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Millennium Development Goals

3. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): What steps she is taking to build international consensus around the mechanisms and resources needed for the achievement of the millennium development goals. [46042]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We have worked hard since 1997 to get the international system focused on the systematic reduction of poverty. We now have unprecedented international consensus throughout the United Nations system, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the regional development banks and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is focused on meeting our agreed targets of halving world poverty and improving education and health care for all. On present trends, we shall achieve the halving of world poverty target. That means a billion people lifting themselves out of poverty between 1995 and 2015. However, on present

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trends, Africa is set to become poorer. We are determined to do better, and we are working throughout the international system to that end.

Roger Casale: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the joint statement issued last month by a group of British and Italian Members of Parliament in preparation for the next G8 summit and in support of the work that she and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer are undertaking to double the international resources available for development world wide? Does she agree that it is now time for parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, Church groups and other groups in civil society to double and redouble our efforts to build international consensus on development issues, so that we sustain and extend the international action that will be necessary to make globalisation work for the world's poor?

Clare Short: I agree with my hon. Friend. The greatest threat to future safety, stability and sustainability in the world is poverty. One in five of humanity are living in absolute poverty. Half of the whole of humanity lives on less than the equivalent of $2 a day income in the United States. We know how to make progress. With greater effort, we could speed up that progress. We need much more consensus in our political systems to the effect that that is a priority and not something for the charity box while mainstream politics is taking place.

We had a great gain at the UN Monterrey conference—an extra $12 billion a year from 2006 towards international development assistance. If we effectively targeted the $50 billion a year that we have now on the poor and on backing reformers, its value would increase by 50 per cent. We are making progress but we could do a lot more. It is a great priority on which I am strongly focused.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Will the right hon. Lady join the Opposition in welcoming the generosity of the United States of America in increasing its aid budget by $5 billion? Will she commit herself to putting continued pressure on her European counterparts to do the same?

Clare Short: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, who does try, does not seem to listen to the whole story. The US is the meanest donor by far among the OECD countries. In the run-up to the UN conference on financing for development, the European Union committed itself to an extra $20 billion by 2006 and an extra $7 billion a year thereafter. That had some leverage on President Bush.

In the preparations for the meeting, the US had said that aid is useless and capitalism is the answer. I notice a change in the atmospherics from the other side of the House—perhaps Opposition Members are waiting for later. Because President Bush had committed to President Fox of Mexico to go to the conference, and given the international atmosphere and the EU performance, he then committed to finding $5 billion a year extra from 2006. That is important, as it represents a reversal of the decline.

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I hope that it will be the precursor of more, so that the US pays its share of the international development effort, as I am sure it should.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what percentage of the Export Credits Guarantee Department's budget is spent on the export of arms?

Clare Short: I am sorry—I do not have the precise answer in front of me. The percentage is quite high. Speaking from memory, I think that it is approaching a third. I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Secretary of State said that the African countries are getting poorer. One understands some of the problems, but is it not time there was an international consensus to tackle them more effectively than hitherto? The right hon. Lady speaks of some countries grandstanding; we already have an insight into the ways of the United States. Can she name the other countries that grandstand instead of coming to the aid of the underdeveloped countries?

Clare Short: May I correct the hon. Gentleman? I did not say that the United States grandstands; on aid, the US has not bothered to compete. However, there has been a change, and the US is at least joining and trying to make a commitment to increasing its aid. That is welcome. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the prospects for Africa are very serious. At current rates of population growth and economic growth, the continent is set to become steadily poorer, yet 50 per cent. of its population is already abjectly poor.

One of the things that we must do to change the prospects of the continent is resolve some of the conflicts. We are living at a time when the conflicts in Sudan, Congo and Angola are all moving towards a resolution. If those three massively resource-rich countries could be brought to peace, it would transform the prospects of the continent. We have reformers on the continent: Uganda, Mozambique, Ghana and others are achieving the sort of economic growth and improved performance in health care and education that the whole continent needs. We must use the new partnership for African development to achieve that across the continent.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Given my right hon. Friend's strong commitment to the poorest African nations, does she agree that in order to reach the millennium development goals, the issue of debt must be tackled more deeply and more widely, even beyond the HIPC agreement? Will she and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor pursue that view in Washington at the important spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund next week?

Clare Short: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Twenty-six of the 40-odd heavily indebted poor countries have qualified for debt relief. That has leveraged major reform, better economic performance and better public services focused on the poor. However, because world commodity prices are still declining—coffee, cocoa and so on—and oil prices have been rising, many of those countries have not exited from their debt problem, as their earnings from exports have declined. Many of them need

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extra help. Many of the other countries that have not yet qualified—Sudan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo among them—must be helped towards peace so that they can qualify for their debt relief, but we need more generosity because of the change in world commodity prices.

Export Credits Guarantee Department

4. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): What discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the encouragement of sustainable development in developing countries by the Export Credits Guarantee Department. [46043]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): My Department worked closely with the Department of Trade and Industry during the 2000 review of the ECGD. We supported the development of the ECGD's new set of business principles which make clear its commitment to sustainable development.

Mr. Thomas: Does the Secretary of State agree that, if the ECGD can really take on board sustainable development, there is a huge opportunity for it to work with her Department in achieving real development in developing countries, such as the strategy set out for sustainable energy in the World Wide Fund for Nature's international paper? In particular, will she use her good offices to press the DTI to bring forward the ECGD strategy paper on sustainable development?

Clare Short: I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman, not just with regard to the ECGD but on international trade and business. The old ways of selfish, corrupt business that did not benefit poor countries and often got them into debt should be put behind us. They need trade and exports and loans so that they can invest in clean water, sanitation and proper energy sources, which will enable them to grow sustainably and improve the lives of their people. I hope that the reforms that are being put in place in the ECGD will make it a leading-edge player, showing that responsible, ethical business can be good for people who are employed in our own country and can promote development for the poorest people. A change is taking place and we need to ensure that it is taken forward.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): When export credit guarantees go wrong, they eventually turn into debt and then to debt relief when they become part of this country's overseas development assistance; so will my right hon. Friend ensure in her discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry that when export credits are first issued to developing countries, the development consequences, including for the poor people in those countries, are considered in case they turn into debt and then into aid?

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is fundamentally right. Much of the debt that has been written off for all the heavily indebted poor countries—I think that it is about 50 per cent. across the world—involves our ECGD or equivalent departments in other countries, and that shows bad lending in the past, often with lots of corruption on both sides of the equation. As well as writing off debt to

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give countries a chance to go forward with proper economic reform and a better future, we must tighten up on our own export credits and the worldwide use of export credits. That effort is on, but it is difficult. There is a lot of resistance and any help that the House of Commons can give will be gratefully received.

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