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6.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I welcome the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) to the Dispatch Box. I understand that he is taking a lead from the Government, who believe that Whips should be able to speak from the Front Bench, a view that has been subject to criticism. However, it is good to see at last bipartisan support for an erosion of the principle for which I might coin the phrase "the silence of the Whips".

The hon. Gentleman provoked me to make just one party political point, but I promise to make no more during my speech. He referred to the Conservatives' commitment to the 0.7 per cent. target; when the Conservative Government were elected in 1979, they inherited a figure of 0.55 per cent, but when they left office in 1997, they bequeathed to us a figure of 0.26 per cent. We must do better.

Dr. Lewis: The Minister should bear it in mind that figures given as percentages often have a lot do with the state of the economy rather than the amounts donated—[Interruption.]

Hilary Benn: I shall try again, but the House has indicated with its response that it is not persuaded by that argument.

Mr. Robathan rose

Hilary Benn: Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me a moment?

We have had another excellent debate. Like almost every contributor, I, too, hope that it can become an annual event. If we have done nothing else today, we have at least honoured the prayer of the Speaker's Chaplain, who every day in the Chamber asks us all to keep in mind our responsibility

Never in human history has it been more important that we should do so. I do not risk contradiction if I say that hon. Members on both sides of the House have all contributed something of value to our deliberations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) talked about the fair trade breakfast to which he invited my predecessor. If he made me an offer now, my stomach would command me to accept.

Clare Short: It is bacon and eggs.

Hilary Benn: As a vegetarian, I would not eat the bacon, but I would have the egg.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) described the Government as the usual suspects, which is rather unfair. However, there are more of the usual suspects attending and taking part in international development debates because more Members recognise

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the importance of the subject. The hon. Gentleman kindly mentioned the international Commission on Intellectual Property Rights set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I also draw his attention to the committee chaired by my right hon. Friend which works with pharmaceutical companies and tries to address the question of access to medicines. I for one would certainly welcome a debate on GATS; crying wolf on GATS—I am referring more generally to people's comments—does not assist informed discussion.

A number of Members referred to the CDC. I do not propose to rehearse our recent debate in Westminster Hall, but I shall make a plea for some perspective on the CDC, which still holds 80 per cent. of its agricultural portfolio. In 1999 to 2000, it made £100 million worth of new investments in agribusiness. To listen to some Members this evening, one would think that it had stopped making such investments altogether. It remains a unique investment institution. As I said in our Westminster Hall debate, I defy any Member to name another worldwide investment institution 70 per cent. of whose new investments have to benefit poorer countries, and 50 per cent. of whose investments are made in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The CDC fulfilled, indeed exceeded, both those targets in the year that has just ended.

On agriculture more generally, let us not forget that world food production has doubled in the past 40 years. Rural livelihoods remain extremely important to DFID. The CDC is not the sum total of the work that we do to support agriculture. The work of our rural livelihoods department is central. In terms of population growth, hon. Members will know that the biggest growth in the next generation in developing countries will be in the number of people living in towns and cities. Almost all the population growth will occur in that respect.

On the world summit for sustainable development, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) referred to water and sanitation. What we need now in relation to the world summit is practical outcomes. After the success of Doha and financing for development, we need to get beyond some of the jargon and deal with the practicalities. Issues on which we could make practical progress include illegal logging, in terms of which the link between forestry and livelihood is important, and improved water and sanitation, which is important not least because installing a water pump in a village is a very good way of enabling girls to go to school as it means that they will not have to spend a large part of the day fetching and carrying water—a burden that falls especially to girls. I was astonished to discover that in the past 10 years, more children have died of diarrhoeal diseases in the world than all the people who have died in conflicts worldwide since the end of the second world war. That statistic, if no other, shows the importance of making progress. It probably explains why Mahatma Gandhi said:

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) took us on a tour of Africa, which I greatly enjoyed. He asked some very sharp and pertinent questions about governance. I shall respond to his further letter about Nigeria. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) described the personal motivation that had brought him into politics—a motivation that is central to what has brought so many hon. Members into the debate.

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The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) asked a very important question about India, in relation to the visit that she has just made. She asked how we spread the reform that we can see in some states, and which DFID is supporting, to all the states. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) made the very important point that some countries need to do a lot more to tackle HIV/AIDS. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) spoke with passion about EU aid. I welcome the Select Committee report—another excellent report that is keeping the pressure up. We all share the view that we need to do better.

I can tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that in her opening contribution, as ever, she provided us with vision not only in the sense of inspiration, but in terms of urging us all the time to look ahead at the development challenge that is yet to come. If there is one quality in particular that I admire about her, it is her ability to make every opportunity in this House a chance to engage in a seminar about why international development matters and the steps that we need to take to enable progress to occur.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) rightly said that we must not be complacent. I do not think that there has been any complacency in this debate. One of the features of DFID is the presence in the dialogue between Ministers and civil servants of a constant questioning in which we ask, "Have we got this right? Do we need to do more? Do we need to reflect and change our policy?"

If we can make this debate an annual state of the world debate, we will have an opportunity to return to the arguments that have been advanced today and see who was right and what progress has been made. What strikes me most forcibly about all the contributions is the extent to which the theme of interdependence has glued them all together. What we now choose to call globalisation is in truth a process that has been going on for hundreds of years, although it has been gathering pace in the past century. It is, after all, nothing more than human beings' astonishing capacity to interact with the physical resources of the earth to create technologies that have transformed the existence of some of the people who live on the planet and which have the capacity to do the same for many others if we get this challenge right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) made a plea, which I echo, for a more informed debate about globalisation. All the questions that it raises—its impact on the poor, its effect on people's sense of culture and identity, the pace of change and the feeling in some quarters that we can no longer influence events—lead to confusion in some areas. That is best exemplified in a banner that may be apocryphal, but was seen in a demonstration. Emblazoned on it were the following words: "Worldwide Coalition Against Globalisation." There is much to reflect on in those words. My hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), in his outstanding contribution, talked about a conversation at a snooker table. That exemplified perfectly the fact that these matters are not quite as simple as some people choose to present them on certain occasions.

The biggest danger we face is that cynicism, despair and hopelessness should overcome what we need to do. The most important thing is to reinforce our optimism, based on a sense of realism about the progress that we

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have been able to make, and this debate has provided us with the opportunity to do that. That is why the UN human development report published last summer was able to state that

That matters, but we need to redouble our efforts, for all the reasons to which hon. Members have referred. The question is—how?

Aid matters, because it makes a difference. It helps children to get into primary school, for example. The quantity of aid also matters, and the Government's record on that speaks for itself. The way in which aid is given matters, in terms of untying debt relief. I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) that Burkina Faso was the first HIPC country recently to receive additional relief to compensate for lower commodity prices, and representatives at the spring meetings agreed to review debt sustainability under HIPC at their next meeting in the autumn.

The quality of aid and of governance matter, not least because we have to show our electorate—when we are having the argument about aid—why it is worth putting these resources in. Also, we understand much better now that the governance and legal system of a country, the commitment of its Government to poverty reduction, the effectiveness of its civil service and its civil society, and the health of its democracy all have as great a contribution to make to creating the conditions in which poverty eradication can occur as all the aid that we are likely to give.

The local ownership of the process also matters. We cannot go in as the ex-colonial power and knock on the door, saying, "Hello, we've come to develop your country." There has to be a partnership. The question that the hon. Member for Meriden asked about how to match good donors with good recipients goes to the heart of the honest dialogue that we are trying to build in our relationship with the countries with which we work.

References have been made to trade and to economic development. It was the same process of economic development that enabled this country to move from where we were 300 years ago—with very poor life expectancy, lots of children unable to go to school, and people in very poor health—to where we are today, for all the arguments about the state of our public services. The countries that have not yet had that opportunity wish only to do what we have done, because they know what progress that development will be able to deliver.

My final comments relate to the point I made earlier about confidence, and the need to counter cynicism and despair. They relate, in essence, to the way in which our democracy works, and to what I said about the feeling that we lack influence. The reasons why we need to counter that cynicism and despair were put forward most forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York

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(Hugh Bayley) when he referred to the French election result, which is very much in our minds. We can never drop our guard against an ideology that seeks to deny our interdependence and to despise what makes us different. We reject that ideology because we have to embrace that difference. We have no choice, but we do so willingly because we recognise our common humanity.

This is an argument that we have to win in people's minds. I am reminded of the wonderful words of the UNESCO declaration:

That is the challenge. When people say to politicians that politics never make a difference, I say that that is not true. We can find no better illustration of that than the Government's achievements on international development. This is politics working, and there is no greater cause that politics can serve in the years to come than trying to rid the world of poverty.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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