Previous Section Home Page

Column 570

advance of parliamentary and political opinion. The work of Greenpeace and many others throughout the world in drawing attention to the importance of the Antarctic should not be underestimated. If we give the Bill a Second Reading today, and it goes into Committee, we shall have made some progress. We can make further use of the Bill by using it as an example of how to preserve the environment in a more general sense. I hope that we shall take that step.

10.46 am

Mr. John Ward (Poole) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on introducing the Bill. As one would expect, he has chosen a subject of great importance to people worldwide, particularly those who care about the environment and who wish to maintain regions that, to date, have been relatively unspoilt by man's activities. As my right hon. Friend said, those regions are havens for numerous forms of wildlife, many of which are unique to the Antarctic.

I join the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in paying tribute to the British Antarctic Survey. Those of us who met Joe Farman--who first identified the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic more than 10 years ago--and his colleagues when the survey ship visited London a few years ago were impressed by both their enthusiasm and dedication and, above all, their expertise in their chosen profession. Like the hon. Member, I hope that we shall continue to fund Antarctic research at a reasonable level because it provides the baseline for so much environmental research. The signs of man's activities in the Antarctic are not always something of which to be proud. If the Bill is passed without opposition in the United Kingdom, as I hope it will be, it will put down a marker to the other 25 countries that have signed the protocol. I hope that it will persuade them to ratify the protocol with all speed.

Given our experience of the lack of enforcement of regulations and, in some cases, even the national law, in the European Union, we should be wise to temper our enthusiasm until it is clearly demonstrated that all 26 countries are willing not only to sign the protocol, which they adopted by consensus in 1991, but to ratify it. Having ratified it, they must accept their responsibilities to ensure that the fine words spoken after signing the protocol result in firm action to enforce it.

The UK demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that Antarctica remains unspoiled by being the first to sign the protocol. My right hon. Friend's Bill, if it becomes an Act, will enable us to ratify that protocol. I am glad that the Bill contains provisions to ensure that all waste materials produced as a result of man's activities in Antarctica will be disposed of in a sensible and responsible manner. The recent photographs that we saw in the newspapers, taken not far below the summit of Everest, will provide a constant reminder that the human race cannot be allowed unrestricted access to, and activity in, an area such as Antarctica.

I am pleased that the UK continues to support the concept of a southern ocean whale sanctuary. Whatever arguments we may have in the northern hemisphere about the need to cull whales to preserve fish stocks--a matter which I believe must be looked at rationally where national economies are affected--there can be little argument that


Column 571

a Southern ocean whale sanctuary would provide at least one area of the world where those great creatures could be preserved for the future, free from commercial exploitation, which has bedevilled conservation measures in the northern hemisphere.

I return to my nervousness that some of our partners who signed the protocol will not be as precise as us in their definition of the controls that they intend to exert in Antarctica ; nor, I fear, will they be as enthusiastic in enforcing whatever regulations are ultimately agreed. The Bill sets out requirements for British expeditions and scientific research, prohibits mineral extraction and provides protection for historic sites and monuments. I hope that my right hon. Friend has considered widely the effect on tourism in Antarctica. Although it is a modest commercial activity at the moment, tourists increasingly are looking for new areas and new challenges and, while they are a welcome addition to the economies of such places as the Falklands and the southern tip of south America, where ships call on their way south, we have only to look at recent history in Europe to see what effect mass tourism in an uncontrolled manner, motivated purely by commercial considerations, can have on areas which, formerly, were outstandingly beautiful, were managed for the local people and provided a balance between human activity and wildlife.

I understand the attractions of tourism, but all visitors are a potential threat to the territory. However good the rules that are laid down for tourists, experience shows that the greater the number of visits, the greater the threat to wildlife. It is not much good having a rule that says that visitors must not get closer than 5 m to penguin colonies if a tourist ship runs aground and spills 170,000 gallons of diesel oil, as happened in 1989. While most tourist ships try to co-operate to minimise the disturbance to wildlife, it is difficult when zodiac landing craft are ferrying hundreds of eager tourists to the shoreline. Those tourists will have paid several thousands of pounds for the trip and may expect value for money in the form of close acquaintance with the wildlife.

Price alone at the moment may ration the flow of tourists to Antarctica, but in these days of increasingly cheap travel, we cannot assume that mass tourism will not turn its attention to Antarctica, if allowed to do so. Package tours are available from capital cities throughout the world to almost every remote area in the world, which outlines the need for continuing vigilance in this area. The more Antarctica is publicised, the more visitors there will be and the greater will be the threat and the need for effective controls to prevent damage by, for example, carelessness, lack of awareness or plain commercial greed.

My right hon. Friend referred to the fishing industry in Antarctica and the need for balance and control. Again, if we need a warning, we have only to look at what has happened to the fishing industry around our shores and the effect of what I will tactfully call a variable enthusiasm by some of our European partners in enforcing conservation agreements. Krill is the start of the food chain for marine life up to the largest marine mammals. Unless we ensure that it is not over-exploited, we shall see a steady decline in all forms of fish stocks throughout the area. Although it is outside the scope of the Bill, the Falkland Islands has wisely introduced a licensing system, and fishing within its waters is controlled. But if one looks at the areas from where the fishermen obtaining licences come--Japan, Korea and Poland--one will see that travel, with all its


Column 572

attractions, is now much easier and only adequate control of all forms of fishing in Antarctica would be acceptable. It is unthinkable that mankind, for industrial, commercial or tourism activities, should be let loose on one of the last remaining unspoilt areas of our planet.

Like most people, I have to rely on the film reports and the expertise of people such as Sir David Attenborough to understand and appreciate the unique beauty of the Antarctic and its animal and marine inhabitants. Nevertheless, I believe that we have a duty to ourselves and future generations to ensure that the Bill receives a speedy passage through Parliament. I hope that its passage will enable the Government to bring pressure on other signatories to the protocol and that the Government will then take the necessary steps to ratify it.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his expertise and foresight in bringing the Bill before the House today. I hope that we shall speed it on its way.

10.55 am

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : When I looked at the first clause of the Bill, with its definition of Antarctica as "all land, ice shelves, sea, continental shelf and airspace south of 60 degrees South latitude",

I could not help but reflect that, if I were to look at a mirror image for the northern hemisphere, I would find that a substantial part of my constituency might be defined as Arctic rather than Antarctic. The House might then understand that, to get back to my constituency before tomorrow morning, I may find it necessary to leave before the end of the debate.

I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on having had the good sense to introduce the Bill. It is clear from the contributions to the debate, and by looking at the sponsors of the Bill, that it has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) is in his place. I notice that he is a sponsor of the Bill.

Many of us are pleased to see the Bill, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) that simply passing it is only part of the story. It is important that the United Kingdom Government go on to ratify the protocol, but every encouragement must be given to other signatories to the protocol so that they ratify it, too.

It would be churlish to say that perhaps the Government should have introduced the Bill. It would be unfair to labour that point when the whole House should be pleased that there has been a considerable change of heart in the Government.

Many of us also took part in the discussions and protections on the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989. On that occasion, there was no consensus in the House, and many of us were critical of the Government's stance in wanting to allow mineral exploitation in Antarctica. Many of us perceived a lack of understanding about how damaging to the Antarctic environment a major engineering project, such as mineral exploration and exploitation, could be. Many of us warned at the time that Britain was becoming increasingly isolated in persisting with the minerals agreement when one country after another was backing away from it.

Therefore, we were pleasantly pleased--perhaps surprised is putting it too strongly--that the Government's attitude towards Antarctica seemed to change dramatically.


Column 573

Perhaps that was because of a change of Prime Minister--who knows ? Mineral exploitation or mineral excavation is now permitted only for scientific purposes, which cannot be altered for at least 50 years without the unanimous agreement of all parties. That is a welcome step forward.

The Government are also to be congratulated on going beyond the protocol, as I understand it, and allowing provision in the Bill for protection of all mammals--which, of course, will include whales. I believe that, under the international arrangements, the position of whales is a matter for the international whaling convention, rather than for the Antarctic contracting treaty powers. Nevertheless, the provision clearly indicates that the United Kingdom Government would welcome the idea of a whale sanctuary in Antarctic waters. That, too, is welcome.

As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) pointed out in an intervention

It being Eleven o'clock, Madam Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).


Column 574

Malaysia (Contracts)

11 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Alastair Goodlad) : Britain and Malaysia have worked hard together over the past 10 years to set our relations on an excellent footing. Trade last year reached the highest total ever--£965 million, up 52 per cent. on 1992. We want to preserve our excellent relationship. The Government very much regret the decision taken by the Malaysian Government to ban new contracts with British companies bidding for Government business in Malaysia. The problem arises from what Malaysia perceives as unfair reporting by the British press of affairs relating to Malaysia. There is no good reason for the Malaysians to make a connection between British press reporting and the conduct of trade between Britain and Malaysia. Trade is justified on its own merits to the benefit of both countries.

In Britain, the press is free ; the Government cannot control what the press reports, and do not seek to do so. The Malaysian Government understand that.

We are in close touch with the Malaysian authorities, and with British businesses, and hope to restore Malaysian relations to a flourishing footing as soon as possible.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I thank the Minister of State for making his statement.

These are very important--indeed, in some respects

unprecedented--events, affecting British trade and perhaps thousands of British jobs. It is exactly the handling of the events surrounding the financing of the Pergau dam project that have brought the matter to a head.

Because the Foreign Secretary overruled the decision of his own accounting officer in respect of a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money, which the accounting officer described as an abuse of our aid budget ; because the Foreign Secretary denied that there was any link with an arms deal with Malaysia--a statement that we now know to be untrue ; because, at every stage as this event has unfolded, the Government have sought not only to deny the House information, but at times to give misleading information in answer to questions--is it not clear that it is because of that conduct by the Government that we now face these serious circumstances ? Is the Minister aware that Opposition Members believe that links between our overseas aid budget and a formula for the cost of defence deals constitute a clear breach of law, contrary to the Overseas Aid Act 1966 and the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 ? Is it not clear that, if councillors were behaving in this cavalier fashion, Conservative Members would be the first to call for them to be disqualified from office and personally surcharged ?

Is it true that, at the same time as British companies were involved in discussions about aspects of the Pergau dam project contracts, some of those same companies were involved in discussions about aspects of the arms deal ? Does the Minister really expect the House and the country to believe that these things were being done separately, without knowledge of the one being linked to knowledge of the other, in companies such as Trafalgar House and GEC ? Are we really expected to believe that ?

Is the country expected to believe that expenditure of a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money was being


Column 575

promised to a Government at the same time as an arms deal was being negotiated with that Government, and that there was no link between the two ? Those are incredible statements.

It is precisely because this whole squalid business has started to unravel following legitimate investigations by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Members of Parliament and the British media--who are perfectly entitled to ask questions about these matters--that British trade and British jobs are now at risk ; and the responsibility lies with those on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Goodlad : The Malaysian Government have made it clear that the problem has arisen not, as the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) alleged, from our handling of the Pergau dam project--which Malaysia welcomed as a contribution to its development--but from what Malaysia perceives as unfair reporting by the British press of affairs relating to Malaysia.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the matter of my right hon. Friend's overruling the Overseas Development Administration's accounting officer. My right hon. Friend looked at the project in the light of our commitment to continue to assist Malaysia's development, and in the wider context of our overall bilateral relationship with Malaysia. If we had backed out, that relationship would undoubtedly have been damaged.

The Malaysians placed great importance on the Pergau project as a contribution to their national development and diversification of their energy sources. It is the Government's task to promote the national interest, including exports and jobs. I recognise that it is not the right hon. Gentleman's job, as he sees it.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of a link between the aid offer and defence sales. The Malaysians raised this with us in 1988, in the context of negotiations over the 1988 memorandum of understanding on defence sales. The then Secretary of State for Defence wrote to the Malaysian Finance Minister in June 1988 to say that aid could not be linked to defence sales. We made it clear on several occasions in 1988 that we were willing to consider aid for civil projects. The September 1988 memorandum of understanding with Malaysia on defence matters makes no mention of overseas aid. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the documents for the Foreign Affairs Committee. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that he will co-operate fully with the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry. He has sent the Committee a full and detailed memorandum, and both he and the Minister for Overseas Development will be giving oral evidence to the Committee.

I repeat that it is our wish to restore relations with Malaysia to a harmonious footing, in the interests of both countries and the people who work for firms doing business there. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman may not wish to join us in that task.

Mr. John Ward (Poole) : It may interest the House to know that I spent some 15 years of my working life trying to export the construction industry and its products to various parts of the world. I suggest that the only people who should take comfort from the present exchange are our competitors overseas. They are well aware that, in any


Column 576

export industry, the same rules do not normally apply in other countries as apply here ; and there is a lesser understanding of our standards in this country.

Would it not be better, however, if, in their desperate attempts to smear the Government, the Opposition waited until after the inquiry ? While Opposition Members may glory in the present embarrassment between the two countries, the net result is lost jobs, which are clearly of no concern to the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).

Mr. Goodlad : I agree with my hon. Friend, who speaks with great knowledge of those matters.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : I entirely agree with the opening statement by the Minister. Is it the case, however, that the objections that the Malaysian Government have raised are to British press stories about funds paid, allegedly, by British contractors into Swiss bank accounts on behalf of Malaysian politicians ? If so, none of us is in a position to know whether those stories are true or untrue, but it is surely up to the Malaysian Government to respond to them. The blast of blather from Malaysia this morning suggests that they may have something to hide. Does the Minister accept that, a few years ago, an editor of a major newspaper in Kuala Lumpur was jailed for two years without trial for writing stories that were inconvenient to the Government, and will he make it clear that, much though we may be tempted, that is not how we do things here ?

Does the Minister also accept that, although there may be Members of Parliament who imagine that kickbacks or misuse of aid funds or arms deals are legitimate if one is pursuing business and jobs, the policy of Her Majesty's Government remains that of good governance--transparency, accountability and freedom of the press--and that we shall wish to return to those matters in the debate on Tuesday ?

Mr. Goodlad : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support of what I said in my statement. He is right to say that I have no responsibility for what appears in the British national press, and that remedies are available to the Malaysian Government if they seek to use them.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I am a member of the Committee on Public Accounts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what has upset the Malaysian Government, understandably, is the suggestion in some parts of the British press--fanned by some Opposition Members, unfortunately--that there has been corruption ; or, alternatively, that the deal between Britain and Malaysia was illegal ? Is he further aware that there was nothing illegal about the deal that was done with Malaysia ? There is nothing in the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 that would demonstrate that any such deal was illegal.

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the reason why Sir Tim Lankester, the former permanent secretary, quite properly sought a direction from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was that he was questioning the economy and efficiency of that specific provision of overseas aid to Malaysia ?

Is he further aware that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave Sir Tim Lankester a direction, which he was properly entitled to give as Foreign Secretary, and that he


Column 577

gave that direction because he did not wish to renege on undertakings entered into between the then British Prime Minister and Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamed, the Malaysian Prime Minister, at their joint meeting ?

Mr. Goodlad : My hon. Friend is correct on the subject of legality and, as I said earlier, he is also correct to say that my right hon. Friend considered the project in the light of our commitment to continue to assist Malaysia's development, and in the wider context of our overall bilateral relationship with Malaysia.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : This is bad news from Malaysia, and no one can do anything but regret it, but will the Minister, first, make it plain to the Malaysian Government that trade is a two-way thing, and that we have been running a persistent deficit in our trade with Malaysia ?

Secondly, will he continue to make it plain to the Malaysian Government that the Government here control neither the British press nor the debates or questions that are raised in the House of Commons ?

Finally, will he assure the House and the country that Foreign Office Ministers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to co- operate with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in its inquiries into the Pergau dam and all that is associated with it ?

Mr. Goodlad : I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks about co-operation with the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is right to say that there is no good reason for the Malaysians to make a connection between British press reporting and the conduct of trade between Britain and Malaysia. He is also right about the nature of the trade deficit and, as I have said, we are not responsible for what the British press reports or for what is said in this place.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Does the Minister agree that the House perhaps would be wise, before jumping to conclusions, to await the report of the Select Committee, which is inquiring into this matter, and which will cross-examine two Ministers next week ?

Will he also convey two messages ? Will he convey a message to the Government of Malaysia that many people in British industry will be perplexed, under the freedoms that we enjoy in this country, to find their jobs put at risk because of the activities of a free press, which we believe to be essential to our liberties ?

Will the Minister also convey a message to the press, reminding them of the need for responsible reporting in view of the way in which some countries in practice, and perhaps in an irritating way, respond to irresponsible reporting ? Will he suggest to those newspapers which have made allegations that, if they have evidence, they ought to produce it, and that, if they have not, they ought to withdraw the allegations ?

Mr. Goodlad : My right hon. Friend is right to say that the House should not jump to any conclusions in advance of the report of the Select Committee, and I do not imagine that the House would wish to jump to any conclusions. He is also right to say that people will be bewildered that their jobs should be put at risk by press reporting, and he is obviously right to reflect that accurate and responsible


Column 578

reporting is very important to this country's reputation. I believe that responsible people in the media would share that view.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : May I, as the Member of Parliament who was responsible for debriefing the original Pergau informants in 1989, and who asked the National Audit Office to carry out the inquiry that subsequently took place, tell the Minister that key questions remain unanswered ?

One question is, why was the contract driven through in favour of those companies against the advice of the World bank, of people in the environmental movement and of people in the Overseas Development Administration itself ? Even in the Foreign Office there was division ; there was division in the Department of Trade and Industry ; there were people in the Treasury challenging the decision that was being taken. Why was it driven through when everyone else was advising that the project should have been based on a gas-fired power station, which is indeed business that Britain would have won ? Why cannot we have those questions answered at this stage ?

Is it not important for the Malaysian Government to realise that the reason why British Members of Parliament are asking questions on the issue, and why the British media are running with the story, is that everyone knows that the project was an abuse--an abuse of Britain's aid budget, of money that should have been sent to third-world countries to help people who were in real need ?

Mr. Goodlad : The responsibility for the decision was not in the hands of the World bank, of environmental groups or anyone else. The responsibility was that of the British Government. My right hon. Friend considered the project in the light of our commitment to continue to assist Malaysia. The Malaysians placed very great importance on the Pergau project, as a contribution to their national development and diversification of their energy sources. We have diversified energy sources ourselves in this country.

There was nothing illegitimate about using aid and trade provision. It was introduced by the Labour Government in 1977 precisely for that type of project. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Labour party is now abandoning the use of ATP ? Perhaps we should be told.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in Commonwealth terms, this fracas is most distressing ? Would not both countries have an immense amount to lose from a trade war ? Will he convey a third message to the Malaysian Government--that, under United Kingdom law, it is perfectly open for the Ministers against whom allegations have been made to sue the British press ?

Mr. Goodlad : My hon. Friend is right on his latter point. On his former point, of course this is regrettable in the Commonwealth context, and I hope that our relations will return to harmonious and fruitful paths as soon as possible.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) : Is it not a fact that it is the Foreign Secretary, not a journalist, who is personally responsible for the threat to British exports and jobs, because it was the Foreign Secretary who had Sir Tim Lankester read a statement to the Public Accounts Committee, linking British exports with the Pergau dam affair ?


Column 579

Mr. Goodlad : I fear that the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to the exchanges that have taken place in the Chamber in the past 20 minutes. The problem arises not from the British Government's handling of the Pergau dam project, which Malaysia welcomed as a contribution to its development, but from what Malaysia perceives as unfair reporting by the British press of affairs relating to Malaysia. Any attempt by the hon. Gentleman to distort the truth of the matter is, I am afraid, bound to fail.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the top priority for the Foreign Office is to restore relations with the fastest growing economy in that part of the world, that it is best done by time and patient, quiet diplomacy, and that our excellent high commissioner should be encouraged to get on with it ? Does he agree that companies such as British Aerospace are exporting at the front of technology, and that it is greatly in the interests of such a Commonwealth country that it should benefit from their products ? Will he remind the Malaysian Government that British Aerospace is creating vital jobs in Malaysia ?

Mr. Goodlad : Yes, indeed : my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Trade stands or falls on its own merits and is, by its nature, to the benefit of both parties involved. British Aerospace is certainly a good case in point.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : May we have some clarification ? The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) claimed that the deal was not illegitimate but, in his initial statement, the Minister told us that there was no deal and that the matter was merely coincidental. Was it coincidental, or was there a deal ?

Mr. Goodlad : What my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) said, which I said was correct, was that there was nothing illegal about the grant of aid and trade provision for the Pergau dam project.

Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a pretty shameful day for British jobs when Opposition Members admit knowing that the effect of their actions will be to destroy jobs ? Is he aware that in Hampshire, close to my constituency, many jobs depend on foreign orders ? Will he take it from me that the people employed in the companies involved appreciate his efforts and those of the Government to continue to sell British industry abroad ? Will he guarantee that those efforts will continue undiminished ?

Mr. Goodlad : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We shall continue to work as hard as we can to promote British exports, which are doing extremely well in Asia, and to sell Britain abroad. He is right to point out that Opposition Members are interested only in selling Britain short.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will the Minister stop confusing the message with the messenger ? Does he accept that the questions being asked in the British press are wholly legitimate and proper questions about the conduct of public affairs and the use of public money ? Will he decide once and for all and tell us that the Government are not prepared to condone sleaze, corruption or backhanders in any shape or form anywhere in the world, especially if British companies and the Government's own policy decisions are involved ?


Column 580

Mr. Goodlad : Of course we do not condone sleaze or corruption ; nor have the British Government been involved in any such thing. I have already said that we are not responsible for what appears in the British press, but that accurate and responsible reporting is very important to this country's reputation.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : If the allegations made in the British press, especially in the Sunday press, have any substance, should not such evidence be made available straight away ? If there is no such evidence, should not the press apologise to the Malaysian Government ?

Mr. Goodlad : My hon. Friend makes an important point.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : Does not the Minister realise that the whole overseas aid budget has been cut by half since 1979, and that what we are objecting to in particular is the misuse of aid and trade provision ? This case, in addition to many others which I believe the National Audit Office is at present examining, is a reason for an inquiry to be held into the use of aid and trade provision. Should it not be kept separate by the Department of Trade and Industry from the activities of the ODA ? Was it not a lack of development soundness as much as anything else which the permanent secretary of the ODA and Lady Chalker were questioning at the time ?

Mr. Goodlad : The hon. Lady's initial statistics are, to say the least, a little misleading. In fact, our overall aid has gone up by 10 per cent. in real terms since 1987. She mentioned aid and trade provision, which was introduced by the Labour Government in 1977, and which currently accounts for approximately 5 per cent. of our overseas aid programme. We give a higher proportion of our aid budget to the poorest countries than other major donors, although one might not think so from listening to the hon. Lady.

Our major competitors use tied aid to win contracts overseas and we cannot allow British industry to be at a disadvantage. To date, some £3.9 billion of British exports has been won through aid and trade provision since the scheme started--272 projects in 50 countries worldwide since 1977. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady may not like it, but she has to listen. If it is the purpose of the hon. Lady and the Labour Party to cease this form of aid, we should like to hear about it ; otherwise, they should stop carping about it.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members are rising on both sides of the House who were not here for the statement. I have said before that hon. Members must be here to hear the statement before I can call them.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Will my right hon. Friend contrast the interesting difference between the very measured and responsible utterance of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the frenzied and exaggerated hysteria of the shadow Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), and others, especially the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), when crucial British jobs and exports are at stake ?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that none of this is the fault of the present Government ? [Interruption.] Yes, that is so. Will my right hon. Friend convey to the excellent Government of Malaysia the fact that we too have suffered


Column 581

at the hands of a wholly free and irresponsible press, which is not under the control of the British Government, and that the British Government and British companies are most anxious to continue to promote the modernisation and development of Malaysia and that it is one of our most sincere objectives ?

Mr. Goodlad : I do not wish to drive wedges between the two right hon. Gentlemen, but my hon. Friend is right to say that we should now try to restore our relationship with Malaysia to its former fruitful state, to the benefit of both countries.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is not desirable anywhere, and not possible in this country, to control the press ? Will he also confirm that, if British contracts are not signed, even though they might provide the best value for Malaysia, it is probably an offence against GATT and not in the interests of the Malaysian people ? Does he agree that those who want to have clean hands while digging in the graveyard of British jobs will not be very convincing ?

Mr. Goodlad : As always, my hon. Friend's points reflect his great knowledge of these matters. He is right to highlight the cavalier attitude towards British jobs shown by Labour Members.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that many Conservative Members want more linkage between British jobs and foreign aid ? Does he also agree that the present problem is with the press in this country, especially the foreign-owned press, which seems to have little regard for British jobs ? Does he further agree that it might well have something to do with the comments made by the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister at a recent meeting, rather than with the British Government and recent contracts ?

Mr. Goodlad : Accurate and responsible reporting is important, whatever the ownership of the press involved.


Next Section

  Home Page