Date of Proceeding: 24.07.2007
Reference: 463 c784-6
Member: Lilley, Peter
Title: Global Poverty
Description: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), who made a significant speech on an extremely important subject. The issues that he raised are addressed in the report; indeed, he may well find matters of great interest to him there. I am thinking of a paper written by a brilliant young man of Chinese origin, who makes three succinct points. First, we should never miss the opportunity to engage with China on governance issues. Secondly, we should recognise that China will double its aid, so we-the G8-should keep our promises to double our aid. Thirdly, we and our partners should redouble our efforts and co-operate in pursuing governance issues to ensure that they are not undermined by other new donors coming on the scene.
I am indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) both for securing the debate and for his masterly exegesis of what is a lengthy report. In delivering that, he has rather relieved me of the obligation that I had intended to fulfil of spelling out what it contains in its 453 pages. Therefore, perhaps I could address matters from a different angle from that which I intended.
I came to the subject of development many decades ago when, as my mother put it, I had a proper job and I was a development economist working on aid and development programmes in Africa and Asia. At that stage, had someone asked me whether I would still be interested in those subjects and whether we would still be facing so many of the same problems today-some of the countries that I have revisited face even worse levels of poverty than they did then-I would not have believed them. I thought that by now poverty would be history.
The situation was brought home to me clearly by someone who put it in stark terms. The aid effort began perhaps in 1948 with Harry Truman. Since then, $1 trillion has been spent on aid. Why is not poverty history? One reason is that that sum, although apparently large, is actually not so large spread over half a century and over billions of people. It is a handful of dollars for each poor person each year. Small wonder then that it has not cured the problem. There is every reason for us to increase aid, which I think the House is committed to do. My party, I am happy to see, is committed and has reaffirmed its intention to meet the 0.7 per cent. of GNI target by 2013, or earlier if possible.
Another reason is that, for much of that period, aid was given largely for reasons other than the alleviation of poverty. The cold war meant that aid was used to buy allegiance rather than to end poverty. Tied aid meant that money was given to subsidise donors’ domestic industries, rather than to relieve poverty. Once one reaches that conclusion, that is a good reason to put much more emphasis on the effectiveness of aid, and that is what we do in the report to a considerable degree.
Although some of those problems have disappeared, for various reasons, ineffectiveness is still built into the governance of aid. Much attention is paid to the issue of governance within recipient countries but not enough to the issue of governance by donor countries. Tanzania has to give 2,400 reports in a single year to donors. It has to meet 1,000 or more delegations from donors. The pressure, weight and burden that is put on such countries by well meaning donors throughout the world is undoing the work that they are trying to achieve. That is why we put forward the proposal for partnership trusts to try to persuade as many donors as possible to give their money through a single channel, and to do so more effectively, efficiently and conveniently for the countries that we are helping through aid.
Another reason is that a lot of aid is top-down. We in this country recognise that the man in Whitehall does not know best how money should be spent in Swindon. Why do we think that he knows best how money should be spent in parts of Africa or Asia? Therefore, we propose that we should try to move to demand-led funding, and to harness the experience, expertise and knowledge of people in the countries that we want to help by saying, “Bring projects or programmes to us, be you Governments, local governments, companies, non-governmental organisations, or groups in the country.” The demand-led fund will provide aid, subject to those projects being the best ways to achieve the ends that the groups put forward, and there being measures of performance and appropriate arrangements for auditing. We want that method to be tried. We hope and believe that it would work, expand and form a more significant part of the funding, or be used by partnership trusts themselves in handling funding for projects that they were carrying out in country.
A third response can be made to the statement that poverty is not history: for many people it is history. Millions of people do not experience poverty, disease or hunger because they and the countries in which they live have risen out of poverty as aid has worked. Aid has been successful in eradicating diseases-or at least eliminating them from large areas. Among such diseases are smallpox, polio, guinea worm disease and African river blindness.
One of the great successes in terms of hunger has been the green revolution in Asia. That is why we want there to be an extension of agricultural aid to produce a green revolution in the rain-fed and arid areas of Africa and Asia that were not touched by that first green revolution. We ought to make more of the successes in aid, and build on them. That is another of the report’s themes.
The greatest successes have come about as a result of countries growing economically, and the great motor of such growth is trade. There have been great changes in opinion and a great mobilisation of support for increasing the aid effort and eliminating the burden of debt through campaigns such as Make Poverty History, Live 8 and drop the debt. We want a similar mobilisation of opinion through a campaign by all parties in this country and by all the countries of Europe and the developed world to create real trade opportunities for developing countries.