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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Foreign Affairs and International Development

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

During the debate on the Foreign Affairs and International Development part of the Queens Speech in the House of Commons Meg gave the following speech.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I want to contribute on a number of issues, starting with international development. I support the aid target of 0.7% of GNI. It is a useful target. As others have said, it has been in place for many years, and it can help to identify an amount over time and enable us to compare what different countries are achieving.


It is a real credit to the campaigners outside Parliament who pushed for our Governments to get to this stage, and it is a real credit to the last Labour Government that they set in motion the work to achieve that figure. It is also a real credit to this Government that they have retained the target. I have greatly enjoyed hearing support for it right across the Chamber, from Members of all parties. Let us remember that when the Labour Government came to power in 1997, international development aid had fallen to a quite low amount. From then onwards, we saw a steady increase towards the point when this Government have set out this firm commitment.


There are two issues to discuss about the figure of 0.7%. Much of the discussion about international aid both within and without Parliament tends to focus on achieving that figure, but in my view we do not focus enough on what is being done with the money and why.

Members have had the opportunity to see some of the projects in action—I saw them when I travelled overseas—but many people outside Parliament have not. We need not only to give more publicity to what is being done with that money in their name, but to be assured that it is being spent in the best possible way. Aid needs to be effective. While we focus on this figure, I think we need to talk more, plan more and do more in seeking clear outcomes. That is why clear goals such as the Millennium Development Goals are important. We must develop the capacity of beneficiaries to become sustainable and productive economies.


I would like to provide some examples from a United Nations Development Programme report that has just been released—the “Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future”. It tells us that 40% of African children aged under five are malnourished because while there have been impressive Gross Domestic Product growth rates, these have not led to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. The report also identifies that simply focusing on agriculture will not be enough. An approach that works with the whole community is important, including building rural infrastructure and health services.


Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): My hon. Friend talks about the problems of malnourished children. It is important to realise that when children are malnourished, it amounts to a life sentence, as they are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives by being malnourished when they are born or in their earliest years.


Meg Munn: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why it is so important that we learn from successes such as Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger, and Malawi, which, through a subsidy programme for seed and fertiliser, has moved within two years from a food deficit to a food surplus.


I do not think that the target needs to be put in law, as each Government put a Budget forward, and each Government have to make a case. Support has to come from parliamentarians, who need to explain why we need that figure. I do not think we should have lots of civil servants running around trying to find the money that qualifies for the target. I have heard people use a terrible term when they have asked whether this or that spending is “ODA-able”—does it count, and can we put it within the 0.7%? Do we need to be that prescriptive about the exact amount? Let us focus on the outcomes.


I would also like to see greater focus on investing in improved governance. In the context of effective use of aid, good governance delivers better outcomes for populations.


Let me speak briefly about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, of which I have the honour of being vice-chair. I am delighted that the Department for International Development, in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is putting funds into the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for more work of this kind to be done. It is the 20th anniversary of this organisation. It works with Parliaments and political parties, which are essential to building democracies that are responsive to their populations. It is not only a legitimate focus for aid, but an essential one if we are to see long-lasting changes.


The Prime Minister reiterated that our troops will no longer be in Afghanistan in a combat role beyond the end of 2014. I want to restate my concerns about women in Afghanistan, and the importance of the Government speaking up for women. Anyone who has met women MPs from Afghanistan will know how brave they have to be, often even standing up against their families just to run for election to Parliament. I therefore welcome Ministers’ previous expressions of support in this House, but more can, and should, be done.


Women’s safety and security, and guaranteeing their rights, needs more than a passing mention in speeches. Just two months ago, Afghanistan’s leading clerics declared the worth of women to be secondary to that of men, and President Karzai publicly endorsed that decree, despite the new constitution enshrining in law equal rights for women. We know that, despite significant improvements having been made for women and girls in Afghanistan, many women face danger or are the victims of violence, and often they are punished for reporting crimes against them, rather than supported as victims. I therefore ask the Government to say today that they will insist on women’s involvement in all levels of the Afghan peace process, and will consult Afghan women, who know what is happening in their communities, and will explicitly include women’s safety in all discussions on security.


I welcome the changes in Burma. We need to encourage and support them, but I want to offer a word of caution: we must not rush forward too quickly. The Foreign Secretary said there was a plan to open a business office in Naypyidaw, but we should not be too quick to say that that is our No. 1 priority. We want to see democratic processes put in place, and we want all the ethnic groupings in Burma to have the opportunity to take part in them fully. There is still a great deal to be done, therefore.


There have been human rights abuses, as well as forced labour, arbitrary taxation, extortion, forced relocation and extrajudicial killings—a litany of problems that have long beset Burma, and have been the effect of the regime. That is not going to change overnight. Many minorities have been persecuted, and forced into camps on the Thai border. For example, for many years people from the Karen community have come to the UK—many to Sheffield. That was supported by the UN, because they were living in terrible conditions, and could not continue to do so. We must not rush to develop our trade with Burma, therefore. Instead, we must continue to offer support, and look at how we can encourage the embedding of democracy in that country, where the people so greatly deserve such changes.


Finally, I want to say a few words about the UK’s Overseas Territories. I welcome the fact that we are to have a new White Paper on the overseas territories, and I look forward to reading it. I hope we will continue to support our overseas territories through our international aid budget and that they will continue to have first call on that budget. Although there are many countries and situations around the world that are deserving of our support and aid, these are our overseas territories, and we therefore have an extra responsibility towards them.


I have welcomed the agreement to develop an airport in St Helena. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, we should support and help countries and territories that need aid now. Without an airport, I am certain that St Helena would continue to need our ongoing aid well into the future.


For as long as we continue to have a responsibility towards our territories, we should continue to ensure that human rights are respected in them. We must continue to enforce the tight child protection procedures in the Pitcairn islands, for example. There may well come a point when some of our territories decide that they wish to become independent, however. In such circumstances, I would like our Government to give help and support so that territories can make that decision for themselves.


It is enormously important to reiterate that point in relation to the Falkland Islands. The Falkland islanders have long expressed the view that they wish to be British. The current behaviour of the Argentine Government, in trying to undermine their self-determination and their wish to remain British, is appalling.


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