International DevelopmentSpeeches

Andrew Mitchell – 2006 Speech at the Conservative Party Conference

The speech made by Andrew Mitchell, the then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, on 4 October 2006.

I think David Cameron has given me the most exciting job in the Shadow Cabinet and one of the most worthwhile.

A billion people- a sixth of the world’s population – exist each day on less than the price of a coffee from the foyer outside here.

Tackling this is the great moral challenge of our time. We cannot, we will not, walk by on the other side.

Making this difference is vital to our long-term security. If we can help Africa join the modern world their people won’t want to flee to Europe to find a better life.

The Conservative Party is rightly insisting on firm but fair immigration controls, and an end to Labour’s chaotic mismanagement of the asylum system.

But just ask yourself this: what possesses a young African man to get in an open boat, to pay all the money he has to the modern version of a slave trader, to risk his life on a journey of 1000 miles across the Atlantic, in the hope of stumbling ashore on a European beach?

People who do that – in the kind of numbers we’re seeing today – these are pretty desperate people.

If we help them, we not only do what is morally right, we also address problems we face here at home.

You know, there are some who say this is a Labour issue.

But I say that international development is not a Labour issue or a Conservative issue but a British issue.

And our support makes the British contribution hugely stronger and more effective.

And that’s not surprising because Labour have built on the foundations they inherited from the Conservatives. Chris Patten and Lynda Chalker – two excellent Tory Development Ministers – left a valuable legacy of strong policies on good government and on corruption.

And it was Conservative ministers who negotiated the cancellation of £1.2 billion of debt owed by the world’s poorest countries.

So just as we believe in social justice at home, we believe in social justice abroad.

But the Conservative agenda for tackling global poverty is not the same as the agenda of the Left and today I want to talk about our approach on aid, on corruption and on conflict.

Labour are obsessed with inputs, putting money on the table – how much we spend. But as Conservatives we are concerned with outputs – how many schools we build – and even more concerned with outcomes – how many kids get an education.

Many on the Left believe that the cure for poverty is big plans conceived by visionaries and academics.

But just as big government in Britain doesn’t necessarily mean big solutions, so big projects imposed on the developing world often don’t translate into real progress for those we should be helping.

Money given in hand-outs to governments too often fails to reach the village at the end of the track where they have neither a school, nor a clinic, nor even clean water.

And this is the lesson for the big planners like Gordon Brown – if they are minded to listen. Aid is not the same thing as development. Aid in itself has not and will not deliver long-term prosperity or an end to poverty.

It is the small steps to development that make a lasting change to people’s lives: the village well that means women don’t have to walk five miles a day for water.

The £4 malaria net that means a baby survives to reach the age of five.

The village school that means families no longer have to chose between children working in the fields or learning how to read and write.

Focussing on these steps is not as dramatic as declaring that we will end poverty tomorrow. But as I’ve seen in some of the poorest parts of the world, these are the steps that make a real difference to the poorest.

Remember my story about Marjina Begum. Microfinance has helped millions of people like her. From a woman in Ghana who needs a second-hand sewing machine to start a clothes business, to a man in Mozambique who wants tools to repair shoes, or a beggar in Bangladesh who borrows to buy chickens who lay eggs he can sell.

And incidentally, it also opens up societies to new ideas, such as equality for women and girls. Given microfinance and education, women are already the ones driving real change all over the developing world.

We are committed to increasing our aid substantially to 0.7 percent of our national income by 2013.

We will spend more because we know that well-spent aid can work miracles. Killer diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria condemn millions of people to a slow, painful death. Using our aid money effectively to prevent the spread of these awful diseases will save millions of lives in the years ahead.

British aid has helped millions of children into school, and supported the provision of clean water and sanitation as I saw in Dhaka this summer.

Earlier this year David Cameron suggested giving aid vouchers to poor people so that they could choose what sort of development service they want and who they want to provide it.

That is the right way to advance this agenda.

I want to see poor people as masters and owners of the international development system and not as passive recipients of it.

Aid agencies – should be subject to independent evaluation, not merely self-evaluation as at present.

And so I can tell Conference today that we have asked our Policy Group to consider setting up an International Aid Watchdog. Uncluttered by conflicts of interest, this would provide independent and objective evaluation of the effectiveness of British aid.

Labour spends your money; Conservatives will get results.

Corruption is the enemy of effective aid.

When Paul Wolfowitz of the World Bank found that the President of the Republic of Congo had spent £ 50,000 on putting up himself, his butler, his personal photographer, his hairdresser and about 50 other members of his entourage at The Palace Hotel in New York, he was outraged.

When he wasn’t satisfied with the audits of the state oil company, he suspended debt relief.

Labour say that Paul Wolfowitz is being too harsh in tackling corruption. I say that Mr Wolfowitz is right. A Conservative Government will champion zero-tolerance of corruption.

We owe it to hardworking British taxpayers to speak out and take action wherever and whenever corruption is exposed.

But at the heart of everything we do in international development is conflict prevention and reconciliation. Because if you are one of the poor children and families that live in a camp in Darfur – one of those who William Hague and I met earlier this year – it doesn’t matter how much aid and trade you receive, you are going to remain poor and destitute, frightened and bitter, until the conflict and the shooting stop.

Many of us are praying that the sinews of the international community are strong enough to protect the weak and desperate who are now waiting in fear and terror in Darfur.

And Darfur is a real test for the international community.

Will we stand by once again as we did over Rwanda?

Will we watch helplessly as the will of the UN is flouted by a regime in Khartoum guilty of genocide and ethnic cleansing?

Will we allow their helicopters to shoot innocent civilians – men women and children – and fail to enforce the no-fly-zone set up by the UN in 2004 but never implemented?

We should hit the generals where it hurts by stopping their shopping trips to Paris, freezing their foreign bank accounts and closing down their network of overseas businesses.

The international community must now ensure that the African Union are given the resources they need to carry out their mandate.

And if the leaders in Khartoum are caught outside Sudan, we must send them to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

As we end our debate today, we know that our approach to tackling global poverty is different from that of the Left. Conservatives believe in working with the grain of human nature and in giving poor people themselves the chance to get ahead and lift their families out of poverty.

As your International Development team learn lessons from around the world, we are confident that Britain under a Conservative government will answer the moral call from developing countries for open markets and effective aid.

Under the Conservatives British aid will make the greatest possible difference to health and education and to political stability.

And we are convinced that our blend of idealism and practicality, our enthusiasm and our dedication, will commend itself to the British people at the next election.