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Alan Duncan: Action on international development

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2004

"In the course of the four days of this conference over thirty thousand people will have died of AIDS. Over 35 million are thought to have it: nearly 3 million a year are killed by it. These are dreadful figures - and they're growing. If anyone thinks that AIDS doesn't matter, then they don't understand the world we live in. AIDS - which is crucial to the whole issue of poverty - is the top international development priority for the world today, and it will be our top priority too.

If you want to tackle poverty you have to tackle AIDS. That means you've got to prevent it - by education, and by making people use condoms. You've got to treat it - which means extending the availability of anti-retroviral drugs to the poor of the world. And you've got to hope you can cure it - which means you have to invest in the necessary research to find a vaccine.

That is what we will do. And that is why the next Conservative government will aim to ring-fence part of the Global Health Fund to try to find a permanent cure for AIDS.

We will not ignore the suffering caused by AIDS, nor will we ignore the suffering caused by poverty.

Half of all sub-Saharan Africans live on less than a dollar a day.

This means the most unimaginable hardship and destitution for hundreds of millions of people. We have a moral responsibility to come to their aid.

In Britain we have always been aware of the need to reach out with practical help to the developing world. We have always stood for freedom and justice. And we have acted on those principles when in government. Lynda Chalker was an exceptional Overseas Development minister, as was Chris Patten who has done similar work for the EU. We have an outstanding record on debt relief. We cancelled more than a billion pounds of debt to the world's poorest countries.

There are so many things which we take for granted which others never even dream of having. Clean water, basic sanitation, elementary medicine, security at birth - millions have none of it. Instead, they face starvation and lifelong poverty. The Millennium Development Goals now being adopted by the world's richer countries are designed to shape the way in which the rich should help the poor so as to overcome this desperation. But goals are one thing, delivery is another. Targets need action.

And to be fair, much that Labour is doing, we approve of. Indeed, much that any government does in this field enjoys cross-party support. We should all be glad that the Government has put tackling Africa's plight at the top of its agenda for Britain's presidencies of the G8 and the EU next year. But it needs action more than words.

Tony Blair has talked a lot about Africa. But stunts and photo-ops don't feed the world's poor. His trip to Africa lets him pose, but if he won't call the horror in Darfur in Sudan by its right name - genocide - how can we expect effective action that will save lives?

Three years ago he told us that Africa was a 'scar on the conscience of the world'. Indeed it is - and it should also be a scar on the conscience of many who govern there. If there were less corruption, there'd be less poverty. Three years ago Mr Blair told us that there would be 'no tolerance' for 'Mugabe's henchmen'. And now, three years later, in Zimbabwe you have greater tyranny, more oppression and greater poverty than ever before.

And Jack Straw grabs Mugabe's hand and says 'nice to see you'! He then says 'oh, err, sorry guys' it was all a bit dark and shadowy in the room and he didn't recognise him. Well Jack, if you're going to play the vanity game and replace your glasses to improve your image, then I suggest you choose your contacts more carefully in future.

In too many African countries people are shackled in poverty by corrupt governments.

We will not tolerate that. We will not prop up corrupt governments with aid needed for the poor. Good governance is the foundation of sustainable development and we will not build on rotten foundations.

If we are really to help the poor, we must do it by lining the stomachs of the impoverished, not by lining the pockets of corrupt dictators.

If governments cannot be trusted we will work through charities and other building blocks of civil society who have such a fantastic record of delivering aid straight to those who need it most.

Curing poverty is not easy. Redistribution, for instance, is never a lasting solution. But allowing people to create their own wealth is.

India and China have welcomed the free market and have opened up to global trade, and have experienced a huge and unprecedented reduction in poverty affecting the life of millions of people.

But other countries, whose wealth is mainly agricultural, cannot imitate their success while the rich world shackles free trade with tariff barriers and export subsidies.

Open, free markets are the solution to poverty. Protectionism is the enemy.

One of the most protectionist systems is the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. It is utterly unacceptable that a system designed for the world's richest should end up penalising the world's poorest. We will not stand for that.

And whereas our priority is to concentrate on reducing poverty, the EU often prefers instead to use its aid money for political objectives in neighbouring countries.

We won't stand for that either. And that is why Michael Howard has said that we want the EU to spend less of our aid money and that we want to spend more of it ourselves on reducing poverty. If it isn't reducing poverty, then it isn't really aid in the first place.

We can also help poor countries put their own case in the wider world. That is why we will contribute to an advocacy fund so that the developing world has the best advice in global trade talks.

Poverty often follows disaster. Disaster can strike a country unexpectedly and lives depend on the speed of relief. Yet there is too little structured organisation to provide that relief.

We want to change that too. Governments in the developed world need to work together on a proper basis. So it is time to consider setting up a permanently structured international disaster relief capability, more efficient than the UN's current arrangements, ready to go anywhere in the world at the flick of a switch, whenever disaster strikes.

We will do more than talk. We will set out a timetable for action. As soon as we get there we will try to persuade our fellow EU aid minister to target our aid at the world's poorest. By the end of our first week I will have put a paper to Cabinet on setting up a permanently structured international relief capability.

We will dedicate our first year to ensuring that developing countries can have the support and expertise they need for world trade talks. And once we've won the referendum on the EU Constitution, we will make sure our aid money can be spent where it is really needed.

The next Conservative government under Michael Howard will deliver on its promises, and Conservatives will prove that we know exactly how best to help the world's poor."

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