be understood by the farmers and all the decisions affecting farmers are made by elected representatives. Kuapa Kokoo trains farmers to weigh and bag their own cocoa, which not only contributes to the end result of the farmers receiving more per sack than they would from other buying agencies, but provides them with useful skills. In addition, at the end of each year farmers receive a cash bonus per sack from profits.

My visit took me on a four-hour journey from Accra to Kumasi, a large town in the Ashanti gold-mining region of Ghana, where Kuapa Kokoo's headquarters are based. Kuapa Kokoo is a thriving co-operative that is composed of five main units: the Kuapa Kokoo farmers union; Kuapa Kokoo Ltd., which is a farmer-owned private licensed cocoa buying company; Kuapa Kokoo farmers trust, which receives and disburses moneys from the fair trade premiums and other funds meant for farmers; and the Kuapa Kokoo credit union, which was established in 2000 to promote savings and enhance development. When I visited last year, the credit union already had 8,000 members. Hon. Members who have credit unions in their constituencies will know that that is a considerable achievement in such a short period of time. The fifth main unit is The Day Chocolate Company, which was set up in 1998. It arranges the manufacture and marketing of Divine and Dubble chocolate bars in supermarkets across Europe.

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Kuapa Kokoo's strength comes from the participation of more than 35,000 ordinary small-scale farmers at village level. There are 750 villages in the co-operative. My encounter with one such village, Fernaso Domeabra, which in the Twi language translates as "If you love me, you will come to me", was an inspiration. Thanks to the Kuapa Kokoo fair trade connection, the village has a water project. The women and children no longer have to travel miles to collect water, which took up the best part of the day and left little time for education or for diversifying productive activity.

The village is one of several societies in the union in which women have developed an additional income- generating activity, in this case extracting palm oil, which helps to keep them going in the six months of the year outside the cocoa harvesting season. It also gives the farmers an income to supplement what they receive from fair trade and diversification, although they receive only about $50 a year. It is breathtaking to consider that the children's school fees are paid from such low incomes.

At an hour-long meeting with the co-op, the members' questions to me were very pointed. Why did the international buyers dictate the price of cocoa? What could I do to help with another water project? Some farmers from a village that does not have a water project had travelled four miles to meet me. They talked about the need for better health, and their solution, a health clinic, needed my support. When I later visited the farm of one of the women cocoa growers, I could see that snake and scorpion bites and cuts from large knives could cause death if not attended to fairly quickly. I could clearly see why a clinic was a top priority, along with a palm fruit-crushing machine, for which a plea was made by the women's leader.

I should explain that palm fruits grow in a cluster, and each tiny fruit has to be taken and crushed with a stone before it can be mashed to produce oil, so it is no wonder that the women wanted a machine to do it for them. That is a daunting shopping list, but one that they now have the capacity to tackle for themselves, thanks to the vision of the four people who worked to found their co-operative, Kuapa Kokoo. Almost half the people whom I met that day must have been under the age of 12. Within their lifetime their aspirations can be achieved in a sustainable way, and by their own efforts and those of their elders.

As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I spoke to the village elders about the Rochdale pioneers, founders of the UK retail co-operative movement over 150 years ago. I told the story of how the mill workers had started with a small initiative of setting up their own shop to avoid exploitation by the mill owners, who had started to adulterate with chalk the flour that they were selling in their shops to the workers. The mill workers' initiative was greatly expanded within the lifetime of their children from its small beginnings in Toad lane. Among their achievements is what is now the Plymouth and South-West co-operative society, of which I and several hundred thousand people are members. The society drew on the advice of a Rochdale pioneer who took the trouble to visit the 10 men in Plymouth who founded it some 150 years ago.

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I am not sure that the people of Kuapa Kokoo believed me, but I believe that the seeds of co-operation which they have planted can produce similar dividends. The most effective thing that anyone can do to help them in their quest to improve their quality of life is to make sure that The Day Chocolate Company thrives. The people will then get not only a fair trade premium for the raw cocoa, but a share in the profit of manufacturing the end product. From little cocoa beans, bigger harvests may ripen.

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