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6.27 pm

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the debate. Like many hon. Members, I have been attending the lobby and listening to people. I agree wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) said about that. Those people turned up from every corner of the country, and each and every one of them deserves thanks for what they have done. That said, no one from my constituency came. Whether that is because they trust me to act on their behalf or because they think I am a lost cause is up to them to determine.

Two or three years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) came to my constituency, and we held an excellent meeting with local churches. It was attended not only by church members, but by young people from secondary schools, to whom this issue means a great deal. This afternoon, I spent a considerable time—perhaps more than they would have liked—talking to young students who wanted to do a question and answer session that they could take back to university with them. One of their questions was, "How much of an impact do you think all this will have?" As my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden said, everyone is saying the same thing, but—let's not kid ourselves—they are sceptical about how politicians respond. The students also wondered how much impact the lobby would have on the news. I had to say to them—and I hope I am wrong—that regrettably they will not get much coverage.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): My hon. Friend referred to the young people who lobbied many hon. Members this afternoon. Does he agree that, at a time when we are told that the young are disillusioned with politics, it is extraordinarily cheering that they care so deeply that they come from every part of the kingdom to speak to us? Does he also agree that we must repay that fervour and commitment, otherwise we shall never be worthy of their support or their engagement in politics?

Mr. Brown: I could not have put that better; I admire my hon. Friend's way with words. He is right that we need to repay that trust. Perhaps young people mistrust politicians rather than politics. However, they will not get news coverage. They tried to compare their actions today with the anti-globalisation demonstrations, but those got coverage because of the violence that occurred—anarchists were loose on the streets in different parts of the world—whereas today there was a structured and positive lobby, which bodes well.

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Poverty and sustainable development must be the highest priority in the changes to world trade rules. We must carefully consider plans to liberalise vital services. On the simple matter—if I dare call it that—of water, the difference that it can make to some of the poorest countries is beyond belief. We must be careful about the way in which we manage that vital commodity.

The Seville European Council this week and the G8 summit in Canada later this month present every nation with excellent opportunities to move the agenda forward. Our Government have promised to support fair trade rules, although, for some reason, others question our commitment to fair trade.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that in the 10 years since the Rio conference, the international community has not moved substantially? Does he accept that that is one of the reasons for the dissatisfaction among young people? Does he agree that it is important to take the opportunity at the next conference to do something constructive and positive?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right. Our actions must be positive, constructive and tangible. We must take action that people can clearly perceive as making a difference.

We want free and fair trade. We are committed to making globalisation work for the poorest countries. Hon. Members have said that rich nations' use of agricultural subsidies can harm the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries. Agricultural export subsidies must reduce rapidly, and dumping must end. As hon. Members know, at Doha, WTO members agreed to negotiate a new draft agreement on agriculture by March next year. The Government will work towards ensuring that it contains significant commitments.

It is not right to insulate developing countries from global trade because that would undoubtedly limit their opportunities of achieving economic growth. Improved market access is a key component of ensuring that the agreement at Doha is a true development round. It is imperative that WTO members demonstrate a genuine commitment to opening markets that are important to developing countries, not least in agriculture. The EU already grants duty-free access to the least-developed countries under the everything but arms initiative.

I am conscious of time and I simply want to end on the new global laws that may be needed to regulate the activities of international corporations. I believe that the Government support adopting a sensible combination of regulatory and voluntary approaches, which will harness the benefits of corporate social responsibility for all sections of society. We are leading efforts to legislate on this matter. For example, a recent amendment to pensions legislation requires trustees to disclose the extent to which they take ethical, social and environmental issues into account in their investment decisions. The OECD convention on bribery has also been incorporated into UK law.

However, to avoid stifling innovation, caution must be exercised when imposing binding rules. The Government encourage companies to follow voluntary corporate social

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responsibility strategies, which will allow them to respond flexibly to their circumstances and those of the country in which they invest. Such investment is needed.

We all need to begin to deliver not only for young people but for everyone who has taken the time and made the effort to come here today. If we begin to deliver more substantially, people will realise that politicians can assist in tackling a major world issue.

6.35 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): A rare event has taken place today—a debate that has been largely free of acrimony and a debate about ideas. I have been a Member of Parliament for more than 19 years, and I can say that views in both major parties have changed. I have no doubt that the way in which the Labour party has embraced the market constitutes a revolution, which I welcome. In 1983, some Conservative Members would have resented the fact that we were debating overseas aid, development and trade. I concede that changes have occurred on both sides.

People outside the House will wonder why we are arguing about whether to have a vote. It will seem a little like debating the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. The usual channels display an amour propre on such occasions: it is our half-day debate and we have tabled a motion. We will, of course, support our motion. The Government's actions remain to be seen. Whatever happens, people will recognise that the debate has been remarkable.

I was impressed by the way in which the Secretary of State abandoned her speech and spoke from the heart. It did not surprise me, but it impressed me and I liked some of the new phrases that she used. For example, she said that we should all globalise our minds and she spoke about the "globaphobes" who attack the consensus. She has provided some new ideas. She is right that we cannot be for or against globalisation; it is a fact of life and we must determine the way in which we manage it.

I was grateful for the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and his deep knowledge of the subject. He spoke about the painstaking work of reforming the CAP and the Doha process, which will occupy us for at least two years. He also made a strong point when he said that we must support the reformers in the developing countries and that for every monster, there is someone who is trying to reform and bring a country into the international community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) was right that no one has a monopoly on compassion and to stress the importance of the growing lack of accountability in some non- governmental organisations. He also emphasised the need to promote accountability and transparency throughout development thinking.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) knows more than most of us about this subject. I was struck by his comments on the need to make it clear that liberalisation benefits developing countries as much as us.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) spoke about the hypocrisy of the developed world and the shameful attitude of our European Union in not accepting our responsibilities.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) drew on his personal experience in Sudan, a country that I feel strongly is one of the great forgotten conflicts and disasters of Africa. He also drew attention to the plight of the people of Zimbabwe who are starving while their own army loots diamonds elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for South–East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) spoke from great practical experience about the need to examine the issue of food safety, and to take on board the issues of animal welfare and of what is fair for British farmers as well as those in developing countries.

I was struck by the common sense of the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons), who spoke of the breath of fresh air that today's debate represents, and of how hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have had to face up to the problem of distrust of politicians. The hon. Gentleman said that today's events must not be a one-day wonder, and that we must respect the wishes of the thousands of people from across the country who expect us to do our duty in the coming years, and to live up to the words that we have spoken.

We have listened to some serious speeches in the House today, but we have also listened to and witnessed the mass lobby of Parliament that has taken place outside. The thousands of people who have come to London, including those from my own constituency and diocese of Salisbury, represent countless other citizens of all ages who mind very deeply about the state of the world and the plight of so many of its people.

I share their anger that 800 million people do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. In a shrinking world of high technology and expanding opportunities, it is just not credible to ordinary people in the rich countries of the developed world that we cannot break the cycle of poverty, sickness and death from starvation that we witness every day. Most of us agree that we have a moral duty to seek ways of managing these humanitarian crises better. We may sometimes disagree on how to do that, although there has been precious little disagreement in this debate.

Those who control the levers of economic and foreign policy—the Governments of the world and the international institutions—are staffed by professional advisers with laudable motives. But to the hungry world, it looks as if there are too many international arrangements, too many bodies with overlapping mandates, and too many duplicated responsibilities—not only in respect of food security but in the whole international apparatus for supporting human needs and development.

That issue is underlined by the partners in the Trade Justice Movement. That remarkable coalition of organisations has organised today's lobby, and we must listen to it. All the organisations have grass-roots, everyday, personal experience of the poverty, sickness and death that are a reality for hundreds of millions of people. Those people are not prosperous, not educated, not secure and not safe. They are certainly not rich enough, nor relaxed enough, to watch the World cup on television and go to the pub to celebrate.

We have listened to the messages of each of those 43 organisations—I think it is 43; the number has been going up in the last week or two—that make up the Trade Justice Movement. Last weekend, I visited every one of

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their websites. It was a moving and enriching experience. Websites not only allow us to get the message direct, without the need for any press or media; they also reduce the spin. What we get is direct and unvarnished. The internet is a valuable and powerful tool, and we should harness that power, because power is what it is all about. The Trade Justice Movement is about empowering the worst-off in the world. The best-off must realise that it is in everyone's interest to move more quickly than we have done, to alleviate poverty and to combat hunger and starvation among the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.

Way back in 1996, under the Conservative Government, we agreed at the world food summit that it was intolerable that 800 million people did not have enough food to meet their basic needs. The world community concluded then that this was caused by poverty, conflict, and a lack of water, drains, roads and health care. We agreed to work to halve that number by 2015. It seems now that there is precious little prospect of achieving that goal. What has gone wrong?

International trade has been the great driver of prosperity for 50 years, rising at double the rate of growth of the world economy. International investment is the force pushing forward global investment. Freer trade and foreign investment have enabled parts of south-east Asia to move from developing to developed status in a generation. Poor countries are generally more dependent on trade than rich countries; they receive eight times more each year from trade than they receive in aid. The UN conference on trade and development estimates that, by 2005, developing countries could earn $700 billion more each year from exports if tariff barriers were reduced.

There is no simple way of promoting global economic development. We need to understand why investment flows to some developing countries and not to others. We must identify comparative advantage, create conditions for sustaining investment flows, and condemn corruption, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said. We must also build markets and support democratic political frameworks that lead to stability and prosperity.

We agree with the Trade Justice Movement that current international trade rules hold back development in poor countries. Those countries cannot compete in the global market while the European Union and the United States subsidise our exports and impose tariffs on our imports. The market is distorted and reform is imperative.

We hope, however, that the partners in the Trade Justice Movement will also listen to some of the gentle messages that we are offering them about accountability and openness. I believe that they are wrong to condemn the general agreement on trade in services. In many countries, water and sewerage infrastructure is sadly a low national spending priority. If private companies can provide or manage a service, where public infrastructure has collapsed or none exists, and if they are willing to invest—perhaps sharing the risk with the Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is currently having yet another review—then it is better that the GATS rules exist.

I believe that the Trade Justice Movement should also be cautious in condemning the activities of international companies. It is demanding

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However, it has no idea who would write the rules or who would police them. The fact is that the multinational companies are already regulated by the national laws of every country in which they operate, and are subject to internationally agreed codes of practice. The evidence is that multinationals operate to a higher standard than most national businesses. They cannot afford to take chances or cut corners. Too much is at stake in their home country, from the Government and from their shareholders alike.

We have had the world food summit of 1996, the Uruguay round, the Monterrey consensus and the Doha development agenda. Earlier, we even had the Torquay round. In Bali, we had the fourth preparatory committee for the world summit on sustainable development, which will take place in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September. Next weekend sees the EU Heads of Government summit in Spain. On 26 June, the G8 Summit will take place in Canada, where the member states will discuss the New Partnership for Africa's Development—NEPAD—focusing on conflict, trade, education, health, development assistance and debt, where G8 policies affect Africa.

In this dizzy round of jet set wheeling and dealing, we ask the Government, on behalf of the most vulnerable in the world, and on behalf of all those the length and breadth of the UK who support the motives of the Trade Justice Movement, for action as well as words. We must remember daily so many people in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and in Sudan, where my brave friend Archbishop Joseph Morona recently risked crossing the military front line in the Nuba mountains in the search for peace and food for his desperate people.

We look forward to the response to this debate by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development. We know that she spent some years as a journalist in South Africa in the 1970s. She will have seen for herself real poverty and desperation in the eyes of children, just as I have in Mozambique, west Africa, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

For goodness sake, the Department of Trade and Industry has eight Ministers. One of them should have been present at this debate, although I concede that they might not know as much about the subject as the Under-Secretary. On Sunday morning last, I listened to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry being interviewed. She was robust on the need for the EU to phase out export subsidies and to remove import tariffs from the poorest countries. She was firm in her call for African countries to dismantle the trade barriers that they erect between themselves. However, she was hesitant about the time scale, and admitted that the Doha talks would go on for two years. That is too long for millions of the 800 million starving people in the world, for many of whom two more years is a death sentence. Two years and counting: in June 2004, we will expect this Government to give us answers, not epitaphs.

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