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Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's failure on this matter at the Nice summit is especially unfortunate given that it coincided with the report of the European Court of Auditors on 10 January 2000? That criticised EU aid programmes for their "weaknesses and shortcomings" and specifically denounced the European Commission for its cumbersome procedures and overly centralised decision making. Surely something should have been done by now.
Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point: it was a missed opportunity, and I am afraid that the poorest people in the world will pay the price of misdirected EU aid over the next few years. He is right to mention the Blak report, which makes it clear that we cannot be too optimistic about the reforms working. It suggests that we would have to dismantle the whole bureaucratic culture of the Commission to deliver an effective aid programme. How many hon. Members believe that that is likely to happen?
Clare Short: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to confirm that the Government of whom he was a member altered the proportion of the UK aid budget from 10 to 30 per cent., but that they made no effort whatsoever to reform or improve the European Community's development effort. There is now a major reform agenda. It was driven by UK pressure, and the publication that we made available to the House indicated the direction of those reforms. The hon. Gentleman says that if the country ever has the misfortune to have another Conservative Government, they will review the reform agenda to see whether it has been implemented and will take action if it has not. His party's record is to give more aid, and not reform the system through the EC. The Government's record is to put major reform in place. Of course, if we get a better EC effort, it will reach countries with which the UK does not have bilateral programmes, so the possible impact is greater.
The White Paper that preceded the Bill rightly focused on the importance of globalisation, which impacts on all of us. I am pleased that the Secretary of State now supports globalisation and capitalism with the zeal of a true convert. Even The Economist praised her recently, saying that
Mr. Worthington: Should not the hon. Gentleman quote the rest of the article, in which the Secretary of State pointed out that globalisation is neither a good thing nor a bad thing overall and that action depends on political will? The Labour party's political will, unlike that of the Conservatives, is to end world poverty.
Mr. Streeter: The hon. Gentleman is not correct in thinking that his party has a monopoly on compassion for world poverty. I made that point earlier and made it clear that there is a fine Conservative tradition of bearing down on global poverty, which will continue and be consolidated under the next Conservative Government.
I shall quote more of the exchanges between the Secretary of State and The Economist, which made interesting reading. Most of us would be happy with the praise that the magazine gave her. Strangely, however, she was not. She was so upset by The Economist's praise, that she was moved to write and complain. She claimed:
Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about. Since I joined the Labour party, I have been in the tradition of the Attlee Government, who always believed in a mixed economy, effective states and the market doing its job. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was never a neo-liberal, a Thatcherite or a monetarist in favour of structural adjustments. He, of course, was--he would roll back the state and let inequality rip. He supported all those policies--I did not. I did not support them when I was young, and my party did not when it was in power in 1945.
The hon. Gentleman shares the ignorance of the editor of The Economist and, perhaps, has a background of fundamentalism in supporting market forces ripping through and rolling back the state. That did untold harm to the world, and was driven by the Government whom he supported.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her second speech of the afternoon. I join the editor of The Economist. After the exchanges between the Secretary of State and the magazine, it published a second article about her, which is headed, "No praise, please, I'm Labour". It says:
It is our firm belief that when developing countries make a commitment to good governance, aid money is better spent and foreign direct investment is encouraged. Foreign aid alone will never be sufficient to lift a country out of poverty. It is by encouraging the private sector and foreign investment that we will help economies to grow and living standards to rise. Conservative development policy will help to lay the key foundations of stability, on which developing nations can then build. We want to empower developing countries committed to change, so that they can govern responsibly for all their citizens. In government, we will focus on good governance. We intend to amend the Bill in Committee to reflect that.
We also believe that although Governments may be ideally placed to deal directly with other Governments, that is only part of the story. It is hard for Governments to come alongside ordinary people and provide tailored solutions to individual needs. That is primarily the role of charities, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, which do an excellent and priceless job all over the world, caring for those in need.
In government, we will seek to boost the role of such bodies in development. We have pledged to double the proportion of the DFID budget spent by NGOs over the course of the first Parliament. We will also support the smaller aid charities, which feel let down by the present Government. In a consultation exercise involving more than 1,000 smaller aid charities, we were told again and again that they felt rejected by the Government, and that the application process for support for life-changing work in some of the poorest parts of the world was a long and painful process. We will put that right.
The Government have no information on their website to tell people how hey can help in international development. After the recent Gujarat earthquake, for example, Australian and American websites outlined what to collect, what not to collect, which organisations are working in the region and what technical assistance might be helpful. They were helping their people, but the British Government failed to support and encourage the energy and drive of the British people so that they could play their full part in fighting global poverty.
The Government do not respect or encourage the massive impact that private individuals and charities can make. The people of Britain have consistently demonstrated that they care about development issues. We will provide more information and better co-ordination of the relief efforts of British people. We will set up an agency, aid direct. Through a sophisticated website, database and call centre, aid direct will act as a central information service for members of the public, providing up-to-date and accurate information about all areas of development.
Aid direct will be dedicated to offering advice on how best the British people can help those in developing countries. It will help to match needs in the developing world with willing helpers in the UK. Aid direct will be set up in partnership with the NGO community, with constant input from NGOs and embassies throughout the world. It will empower the British public and small aid charities to make a real difference to communities in the developing world.
Harnessing the enthusiasm of the British people will not only help developing countries, but will raise the profile of development in the UK, so in government we will focus on good governance, do more to back the excellent work of British charities and sort out the EU aid scandal.
I should like to raise three other concerns about the Government's handling of international development that the Bill appears to do nothing to address. The Government are not supporting poverty reduction and sustainable development when they recruit staff from developing countries to fill UK shortages. The Secretary of State will know that the South African Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, has severely criticised the United Kingdom for poaching the most highly trained teachers from South Africa to cover up the Government's failure to recruit and retain teachers. Minister Asmal said that such recruitment drives showed little concern for the development needs of South Africa and the money and effort put into producing good quality graduates. Surely the Secretary of State cannot believe that it is right to fill our schools and hospitals with qualified doctors, nurses and teachers who have been stolen from developing countries. How can we expect those countries to lift themselves out of poverty if we help to train their teachers, but then snatch them away
Last week, I received from DFID a catalogue listing more than 200 publications, including reports, plans, strategies and proposals. How do those publications contribute to the relief of poverty? One of the reports deals with what is on television, but how does a report on watching television reduce global poverty? The Government must be completely out of touch if they have to commission a report to find out what is on the television. Another publication seeks to explain poverty and the environment by using colourful characters such as Socrates and Frank Zappa. How can the Secretary of State justify the spending of taxpayers' money on so many glossy brochures?
It is no wonder that people are disillusioned. That unnecessary waste has cost British taxpayers £2 million since 1997. This year alone, the Department will spend £55,000 on direct mail promotion of its publications--money that will be used only to send the glossies out. During the past four years, it has spent more than £4 million on recruitment advertising. Since Labour came to power, aid administration costs have increased by £10 million in real terms. More and more is spent on administration, publications and advertising, which hardly demonstrates poverty focus.
If last year was a flaw, let us consider as a whole what has happened over the current Parliament and the previous one, including DFID's projections for the next two years. On average, in the five years 1992 to 1996 inclusive, the previous Conservative Government spent 0.3 per cent. of GNP on aid. Between 1997 and 2001, the current Government will have spent an average of 0.27 per cent. of GNP on aid, according to their own figures. That difference--0.3 per cent. versus 0.27 per cent.--must be another technical flaw. Even in real terms, aid has been lower under Labour. Last year, Labour's aid budget was still lower than those in four out of the previous five years of Conservative government.
We will work towards a target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national product on aid. We have set out changes of £8 billion to Labour's public expenditure plans for 2003-04. None affects the aid budget. We shall continue to champion debt relief for the poorest countries. We will be radical, but compassionate. We recognise the reality of abject poverty and we accept the role that our country can play in helping to improve living standards for those who live in the world's poorest countries.
We will focus on good governance, give more support to charities and end the European Union aid scandal. Like the Government, we will work towards achieving the global targets on poverty, education, health and the environment. Unlike the Government, we have policies that will enable us to do that.