Labour's 'patchy' content

The government needs to be radically more open and transparent about aid spending, writes Shadow Int

Yesterday we had a fantastic international development debate.

We were privileged and humbled to welcome two very different, but equally impressive, international guests to the stage.

Exiled Burmese human rights activist Zoya Phan made a dramatic and emotional speech. Holding aloft heavy iron shackles, she said:

"These shackles were smuggled out of a prison in Burma. This is what those monks who have been arrested will be forced to wear while they face torture, including electric shocks. I asked last year, I ask again and I will ask again and again until we have freedom in Burma. Why isn't there a United Nations arms embargo against the regime?"

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is the man who has led his country back from the brink of the abyss following the genocide of 1994. He made a compelling and convincing speech that included a passionate plea for rich countries to open up their markets and tear down their tariff barriers. He backed David Cameron's call for a cross-Party worldwide campaign for Real Trade.

During the debate I enjoyed hearing from many of my friends from Project Umubano, the social action project in Rwanda that I helped organise this summer. 43 Conservative volunteers worked on a huge range of development projects in sectors such as health, education, governance and sport.

One of our volunteers, Dr David Tibbutt, spent a moving fortnight in a very remote health centre, where he and a colleague worked 12-hour days and saw some 500 patients - some of whom, almost unbelievably, had never seen a doctor in their lives.

In my speech I set out plans to help more British health professionals follow Dr Tibbutt's example and put something back abroad. I announced that a Conservative Government will establish a new Health Systems Partnership Fund. Worth £5m a year to begin with, it will help fund international placements for British health workers but also support strong, enduring links between the NHS and health systems in poor countries.

I called for the Government to be radically more open and transparent about our aid spending. Well-spent aid can work miracles - but as with everything, we need to keep an eagle eye on it to keep standards high. DfID's website under Labour is almost completely useless. Check it out for yourself: compare the patchy content on the DfID website (www.dfid.gov.uk http://www.dfid.gov.uk/> ) with the wealth of information - financial statements, partnership agreements, evaluation documents, contacts for local auditors - that is up on the Global Fund's site: (http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/ http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/> ). And I also called for DfID to follow the example of the World Bank and set up an anti-corruption hotline on the front page of its website.

Finally, no one should underestimate the importance of conflict prevention and resolution. Over the last year I've seen, in Darfur, Burma and Rwanda, the devastating effects of conflicts, past and present, on the lives of ordinary people. Tackling this scourge must be a top priority for everyone who is passionate about the cause of international development.