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It is important to recognise the wider context relating to heavily indebted poor countries and the initiatives that the Government have taken. Since 2000, the UK has committed $9.7 billion to debt relief, according to OECD figures. We have always gone beyond the
requirements of the HIPC initiative, and have provided 100 per cent. debt cancellation when countries complete the initiative. As a result of the actions that we have taken, there have been major benefits to various countries. Under the HIPC initiative, Tanzania has been helped to increase the number of its children in primary schools by more than 50 per cent., built almost 2,500 new primary schools, and recruited 28,000 extra teachers. Mozambique has similarly made significant strides. It has more than tripled its poverty-reducing expenditure as a result of the HIPC initiative.
However, although the Government have taken a number of non-legislative steps through a range of initiatives, we have always believed that there remains a problem. The problem of vulture funds can be fully tackled only through legislation that restricts commercial creditors from recovering more than a fair amount of the debts of the world's poorest.
I welcome the cross-party consensus on the Bill. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire has been a strong supporter of it, but has rightly raised some concerns, as one would expect. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who also speaks for the Opposition, and who made clear his support for the Bill. I know that he is a long-standing supporter of the issues, too.
We recognise that the issue is complex, but the economic logic for legislating is strong and received wide agreement during the Bill's earlier stages. The targeted nature of the Bill provides an incentive for debtors to settle claims on terms compatible with debt relief. The measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, and so ably supported and taken forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, will prevent a minority of creditors from litigating to extract payment in excess of that provided for under the HIPC initiative using the UK's laws and courts. The Bill will protect creditors' rights to recover the proportion of their debt that is consistent with the HIPC initiative, so the vast majority of commercial creditors, who already comply with HIPC terms, will not be affected.
We built safeguards into the legislation in Committee, and as I have said, we were happy to co-operate in doing so. The Bill is in good shape-it is excellent-and I hope that the House will agree to it this afternoon.
Ms Keeble: I shall be brief, as I know that others also wish to comment. I am proud to have taken responsibility for the Bill. I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) was unable to do so, although I suspect that he is watching our proceedings on television, as he has before. The Bill has cross-party consensus, but coming at the end of the Session it has had quite a difficult passage through Parliament. I hope that when it reaches the other place it will have a fair wind and that there will not be extraneous, last-minute objections to it.
The political and moral arguments for the Bill were won a long time ago. The only issue that has remained is whether there is the political will to put it on the statute book before the end of this Session. The fact that we have taken it so far, with the support of the business managers, and the fact that it is on the cusp of becoming law, shows that this Parliament can respond to the
concerns of the general public and the great upsurge of support that there was for this legislation, and the revulsion, indeed the moral repugnance of which my hon. Friend the Minister has previously spoken, against the activities of the vulture funds, which cream off the money that is intended to help the poorest people in the world, and instead deposit it in bank accounts in offshore tax havens.
This is a landmark Bill. It is the first of its kind. The US Congress has introduced similar legislation, but it has not got through there yet. This country is a hub for financial services and a world leader in international development and debt relief, and there has been enormous cross-party and public support for the stance that the Government have taken. We have also shown that we can clamp down on the abuses.
The Bill will make a difference to UK taxpayers because it will stop their money that has gone into debt relief being creamed off into vulture funds, and it will make a big difference to the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. One hundred and forty-five million pounds might not sound much when it is compared with the bankers' bonus pool, but it is about 40 per cent. or more of the entire budget of some the poorest of the developing countries.
I hope that the Bill passes quickly through the other place and ends up on the statute book, where it will stand as a real reminder of the outstanding work in this Parliament to respond to the priorities of the public and to protect some of the poorest people in the world.
Mr. Gauke: As I said earlier, we welcome the fact that the Bill has returned to the House and that time has been found for it. The Opposition supported the Bill on Second Reading, we co-operated in ensuring that there was an early Committee stage, and we tabled an amendment that we discussed a moment ago, which was accepted by the Government and the Bill's proposer. It is unfortunate that there was some controversy, which the Government were guilty of whipping up, when the Bill did not reach Report stage or Third Reading. As the Government are well aware, we did not object to the Bill progressing. We did not collude in its being objected to, although it would be fair to say that it is usual that private Members' Bills that have not been debated on Report or Third Reading do not progress. Our argument has always been that it is a question of the Government giving time for this Bill. We are delighted that, after some initial reluctance, the Government have brought the Bill back. It was always in the Government's hands to do that. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) mentioned the support of the business managers, and I would make particular mention of my hon. Friend the shadow International Development Secretary, who has been supportive of the Bill and has taken a close interest in it both in front of and behind the scenes. It is good that the Bill has returned to us, and once again, as it completes its Third Reading, the Conservatives will not oppose it.
There are matters of legitimate debate, such as ensuring that the law of unintended consequences does not apply, and that we do not inadvertently make life more difficult
for developing countries. However, the point that I made at earlier stages is that, to some extent, the Bill provides an insolvency procedure for developing countries that find themselves in great difficulty, because they will be able to reduce their debts equitably and share them out among creditors, whereas without such a mechanism no creditor would receive anything, or such payments would be made inequitably. For those reasons, we are very happy for the Bill to proceed, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Northampton, North on the way in which she has progressed the matter.
Finally, I think that this will be my last opportunity to debate with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson). It has been a great pleasure to shadow him-in part, along with my hon. Friends-over the past couple of years or so. He has always been a great pleasure to work with; he is a man of great integrity and hard work; and I think that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in wishing him well for the future.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Three right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have only 17 minutes remaining, and I should like to accommodate all three, so Members can do the arithmetic for themselves.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I can speed things up by putting on the record the genuine cross-party support that there is for the Bill. The Liberal Democrats are certainly delighted to see it go forward at such a pace. Many of us who have attended Inter-Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences throughout the world have visited countries, spoken to some of the political leaders of debt-ridden countries and shared their frustration not only at the difficulties that they have had in dealing with debt, but the legal difficulties that they have faced due to the private acquisitions that have been attempted against them. So, those countries will welcome what has happened today in Parliament.
I, too, congratulate the Members behind the Bill, and in particular the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who has spoken so eloquently to it. However, the House should also congratulate those campaigning organisations outside Westminster, such as Jubilee 2000 and many others, which have kept on and on at Governments of all parties. Those groups should share our congratulations on the work that has been done.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab):
If this is the final speech that I make in this Parliament, I cannot think of a more worthy piece of legislation on which to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who pioneered the original Bill and, when my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) fell ill, took the legislation back over and has steered it with immense knowledge and aplomb. I am sure that
the whole House would like to send my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish its best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
The Bill has reached this stage not only because of the co-operation of Government and Opposition Front Benchers and the work of my two hon. Friends, but because of the great pressure outside the House from people who care. I pay tribute to many of my constituents who have rightly put pressure on me and other Members to get the Bill this far. In particular, I thank the congregation of Holy Innocents' church, Fallowfield, for its work on development and aid, and Mr. Stephen Pennells, who is its spokesman, although by no means, as he will acknowledge, the only activist on these matters. The House is passing a Bill this afternoon that will benefit a very large number of people who may not even learn that it exists. It is a worthy little coda at the end of this Parliament, and I thank everybody involved for their work.
John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): Having served for the past 10 years on the Select Committee on International Development, it is a proud moment for me to say a few words in support of the Bill, which has all-party support. I know that we are at the end of the Parliament and there is a rush to get things through, and I listened carefully to the probing amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), but for us to have got to this stage on a Bill that will do a little more on effective debt relief for the poorest in the world is an impressionistic moment. It sends a signal that I hope will mean our country provides some international leadership, even in the heat of an election that may focus particularly on local concerns.
Debt relief counts for far more than our aid contribution, as does fair trade. Tackling debt and the undermining of the highly indebted poor countries initiative by predator-creditor litigations is crucial. The HIPC initiative has had some great successes-my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary mentioned Mozambique, and the abolition of primary school fees in Uganda has doubled the number of enrolments and decreased inequality. In Bolivia, the cancellation of debts has improved health care massively. Tackling debt is crucial, and getting a grip on the so-called vulture funds that undermine the ability to manage it is a good move and should send a clear international signal. The Bill will prevent creditors from recovering an amount in excess of what is consistent with the HIPC initiative.
I have often been reminded of a cartoon that was once produced in Mexico. A teaspoon of aid was being put on the tongue of a poor peasant, but in the meantime the grip of debt was around their windpipe. A theologian in Mexico wrote that
"the life of the poor is accumulated by the rich. The latter live the life of the rich in virtue of the death of the poor."
We need a much better relationship between the north and the south. I have consistently argued for that. There should be a mutual relationship between the rich and the poor rather than the north patronisingly helping
the south, and the debt question is central to that mutuality. It is an issue north and south, as we all now know. If I dare be so bold as to suggest it, the parallel between the activities of hedge funds and vulture funds and the sub-prime, loan-shark doorstep lenders in poorer parts of my constituency suggests that a debt relief Bill is needed here in Britain, which could include the capping of interest rates. I simply wish to put that marker down, because those who make excessive profits from low-income borrowers, including the countries and people who are least able to pay, end up buying and selling debts, recycling them, overcharging massively and making the situation even more intolerable.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who cannot be here, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and Ministers. With the co-operation of the Opposition parties, they have got the Bill to this stage, and I hope that it will make a continuing contribution to the alleviation of poverty and set an international trend that can be sustained in the decades to come.
Finally, I thank the people of west Leeds for their support and for the privilege of representing them for the past 23 years. Some of the actions that our Government have taken on health care and education-primary issues in the two-thirds world as well-have made a difference in my constituency, and I am proud of that fact. I leave the House with a slight spring in my step, believing that it can pass good legislation. Yes, that legislation must be presented and examined carefully and re-examined in future, but this House can make a difference and do a good job, not only here in Britain but internationally.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the hon. Gentleman-it is always a pleasure to hear his points of order-but I am afraid that the short answer to his question is no. The reason is that the motion needs to be put forthwith, so the question of the pursuit of explanations sadly does not arise.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011.- (Mr. Timms . )
Mr. Speaker: I say to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that, as I am sure he appreciates, I intended no discourtesy to him. I am simply sticking to the very formal procedure that applies in this admittedly unusual situation.
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