|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) on a fine and moving speech, which I enjoyed very much. I shall send a copy to those of my constituents who oppose me and criticise me for caring more about the third world than I do about them. My usual response is that I care as much about the third world as I do about them.
It is difficult to tackle the report when we have had only 24 hours to look at it. I admit that I have not read it from cover to cover, but I have dipped in and out trying to find facts and figures. To lighten the mood a little, I shall comment on two pictures. The picture of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development sitting cross-legged on the floor of a hut in Indonesia is particularly fetching. We have all done such things, but he looked very endearing indeed. On page 64, there is an extremely intriguing picture which should go into the Christmas caption competition. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are in Ghana apparently discussing the merits of polystyrene chips; I cannot work out what they are looking atit is certainly not cocoa pods.
Dr. Tonge: I thank the Secretary of State. I have not been to Ghana yet; I am going next week or the week after to investigate the water industry. However, I thought that explaining what the Secretary of State was up to in the picture would make a wonderful caption competition. I wish that the civil servants who produced the report had included an index, although I accept that that would be a huge undertaking.
I sometimes get tired, and people say that I am suffering from compassion fatigue. A lot of them ask me why I bother, particularly old cynics in the medical profession and elsewhere. Billions of pounds have been ploughed into Africa over the past 20 or 30 years; hon. Members only have to look at page 89 of the report and those extremely depressing graphs to see that every measurable indicator of progress is going down; nothing is improving, as the Secretary of State confirmed.
Is aid a waste of money? We respond superbly when providing humanitarian aid; DFID is probably one of the best organisations in the world for rapid reaction, getting things moving and getting things done. Some of my friends and colleagues, however, ask whether we are not just throwing aid at people who will take a bit longer to die; we save their lives temporarily, but perhaps they will die later from AIDS, malaria, diarrhoea or starvation.
My response to people who ask those questions is "How can we not do something?" Travelling to third-world countries, it is difficult to ignore the suffering. Archbishop Tutu said that just because people are used to children dying like flies from diarrhoea, malnutrition, malaria and so on does not mean that they care any less; mothers do not love their children less because they are likely to die soon. Morally, therefore, we must do something but, as the Secretary of State said, and as we have all said many times, we must do something because it is in our interest. Failed states breed terrorists and send asylum seekers and immigrants to our shores. All the problems of the third world and poverty-stricken countries ultimately affect us. There is therefore not just a moral argument but a practical one for doing something.
Sometimes, people in international development think that they will concentrate on a particular country for a week, only for a natural disaster to occur. Responding to those disasters is DFID's job and, as I said, it does it superbly. Civil wars, such as those in the Balkans and Afghanistan, create problems, and DFID is expected to clear up the mess. I resent that. I have frequently said in the House that funding such action should come not out of the budget reserved for the poorest people in the world, but out of some other budget. Before we take military action, we should consider who will do the clearing-up and who will fund the reconstruction; the Department has had to look at that, too.
Palestine has received millions of pounds of much-appreciated development aid from the European Union, which put in an awful lot of time, effort and resources. However, that was destroyed in two or three weeks by Israeli military action, probably by weapons that we sold to Israel, which is an enormous paradox. I cannot find the right word, but it is appalling that we sometimes do not think through the results of our actions.
This morning, the World Food Programme put out a plea for aid to tackle problems created by bad governance in Malawi and Zimbabwe in southern Africa, which everyone saw coming. All sorts of reasons have been given about why we could not do anything, such as the fact that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state. All the aid that went into those countries has been wasted; there is a huge crisis and a looming famine. It is a crazy situation, and I sometimes wonder whether we are going in the wrong direction. However, I must stop depressing myself completely and make a few specific points.
Clare Short: The hon. Lady should remember that Uganda has consistently grown its economy, has achieved a measurable reduction in poverty and has got all its children in school. Mozambique, which is recovering from the same awful problems as Angola, is doing enormously well. Tanzania has turned around; it is growing its economy and getting more and more children into school. There are successful African models, which we must generalise across the continent. It is not all
Dr. Tonge: I thank the Secretary of State for cheering me up. Nothing in the world would stop me from delivering aid, but I want better and more honest ways of doing so. We should not stop examining what we are doing or questioning how we are doing it, however good DFID is and however many plaudits it receives. We must not be complacent, but must continue to search for different ways of developing underdeveloped countries.
I have been reading the OECD Development Assistance Committee report that looked at UK overseas aid last October, and I want to release one round of unfriendly fire in this debate. The committee considered our progress towards spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national product on overseas aida worthy target, to which I hope we all adhere. The Chancellor announced that the ODA budget would increase to 0.33 per cent. of national income in 200304. That is excellent; it is to his great credit that he is moving towards the target. He also announced that Britain, along with the United States and Canada, has promised to cancel 100 per cent. of debt for the first 20 countries in the HIPCheavily indebted poor countriesscheme. Again, that is to his great credit. It is absolutely wonderful and he has received many plaudits. The position of Mother Teresa has already been bagged, but I suggest that he is fast becoming a sort of Albert Schweitzer of the Treasury, who is concerned about the things that we care about.
That is wonderful stuff, but the money to finance that debt relief through the HIPC scheme is apparently coming out of the ODA budget. Does that not mean that two announcements have been made about the same money and that the debt relief is not extra, but is coming out of the overall budget, which has been increased slightly? Debt relief should be not a substitute for aid, but additional to the aid budget.
According to DFID's annual report, the estimated cost in 200102 of the HIPC 100 per cent. policy of debt relief will be £8.5 million. That sounds like peanuts, but as the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said, only 26 of the 42 countries eligible for the HIPC scheme have qualified, and only four have reached completion and had a proportion of their debt written off, so we are only at the beginning of the process.
Therefore, despite the Chancellor's announcement of the cancellation of 100 per cent. debt for the first 20 countries in the scheme, hardly any of the debt has yet been cancelled. As eligible countries qualify for the scheme, the cost of the 100 per cent. policy will grow, but it appears that it will be set against DFID's accounts and that the increase in aid that the Chancellor announced may be eaten up by the growing cost of debt relief. In that case, there is an even stronger argument for the proportion of national income that is spent on ODA to approach the 0.7 per cent. UN target at a much faster rate. Otherwise, I suspect that we will not be getting what we thought we were getting.
I hope that the Under-SecretaryI assume that he will make the winding-up speechwill tell us what the true level of overseas aid will be minus the debt relief sums, if they are to be included. I have tabled questions to the Treasury on the subject and it has sent me the usual