July 23, 2007

Global Poverty

John Bercow raises the importance to the developing world of the fight against corruption, better infrastructure and expansion of trade.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). The debate was opened by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) with that combination of intellect, erudition and courtesy that are his defining characteristics and that command the respect of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

There is no doubt that the fact that more than 1 billion people in the developing world exist—I will not say live—on less than a $1 a day is a scar on the face of humanity that disfigures and in a very real sense diminishes every single one of us. In seeking to tackle that appalling human tragedy and to offer hope for the future, there are three points that at this stage in our proceedings and in our national deliberations we need keenly and authoritatively to address.

First, if we believe in more aid—we do in each of our respective parties; I have argued for it from the Front and Back Benches, throughout the last Parliament—we must recognise that there is at least as important a duty on us to recognise and fight against corruption. Indeed, I would argue to the Secretary of State in a non-partisan spirit that that obligation is more important at the time of a rising aid budget.

Of course we want more transparency, accountability, scrutiny, support for Parliaments, exposure of wrongdoing and appropriate punishments. We also have a duty to recognise that corruption must be fought wherever it rears its ugly head, whether it is in the practice of recipient Governments or the behaviour of corporate entities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) is to be warmly congratulated on the suggestion that we work towards the formulation of an EU common code on this subject, to which individual countries and perhaps businesses would sign up. We should give real teeth to our commitment to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery by translating its essence, spirit and provisions into domestic legislation. That has not happened and it is overdue. There is a compelling case for it and there is now an opportunity for it to happen. I hope very much that it will.

My second point is that, notwithstanding the efficacy of, and the case for, increased aid, there is a real opportunity to improve economic development and a demand for that. That requires a new focus on, and commitment to, infrastructure in two forms: commercial and physical. I emphasise commercial infrastructure. We should seek to foster the creation of what I would call the institutional infrastructure of competitive capitalism in the developing world. That means the creation of clear systems of property rights; a recognition of the concept of credit; transparent, simplified and intelligible taxation systems; the enforceability of contracts; and courts through which we can give effect to that principle.

Physical infrastructure is important too. Okay, the past was disappointing. There were failures. Mistakes occurred under successive Governments. Prestige projects went wrong. Too much money was spent and it was very badly accounted for. Scandals resulted. But that does not in any sense reduce—still less obviate—the responsibility upon us now to go forward seeing the merits of decent infrastructure. Without decent roads, decent rail, decent transport and decent communication systems, the aspiration to economic improvement, to individual fulfilment, to national development in the developing world remains just that: an idle aspiration. So, yes, we need to have economic development. That must be a prime objective of British, European, and multilateral aid policy.

Finally, we must have a massive expansion of trade, because the catalyst that it provides for economic development is potentially enormous. There is a compelling argument for unilateral initiatives, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden has so rightly proposed, and, yes, it is about the removal of trade barriers and the elimination of trade-distorting subsidies. It is also about doing what we give the impression that we intend to do. We must mean what we say and say what we mean.

I give the example of duty-free and quota-free access. I say to the Secretary of State that it is no good international leaders saying that 97 per cent. of tariff lines will be of benefit to the developing world because there will be duty-free and quota-free access, if the more than 300 individual product lines—the 3 per cent.—that are of most importance to the countries, and offer the most potential benefit, do not form part of the equation. Bangladesh has to be able to export its textiles to the United States, and other countries that specialise in footwear, or, for that matter, fish or leather products, have to be able to sell those products.

It is time that the developed world ceased its nauseating hypocrisy of preaching free markets while practising protectionism on a truly industrial and breathtaking scale. As a consequence of the failures of multilateral policy and a lack of imagination, too many people in the developing world have suffered too much for too long with too little done to help them. That situation must change, and it will better change with cross-party support in the House and multilateral backing in the international community.

9.38 pm

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