Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hargreaves : The hon. Gentleman continues to refer to the Pergau dam project as a bad project. Nevertheless, can he state categorically whether he believes that it was the preferred site and the preferred project of the Malaysian Government ?

Mr. Clarke : The Malaysian Government have a right to consider their priorities, as do British taxpayers and this House. The Minister attempted to pretend that there was no link between the Government's obsession with Malaysia and blatant arms deals. I ask the House, as did the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, to consider the evidence. I welcome the fact that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will be considering the evidence. I did not hear a similar welcome from the Minister.

We begin with the protocol of 23 March 1988, which is an extremely interesting document.

Mr. Goodlad rose

Mr. Clarke : The Minister should allow me to develop this point.

Mr. Goodlad : To reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, we welcome the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We hope that it will clear away some of the sleaze and innuendo that has been propagated by Opposition Members.

Mr. Clarke : Having generously given way, I want hon. Members to know that I intend to continue my speech.

When the Minister, in one of his little asides, pretended that there was no link between aid and arms, that was blown apart by the letter dated 28 June 1988 from the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. George Younger, to the Malaysian Minister of Finance, which was mentioned in The Sunday Times . The letter clearly stated that

"the linking of aid to projects was governed by international rules which would preclude the sort of arrangement which the Malaysian Minister of Finance had seemed to envisage at their meeting in March 1988."

Of course, the then Secretary of State for Defence was very much a part of that meeting. Any suggestion that he was not a party to the decisions and what was envisaged was totally removed on the same day in the letter from the British high commissioner to the Malaysian Minister of Finance dated 28 June 1988. In that letter, the British high commissioner said that the Government were

"willing to offer further support for contracts... up to a total of £200 million for development projects to be agreed mutually between the two Governments".

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) : Last November, I asked the Secretary of State whether the decision to grant support for the Pergau project in Malaysia was linked to any bilateral trade agreement with Malaysia. The answer was no. When we consider the revelations of the past few days, does my hon. Friend think that I am too polite to accuse the Minister of being economical with the truth ?

Column 820

Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When the Minister and his sycophants pretend that the Government have been open and honest, even the most preliminary examination of replies to written questions such as that given to my hon. Friend show that the Government seek to hide from the truth time and again.

In the exchange of letters on 28 June, especially the letter involving the high commissioner, there is a firm indication that the Government were using the very limited overseas aid budget for the purpose of trade in arms. Not only is that unacceptable to the House, and not only has such a policy never been adopted or endorsed by the British people--it has never been the British Government's objective. If the Minister says that it was the Government's objective, I invite him to produce one document from the Overseas Development Administration which says so. I am happy to give way to the Minister if he can produce it. Clearly, he cannot.

We then examine the role of the Foreign Secretary in this shabby affair. A telephone call from Portugal on Friday showed that the Foreign Secretary said that the business of aid had become entangled with arms. The question that we must ask today is, when will it be disentangled ? We heard about the mathematical formula. We are entitled to ask who was invited to give a view on the mathematical formula--the Foreign Office, Downing street, the Minister's civil servants or the then Secretary of State for Defence. Above all, in the light of this debate, we are entitled to ask whether this was a one off.

My hon. Friends are perfectly entitled to draw the attention of the House and the Minister to what is taking place in East Timor, and the Government's involvement with Indonesia. Time and again, as we saw in Iraq, the Government have been involved in shady arms deals, only to find that our troops have been on the receiving end.

Would it not be ironic if we found that Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam were in a dispute over the islands in the South China sea and a Foreign Office Minister then came to the House and apologised for our role in providing the arms for such a conflict ? Worse still, would it not be ironic if that were associated with our limited overseas development budget ? [Interruption.] When the Minister sought to justify the Government's shady deals

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham) rose

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) rose

Mr. Clarke : I am happy to give way to the Minister or to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), who is trying to intervene from a sedentary position, if he will have the decency to put his point.

Mr. Day : My constituents who work in the defence industries would be interested to hear how many people the hon. Gentleman is prepared to see put out of work. He seems to have taken upon himself the high moral ground. Is he somehow saying that there is something morally wrong in working in the defence industries ?

Mr. Clarke : No Opposition Member should take lectures about jobs from members of the party which is responsible for 2.8 million people on benefit, and a party which endorsed the view of a previous Chancellor of the

Column 821

Exchequer that unemployment was "a price worth paying". I do not remember the hon. Gentleman objecting at that time.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Clarke : I will give way later, but I am entitled to get on with my speech. It may be that Conservative Members agree with the Malaysian Prime Minister that we should not have a free press in this country, but we do have a Chamber where we are entitled to express our views. I shall endorse that privilege. I shall give way for the last time to the Minister.

Mr. Needham : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am grateful for the fact that this will be the last time he will do so, as we want to get on.

The hon. Gentleman commented about Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia perhaps having a fight over the Spratley Islands. What would happen if China were to get involved in that fight ? Who then would provide the arms to let those countries legitimately defend their national interests ? Would the hon. Gentleman deny them that ?

Mr. Clarke : The House is entitled to know what would happen, and that is precisely the point that we are seeking to make.

Ministers have come to defend the indefensible, and they have told us that our case is merely political smearing. We are entitled to remind them that the dam was well and truly breached by a Lankester bomber of the old school. Some of us listened to the evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, and we heard Sir Timothy Lankester explain that the project was uneconomic. He was certainly in a strong position to do so, because he had forced them to produce the first ministerial direction since the Government came to power in 1979. He had forced the National Audit Office investigation, and he described what took place in Malaysia as an abuse of the aid programme. The onus is on the Government. A senior and respected civil servant--so senior that he has now been put in charge of the whole Department for Education--has taken the view that it was an abuse of the aid programme. The Government ought to have put a stronger case than they have managed today. What Sir Timothy said was fair comment. After the appraisal in 1989, the price went walloping up, first by £81 million and then by another £20 million. It was indeed a bad buy.

We are told that the decision was taken against the advice of many people and organisations. Those included the World bank, which took the view that the project should be gas-powered and not hydro-electric. When the matter has been subjected to any reasonable examination, such as by the National Audit Office, it has been found faulty in the extreme.

In the light of all the evidence, Conservative Members are belatedly screaming about jobs. That is not a subject to which they have been hitherto terribly committed. If the Government had taken the right decision on Pergau, and had concluded on the evidence--as they were entitled to do-- that it was not viable, the worst that could have happened was that we lost Malaysian contracts. Is that not what happened in any case ? The loss of jobs is the responsibility of the Government, not of any Opposition Member.

Column 822

What did the Government spend £230 million of taxpayers' money on ? They did not give a damn for the starving poor : they gave a dam for their business friends. That is a reflection, not only on the way in which the Overseas Development Administration has been abused, but on the way in which our trade policies are conducted. It is a reflection on the Foreign Office that it was prepared to see such things taking place.

If there are difficulties between Malaysia and Britain, the responsibility lies as much with the Foreign Secretary, who overruled Sir Timothy Lankester, as it does with the Minister for Overseas Development, who apparently advised against the project but did not take action to follow through what appeared to be her convictions.

Mr. Wells : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Clarke : I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I have been generous in giving way hitherto.

The mess that the Government have produced in respect to the Malaysian project has most unfortunately put a question mark over the whole concept of overseas aid. Would it not be so much better if we had a Government who were really concerned about the British taxpayers' money and about a strategy for aid and development ? Would it not be better if we had found the opportunities that exist in Africa, Asia and central America, where there are examples of the most crass poverty ?

Those opportunities call for a change in the way in which aid is administered--there should not be a reduction in overseas aid, and it should not be abused in the way it has been on the Pergau project. How much better would it be if the Government took the policy back and made it work for people who are genuinely in need ? Would it not be better if the Government placed the administration of those crucial policies at the heart of government, with a proper recognition of the full departmental status which overseas development should have ?

Would it not be better if the Government accepted their responsibilities for the poorest people in the poorest countries, and if the Government managed their spending policies with proper openness and accountability ? Above all, should not the Government accept the need, not to downgrade, but to upgrade the ODA ? Is it not absurd that, on the few occasions on which we have these debates, the Minister is not here ? Baroness Chalker interrupted her trips abroad for a brief stopover in Wallasey, where she was rejected at the ballot box. She now pops up again at the House of Lords Dispatch Box, and we are supposed to accept that that is democracy in action in modern Britain.

As we have seen throughout the debate, the Overseas Development Administration has been treated with contempt by the Government. If we are not careful, the ODA will receive the same fate as the Department of Energy, which is sadly no longer with us. Should there not be a Department to deal with the crucial issues of world poverty ? That Department could have a real say in foreign policy, an influence in the Treasury and an influence in the crucial problems of debt and refugees. What we have seen today is totally unacceptable to the House and to the British people.

In contrast to that sorry mess, the Labour Government will re-establish the essential humanitarian core of our aid policy. We shall do so in a way that is consistent with our

Column 823

wider principles of openness, responsibility and accountability. We shall restore the good name of Britain's aid programme, and the moral authority which this country once enjoyed.

5.48 pm

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex) : I found the speech of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) utterly despicable. He made a personal attack on Lady Chalker, who has given years of her life to working for the Overseas Development Administration. He talked of shady deals, Tory paymasters and the Pergau dam. What on earth does the hon. Gentleman know about the ODA and its work ?

I declare an interest, as an unpaid vice-chairman of the British Council, along with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). I am sorry that he is not sitting on the Opposition Front Bench today, because I think that he would have been as horrified as I was, and he would not have recognised the work of the ODA from what the hon. Member for Monklands, West has just said.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West recently lost his seat on the shadow Cabinet. I now see why, and I hope that he soon loses his responsibility for the ODA also.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Renton : I am not going to give way.

Mr. Tom Clarke : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Renton : I will give way to hon. Gentleman, as I have just named him, but not to anyone else.

Mr. Clarke : The right hon. Gentleman ought to calm down. There were times when he ought to have told us that he was a moderate Tory. Could he please rely on the facts ? One of the facts that he might wish to consider is that I was not only re-elected to the shadow Cabinet, but I increased my vote and moved from 18th to 13th place.

Mr. Renton : I know that the hon. Member for Hamilton has taken the hon. Gentleman's position as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. I assumed that the hon. Member for Monklands, West had lost his seat altogether. If I was wrong about that, I certainly apologise to him. Let me remind the House of a little history. In 1987, as a Foreign Office Minister, I visited Malaysia. It was one of the last trips that I made as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I stayed with the high commissioner, Sir David Gillmore, now the civil servant head of the Foreign Office. That visit came at the end of six years of patient hard work in rebuilding the relationship with Malaysia after it had been broken when the Conservative Government decided, for good economic reasons, that overseas students had to pay full university fees.

The high commission, the Ministers involved, and I too, played a part in the slow process of re-establishing a cordial relationship with Malaysia. The position is inevitably difficult with a country that was once a colony. Britain regarded Malaysia as a source of rubber or tin. As a country comes into full independence as a member of the Commonwealth, it can have a touchy relationship with what one might call its previous matriarch, expropriator or coloniser, depending on the view that one takes. Over the years, we have had exactly the same difficulties with India.

Column 824

It is tragic for Malaysia, for Britain and for industry in Britain that the careful rebuilding work has been temporarily jeopardised by the publicity surrounding the Pergau dam and the arms deals. I stress the word "publicity". The Malaysian Government have time after time made it plain that their objection and the reason why they have returned to a "buy British last" policy is not the arms deals, if they existed, or the dam contract, but the media interest in Britain, which has, of course, been stoked up by Opposition Members. I shall not rehearse the arguments. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has rehearsed them well this afternoon, and he did so in the House last Friday. Although I was not in the House last Friday, I read the comments by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). I thought that they were disgraceful, coming from someone who pretends to be a shadow Foreign Secretary. His comments were dishonourable and bad for the reputation of Britain.

Malaysia is undoubtedly the most successful market in south-east Asia at present. One fully understands why companies such as BICC, P and O, and Trafalgar House are anxious to build up their contacts there. I must say in response to some of the comments of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) that if one wants to trade with an overseas country, one has to trade according to its manners and customs, not one's own. We may sell on the basis that British goods are best, but we cannot sell on the basis that the British way of doing business is best. In my judgment, it is arrogant to try to do so.

There are instances in which our way of business is not very good. For example, our major companies are often slow payers. The Government are slow payers. Local authorities are slow payers. That would not be acceptable in Germany. The Germans would find it unbelievable that major companies do not pay a 30-day invoice for 90 or 120 days.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Renton : No. There is little time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own remarks, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Before I entered the House, I spent 20 years with an international commodities firm. We sold commodities around the world. If our chairman of the day did not like the way of doing business in one country--for example, because it was necessary to pay an excessive commission or agency fee to our agent to get the order and we had to look the other way and not inquire too much where it was going--we simply did not go into that country. But someone else got the business.

We did not try to change that country's ways, because we knew perfectly well that it would be a waste of time. We were a private company, and those were decisions that we could take, but in overseas trade one must do in Rome as Rome does. If people do not like it, they should not go to Rome.

Sir David Steel : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way ?

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way ?

Column 825

Mr. Renton : I give way to the right hon. Gentleman simply because I referred to him.

Sir David Steel : I should genuinely like to know where the right hon. Gentleman would draw the line between payments to agencies and backhanders in Swiss bank accounts, open bribery and so on.

Mr. Renton : The right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly expect me to pursue that line. I am not saying that I approve of such things, condone them or wish to make them legal. I am simply saying that, in the world as it is and has been for a long time, if people wish to sell overseas they will sell in the manner that is acceptable to that country. If they do not like it, they should not try to get into that overseas market, because they will simply waste their time.

Miss Joan Lestor : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Renton : No, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not give way. I hope that she will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope very much that relations will very quickly return to normal between the United Kingdom and Malaysia. Both countries have a real interest in that, because they have a lot to offer each other. There are about 12,000 Malay students in Britain at present. After years of repairing bridges, we now have more Malay students in Britain than students from any other place except Hong Kong. It would be tragic for Malay students and for the United Kingdom if their education here were interrupted. When former students return to their country of origin, they usually--I stress the word "usually"--prove to be sympathetic, understanding, sometimes critical, but friends of Britain, to our political and commercial advantage.

I have already declared an interest as a vice-chairman of the British Council. The House should know that the British Council regards itself as a partner of the Overseas Development Administration. Not only does the ODA provide about a quarter of our grant in aid each year--some £32 million or £33 million--but the British Council acts as agent for the ODA on technical development contracts, to the extent in the last financial year of a declared figure of £127 million.

The ODA acts as our agent in all human development matters, such as small hospitals, development of small companies and education--the list is endless. If people want to learn more about it, I strongly recommend to them the last British Council report.

Over 30 years, the British Council has worked with the ODA. It has been a successful co-operation. Increasingly, thanks to Treasury rules, we secure the agency work through our success in the competitive bidding process. We reckon that we win the bids because we have the necessary project management skills and a great deal of local knowledge.

In order to maintain those skills, we should like to have much more ODA work, because we need a necessary basis of work from the ODA to be successful in bidding for project work that is funded by the multilateral agencies, such as the European Community and the World bank. Here I am certainly making a point on behalf of the British Council.

The British Council would like to see the approach to the work done with the money made available by the

Column 826

diplomatic wing of the ODA as a seamless robe in which diplomatic posts, bilateral overseas aid and British Council know-how funds all had common objectives and a common agenda. That objective would be improvement of the human condition of the recipient country but also, humanitarian aid apart--that is approximately 15 per cent. of the ODA budget--consideration of furthering British interests.

I have spoken about the growth of the multilateral agencies and of projects that could come to the British Council through the World bank or the European development fund. That is a point which the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale ignored. Of the total money now available to the ODA, approximately half already goes to multilateral agencies over which the ODA effectively has little control.

If the figure is 50 per cent now, it is likely to rise to nearly 60 per cent. by 2000. Those are the contracts that the British Council wishes to win on the back of a regular, steady bank of experience as agent for the Overseas Development Administration. We must get closer to the European development fund--in order to ensure that many more of its funds are invested in education and training, which are particularly important for us and in health--and, more generally, to the Anglophone countries.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale gave the impression that he saw a slant in our bilateral aid towards countries to which we can make arms sales. To be fair, he should have looked at the programme of the European development fund. He would have seen that more than 50 per cent. of its fund goes to Francophone countries, which is a far higher percentage than can be justified on the grounds of their population or gross domestic product. Some 28 per cent. of the European development fund is spent on exchange stabilisation. The major beneficiaries of exchange rate stabilisation were--surprise, surprise--Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Senegal and Papua New Guinea. Cote d'Ivoire alone received more than twice the total African, Caribbean and Pacific expenditure for exchange stabilisation.

The House should look at that area--it is where the great growth of the future lies and where we must have more influence. It is where we in the British Council are interested in winning jobs to provide income and experience for British training and education. We must increasingly look to that area for our future work.

Mr. Riddick rose

Mr. Renton : I shall not give way, as I am about to conclude. I was delighted to catch the eye of the previous occupant of the Chair, as today happens to be the 20th anniversary of the day that I was elected a Member of Parliament for Mid-Sussex. My majority then was 12,000, and it is now more than 20,000--things seem to be going in the right direction.

Over those 20 years, I have learnt that politics is not a simple business. In the past 10 years, I have been at the Foreign Office, two of my daughters have been working for aid agencies that are partly financed by the ODA, and now I am at the British Council ; and I have learnt that aid is not a simple, purist business.

To win overseas contracts, we have to fight with all the means and vigour in our power against industrial

Column 827

competitors from all over the world. I hope that we continue to do that for the benefit of the third world, the developing world, overseas countries and, certainly, the benefit of this country. 6.5 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : I congratulate the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on his 20 years in the House. He used the term "majority"--he has not yet reached that. We hope that there will be an election that will prevent him from reaching his majority.

I think that, surprisingly, there is some general agreement on both sides of the House that we are in a mess over the issue of aid. There is fear at the effect on jobs of the problems in our current relationship with Malaysia. We are concerned at the way in which the aid for trade provision has been used. The use of that provision has been heavily criticised by the Overseas Development Administration, the senior civil servant within it and, we believe, the Minister within it. The National Audit Office has also criticised the abuse of the aid budget. The criticism has been internal-- from within the ODA--and external and objective--from the National Audit Office. The abuse of the aid for trade provision has consequences throughout the House and in my constituency. The fine firm of John Brown produces gas turbines. It has provided a bedrock of stability in Clydebank when all else has collapsed around it. It has competed all over the world in difficult markets. It has competed in Malaysia, where it has won contracts for about £185 million worth of gas turbines without aid and trade provision and without subsidy. It now fears that it will be cut out of further markets to the value of £250 million due to the consequences of the use of the aid and trade provision.

The Government sponsored the Pergau dam project by Balfour Beatty- Cementation despite the fact that the National Audit Office report criticised it for being bad for Malaysia and the consumer, and for being expensive. The Government sponsored the project despite a World bank report that said that gas turbines should be used in Malaysia. By sponsoring that project, the Government have removed any chance of jobs for my constituents who work in the gas turbine industry.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Malaysian Government have the right to decide their priorities and to decide which infrastructure project they want to support in their own country ?

Mr. Worthington : Of course they do--but it is an easy decision to make when another Government approach the Malaysian Government saying that they will pay for the project. The Government told the Malaysian Government, "You have a free choice, but we will pay for this option." That is what happened with the Pergau dam.

We are faced with the problems of a Government who have never regarded their aid budget with the long-term aim of developing the poorest parts of the world--as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr Clarke) said. That is the purpose for which an aid budget should primarily be used. The Government have always seen the aid budget first and foremost as an instrument of trade.

Column 828

There is some legitimacy in that, but it means that the Government always put issues such as poverty reduction and human rights on the back burner if they get in the way of other issues, particularly the arms trade. We are faced with the hypocrisy of the Conservative Government who criticise developing countries for devoting too much of their budget to arms, but rush to sell arms to those countries. Britain preaches that the countries of the developing world should spend more of their budget on health and education but seeks at every opportunity to sell them arms.

In a parliamentary answer, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said that we did not allow the export of arms and equipment that was likely to be used against the civilian population. We must have a much more serious answer from the Minister of State about what has been happening in East Timor. According to the figures given by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), 200,000 of the 750,000 people of East Timor have died since the illegal occupation of that country by the Indonesians in 1975. How were they killed and what was the role of British arms in that ? Even the Americans have cut aid to East Timor.

I was told in a parliamentary answer that the European Union does not regard Indonesia as somewhere that should be given significant amounts of aid. We have shovelled arms and aid towards Indonesia whereas, considered objectively, our aid budget to that country should be falling. I cannot remember whether it was the Minister himself who said that, according to Baroness Chalker, the numbers living in absolute poverty in Indonesia fell from 70 million to 27 million between 1970 and 1990. When there is rising poverty in the rest of the world, there is at least a case for priority to be given there.

The diversion of funds that links arms and aid is pretty massive. The £234 million for the Pergau dam is three times the aid for any other capital project. We are spending £234 million on Pergau. In 1991-92, we spent a total of £236 million, £2 million more, on all the 47 least developed countries in the world. That is the scale of the commitment to Pergau. The £56 million--the loose change of the Pergau deal--to find the least efficient way of paying for it, is twice what we have given to Somalia.

Let me give another example of the diversion of aid to countries that use arms, which increase their use of arms and which buy arms from us. In the Foreign Office's list of capital projects of over £20 million in value --there have been only 18 in total--four have gone to one country, Indonesia. By contrast, in the whole continent of Africa there is only one project of over £20 million, and that is in Egypt. Last year, a huge amount of soft loan money went to Indonesia, so soft that nothing need be paid back for seven years. Last year, at very much the same time--I hope that the Minister will tell us the purpose of these visits--the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence went to Indonesia. We clinched a deal for £500 million worth of Hawk aircraft, and the amount of assistance to Indonesia in soft loans and other facilities went up rapidly as well. Were those negotiations on arms and aid linked or were they, to use the jargon of the day, in parallel ? And what does that mean, in parallel ? Or, again using the jargon of the day, was it just done on a "nod and a wink" basis ?

Column 829

Perhaps the Minister will give me another answer. Will he, either now or in a letter, comment on the press report that negotiations are going on for the release of Xanana Gusmao, the East Timor leader, who was imprisoned after an appalling trial ? Are the British Government and their European partners negotiating his release to Guinea- Bissau

Mr. Needham : Perhaps I can answer the hon. Gentleman's first question about Indonesia because that is an important part of my remit. The hon. Member knows that we decided to concentrate aid and trade provision on the poorest countries of the world, with incomes of less than $700 per head. That includes Indonesia, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. We are giving the people of Indonesia worthwhile infrastructure projects which will lead in time to increased trade. We have done exactly the same in China, but the hon. Member will use only those examples that suit his argument.

Mr. Worthington : When I looked at the list of very large projects, I wondered whether to draw attention to the fact that there were two projects of over £20 million for China and to ask where human rights came into them.

The Minister interrupted what I was saying. I wonder why he interrupted at that particular point. Is any negotiation going on at present between the British Government and their European partners for the release of the East Timor leader ? Is his release to take place to Guinea-Bissau so that the European Union will moderate its criticism of Indonesia at this month's meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and so that Britain and others can continue arms sales to Indonesia ? We shall watch that with great interest. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) is present and could seek to deny that right now if he wished.

The pause is interesting. The Government seem to have commented already.

We must remember also the hidden victims of the Government's use, which I would call a corrupt use, of the aid budget--the Governments of the world who would otherwise benefit from that assistance and the countries that cannot benefit from aid and trade because they have no money with which to trade.

We must also ask whether this provision is really necessary. It is a complicated issue because hon. Members in all parts of the House realise that we need to stimulate British industry because of its run-down over recent years. The Government boast that British firms benefit enormously from the aid budget. They legitimately boast that, for every £1 of aid, British industry receives £1.40 worth of orders from overseas. The information that I recently received from the World bank was that, for every £1 that Britain puts into the World bank, British industry receives £1.85 worth of British contracts. That raises the issue of how the World bank conducts its business. If it is done on a perfectly fair basis, it seems that British firms benefit more from our putting money into the World bank than from our aid and trade provision.

The appalling thing is that Britain's aid budget is falling. The Minister, with his selective

Next Section

  Home Page