World Summit on Sustainable Development and Aid for Poverty Diseases

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Dr. Palmer: I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's comments. My mother worked for United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and I know how effectively the post-war crisis was dealt with. I agree with his recommendation. However, we are not in a zero-sum game here. We are debating not whether money should go through the European Union or Britain, but whether the European Union should take action. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that it should not?

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Dr. Lewis: What I am saying, in endorsement of the comments of the hon. Member for Luton, North, is that in this situation money is not what is needed. What is needed is the direct application of drugs that are the only hope for millions of people who are under sentence of death. I would feel happier if I knew whether the aid proposed to tackle the terrible prospect of millions more dying was aid in kind—direct aid in the form of drugs, not money.

Mr. Hopkins: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Does he not also agree that, in the long run, it might be cheaper for developed nations to provide pharmaceuticals—even for free—than to provide financial aid?

Dr. Lewis: It would be not only cheaper but far more effective, because such aid cannot be creamed off and has a better chance of reaching its destination. Perhaps the EU, the UN or individual Government specialist committees should deliberate how chemical plants could be developed and subcontracted in other countries so that the drugs could be supplied domestically, more directly, instead of people having to wait for the largesse of international society before the drugs can be delivered to where they are needed.

Dr. Palmer: I apologise for intervening again, but is the hon. Gentleman not in danger of overlooking all the infrastructure issues? I agree that it is better to send drugs than money to buy drugs, but building the necessary infrastructure to enable drugs to be delivered sensibly can be done only by the countries themselves, on the spot, and they will need money to do that.

Dr. Lewis: I believe that I catered for that slightly longer-term aim in my remarks about the need for local development in such countries in the medium to long term.

I cannot help wondering why we have such a relaxed, laid-back attitude to the current terrible crisis; that was not the case at the end of the second world war. There are two possible explanations. The first, which I dismiss, is that it results from latent racialism. There seems to be a belief in some quarters that because the crisis affects people of a different ethnic origin from ours in terribly poor countries where there is a history of people dying well before their time, it is more acceptable than if it were happening in a Caucasian nation where people have a lifespan typical of westerners. I am more inclined to think, however, that it is a matter not of racialism but of geography.

The countries that we are discussing are not on our doorstep; they are far away. The concentration camps were not. Today, it is easier for people to make a gesture by giving a donation and then to turn the page. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Broxtowe indicate his agreement from across the political divide.

Mr. Johnson: May I suggest another reason why we do not take the crisis in Africa as seriously as we might? There is no longer any geopolitical interest in Africa. The cold war is over and neither the United States nor the Soviet Union directly supports one side or the other.

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Dr. Lewis: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I must be careful not to stray too far from the central point of the debate, but if that is the case, it is a short-sighted view for geopoliticians in western capitals to take, because such an attitude contains all that is necessary to create precisely the sort of failed and imploded states that have become bases for the sort of terrorism that we saw only a few months ago. The west has turned its back on other countries once they cease to be relevant to great power conflicts, and we have paid the price. Humanitarian considerations apart, it is in our interests to look after the countries that are suffering.

I want to spend a few moments considering the statistics because, frankly, I find them almost unbelievable. I am told that AIDS has killed 25 million people since the early 1980s, and that an estimated 14,000 people are infected each day with HIV. A further possibility occurs as to why people do not tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS with the same anxiety and urgency as they do death and destruction inflicted deliberately by a foreign power. In this country, HIV is associated with sexual activity and drug abuse; on the sub-continent of Africa, we associate it less with drug abuse than with sexual activity. We are constantly told that the answer is education, but that betrays a lack of urgency in the face of a holocaust occurring day by day.

My next point is on a theme similar to that of my questions to the Minister. I find it hard to get my head around the key priorities selected for action at the world summit on sustainable development. We are told that those priorities are water and sanitation, energy for sustainable development, natural resources such as fisheries and forestry, education, governance and global public goods, whatever those may be. If we considered those problems in detail, we would find that most were recurring themes in any debate in any forum on international development and world poverty in any decade since the end of the second world war. I find it hard to appreciate how we can seriously talk about them as key priorities when millions of people are dying.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech with which I agree. There has been a great deal of press coverage in the run-up to the international conference in Johannesburg, as there was for those in Monterrey and Rio and especially for the preparatory summit in Bali. Has he received letters similar to those that my constituents send to me asking why world statesmen have to fly to such attractive destinations, given that the issues they discuss are those of grinding poverty? As one of my constituents put it, why should the preparation not be done in Barking rather than Bali?

Dr. Lewis: I am tempted to go down the route to which my hon. Friend directs me, but I will resist the temptation. He made the point sharply in his own way, and people will have understood it without further elaboration from me. I do not want to prolong the debate unduly, and I will draw my remarks to a close shortly.

Something desperate is happening minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day. Imagine that

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I were a representative of a non-governmental organisation that worked on the ground, and that I had seen people dying at that rate. Imagine—it is a rather unlikely scenario—that I were a representative of one of the communities so desperately afflicted with the diseases. Then imagine that I were sitting at the back of the Room listening to us trying to discuss the problem in terms of institutional arrangements for long-term organisation of relief and priorities.

If I were such a person, I would begin to wonder whether what I heard was at all directly engaged with what was happening. We are in one of those terrible situations in which we almost want to give the legislators a direct view and say, ''See for yourself. This is what is happening. Having seen it, can you really be content with indirect arrangements rather than direct remedies?'' The hon. Member for Luton, North outlined one such remedy in his impressive speech. The prospect would be daunting.

I opened with a reference to the liberation of Buchenwald, Belsen and Dachau. It might be as well to close by reminding the Committee that in 1945, when Buchenwald was liberated, Parliament sent a delegation to see what had happened. Among the group was a woman MP called Mavis Tate. What she saw so horrified her that subsequently she took her own life.

I suspect that if any of us were transported to see what is happening on the ground on the scale that has been described, he would be desperately traumatised. We are, fortunately, not in that position, but we would like to hear from the Minister what the objections are to the quasi-military direct aid project proposed by a Labour Back Bencher and supported to a considerable extent by the Opposition.

5.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions and for the serious discussion that has taken place. Eliminating poverty is probably the most urgent task that we face. If we do not get it right, the number of people living in poverty in certain countries will increase.

I reject absolutely the suggestion of the hon. Member for New Forest, East that we are turning our backs on the problem because it is in Africa. The Government have been instrumental in putting Africa on the international agenda. It was the Prime Minister who said that Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world, and nobody would disagree with that. We have continually pressed the case for extra aid for Africa, and for half of the Monterrey money to go to Africa. We have also increased the amount that we provide in aid by some 50 per cent. from a low of 2.6 per cent. of gross national product when we entered office to 3.2 per cent., rising to 3.3 per cent., and we have pledged £1 billion of that money for Africa. I could make cheap party political points, but they have been made very often before. Suffice it to say that we have not turned our backs on the developing

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world, certainly not in the way that has been insinuated.

The two issues being discussed have become somewhat confused: they are the world summit and, separately, the regulation. I shall deal with some of the procedural points raised by the hon. Member for Henley because I have miraculously received a note about them. We have taken important steps in the past year, both at Doha and at Monterrey, in improving the effectiveness of the international system. We see the summit at Johannesburg as an opportunity to build on that and ensure that we continue to work in a co-ordinated manner. Developing countries have suffered far too much from western nations' passing fashions in development. We need to maintain steady and consistent progress, working with them on sustainable development. It is in that context that discussions about TRIPS take place.

It is wrong to confuse that issue with the EU regulation with which the European Parliament has had problems. That is extremely straightforward—it is about putting money into the global fund to combat disease. Everyone who has spoken in the debate said that we should do that and that it is an outrage that we do not put in more. Hon. Members should not let their dislike of Europe or their frustration with European procedures stand in the way of their recognition that giving money to fight AIDS, malaria and TB is a wholly good project and worthy cause. I cannot imagine that anyone here would want to prevent that from happening.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath returned to the issue of governance. I completely agree with him, and I have already set out how a considerable amount of our bilateral aid is allocated to deal with governance issues. That is the case because there is no point setting up little projects around a country and ignoring the fact that the Government of that country is incapable of providing quality public services or the security and systems that people need for their day-to-day lives and which the private sector needs if it is to invest in the developing world. I am sure that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has heard often that a small change in tariffs would produce $150 billion extra in investment, which is three times what the developed world spends in aid, so a great deal more is at stake.

We have put in a lot of work and we have also been providing direct budgetary support to Governments, which gives us leverage in discussions with them. We have withheld £15 million of direct budgetary support for Kenya because of the Kenyan Government's failure to honour their commitments to deal with governance issues. As hon. Members may have read in the press, intense discussions are taking place on the pressure that this country is putting on Kenya to resolve issues relating to its own governance.

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