World Summit on Sustainable Development and Aid for Poverty Diseases

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Dr. Lewis: My hon. Friend said that there are at least two relevant pharmaceutical firms in his constituency. Now that an agreement has, I believe, been reached on differential pricing for drugs going to stricken third-world countries, have those firms said how they regard the options? Would they rather their drugs be supplied as a result of arrangements made Government to Government, or are they happy for the arrangements to be made through EU institutions?

Mr. Hawkins: It is fair to say that both companies try to stay away from matters of political and, in particular, party political controversy as much as they can. However, without referring to people by name, it is fair to say that in discussions with me and my friend and colleague in the European Parliament, Nirj Deva, individuals have expressed great concern about corruption and the fact that the move from supplying aid through charities and other NGOs is not helpful. It would not be wise of me to go further than that.

The intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) enables me to remind the Committee of one controversy that was stirred up by the Secretary of State. In summer 1998, conflict and food shortages in Sudan left thousands of refugees in need of aid. In June 1998, she criticised the charities of the Disasters Emergency Committee for raising money for Sudan, and was quoted as calling their campaign ''unnecessary''. At the one world international media conference on 3 June 1998, she said that charities were ''compounding compassion fatigue'', which angered many people who spend their lives working for charities. Despite her words, the campaign, which was launched on 21 May that year, raised £10.5 million for a very good cause. Indeed, recipient countries are all grateful for the work done by charities.

Many other hon. Members may want to speak, and I do not want to take up the Committee's time. We shall not oppose the motion, but we wanted to place some concerns on record.

5.16 pm

Mr. Hopkins: I wanted to pursue some of the themes of my earlier questions, but it would be unfair to ask the Minister to answer them because they are my own thoughts and have been given no other airing. Indeed, I expect my hon. Friend the Minister not to answer my comments, but to take them back to the committees on which she sits.

On the first point raised by the hon. Member for New Forest, East, we have discussed the delivery of EU aid in this Committee before, and we have concluded that the Department for International Development does a better job by delivering aid directly rather than passing it through the EU machinery. That is just in terms of efficiency, setting aside questions of corruption. I would have more confidence in DFID than in the EU. That is not a slur on the EU, but follows the inevitable fact that the

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more machinery is gone through, the more wastage happens.

However, that is not my prime concern—my prime concern is that millions of people are facing death. We should all recognise that. It was even suggested this weekend that some communities are facing extinction because of the ravages of AIDS, and we cannot just sit around and talk about it for months or years while people die in those numbers. Something must be done, whether that is by individual Governments helping particular countries or by all the Governments of developed countries working together in a coalition.

Mr. Johnson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to give money to help South Africa fight its AIDS problem, we should demand from the South African Government a recognition of the link between HIV and AIDS and a repudiation of the continual assertions by Thabo Mbeki to the contrary?

Mr. Hopkins: I think that there has been some movement on that point recently, but if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to wait a little, he will hear that I am not suggesting giving money. I shall come to that later. We are all aware of the obvious and established link between HIV and AIDS. The important thing is to get the drugs to those who are suffering from AIDS, or who are HIV positive but who have not yet developed AIDS. Governments are acting directly, especially the British Government: we have a good record of delivering on aid. That action may not be enough, but it is direct. We also have Commonwealth links with some of these countries, and a history of close links with many other countries as a result of our imperial past. We also have the advantage of language. We can do a good job, but we need to put more money and effort into it.

If this were a war, Governments would not incentivise private companies to do their best to help people, but would act directly with Government employees—soldiers—to solve the problem. Indeed, Governments do that individually and collectively. We face a problem that requires a campaign of military proportions throughout the world. If we are serious about dealing with these issues, we must consider stronger Government involvement in research.

We should also consider the direct commandeering of production to ensure that we produce enough of the necessary pharmaceuticals and deliver them cheaply, or even free of charge, to the countries that need them. As a modest economist, I appreciate the importance of differentiated markets with differentiated prices. One must insulate markets from each other. It is not beyond the wit of Governments and modern technology to tag pharmaceuticals so that they can be used only in those areas, and are immediately identifiable if they leak out of those markets.

I am not as worried as some are about pharmaceutical companies. I am an old-fashioned socialist, and I remember the days when we talked about public ownership of the pharmaceutical industry, although we are some way from that at this point. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)

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laughs. Perhaps he is not as old as I am and does not remember those days, but I do. There is a case for direct Government involvement in the provision of the necessary pharmaceuticals to those poor countries. It will delay, not solve, the problem if we go through EU machinery and try simply to incentivise private producers to deliver by protecting their profits and their patent rights.

When history is written and future generations look back, they will ask why we did nothing, but just let things happen. Were we simply protecting the sensitivities of the free market and global corporations, or were we seriously concerned about the people being infected and dying?

Mr. Johnson: Does the hon. Gentleman support the European Parliament amendments to the regulations to give effect to compulsory licensing for the drugs in southern Africa and elsewhere?

Mr. Hopkins: That strikes me as a step in the right direction. However, I would go further, and urge other countries to do the same. Governments should not wait for amendments to a directive, but should take direct action and persuade other Governments to do the same. They should not to be too sensitive to the resistance of pharmaceutical companies who might be more interested in protecting their profits, licences and patents than in saving the lives of millions of people. The problem will get worse.

Over the weekend, there was much publicity about the problem of AIDS, which was close to home. In fact, it came to my home. I recently noticed the significant increase in the number of African immigrants coming to live in Luton, and I wondered why. One reason why people try to get to Britain appears to be that they can get drugs here that they cannot get there. They face almost certain death if they are HIV positive, or have developed AIDS, and are forced to return to Africa. Here, they at least have the possibility of acquiring the necessary drugs. Last night, it was suggested on the ''Panorama'' programme or on Channel 4 news that some doctors are prescribing these drugs even though they perhaps should not. They are doing so because they are humane people and are trying to help.

Dr. Lewis: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the earlier part of his speech too far behind, let me make a point. I am interested that one agency that he did not mention was the United Nations. The UN has a grave concern about the pandemic and I would have thought that for the quasi-military campaign of supply of drugs that he has in mind, it would be the appropriate relief organisation, as it was after previous forms of holocaust.

Mr. Hopkins: I am grateful for that sensible suggestion. My one worry is that the UN is often hamstrung by lack of funds and by a lack of support from certain Governments. In a sense, some developed countries could take a lead and pull the UN with them. I agree entirely that we should use the UN as best we can to promote what I am suggesting. I should point out that these are only thoughts that arose today as I read through the papers. They are not a political initiative that I have developed before. It just occurs to

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me that we must do something much more serious than we are now contemplating if we are to solve the problem of the millions of people who are dying and are likely to die in Africa and elsewhere.

Mr. Hawkins: I am not sure whether I correctly divined that the hon. Gentleman was coming towards the end of his remarks, but before he moved too much further on, I wanted to say that I hope that despite his remarks about pharmaceutical companies and their profits he will pay tribute to the huge work of their scientists in developing the drugs that have already been widely used in the developing world.

Mr. Hopkins: Obviously I recognise the contribution that pharmaceutical companies and their scientists have made to the world. We have made some advances. But pharmaceutical companies are not beyond criticism, even in the work that they have done. They are commercial companies. They are trying to make profits. They will act as commercial companies do to try to maximise their profits in the way that they sell their products. Direct Government involvement has a role to play here. If the pharmaceutical companies have to be constrained in some way or used by Government, so be it. I want to say no more than that. We need direct Government involvement and the UN would be a useful route too.

5.27 pm

 
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