Millennium Goals

House of Commons

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the remarkable work that he has done in highlighting the issue consistently in recent months. I can bring him some moderately good news. I understand that the African Union today tabled a request for the equivalent of £252 million of aid, of which by lunchtime some £110 million had been pledged by donor countries to assist the union in its peacekeeping work. Something good is beginning to happen, and I hope that the other £142 million will follow.

John Bercow : That is extremely good news and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being the bearer of glad tidings. Progress has been incredibly slow. Let us be clear about what we have witnessed and what we know

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continues to happen in Darfur— aerial bombardment, mass shootings, widespread rape, theft of livestock and destruction of crops. They are all part of the cocktail of barbarity that is visited on the long-suffering people of Darfur on a daily basis. It has to stop. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 35,000 people a month are losing their lives. The reality is that, for all the world has said, it has not cared that much about the serial slaughter of black Africans in Darfur. The world may say that it cares, but it has not done so in the only way that matters, which is practical.

Jeremy Corbyn : I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis or with what he said about the need for an African force and about the abominable behaviour of the forces that are killing so many people. Does he accept that in the long term a peace settlement would have to consider the people who have migrated to the region because of environmental destruction in other parts of Sudan? We must consider the pressure on resources if we are to bring about a wider peace. The conflict is, in part, one of many environmental wars in Africa.

John Bercow : I accept that that is a relevant consideration. Another important part of the equation is consideration of the rights of people who have moved away from Darfur and in the process found that their land has been stolen. That is a big factor, but I certainly accept what the hon. Gentleman says and do not think that there is a cigarette paper between us on the matter.

Ms Keeble : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his points tie up with those that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made about the need to consider conflict areas carefully and not assume that we cannot provide assistance, and the need to prepare for peace much earlier? That can help to stabilise situations such as the one that the hon. Gentleman describes.

John Bercow : I would not want to take an absolutist view on the matter, but there might be some difference between the hon. Lady and me. The reason is that the Government, it seems to me, have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer. We must be careful about committing substantial sums of money in development assistance—as opposed to humanitarian aid—to countries where there is not even a peace agreement or a basic framework for civilised relationships. However, I would not want to rule the idea out in all circumstances. There may be particular projects that we could support. The Government should be prepared to consider them, but it would be wrong to suppose that the Government could in all conscience commit huge sums of money to development assistance to forestall a continuation of violence or, better still, to prepare the ground for a substantial peace, simply on an "I hope" basis. The British taxpayer is entitled to expect something a bit more solid and concrete before major resources are committed. I am glad that the issue has excited some response.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab) rose—

John Bercow : I would like to make some progress on other points, as I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, but how can I resist the exhortations of the hon. Lady?

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Ms Taylor : I am most grateful. I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. He is saying things that, sadly, I have had seriously to think about when considering the UN's peacekeeping competence in the Balkans. NATO had to be deployed after what were, quite frankly, horrendous murders and tyrannies.

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting to the House that the United Nations peacekeeping forces are well past their sell-by date—that they have become less and less valuable—in dealing with corrupt regimes such as the one in Sudan, and that the UN will seriously have to consider a model that is more similar to NATO's if we are to achieve the kind of peace that is necessary if aid is to work in any way, shape or form?

John Bercow : We must think boldly about the sort of approach that is required in places such as Darfur. The word "peacekeeping" is a misnomer, as peace does not exist in any material sense in Darfur. We should not play semantic games or use easy terms such as "peacekeeping", which does not reflect the reality on the ground that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and I encountered on our recent trip to Darfur or that I witnessed for myself during my first visit in July last year. It would seem more sensible to recognise that peace does not exist, to decide whether it falls within the ambit and responsibility of the UN to seek to ensure that it does, and, if we decide positively on the latter, to try to give effect to peace—the result that we seek—through a peace enforcement mandate with the blue helmets and the resources of the UN.

The millennium declaration also states:

"We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty".

To be candid, the reality is that that has not happened and is not happening. Member states are not contributing the scale of resources that would allow for fulfilment of the millennium development goals by 2015 or any time near that date. A ratcheting-up of resources is certainly needed. As that is common ground, I shall not focus on it any further.

I believe that we all agree that, irrespective of the determination of Governments to commit resources through aid, a bigger element of the equation in improving the life chances of people in developing countries will always be trade. Trade is massively bigger than aid could ever be. We may have different views about fair trade versus free trade, but we can confidently say that developing countries are unfairly denied access to western markets on the basis of alleged anxieties on our part about health and safety. The reality is often that that is simply a smokescreen for continuing self-interest and protectionism.

Similarly, we can safely say that, more often than not, the trade that takes place is not free trade. It is heavily subsidised to the advantage of the European Union and the United States, which is why I endorse the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) to make progress towards a successful conclusion of the Doha development round, which must involve a massive and speedy reduction in trade-distorting agriculture subsidies for western agricultural production. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I debated that

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very point on the Floor of the House only a few days ago. I do not know how it will be possible to persuade rich and articulate defenders of self-interest in the United States to change their ways, and it will not be any easier to do that within the European Union, but we must abandon the guff; the hypocrisy is too stomach-churning to continue with any longer.

If we do not want to achieve a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of poor people, we ought to be honest enough to say so. We should acknowledge that keeping our living standards just as they are and placating professional and powerful political lobbies in our own democracies is more important to us. I hope that that is not true, but it simply does not wash to say that we want to improve the opportunities for poor people in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, and then to fail to adopt the measures required to achieve that purpose.

Ms Keeble : I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman's speech for too long, but I would like him to address an issue that is a serious problem for his party; it is not so much of a problem for my party. In addition to policies that promote growth, there must be policies to redistribute wealth. China has the fastest growing economy in the world, but it also has among the highest numbers of poor people. It cannot tackle that poverty because it has a complete dearth of redistribution policies. This subject is not just about trade and economic growth; it is also about redistribution and good social policies, and members of my party, as socialists, understand that.

John Bercow : I certainly agree that countries need good social policies, but we should be realistic about our ambitions. There are certain things that we can expect to do in the short term—or even the medium term. I do not honestly think it is realistic for our country, the European Union or the United States to seek to tell countries whose performance is already improving exactly what scale of redistributive policy they should adopt. Yes, they should use increased resources to develop decent systems of social services, and they should have methods of ensuring that the poorest people in their countries are able to get their feet on the ladder of commercial opportunity and educational advance, but I am cautious about setting out too many specific and high-falutin' goals which we might not be able to attain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness referred to the importance of the MDGs and the Conservative party's support for them. I respect what he said, and I agree with it. However, all of us also know that those goals have proved to be very ambitious, and that they go far beyond the scope of the existing, and rather unsatisfactory, policy commitments that nations have made.

I respect the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), but it would be good if we could learn to walk effectively before seeking to sprint. We are not even walking very effectively at present, and I am therefore a little reluctant to be tempted down the utopian path that the hon. Lady wishes me to tread with her.

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Jeremy Corbyn rose—

John Bercow : I am tempted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that if I do so I shall be even more unpopular with my colleagues than I have already managed to become. I may give way to him shortly, if he behaves well for the next five minutes.

Jeremy Corbyn : What I wish to say is part of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

John Bercow : Oh, very well.

Jeremy Corbyn : I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman along the road to utopia and social justice; I know that he is searching for that road, and I want to help him. He is anxious not to make over-prescriptive demands on poor countries, and I understand where he is coming from on that, but does he accept that many British, European and north American companies are making incredibly large profits out of investing in very low-wage—indeed, slave-labour—economies in the far east, and that we need a much tougher International Labour Organisation that can improve the living standards of the poorest workers in the poorest industrialised countries in the world?

John Bercow : I am very sceptical about that; it sounds to me like a model for grossly increased regulation. If there were to be a body charged with the task of devising the most burdensome and onerous set of regulations known to mankind, I cannot think of anyone more appropriately qualified to be at its apex than the hon. Gentleman. To make business more uncompetitive, to increase the load of regulation, to stifle competitive endeavour, and to encourage an effectively Marxist ethos as far across the world as possible, would, of course, be the daily joy of the hon. Gentleman. I do not myself think that it would advance the interests of the poorest people in the world.

I believe that globalisation is, on the whole, a great force for good. It is also pretty well inevitable. Whereas the hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge and integrity I massively respect, is probably hostile to much of that phenomenon, I think that it has, on the whole, been a good thing. If we look, for example, at countries such as Vietnam, where there has been a dramatic improvement in living standards and economic growth over the past 15 years or so, we see the impact of companies such as Nike. There will be those who say, "Oh no, they're capitalists. They're exploitative. They're bad guys. We don't approve of them. They must be regulated. They should be trodden on. They shouldn't be allowed to behave in that way." But I do not agree. Paying someone $54 a month to work in a Nike factory might not sound very good to us or to the professional salariat of western non-governmental organisations, but it is a damn sight better deal than somebody in Vietnam would get if they toiled away for 14 hours a day in a rice field. We have to operate within the framework of the country whose interests we are considering.

The millennium declaration says:

"We will support the consolidation of democracy in Africa and assist Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development, thereby bringing Africa into the mainstream of the world economy."

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In essence, that raises an issue of governance. Without labouring the point, I simply remind the Minister in a constructive but robust way that those aims have not been met in relation, for example, to Zimbabwe. We have historical obligations, and the international community has burked those obligations in relation to Zimbabwe. There has been no serious attempt to ensure better governance, and I appeal to the Minister, and in particular to Foreign Office Ministers, to redouble their efforts to persuade the South African Government to recognise their responsibilities to bring about a step change in the behaviour of that despotic regime.

On the subject of human rights, which the hon. Member for Islington, North and I have debated previously on the Floor of this Chamber, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has a much better idea for improving the UN's human rights machinery than does the high-level panel. The panel does very good work and correctly diagnosed the weaknesses of the United Nation Commission on Human Rights, but it flunked the opportunity to make a satisfactory proposal for reform. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, it suggested that membership of the Commission should be made universal—after its analysis had demonstrated that there were consistent breaches of human rights by member states. It acknowledged that the organisation had variously been chaired by Nepal—not a noted supporter of human rights and democratic pluralism—and by Libya, and that it is, indeed, currently being chaired by Indonesia. Yet, after all that, it said that membership should be made universal. The problem is the automaticity of membership and the Buggins's turn criterion for chairmanship. That should change, and the Secretary-General is right to suggest that there should be a smaller human rights council, membership of which should be determined by behaviour, not geography. That would be a tremendous improvement, which I hope that colleagues could support.

There is much to do. I have had an opportunity to focus on some of the themes, eloquently aided and abetted by several hon. Members, who have made helpful interventions. I support some of the work that the Government are doing. The United Nations has a future, but it must tackle its own internal problems. If it is to have credibility in talking, for example, about the millennium development goals in respect of women, it clearly must do something to counter the welter of accusations about the maltreatment and sexual harassment of its own staff.

There is work to be done. The only beneficiaries of a weakened or, worse still, eliminated United Nations would be the most powerful people in the world, who do not really favour any collective machinery. If we are united in this Chamber in believing that there is an important role for a multilateral organisation committed to collective security, the advancement of human rights and the extension of opportunity to the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world, we should unite in trying to find ways forward for an organisation that has good intent, but which, in recent years, has sadly lost its way.

4.10 pm
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who is always thoroughly challenging. He

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provokes, with some determination, and I know he believes that through argument we will ultimately reach the reality of responses that, we hope, can deliver change. I must be careful about how I respond to him, as he once developed a relationship with my daughter, who I always hoped would be a strong Labour party member. She came away from a discussion with him believing that he had integrity and enthusiasm.

Ms Keeble : What did you do to her?

Ms Taylor : I locked her up. I decided that that was probably most appropriate at the time. However, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. Of course, I agree with some of what he said to the House today, although most certainly not with it all, but I appreciate that we are here to think. Sometimes, thinking outside the box is the most difficult thing for us all, but it is essential that it should be done.

Rarely has a campaign produced as much commitment, debate, determination, eagerness to deliver and demand as that surrounding the millennium goals. If my constituency experience is anything to go by, that series of intentions to deliver is something that I will not be allowed to forget, as my constituents will ensure that I focus on it. They will not let me take my eye off it, and will question me again and again about delivery.

Not just one group of people are involved in that, as all people, old and young, are keen to have an input to the debate. The united churches in my constituency—people whom, on the whole, I see as incredibly tolerant—become demanding and angry when they discuss the millennium goals. I receive an avalanche of letters from them, and cards that make demands. I believe that those involved employ lobbying techniques that the best commercial enterprises would do well to follow—they are so good at delivering their punches.

The detailed knowledge of those people is inspiring. They know what the Chancellor and the Department for International Development have said. They remind me about that, and they maintain their focus. Unlike the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), I think that a gutsy approach is being taken to the millennium goals and that there is a serious determination that they should be achieved.

I want to refer to a statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who spoke of an increasingly global dimension in education, which is very focused on presenting statements about the needs of others around the world. She said that this is changing attitudes. I think she is absolutely right.

In the past 18 months, I have visited five different primary schools—there could have been five more, but my diary gets chock full, like everyone's, so they could not be fitted in—and in all of them the young students were keen to ask me how the millennium goals would be delivered. One group was so insistent and persistent that I invited them down and they had 30 minutes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The people who are interested in such matters are seriously intolerant of our lack of action, determination and enthusiasm. They make it quite clear to me that we must emphasise in particular the fact that unless there is clean running water and sanitation, the opportunity for

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children to attend primary school will not exist. They look with disdain and disgust on the fact that—as a world and as a country—we are so wealthy, yet we cannot even deliver clean water and sanitation facilities from which children can benefit. Their disdain is appropriate, and we should be taking further and serious action, although I am talking about not only Great Britain.

I am keen to say that schools do not just talk; they act. WaterAid has been the focus of attention at the schools I have visited, and I have received more than one donation from those youngsters and given it to WaterAid. Northumbrian Water in my patch holds that charity very dear, so I ensure that donations reach the appropriate people. The children then ask how the money is being spent. Like good accountants, they want to see a full list of the delivery factors. As politicians, we must listen to those youngsters. They are our voting public of the future. If their integrity is to be matched by our action, we must up our stakes.

I know of a school where the head teacher and the children have a relationship with Aynssi Yina, a school in Ghana. That relationship is not carried out by e-mail, because that is not possible, so the children write and the children from Ghana write back. The head teacher from Great Britain has visited the school in Ghana and the head teacher from that school has visited here. Both share their views on how best to deliver. It really is incredibly gratifying to see that young people are doing what they can do best: they aim at the local element and work with it to deliver.

When I was in India, children who lived in the countryside attended school in tin sheds. It was their school. They sat on the floor and used chalk boards. There were 40 or 50 children in a room, and when it rained they could not hear themselves breathing because of the noise on the tin roof. They were there, delivering.

Three schools in my constituency—one Catholic, one Church of England and one with no denomination—have delivered a profoundly valuable relationship with those children. When we consider the millennium goals and say that they are the responsibility of others such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the G8 and so on, the children say, "Hold on, it's our responsibility to deliver. Let's be focused about how we have an input to the argument." That is so profoundly valuable.

That is enough about schools for the moment. I want to end my remarks by speaking about India and about us and local matters. We have spent a small amount in investment in a small part of India—£4 million. The local people spent that money to ensure that their drains were sunk and that water taps were provided. Given that we are in the 21st century, I felt thoroughly ashamed when a lady told me that she had a chimney in the room where she cooks and that it ensures that her children do not have runny eyes and that their chest problems are significantly less. That shows how small items can deliver enormous good health and hope.

That lady said that she had one sewing machine, that members of the family could read and that the girls were attending school—what a joy! My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North was right when she

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said that the girl in the family invariably has to support her mother in the domestic duties. The kit may be very small, but it delivers enormously in my terms.

In India, I met the Self Employed Womens Association—a small group of women who were positively invigorating. I was so pleased to meet them. They said that they had obtained a small Government grant, set up their own bank and paid their grant back, owing no one. They had set up their own small agricultural enterprise, growing plants and food, and had a market stall. They were using their talents and making household furnishings. The women and their families read; their small rural communities felt included.

The pieces of kit that I am speaking about in the House today are incredibly small. I am talking about not the millennium goals, the 100 million children who do not receive an education or the fact that we are spending billions, but the very small bits of kit that are making a significant difference to people's lives.

SEWA asked, "Dari, why do you all operate such protectionist mechanisms that prevent our trade from being successful and why, when our goods are sold anywhere, even under fair trade regulations, do we get so little money back compared with what the goods were sold for?" We are a shabby lot. There is so much that we could do without much effort.

The debate is incredibly important. I do, of course, support the millennium goals. I want my Government to deliver, I want our country to deliver and I want the international community to be in on this. But sometimes we must realise that, however many good intentions we have, we might wait for ever if we rely on others to accept their moral responsibilities. Perhaps we should focus on the smaller projects and use them to deliver for communities that desperately need them to be delivered effectively.

I found it difficult to agree with everything that the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for St. Ives, said about the private utilities. I know that Northumbrian Water has provided its expertise and competence for nothing through WaterAid because that is its chosen charity and its way of giving. We must understand that private utilities do some amazingly good work around the world, and that it is wrong to suggest that they are all operating on the same basis for profit and to reduce the impact of what they are doing in these countries.

Corrupt regimes must be sorted out. I followed the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Buckingham very keenly. I have been criticised a great deal for the fact that I voted for our troops to be deployed in Iraq. Perhaps I should take care when I say this to the House, but when I see people wringing their hands over Darfur and asking what on earth we should do when a tyrant is ripping his country to pieces, I am very tempted to say that it is time to give the United Nations the muscle that it deserves.

John Bercow : I entirely agree with the thrust of what the hon. Lady has just said. Does she agree that there is also the major problem of despicable and barbaric regimes that are not the subject of regular or prominent news coverage? It is immensely important that we do not become or seem to be indifferent to them. The example

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that springs to mind is that of Burma, which is subject to a brutal military dictatorship, but has not been on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. Nor has it been the subject of a single oral statement in this House since records began.

Ms Taylor : I listened keenly to the hon. Gentleman, and I totally agree with much of what he said. There are such tyrants who regularly seem invisible, and their peoples are emasculated as a consequence. It is no good us wringing our hands. We should give the UN Security Council the tools to do the job, and we know that that will be difficult in terms of force size, command structure and how forces are deployed.

We know that there are problems but, my goodness me, to reduce the importance of the United Nations in the way we have over the years in the glorious hope that it could deliver does less for the UN—in fact, it undermines it—while allowing tyrants to have their own way in their countries in the most corrupt manner.

I am keen to return to the millennium goals. My hon. Friend the Minister introduced the subject with gusto, commitment and integrity. I want him to know that I want the millennium goals to work. I am distraught that we are already floundering on the goal of getting children into primary school education, especially girls, but it is inevitable that we will flounder. This is not a straight track and delivery is not easy. I am delighted, however, that even though the mountain is a difficult one to climb, we have put our boots on and begun to make tracks.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) is absolutely right to focus on the interconnectedness of the world and on what we can all do in our constituencies and in our local schools, as well as on the bigger picture.

There will be three key summits during this critical year for Africa and the developing world: the UN millennium review summit in New York this September, the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July and the World Trade Organisation conference in Hong Kong in December. Each summit shares the same aim: to meet the millennium goals and to halve world poverty. If such a reminder were needed, on every day of every summit 30,000 children will die in Africa.

Ahead of the G8 summit, a powerful advert is being broadcast by the Make Poverty History campaign. It shows various celebrities clicking fingers reflecting how every second, as someone snaps their fingers, a child dies in the developing countries. In France, the actress Kristin Scott Thomas clicks her fingers, while in Germany, Claudia Schiffer clicks hers. It is reputed that even the Chancellor is clicking his fingers here, between meetings. It tellingly emphasises just how many children die in Africa at any time.

By the time the Prime Minister hosts the G8 summit at Gleneagles in just over 40 days, Make Poverty History believes that 10 million Britons will be supporting the call for increased aid, debt relief and trade justice. Hopefully, it will get that support, but how do we get the support of the United States? All of us in this House support more aid, less debt and better trade. There may be differences on the details of the

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effectiveness of aid expenditure and other things; it was good to hear the hon. Lady extolling the virtues of water privatisation. There may be differences on the balance between free and fair trade, or on the future of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative.

However, if a television presenter gave us just a second—a click of the fingers—to say whether we wanted to make poverty history at Gleneagles, we would all say yes. But making poverty history will not be achieved by one Prime Minister, one country or any one G8 member. Making poverty history will only be achieved collectively at Gleneagles, and during the next 40 days the Government have to ensure that Ministers in the US, Germany and Japan are also metaphorically clicking their fingers.

During the next 40 days, the Prime Minister will set off on what has been termed a global mission for Africa, which I understand will be starting tomorrow with a trip to Rome for talks with the Italian Prime Minister; then he will see President Putin, President Bush in June, and will finish by visiting President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder. Heading the topics to be discussed is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's project for the international finance facility, in which he has correctly and wisely invested so much political credit.

The IFF is a good idea and, importantly, it is probably the best idea on the table. It has the biggest chance of raising the missing $50 billion that is needed to ensure that the millennium goals become a reality. That sum was identified as necessary several years ago by the Zedillo report, but little progress has been made collectively on that, including on the allocation of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product to overseas development. There are concerns among some NGOs about the IFF—on the payback period, the level of aid after 2015 and the governance structures—and for some the issues are more important than the front-loading benefit of the international finance facility. However, all hon. Members probably see that if we do not get that front-loading, we will never get the momentum that will ensure that the millennium goals are achieved.

Therefore, the Prime Minister's breakneck tour of G8 leaders is primarily to get some breakthrough on the Chancellor's IFF initiative. Much of the focus for attention has been on the United States. Ever since that speech to the Federal Reserve, the United States Administration's response to the IFF has not moved much beyond one Treasury Under-Secretary's statement that:

"It's not so much that we oppose the British using the IFF, or others, but it does not work for the US because we have means of providing support for poor countries that is working for us."

The frustration is that we do not see the United States coming on board as a team player. If anything, that view is becoming more entrenched. There will be progress at the G8 summit only if there is progress on the volumes of aid—and there will be progress on that only if the United States is on board. Sadly, it is apparent that the United States is resistant to calls for general increases in aid.

From Senators to Members of Congress, there seems to be deep suspicion in Washington of what it sees as simply throwing money at developing countries without any accompanying strict controls on where it is spent. Washington, as we know from the millennium challenge

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account, likes aid to be ring-fenced and likes to say that it is for an AIDS project, or an education project. The Bush presidency, which in fairness has been far more supportive of Africa than many had anticipated, has its own pet projects that, sadly, do not include the IFF. There will be progress on the G8 communiqué, but without the United States the IFF looks increasingly unlikely to be part of that.

I suspect that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been harbouring greater hopes for the IFF with their European neighbours and it looks like European Union countries will back it. President Chirac seems to be firmly behind the IFF and within the European Union it is mostly Scandinavian countries—the ones that already meet the 0.7 per cent.—that clearly back the plan. However, we need to be confident that Italy and Germany will also support the IFF.

I hope that the movement towards the 0.7 per cent. that we have seen in the European Union this week—although that figure by 2030, 2040 or 2015 will not exactly help us to meet the millennium development goals—will mean that the United States will feel more pressure to back measures at the G8, because it will see that the EU is at least united on this and determined to move things forward.

Given this background, one of the most important meetings will not include the Prime Minister: the meeting of the G8 Finance Ministers on 10 and 11 June. Also, European Union Finance Ministers are due to meet on 7 June to discuss the idea of a voluntary levy on air travel as a way of financing development aid. The fuel tax proposal was first floated by the French and is supported by the Germans. It would help fund another IFF, the international finance facility for immunisation, which will work by issuing bonds to raise cash to buy vaccines. That mini-IFF could be seen as a pilot for the Chancellor's project and the IFF proper. Mid-June will therefore be crucial. If EU Finance Ministers do not agree to that mini-IFF, it is unlikely that, three days later, the G8 Finance Ministers will start agreeing the IFF proper.

No doubt the Chancellor remains hopeful that the Europeans will agree their own plans to sell bonds in order to send cheap drugs to poor countries. No doubt he remains hopeful that before Gleneagles he and other Finance Ministers will agree on such important issues as relief on multilateral debts, reflecting the UK's own bilateral schemes with certain African countries. There might even be some movement on gold sales.

It is even possible that the prospects for the IFF may have been further reduced by the EU's announcement of aid levels this week. The EU's commitment to doubling its aid package, with at least half going to African countries, is of course a major breakthrough; it means an extra £14 billion every year within just five years. It means the wealthiest 15 EU countries spending at least 0.5 per cent. of national income on overseas aid, with the UK and France reaching 0.7 per cent. by 2013. That is extremely good news, but it may also mean that there is less income at the disposal of EU leaders and Finance Ministers to commit to financing other key measures. It is, after all, a commitment by the EU. We are not talking about the key measures at Gleneagles, but the millennium review summit itself. The commitment was

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not mentioned by any EU leader or by any newspaper outside the UK in association with the G8, offering little momentum on prospects for the G8.

What are the other key recommendations of the 900-page report by the Commission for Africa? I expect 90 per cent. of the commission's comprehensive and commendable report to be taken to the G8 summit. Several key recommendations deserve strong support, but the challenge comes from the fact that not all of the recommendations will work well for all G8 members. The UK Government clearly need different strategies for each of the other seven countries. In particular, they need a strategy for the United States.

There is an undeniable moral authority around children, and half the continent of Africa is populated by children. Poverty in Africa will not be broken unless there is a fundamental investment in health and education for Africa's children. A message about investment in children therefore works well in the United States. There was a breakthrough on HIV/AIDS in the United States when it took on board the fact of mother to child transmission. The message is one of 1 million extra doctors and nurses by 2015 and of $5 billion extra over the next decade for colleges and universities.

Doubtless, we will need a different message for Japan, Italy and Germany; we need different strategies for the other seven countries of the G8 if there is to be success at Gleneagles. But at the end of the day I suspect that whether Gleneagles is a success will depend on how far the Prime Minister pushes his views, as opposed to accepting some minimal compromise on US terms to avoid an open split at the summit.

Any split at Gleneagles will make progress at the millennium summit review this September almost impossible. The Sachs report on which the millennium summit review will be based presents big ideas for making poverty history. To make that big idea a reality there must be a big tent, with the G8 leaders backing the report with further funds. Perhaps it would be possible for the UK Government to resurrect the IFF as a UN project in New York if it frustratingly fails to meet approval at the G8.

Gleneagles cannot be allowed to fail. Clearly the G8 communiqué must be more ambitious than "first do no harm". With an agenda of summits at New York and then Hong Kong, straining relations is exactly what the Prime Minister cannot afford to do, yet Africa cannot afford to wait any longer. Gleneagles will be not just about clicking fingers but about crossing them. Over the next 40 days, we in this House have to give some thought to what we can do to ensure that our colleagues in the United States and elsewhere in the world recognise the considerable importance that we attach to these various summits. It is pointless us simply having discussions and debates in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber unless we can carry parliamentarians across the world with us.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): Order. We are now in the last hour. If the Minister is to reply, he will need about 10 minutes at the end, so I should be grateful if Members would bear that in mind when making their contributions.

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4.40 pm
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. How much time do you judge that we should each have?

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): I shall leave hon. Members to use their discretion as to how they use the time, bearing it in mind that three hon. Members wish to contribute.

Jeremy Corbyn : Now we know the sum. Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I shall be brief, because I think everybody ought to be able to speak. That makes for a better debate.

I welcome this debate, as well as the principle behind the millennium goals and what they are trying to achieve, but we must recognise that they are not being achieved and are unlikely to be achieved unless there are massive changes in attitudes at Gleneagles, the UN review and the World Trade Organisation. I hope that we will not be here in a year or two with more hand wringing, expressions of deep concern and concerts in favour of greater effort and development, while things get no better in many parts of the world. There have to be real step changes in a lot of things.

What has been impressive in the past five to 10 years is the attitude toward world poverty and world development. I do not try to make a partisan point, but I recall a time when elections in this country were dominated by international aid, although "dominated" is perhaps too strong a word. It would be an issue, and we would say that we wanted to increase aid. Candidates from other parties would say that they wanted to abolish it, and the media simply would not report on or discuss it. During the recent general election campaign, when Make Poverty History and world poverty day came up, there was a degree of unanimity in that we agree that the issue has to be addressed, which must be a good thing.

This morning, I was at a meeting of the regional council of my union, Unison, which, like many other organisations, is fully signed up to Make Poverty History. Letters on the subject are being sent out to Unison members, which many of us will receive. One extract from a draft of the letter says:

"Rich countries have a moral obligation to provide a major increase in resources through increased aid and debt cancellation. Governments must de-link trade policy, debt relief and aid provision from the pursuit of corporate, political and foreign policy objectives and focus efforts on eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development."

I am sure we all agree with that, but what is significant is the fact that that is now seen as the norm and part of mainstream politics rather than something separate or different. I strongly recommend that Members listen carefully to lobbyists. I have always been impressed with how the trade justice lobby, the world development lobby and all the other aid and development lobbyists try to influence Members of Parliament, the efficiency with which they organise their lobbying and—I pay tribute to a friend who spoke earlier on this—the very good information that they provide. I spend time meeting the Trade Justice Movement in my constituency, and come away from meetings having said little and learned a great deal, which is not often the outcome of local meetings.

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Not so long ago, before the election, we had a debate in this Chamber about the Commission for Africa and what would come out of it. I have a lot of time for the commission. When it was set up, I was sceptical about it and thought it was yet another example of a rich, white European country deciding the solution to Africa's problems. I could be called cynical, but that view was shared by many others. I do not go along with every dot and comma of the commission's report any more than anybody else does, but I absolutely go along with the general thrust, which recognises that unless we do something dramatic and serious about improving the living standards of large numbers of people in sub-Saharan Africa, those living standards will not stay as they are, but will get worse. The crisis of southern Africa will get worse and it will go into an abyss of ever-declining living standards and ever-falling life expectancy while we say, "Well, it's nothing to do with us and we cannot do anything about it." Well, it is a great deal to do with us in lots of ways.

One factor, although other Members may not agree, is that Europe and north America—particularly Europe—have made a great deal of money and taken a great deal of wealth out of Africa in the past 300 years. Every major corporation in the City of London, and certainly the older ones, has a history of doing that. Britain did extremely well out of the slave trade. That is an historical fact. The Secretary of State and the commission report readily acknowledge that Africa's development is designed for extractive industries and extractive agriculture, which take products out. Why are there no trans-African highways or railways? Why are there hardly any trans-African air communications? Everything there is designed towards communications with Europe or north America and towards taking things out, rather than developing a sense of African community or inter-African trade. The commission recognised that and we must do something about it.

There are very immediate crises. I have raised issues about many countries in Africa and I raise Angola as a short example, mainly because, for understandable reasons, we could not have a debate on that country earlier this year. Angola has come out of a terrible crisis—30 years, or perhaps longer, of war—and the majority of the population have very low living standards. Possibly half the children are not in school. Illiteracy rates may be stable or rising, but, because of the shortage of teachers, schools, books, equipment and the rest of it, I would be surprised if they were falling. That issue must be addressed.

The Government of Angola readily acknowledge all that, and the IMF is having discussions with them about transparency agreements and future budgetary arrangements before a donors' conference can be held. At some point, I imagine Angola will have a very good standard of living, given its resources, oil, agriculture and the skills of its population, but at present it has not and an awful lot of people there live very miserable lives. A lot of children are dying very young from wholly preventable conditions.

I would be grateful if the Minister gave us encouragement about the possibility of a donors' conference for Angola, because that country has come out of the most ghastly conflict, which was fuelled by the rest of the world's thirst for oil and diamonds and by the voracious appetite for profits of the world's arms

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industry, which has poured arms in. Angola is not the only country in Africa to have suffered from such problems, but I give it as an example. I would be grateful if he said a couple of words about Angola in his winding-up speech.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) asked whether we should be talking about charity and mentioned the idea that charity begins at home. I do not like the use of the word "charity", nor the idea that we are discussing charity. I talk about justice—that is what we should be talking about. Do we wish to live in justice in this world? Yes, justice comes from the provision of increased aid and investment, but crucially—other Members have raised this issue—it also comes from our attitude towards world trade, the amount of goods produced by highly skilled farmers that can be sold at a reasonable price abroad and the amount of indigenous agriculture that can be developed into food processing.

This is a common theme: why does Africa produce lots of cocoa, but no chocolate? Why is there very little food processing in Africa and in some other countries of the world? The WTO round in Mexico collapsed essentially because of the greed of the rich countries, which were not prepared to concede the needs of the poorest. I hope that the next WTO summit will recognise that the unity of the southern countries in demanding justice is a very important step forward.

It is always interesting to discuss such issues with the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. I raised the question of living standards and poverty around the world in a genuine way. The International Labour Organisation attempts to defend the rights of workers to basic living requirements, basic health and safety, and basic rights of representation. I fully support that, but the organisation is too weak and needs to be made much stronger.

We cannot go on saying that we are going to open up the trade barriers with China, or with any other country, and do nothing about the abominable—virtually slave labour—working conditions of the many people who work in factories in those countries producing cheap clothes from which we benefit and from which British companies make a great deal of profit. I would like a much stronger ILO, running in parallel with the WTO. What that might achieve?

The last point that I want to make on that area involves the question whether trade is free or fair. If we allow untrammelled free trade to be imposed on a third-world country, that will result in destruction of the local agriculture and of whatever local industries there are, and in global corporations coming in and doing what they like and disappearing when they like. It must be recognised that it is perfectly reasonable to have trade barriers to allow a developing country to develop industrial infrastructure of the kind it probably lacks.

John Bercow : For the avoidance of doubt, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I strongly believe that we should not countenance practices by companies in the developing world that would be regarded as morally unacceptable in our own country. Slave labour, for example, is just plain wrong. However, I am a little nervous about what the hon. Gentleman might have in mind in terms of uprating wages, for example.

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May I also put it to the hon. Gentleman that the problem for those west and central African economies is the dumping of agricultural produce? Does he also accept that although those countries should have a chance to develop their domestic base, they cannot expect to have the freedom to do so indefinitely? Surely there should be some target date after which they should compete in the international marketplace.

Jeremy Corbyn : When the hon. Gentleman spoke earlier, he kindly offered me a job as head of a world regulatory commission, which I am still considering—I need to know a bit more about the terms involved. However, I have some ideas that I might be able to bring to bear on that subject. It is a kind offer, but I will put it on one side.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about food dumping. It is morally wrong that the US Government and the EU Commission pay farmers to over-produce. They then use taxpayers' money to buy the over-production, so it is already a double purchase, and it is then shipped at enormous public cost across the seas to be dumped as maize on African societies. That destroys all the local agriculture and leads to urbanisation and all the problems that go with it. The practice is simply crazy and must be stopped. It is, of course, one of the issues that led to the WTO breakdown.

Ms Dari Taylor : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jeremy Corbyn : I will, but I am conscious that 13 minutes is the target. We have to keep to targets.

Ms Taylor : I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's statements about the ILO. I, too, have a great deal of respect for that organisation, but I ask him to consider the fact that if what the women involved in SEWA are saying is anything to go by—they are saying it in a very truthful and factual way—the ILO is very male dominated and very resistant to new or different women becoming involved in the organisation. Frankly, it really needs the involvement of such women.

Jeremy Corbyn : I defend the ILO as an institution and as an organisation in relation to what it is there to do, but I also agree with my hon. Friend that there must be a lot of changes in that organisation and that it must recognise the role of women in a much better way.

The last point that I want to make concerns the UN, which has been discussed by virtually everyone in the debate, and the role of NGOs in it. As hon. Members will have heard before, I have attended many sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which can be interesting and informative or irritating and annoying. I understand where the Secretary-General of the UN is coming from when he talks about some kind of panel to deal with human rights issues, but I have two questions: who goes on the panel and who decides who goes on the panel? We like to think that we are perfect where human rights are concerned, but we are not. The United States is not; France is not; many countries are not. Few people are.

A founding principle of the UN was that it should be open to civil society representatives. Although I acknowledge the problems caused by the operation of

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the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, one of its strong aspects is that Governments who abuse the human rights of their citizens, whose behaviour is unacceptable, who have a death penalty and so on can be challenged by civil society NGOs. It is important to maintain the right of civil society to be represented in the UN and the principle of challenge.

I understand why the hon. Member for Buckingham said that not every country should have the right to be in the commission. Every country should be a member of the commission, but the civil society NGOs that oppose what is being done in their countries should have the right to challenge those countries if necessary. It is necessary to have such a forum. I do not want the whole thing to be hived off to a grand sub-committee in New York that meets in private and does not allow civil society representatives to challenge what various Governments are saying.

This may the subject for another debate, but we must recognise the fact that the UN should have a role in conflict prevention. I opposed the Iraq war, as did many others, but that is not the point I want to make today. There are many other conflicts in the world, with many victims, and in many of them no one is making any effort whatever to try to achieve peace or resolve the conflict. We should not allow our political thinking to be guided by wherever the CNN cameras happen to be.

4.56 pm
Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Again, and rather to my surprise, I find myself largely in agreement with him. However, for reasons that he will understand, I am glad to say that I did not agree with everything that he said.

Why are we debating a subject that seems to command such wide general consensus? First, I am suspicious of consensus. When politicians all agree, we quickly get a great sloppiness of thinking, and it is important that aspects of the consensus are challenged. I am delighted that some things have been said today that challenge the consensus, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), with whom I find myself in virtually complete agreement. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 stands as a memorial to consensus.

Secondly, we need to demonstrate parliamentary support in order to influence the Government's priorities. On the whole, the Government are doing a remarkably good job in this area. However, even this Government could do better, and their priorities could be different. It is important to demonstrate our strong support for what is going on, and we need to encourage the Department for International Development and the Chancellor to continue being robust.

Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, we need to send a message not only to the wider international community, but particularly to the United States of America. Still on the subject of consensus, we often talk about what the millennium development goals might achieve for poorer countries, but we need to be more honest about the consequences for ourselves. It is not a zero sum game; far from it. The whole world would be better off physically, economically and morally if the millennium development goals were achieved, but within that process there will be winners and losers.

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A classic example of that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor)—the growth of Indian call centres. That could mean pain for our constituents, although not yet as call centre employment is still growing in the UK. However, when we lose jobs to India we are witnessing the development of that country, and that country's progress towards the millennium development goals.

Ms Dari Taylor : I am interested in that statement. The hon. Gentleman is right that call centres are growing at an exponential rate in India, but would he not accept that they are paying such good salaries to their employees, especially their engineers, that they are taking people from areas of India where they are desperately needed? Like everyone, they have families to bring up and they want the best for them—and the best income. The downside for me is certainly not the movement of call centres to India, but the fact that they are attracting some of the country's brightest and most capable engineers, who would be more beneficial to their communities if they worked elsewhere.

Peter Luff : I do not intend to have a lengthy debate about Indian call centres—it was tangential remark—but I disagree with the hon. Lady because staff turnover in call centres is so fast. The Indian economy is now so strong that people typically spend a maximum of two years in a call centre before moving on to somewhere else. That is a win-win situation, as they improve their English, which is India's unique selling proposition in terms of international development. That is another debate, but I do not accept what the hon. Lady said.

On consensus, we all agree that the goals are terribly good and we welcome them. However, I have a slight worry because we have been here so often before—I was involved with the Brandt report in 1980 and I remember the public excitement about the Live Aid concerts. We march people up to the top of the hill, and we march them down again, and sometimes we are seen to fail. I am delighted that the Minister accentuated the positive about particular African countries in his opening remarks, but the fact is that sub-Saharan Africa is in serious trouble in relation to the goals. I worry about the danger of disillusion if we are seen to fail.

I do not accept that the problems are insuperable; quite the opposite. They are immensely soluble given the right international will. It is crucial that we do not let the people down on the goals and that they are not overambitious. The Minister cited many of the problems in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Chancellor has also been honest about them in his public statements, detailing how primary education for all will be 115 years late, the halving of poverty 135 years late, and the elimination of avoidable infant deaths 150 years late. That means that it will be one sixth of the way into the new millennium or, given the average lifespan of an African citizen of 30 to 33 years, four to five generations of Africans, before the goals are achieved in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a matter of great concern.

The next question, which relates to my point about how there is sometimes pain in achieving such goals, is whether the European Union and the United States of America are genuinely willing to do what is necessary to fulfil the goals. Recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham highlighted the subsidy to US cotton

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farmers, and he was right to do so—it totals some $3 billion a year. Will the Americans make progress on eliminating those subsidies? They must do, because otherwise the consequences will be devastating.

Is there also a willingness for lobby groups to accept the important role of the private sector? That has been a feature of today's debate. The Tanzanian water example has obviously been a great concern, but if we consider the work done by the growing sustainable business scheme of the United Nations Development Programme, we can see exactly what good work can be done by the private sector in the right conditions, properly controlled and to universal acclaim. That is tremendously important. As a special adviser to the UNDP, Richard Sandbrook, said about the important subject of water:

"To meet the Millennium Development Goals you have, for example, to connect 300,000 people every day with water—and you need a lot of plumbers to do that . . . By and large, governments don't employ plumbers and neither do NGOs, so scaling up depends absolutely on the private sector's technology and skills."

This is a matter of using those skills in the right way.

Do we have a genuine willingness to accept and respect local cultural traditions? We often talk about developing countries owning their poverty reduction programmes, but sometimes that means some difficult choices, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples. There is a real risk of cultural imperialism by the west, especially on animal rights issues. When we restrict the ability to hunt species that are not in danger, what do we do to indigenous peoples? There is also a danger of cultural imperialism in labour laws, which is what worries me about the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, North. There is a risk of imposing our idea of acceptable conditions on developing countries. I would qualify what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, and my test would be to ask "Is what we are doing morally acceptable in those countries?" We should be reluctant to impose our standards, which could just be a barrier to trade, drive up wages and destroy the competitive advantage that those developing countries enjoy. It is a difficult choice.

This is about priorities, which is why the debate is so important in helping the Government to argue the case powerfully at the various summits that we will have this year. A recent report on UN reform by the Secretary-General said that development

"serves multiple functions. It helps combat the poverty, disease and environmental degradation that kill millions and threaten human security. It is vital in helping states prevent or reverse the erosion of State capacity, key to meeting almost every class of threat. And it is part of a long-term strategy for preventing civil war, and for addressing the environments in which both terrorism and organized crime flourish."

That is an obvious point, but worth quoting: in significant part, development is about reducing terrorism.

I thought that the working assumption is that the world needs to find an extra $50 billion in development aid, although the Minister gave the figure as $100 billion in his speech. I think that the World Bank quote is between $40 billion and $70 billion. It is not a huge amount of money, whoever is right. However, the aid

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flows to Africa fell between 2002 and 2003. Coupled with the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war—I admit that I supported it—has cost the United States of America some $225 billion, and rising. If money can be found for such things, perhaps rightly, it must also be found to achieve the millennium development goals.

More controversially, perhaps, I read that we are about to be charged £93 each for an identity card—£372 for a family of four. I would rather make that contribution to Water Aid; that would do more to make my family and this country safer than would an identity card scheme.

John Bercow : Does my hon. Friend agree that the force of his argument is underlined by the fact that the United Nations first committed to the 0.7 per cent. target in 1970, and that in the intervening 35 years the increase in real disposable income of the citizens of member states has massively increased, beyond the increase in the contributions that Governments make to the poorest countries in the world?

Peter Luff : My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point, with which I entirely agree, and draws me rather faster than I anticipated to my next and last set of

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