World Summit on Sustainable Development and Aid for Poverty Diseases

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Mr. Hopkins: To pursue that point a little further, would it not be a more productive approach to providing medicines to those who need them if Governments throughout the world were involved in joint research and production initiatives, in the same way as they collaborated in the war to counter terrorism?

Ms Keeble: That is partly what the documents are about, and our domestic working group is also working on access to medicines, so we are covering that in two forums. We must also ensure that, like other development work, the work to combat AIDS is sustainable, which means ensuring that developing countries have their own health systems in place so that the medicines get out to people and are used properly. Ensuring not only that medicines are provided to developing countries, but that they are delivered in a sustainable and long-term fashion, is a major issue.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): The Minister twice used the Foreign Office codeword ''unhelpful'' to describe the European Parliament's amendments. Will she clarify how she finds the amendments unhelpful? In layman's language, to what aspects of the European Parliament's proposals do Her Majesty's Government object, and what is the relationship between that objection and what we are doing now? Will the Government veto the measure?

Ms Keeble: When I talked about unhelpfulness, I was referring to the position taken by the European Parliament, and in particular some of the amendments that were proposed. The Government's view is that we have made progress through several major summits, especially those on development. A lot of work has been done on access to medicines and balancing that with patenting rights, and that work must be taken forward. We are concerned that efforts to go back to

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the past and unpick some of the previous wordings and agreements could stall progress and prevent our reaching voluntary agreements that can carry the work forward. That is what we are working to achieve.

Mr. Johnson: In a nutshell, would it be fair to say that the European Parliament is trying to make it too hard for the pharmaceutical companies?

Ms Keeble: I would say that the European Parliament is trying to revisit the past whereas we want to move forward. We already have ways in which to take forward the agreements that have been made. We believe that consensus and voluntary agreements are the way forward.

Mr. Hopkins: To pursue the same line as before, I am concerned about the slow pace of progress while people are dying. The phrase ''fiddling while Rome burns'' sounds trivial in the circumstances. Would it not be quicker if Governments directly took over research into and production of the specific pharmaceuticals that are designed to alleviate the symptoms and prevent death and disease?

Ms Keeble: It might help my hon. Friend if I differentiate the issues. There are issues of patenting, of pricing and of distribution. If the new drugs that are constantly needed are to be developed, people must be able to meet the costs of research and development; that raises patenting issues. I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that.

Distribution to developing countries is crucial. The Government are carrying out a great deal of work to secure agreements on differential pricing to ensure that drugs can be delivered to developing countries at realistic rather than high prices. One danger is that drugs sold at lower prices might leak back into more affluent markets; we must ensure that such leakage does not occur. However, we are making considerable progress on the crucial issue of pricing. We must get all three issues right if we are to develop the quantity of drugs needed at the price needed and secure the improvements that people in developing countries need.

We all share my hon. Friend's frustration at the high and sometimes increasing incidence of illness and its impact on developing countries. We are working hard to tackle those issues. Meanwhile, as well as providing projects from outside, we are encouraging developing countries to improve their health services through domestic health programmes. A great deal of work is in progress.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If I understand the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) correctly, bilateral assistance rather than assistance provided through the medium of EU institutions would be more profitable. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but I suspect that his view is based on other forms of aid given directly by the Department for International Development compared with aid channelled through European institutions. Is she confident that regulations proposed to tackle the AIDS pandemic, in which 3 million people are reported to have died last year, can be carried out

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most profitably with the limited resources available through that route?

Ms Keeble: Yes. We continue bilateral work, but issues such as working with the pharmaceuticals industry should also be examined across Europe—and, indeed, globally. Many of the proposals outlined in the regulation build on the Commission's work under previous regulations, which showed considerable success. The effectiveness of the work has already been demonstrated.

We and our international partners support specific health programmes. One important issue, particularly in respect of HIV/AIDS, is the need for strong political leadership and direction at local level. I could send the hon. Gentleman examples of countries in which that has proved successful. Tackling local governance issues has been a key part of this country's approach to development work. Dealing with patenting and pricing issues can be frustrating, but we are tackling health problems on a range of different fronts. The death rate is still too high, but we are securing some positive results.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): We all welcome the initiatives, especially in the light of recent reports that life expectancy is dropping under the age of 30 in certain countries. Reference is made to the EU setting up a taskforce to explore innovative mechanisms for international financial solidarity in the context of global public goods. In other words, improvements should benefit not only the country where they are initiated, but neighbouring countries—indeed, perhaps the benefits should be global.

Does the Minister have any idea what sort of innovative mechanism might be introduced? One thinks of the Tobin tax, for example.

Ms Keeble: I do not have notes about the European taskforce, which I understand is to be announced at the summit. I will write to my hon. Friend to ensure that he has the details.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I notice that to further one of the objectives, to increase the affordability of key pharmaceuticals, financial support is to be given to a specific project

    ''to improve pharmaceutical policies and practice, and help developing countries, at regional and national level, to develop high-quality local production of off-patent and/or licensed key pharmaceuticals''.

Will the Minister say a little more about what progress that has been made towards that aim?

Ms Keeble: That is one of the key issues. The hon. Lady might have noticed that the introduction of TRIPS in the poorest countries is delayed until 2016, to give them the chance to develop their own pharmaceuticals production capacity. She will be aware that at present such capacity is lacking, which is why those countries are reliant on imported products from developed countries. I cannot tell her precisely which industries are being developed locally and in which countries, although I will ensure that she is kept informed. There are 14 years yet to go on that matter.

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Dr. Lewis: With regard to the world summit on sustainable development, does the Minister agree that it is important to recognise that very different meanings attach to the term ''sustainable development'', depending on whether one looks at it from the point of view of an industrialised country, or a non-industrialised country? For example, it has been suggested that wealthy nations regard sustainable development policies as having to do with recycling, energy efficiency, conservation, and the rehabilitation of damaged landscapes, whereas for poorer nations they mean policies for equity, fairness, respect for the law, redistribution of wealth, and wealth creation. Does the Minister think that such widely divergent viewpoints create a danger that people will be talking on different wavelengths in the forthcoming summit?

Ms Keeble: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but, as I said, the summit is building on a number of previous meetings and commitments. There is a fairly good understanding among many world leaders about the development needs of developing countries, focusing particularly on the millennium development goals, especially poverty. Focusing on poverty is quite new, as is our commitment and that of the EU and others to do so by supporting the Governments of developing countries and making sure that they have some ownership of the development plan.

The papers from the EU set out a number of priorities, which include basic matters such as water and the use of natural resources and some of the governance issues; our proposals focus on those matters, too, so we will not be talking on different wavelengths. There is an increasing understanding of development needs and of the need for the development to be locally owned and sustainable in the longer term. The Government have done a great deal to foster that understanding.

Mr. Hawkins: Does the Minister accept that some people, foremost among them Commissioner Patten, have expressed great concern about the misuse of a great deal of aid delivered through the EU, and about the fact that much of that aid has apparently gone missing? Rather than going to the people whom it was intended to help, it has disappeared to line somebody's pockets as a result of corruption and the lack of good governance in many of the recipient countries. If the Minister accepts that, do the Government have any plans to reconsider their previous insistence on delivering aid—UK taxpayers' money—from Government to Government through the EU, and to return to the policy of delivering a great deal of aid through charities and non-governmental organisations, which appears to ensure that far more of the money reaches those who need it?

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