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I reiterate that we support the Bill, despite our reservations. At the beginning of a new century, it would be a brilliant achievement if this century could be associated with great progress not just for the developed world but for the developing world. I hope that the Bill will enable Britain to play a full part.
Tony Worthington: I agree with what the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who speaks for the Opposition, said earlier about Sir John Vereker. It is a remarkable achievement to have been involved with the Overseas Development Administration in the 1960s, to have been private secretary to three Overseas Development Ministers in the 1970s and then to have held the post of permanent secretary for eight or nine years. It
I had the opportunity to chair a meeting at which Sir John Vereker spoke, and one of the things that he pointed out, which is very important to this debate, was the importance of a Department having a single, uncluttered focus. The Bill is about having such a focusthe reduction of poverty. Of course, the Opposition have sought to clutter, and that is very tempting, but the lack of a single, uncluttered purpose was the reason why aid got into so many difficulties in the pastit was why we got into difficulties, and it was why the European Union got into difficulties as well.
People kept on trying to add their own focusall very worthy, but it produced the inequities of tied aid. People said, "Here's something good to export. Let us find something that is reasonable to use it for in a developing country," whereas the interests of the developing countries and the poorest people in them should have been the driving force.
The biggest tribute to the Department, the Secretary of State, the Minister and all those of us in this country associated with development is the power of the idea of reducing povertyit is now taking over everywhere in development. One sees that poverty focus at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and throughout Europe; it is the driving force to reforming the European approach to development.
In wishing the Bill good speed, I want to mention the Select Committee's latest visit to Europe, which was referred to earlier. Let us not forget that the Select Committee on International Development now exists, and it is not on the margins as it was under those newly wise Conservative Members. Let us also remember that, whereas the department was an aid agency, it is now a development ministry. That is crucial. Whom did we see on that visit to Europe? We saw the Commissioners or senior representatives of three Directorates-General. We saw the foreign affairs people, the development people and the trade people, and they knew where we were coming from. They spoke the same language as us. We saw the representatives of a French Trade Commissioner and it was remarkable that they spoke about a poverty focus andlet us whisper itabout reducing the subsidies made under the common agricultural policy. They were already responsible for the everything but arms initiative.
Dr. Tonge: I congratulate Sir John Vereker on his retirement, but I particularly wish to thank him for being very patient with me when I was a member of the Select Committee. I used to regard him as the senior tutor of the set-up who would always take a little bit longer to explain to a rather difficult Liberal Democrat what she had not understood. He is a great man and I thank him and all the civil servants in the Department for International Development.
The Bill is all about sustainable development. The phrase has come to haunt me; I dream about sustainable development. The phrase sums up everything that we want and need. As many Members will know, my obsession when we started to consider the Bill was tied aid. I could not believe that the Bill was dealing with the subject. I was tutored by civil servants and other Members and we gradually established that the phrase "sustainable development" would eliminate tied aid for ever. I welcome that, and I am beginning to believe it.
However, sustainable development and what the Bill can achieve depend on other Departments. Let themand especially the Department of Trade and Industry and the Export Credits Guarantee Departmentnot forget about sustainable development. Their activities often conflict with those of the Department for International Development. I shall not cite the famous examples, because I am sure that other Members will.
On humanitarian aid, I am constantly worriedI hope that the Minister will be able to reassure meabout DFID having to spend its budget on clearing up messes. It had to spend a certain amount of money on humanitarian aid and reconstruction after the Kosovo action. I remember having many battles about that and receiving reassurances from the Secretary of State that much of that money came out of the Treasury's contingency funds.
I object when the budget that is meant for the poorest people in the world has to clear up messes that we have often created. Therefore, although I appreciate that the humanitarian aid for Afghanistan has come out of DFID's budget, will the money for reconstruction come from its budget or can we twist the Treasury's arm to make it come from its contingency reserves? It is important that we do not always fall back on DFID's budget to fund reconstruction, particularly after military action.
My other plea is that humanitarian aid should also go towards basic primary education. I gave the example of southern Sudan, which has had 40 years of civil war, with just one short break. Two, coming up to three, generations have not had the opportunity of receiving primary education. A very low percentage of boys, let alone girls, are in education. It is important in chronic civil war situations that we do not just deliver humanitarian aid. We have to look a little more to the future.
Primary education is a simple thing to deliver. It does not need massive infrastructure. Southern Sudan does not even need schools and classrooms. I saw classes taking place under trees. The children need teachers, slates, chalk and a few books that can be carried off with the people of the village if the war and the raiders suddenly return. The Department should reconsider its policy and include education in humanitarian aid.
We have heard some fine speeches over the past few weeks, especially since 11 September. We have even been subjected to the Chancellor of the Exchequer doing the most tremendous things on the debt front and saying remarkable things about a global health fund and how we must all pull together. We heard a magnificent speech from the Prime Minister when he was teaching the world to sing at his party conference. I am being genuine.
Everyone is talking about doing something to tackle the huge poverty gap in the world, but what we are putting into action is a bit lamentable. I congratulate the Government on bringing the proportion of gross national product that is spent on aid up to, I think, 0.33 per cent., but at that rate it will be 50 years before we achieve the UN target of 0.7 per cent. I urge them to move a little faster.
I think that I heard the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) question whether percentage of GNP, or whatever it is called nowadays, is the appropriate way to measure the aid that is given to developing countries. That has been agreed by the UN and I thought that we all accepted it. I know that the United States of America is beginning to quibble and that it is saying that it is the amount of cash that matters, not the proportion of GNP. I should like the hon. Lady to clarify her position on that.
Mrs. Spelman: It is simply that percentages can be misleading. When an economy is growing, it is possible in cash terms to put more money in and at the same time to have a lower percentage of gross domestic product because of the growth in the economy. The trouble with all statistics is that they are used in favour or disfavour of the argument that one is promoting. For that reason, I urge a word of caution. The percentage of GDP has to be considered in conjunction with the underlying trend in the growth of the economy if one is to understand properly what the size of the contribution really means.
Dr. Tonge: Yes, I thought that that was what the hon. Lady said, so I did not misunderstand her, and I thank her for re-emphasising it. However, that moves us away from the age-old principle, which for me is the 11th commandment, of "from each according to his means, to each according to their need". The hon. Lady's approach means that it is possible not to bother about the rest of the world; that when an economy is performing badly, we can forget about aid because it does not matter. The percentage of GNP is a basic principle and I am amazed that the Conservatives are abandoning it.