Previous Section Home Page

Column 266

corruption is intimately linked with the promotion of democracy, good governance and accountability, which are the phrases used by our Foreign Office.

I am indebted to the publication "Africa Analysis" for some recent examples of individual corruption by rulers which has deprived countries of the resources that they should have had. Perhaps the most spectacular example today in sub-Saharan Africa is President Mobutu of Zaire. According to "Africa Analysis", it is estimated that his personal fortune is now about $5 billion. There is even some criticism of President Moi of Kenya, an ally of this country, and it is estimated that his personal wealth is now about £3 billion. President Banda of Malawi, who has just been voted out of office, is estimated to have acquired a personal fortune of about £2 billion--a third of the country's gross domestic product. When one looks back over the history of the period since the independence of African countries, one realises that it is, unhappily, the case that, during the cold war, we in the western developed nations were not too fussy about who we were supporting as long as they were perceived to be on the right side of the global ideological argument.

The cold war is over. It is now right to draw attention to those two subjects. What is needed to tackle the arms trade and corruption is not injections of money--the Government are always being urged to provide more money for this, that and the other, including overseas development--but far greater political will on behalf of the Government and allied Governments in the west. I hope that in reply I shall receive some assurance that there will be a greater recognition that those two subjects deserve closer attention.

5.38 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) : The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State had batted nobly in the Government's cause. I think that he batted very effectively in setting out what the Government have done throughout their interrelated policy in relation to overseas aid. Perhaps understandably, he moved somewhat lightly over the huge scale of the challenges that remain to be dealt with in that key policy area. I shall spend a few moments discussing what I regard as three of the key challenges in policy terms that still confront the Government. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) mentioned the fact that the balance of our overseas aid expenditure has shifted significantly. At the end of the period of the last Labour Government, the bilateral programme took 75 per cent. of our total overseas aid expenditure ; the multilateral contribution, obviously, represented the other 25 per cent. This financial year marks an historic watershed. It would seem that 1994-95 will be the last year in which the bilateral element of our programme will take just over 50 per cent. of total aid expenditure. Figures from the ODA show that the crossover point will be reached next year. In 1995-96, the multilateral programme will take 50.4 per cent. of total expenditure ; in 1996-97 that will rise to 52.8 per cent.--and it is likely to rise again significantly thereafter.

Perhaps I was not alone in the House in being unaware of the profound significance of the agreements reached at the Edinburgh Council of Ministers in 1992, and of the impact of those agreements on the control exercised by this


Column 267

House and this country over our aid programme. We face a huge increase in our multilateral contribution via the European Union. ODA figures show that expenditure on the EU element of the programme--I combine our contributions to the EU budget and, quite reasonably, to the European development fund--will take up this year just over half a billion pounds of our total overseas aid expenditure. In just two years' time, in 1996-97, that will have risen to three quarters of a billion pounds, and the figure is set to rise still further. Figures published only last month in the Journal of the European Communities give us the data for the five financial years from 1992-93 to 1996-97. In that period, the British contribution to the EU's aid programme rises at an annual average compound growth rate of 25 per cent. That represents a huge cuckoo in the nest of our total overseas aid programme. As we know, the overall programme is fairly static in cash terms, and hence likely to be declining in real terms. That means that we face a considerable reduction in the overall cash amounts available for the bilateral programme. As the Minister rightly said when opening the debate, the bilateral programme is extremely well conducted ; it is performed to very high standards. I regret the relative ease with which we made concessions at the Edinburgh summit of 1992, the more so now that their full impact is becoming apparent. Nevertheless, the decisions have been made : they are water under the bridge now. They are legally binding, and they are not capable of review until 1999. We therefore have to live with them. Still, for all Members of this House who are interested in overseas aid, the new situation poses a challenge--how will Members be informed about those programmes in future, and what degree of accountability will be obtained for what will represent a major slice of our overseas aid programme ?

The Government must examine various ways of ensuring accountability to this House for the large sums of overseas aid that are now going to the EU--sums which, as I have said, are due to rise to three quarters of a billion in two years' time. It will not be enough if the Government merely pay the cheques and offer us a few bland paragraphs in annual departmental reports, and then leave it at that. The House will want information, under four heads, on how this expenditure is being used.

First, we shall want to know how the money has been spent--to which countries it has gone and on what sort of projects it has been spent. Secondly, the House will want to know how much of the money that has gone across the channel to Brussels has been swallowed up in expenses and administration instead of getting out to the communities for which it was destined. Thirdly, we shall want a proper evaluation of the quality of the programmes--how well or how badly they have been run, for instance. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale referred to corruption, and we shall want to know how much of this--British taxpayers'- -money has not found its way into the right hands. How much of it has been lost on the way owing to corrupt practices ?

Fourthly, the House will want to know how much of the three quarters of a billion pounds going across the channel to Brussels will come back in the form of EU contributions to British non-governmental organisations and will be used in their invaluable work. An altogether fuller analysis will


Column 268

be required if we are to achieve any sort of accountability to the House for the largest single component of our overseas aid programme--that which goes to the European Union.

The second huge challenge that we face is in emergency relief. The Government have made significant progress during their period of office. When the Foreign Office set up its emergencies unit, it took an important step forward in that respect. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, there has been better co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the FCO, and that fact has been reflected in our response to a whole series of emergencies--the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85, the Mexican earthquake, the Colombian volcanic eruption and the serious floods in Bangladesh, not to mention last year's flooding in Nepal. There is no doubt that we can make effective, well-targeted and usually timely responses to smaller scale emergencies. There is, however, a great need to see what more can be done to improve responses to major international disasters. Somalia and Rwanda have exposed the appalling lack of international co-ordination and will that need to be applied to these major emergencies, which are clearly beyond the capabilities of any single country. I am sure that the Government are by no means satisfied with the response made so far by the international community to the emergencies in Somalia and Rwanda.

In this day and age it is not acceptable that hundreds of thousands of people should lose their lives by starvation in Somalia, or that hundreds of thousands should lose their lives because of appalling tribalism in places such as Rwanda--with the international community apparently paralysed and unable to intervene while small numbers of lightly armed insurgents and militias, outright murderers and bandits, perpetrate their violence. Surely they should not be allowed to hold the international community to ransom.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale referred to a common foreign policy. I should also like to speak about that. The European Union's resources include aid and military resources, and its expertise will be increased by the Scandinavians. Surely, under the common foreign policy to which we are committed, we should be able to put together in the EU a basis by which the EU itself could mobilise sufficient resources to deal more effectively with situations such as those which have arisen in Somalia and Rwanda and produce effective action on the ground much more quickly. Within the Council of Ministers and the EU, we should make contingency arrangements for a European Union rapid response to deal with major crises which clearly require international action because they are beyond the capabilities of one country.

Finally, some hon. Members have spoken about the targeting of aid to the poorest people. There was an extraordinarily vast lacuna between the statistics offered by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd)--I fear that my Welsh pronunciation may not be quite right--and those offered by the Minister. The hon. Lady, who has now left her place, mentioned 6 per cent. but my right hon. Friend the Minister spoke about some 80 per cent. I do not know how those percentages can be reconciled and I may wish to probe the matter through parliamentary questions.

My key point is that, although British aid flows to countries that have relatively low per capita incomes, it may not reach the really poor communities within those


Column 269

countries. Most hon. Members have visited such countries and will be familiar with that phenomenon. A major challenge to the Government is to ensure that British aid continues to reach poor communities. The debate should be in community terms and not in country terms and measured by per capita GNP.

That is a major challenge because much of the aid will be spent multilaterally and we no longer have control over how the money is spent. A significant chunk of the bilateral element of the aid programme goes to eastern Europe and to the former Soviet Union through the know-how funds. The problems in those areas are mostly of a lesser order than they are in the poorest parts of third-world countries. Within the bilateral provision, there is the aid and trade provision whose purpose is avowedly to try to assist the export of British goods and materials. Therefore, there is major financial pressure on the Government to keep their aid programme focused on the poorest.

The policy issue facing the Government is that they need to recognise more fully than they have so far that if they want to get real help such as basic health care and education, water supplies and improved agricultural production into the hands of poor communities, the only way to do it is by and large through non-governmental organisations, and especially through British non-governmental organisations. British NGOs go to the poorest areas not just to visit but to stay for years until they have produced a sustainable uplift in conditions in those areas.

In looking further at how to improve the impact of their aid programme on the poorest communities, I hope that the Government will look particularly at the joint funding scheme. They have increased somewhat the contribution to that scheme, which is the vehicle by which British NGOs can be brought in and by which British public expenditure through money privately subscribed to charities, which British people do with considerable generosity, can be harnessed. That will ensure that the money goes to poor communities in poor countries. I hope that, against the overall backcloth that I have described, the Government will take a radical look at the joint funding programme and significantly increase our contribution. The three key challenges are : accountability to the House for our huge contribution to the EU, the mobilising within the EU of effective international means of responding to major emergencies such as that in Rwanda and trying to find fresh ways of ensuring that our residual bilateral programme is even better concentrated on the poorest people.

5.54 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Both the Minister and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) spoke about aid being given to former states of the USSR. What information does the Minister have about assistance given by the European Union to the three countries that are suffering most severely from the policing of sanctions against the former Yugoslavia ? I refer to Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I wish to focus on the relationship between trade and human rights and, more especially, on relations between the United Kingdom and China and the violation of human rights in Tibet. I think that I am accurate in saying that in terms of


Column 270

trade between the United Kingdom and China, the UK has shifted from a crude surplus of some £209 million in 1986 to a deficit this year which may exceed £500 million.

Many Chinese goods exported to the west are produced by Laogai labour, which is slave labour. A report which has come into my hands states :

"Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, tens of thousands of ordinary people in China pick cotton, sew clothing, tan hides, harvest tea, cut shoe leather, assemble chain hoists, mix chemicals, mine coal, manufacture sophisticated machinery or perform one of hundreds of other jobs.

These workers' lives are no longer ordinary. The life of a slave labourer is not ordinary in any sense of the word, except to their guards and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party who steadfastly refuse to dismantle the Laogai."

The west must deal firmly with the aging leaders of China, but at present there is a conspicuous lack of toughness among our leaders. As chairman of the all-party group on Tibet, at the end of April I wrote to President Clinton urging him to stand firm on the relationship between trade and the maintenance of human rights. In a letter that I received just yesterday, President Clinton sought to justify his decision to sever the link between trade--that is, most favoured nation status--and human rights criteria. The President stated :

"As you will have noted from my decision of May 27 on Most-Favored-Nation trade status for China, our evaluation of the situation with respect to Tibet was the same as yours, that no significant progress has been made by the Chinese government this past year."

Regretfully, the President's letter goes on to state :

"As you know, I nonetheless decided to end the linkage between MFN and specific human rights criteria. To be sure, I believe that my Executive Order on China played a useful purpose in engaging the Chinese on a range of human rights issues and in producing limited progress in a number of areas, including freedom of emigration and exports of goods produced by prison labor. At the same time, I believe that our future efforts on human rights in China can best take place outside the context of the annual MFN debate." In his letter, the President acknowledged that there has been little or no movement on China's part to improve human rights in China and Tibet. It also appears that, by his decision, President Clinton is seeking to separate on a permanent basis the relationship between the issues of human rights and trade with China. He said in his letter :

"I have ended the linkage between the two".

In other words, he has removed one of the most powerful sanctions he can employ in his negotiations with the old men in Peking on the important issue of human rights. However, while he and other western leaders would dearly wish the issues of human rights in Tibet and China and the autonomy of the Tibetan people to be put to one side, others continue to press for reform.

Among those significant others I am pleased to say are the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. and I shall quote from paragraph 28 on pages 91 and 92 of their fine report. I am not a member of the Committee, but I was pleased to read such a fine report. Paragraph 28 states :

"We recommend that the UK Government pursues its dialogue with the PRC on the matter of particular human rights abuses in Tibet and opens a discussion on the subject of Tibet's right to

self-determination. We conclude that a satisfactory conclusion to the former concern may only be achieved by progress on the latter. Furthermore we conclude that China's attitude to Tibet may contain a warning for the future of Hong Kong. The world will not allow the issue of Tibet to be ignored".

The members of that Select Committee are offering a warning, and indeed some advice, to the people who rule


Column 271

China. We cannot allow the United Nations and the European Union to ignore the tragic plight of the indigenous people of Tibet. The admirable Select Committee report has stunned the Chinese Government and angered the old men in Peking, who have accused the Committee of gross interference in China's internal affairs for including recommendations relating to Tibet. They offered similar sharp criticism in response to a report produced by a human rights committee in the Australian Federal Parliament which, following a visit to China and Tibet, was as critical of the regime in Peking as our Foreign Affairs Committee was. Those Australian Members of Parliament were denied a return visit to China because of their firmly worded critical report on the violation of human rights in China and Tibet.

Despite the massive trade balance in favour of China, fears of retaliation against United States business exports to China led to the granting of most favoured nation status by President Clinton in direct contradiction with many of his speeches during the election campaign. Once again, we have a example of the President changing course quite dramatically. However, there has to be a maintenance of focus on the relationship between trade and human rights violations. The Dalai Lama recently voiced his deep despair over the failure--I would say the honourable failure--of his non-violent and realistic approach to the Chinese Government concerning negotiations over the autonomy of his people. Others argue for a violent course of action, but the Dalai Lama has always argued a non-violent approach to the Chinese Government, which is wholly admirable as well as right and proper. The policy of absorbing Tibet into China continues apace through economic means, through the subjugation of the indigenous people of Tibet and through a continuing settlement programme of Chinese workers and their families into the very heart of Tibet. With other members of the all-party committee on Tibet, I shall be meeting the Minister on Monday afternoon to discuss these matters, but it seems to me that parliamentarians in the west should be demanding that the United Nations, the European Union and the rich countries of the west should use their power in relation to negotiations with the Chinese Government to wrest significant concessions from that Administration in relation to the understandable, natural and justifiable demand of the Tibetan people to enjoy their own way of life in terms of their culture and religion.

The Dalai Lama is not demanding independence but, along with the Government in exile in northern India, he is arguing that the Chinese must pay respect to the needs and interests of the Tibetan people in terms of their culture, their religion and their way of life. We should be saying, "Yes, that is absolutely right : you have a right to such autonomy in your own land."

For many people in the west, they are forgotten people, but some of us throughout the western world seek to bring their plight to the attention of Ministers, who are sympathetic--there is no doubt about that--but who are not doing enough for the ordinary people of China and are failing dismally to protect and defend the interests of the long-forgotten people of Tibet.


Column 272

6.6 pm

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) : In rising to speak in this important debate, I must first pay a warm tribute and commend to the House the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister. It was a thoughtful, caring and detailed speech, full of facts and policy initiatives.

I also listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber. He used the words, "Fighting poverty" 10 times. He said that we should fight poverty on the beaches, on the hills, in the vales, and so on, but not once did he use the words, "Creating wealth". We cannot fight poverty without creating wealth in poor countries. Unless and until the Opposition recognise that the only way to eradicate poverty in developing countries is to give them the instruments, the methods and the techniques for creating wealth, speeches about running around the world fighting poverty will remain empty rhetoric.

Far from being ashamed of our aid policies, we should be very proud of them. I was born in a developing country and I have seen the effectiveness and efficacy with which British aid was used in Sri Lanka. Today there are 700,000 farmers who create food and provide employment because of what the British aid programme provided for that country. Some time ago, Sri Lanka was a net importer of food, but through the Maha valley scheme, today that country is a net exporter of food.

Labour Members have made a number of points about Rwanda. I remind them that Britain was the first country to go into Rwanda when the problems arose. So far, we have spent more than £11 million in emergency relief to alleviate the enormous suffering in that country and the damage caused by the civil war.

We have heard today about how well our aid programme is targeted. Over the past four years the budget has increased by 10 per cent. The Government's commitment to helping the poorest countries is what our aid programme is all about. We have written off £1 billion of debt under the Trinidad terms. Some poor developing countries--or non-developing countries--were spending 80 to 90 per cent. of their export earnings on servicing their debts. That has been helped by the writing off of £1 billion.

The essence of our aid programme is poverty reduction, health reforms, water supplies and humanitarian aid. Underlying that is a principle that the Labour party probably recognises--Sir John Rawls' "A Theory of Justice", which is to help those who are least advantaged in society to improve themselves. Through aid, we must give them the weapons, tools and opportunities to create a better standard of living for themselves. Otherwise, it is simply an open-ended system under which we provide support, temporary relief, rehabilitation, and so on, but at the end of the day those countries are no better off than when the process started.

Above all else in our aid programme, we can be most proud of the "good governance" criteria that we have employed over the years in the provision of aid. The criteria are sound economic policies, open and accountable government, free and fair elections, efficient public administration and respect for human rights. After all, it is from this place that the rule of law, democracy and constitutional government have spread. Today, especially in the Commonwealth, 1.8 billion people understand and


Column 273

recognise--even if some do not put them into practice--the values and inherent ideas that have come from this institution.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) made some salient points about the European Community. Our aid programme is being pressured--if that is the right word--so that currently we are putting about 23 per cent. of it into the EC multilateral budget. Unfortunately, we have committed ourselves to increasing that to 33 per cent. by 1999. We must study what is happening in the EC. Rather than acting as a 13th donor country, it should play a more strategic role. It should not become fatter by drawing funds from other donor countries ; it should have a strategic, monitoring role in which it could harness the support of the 12 member nations and deal more rapidly with problems as they arise. There will be continuing conflict if the EC acts as the 13th donor entity, growing ever fatter on funds from the 12 member countries. We have succeeded in preventing the EC from drawing more funds into its coffers and in encouraging the EC Commissioner to spend the underspent money more effectively and to set up long-term procedures for disaster relief and rehabilitation aid.

There are more than 18 civil wars taking place in Africa. When they are ended, which I hope will be soon, a massive programme of rehabilitation aid will be required. Currently, the EC is underspending what it has in its coffers. People far better qualified than I have conducted research into that. For instance, the European Court of Auditors found that the Commission did not delegate enough power to staff working on aid provision programmes. Highly paid EC staff were brought in to do mundane jobs in recipient countries. The United Kingdom has built up, over many years, a vast network through our embassies, high commissions and non-governmental organisations, so we do not have the problem of highly paid staff from London doing mundane jobs in recipient countries. We have a network of people already in place to implement aid programmes effectively. The Court of Auditors' report found that the Community's efforts had so far lacked realism in setting its targets. It also found that 60 per cent. of the projects funded by the EC were over-ambitious or had failed to take local constraints sufficiently into account in their preparation.

The Court of Auditors found that in its projects the EC was prepared to act hastily and without undertaking feasibility studies before creating the restructuring and production programmes to bring people back on stream. As a result, projects had to be considerably modified after only a few months, following further consultation. The Commission seems to engender an ad hoc, learn-as-you-go process. It seems to be on a learning curve. Others who have done the job far better for years should be consulted, or at least left alone to get on with what they are doing while the Commission adopts a different strategy.

I wish to make one recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Minister on our aid and trade provision. Our current practice is to provide finance for development projects proposed by British companies. However, if one of the prioritised projects does not come to fruition, we underspend our ATP budget. Last year it was underspent by 25 per cent. My recommendation is that we have a list of priority projects and if, for whatever reason, project No. 1 fails, project No. 2 can immediately call on the ATP funds allocated for that year, rather than having to go through the whole process again.


Column 274

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.

6.17 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) : I want briefly to follow the points about the aid and trade provision. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee is to produce a detailed report on that in the next few weeks. I am sure that its recommendations will be widely welcomed. I want to comment specifically on what was said by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), who drew attention to the serious issue of the reduction in the proportion of the total overseas development assistance budget going to bilateral aid and the increase in the proportion going to multilateral aid. My figures show that the bilateral proportion will drop from 58.3 per cent. in 1988-89 to only 47.2 per cent. in 1996-97, while the multilateral proportion will increase from 41.7 per cent. to 52.8 per cent. In the context of a declining or static overseas aid budget, which has been the case under the Conservative Government over the past 15 years, if the multilateral proportion is increased through organisations such as the European Union or the World bank, but there is no increase in the total budget, this Parliament and Government will have less control over what is spent. That leaves aside the question whether money spent through the EU is the best way to dispense resources. The real answer is to increase the aid budget, and then the proportion going to bilateral would not reduce in the way that it has, or is planned to be, in the next few years. Figures from UNICEF show that a serious gap has opened between the few countries which are generous aid givers--such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which all spend more than 1 per cent. of their gross domestic product on overseas aid --and countries which spend significantly less. Only four countries--the three that I named and the Netherlands--exceed the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP set many years ago. They are followed by France at 0.61 per cent., Finland at 0.55 per cent., Switzerland at 0.46 per cent., Canada at 0.44 per cent., Portugal at 0.41 per cent., Belgium at 0.40 per cent., Germany at 0.38 per cent., Italy at 0.35 per cent., and Australia and Japan at 0.32 per cent. Way down the list, at 15th place, is the United Kingdom.

Under a Labour Government in 1979, the UK spent 0.51 per cent. of GNP on overseas aid, but the Thatcher Government drastically cut that figure, and the Major Government have lowered it further. We have already heard it said that the figure will not change significantly over the next few years. It currently stands at 0.28 per cent. of GNP.

Mr. Deva : Is it not true that the last Labour Government cut the aid budget by £50 million a year for three years, which is the equivalent of £100 million today ?

Mr. Gapes : The last Labour Government committed themselves, as did the present Government, to moving towards the UN target, but the present Conservative Government are consistently moving away from that target, year on year. The commitment by Ministers to the UN target is probably not worth the paper that it is written on. As to the wider aspects of development, much has been said about the need for good government and for policies


Column 275

that assist countries to deal with conflicts. Nations suffering from internal dissension are often those where living standards are lowest and where the problems for tens or hundreds of millions of people are the most serious. It is therefore essential to give the maximum support to the UN and to its various agencies.

They include an organisation from which the Government have, disgracefully, withdrawn British participation and refused to rejoin. I refer to UNESCO. Last year, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that the Government should take the UK back into UNESCO. The cost of £12 million is given as the reason for refusing to rejoin UNESCO, but the Pergau dam cost £234 million. I suggest that rejoining UNESCO would be high on most people's list of priorities. I conclude on one other aspect of peacekeeping --the assistance we give in the form of humanitarian aid in areas of conflict. Clearly, it is not possible for the UK or for European Union member states collectively to act as the world's policeman. Neither is it possible for the UK alone to play a significant role in every internal conflict in every region.

However, it does not help when the American Congress adopts crass and stupid positions. It is not prepared to send in American troops to assist a peace settlement in Bosnia, but it votes to lift an arms embargo so that American weapons could be used to kill British troops operating humanitarian convoys. If the American Congress persists, the time will be near when, for the safety of our own troops, we shall have to take steps to withdraw our forces from Bosnia. If we do not, outside pressures--together with an unresolved military conflict between the three parties to that civil war--will mean that our troops will be like meat in a sandwich. I say that as someone who is committed to the UN and to international action, supports NATO and is regarded as an Atlanticist. The American Congress--the Senate and the House of Representatives--having effectively encouraged one side not to enter a peace settlement, is now taking decisions that could lead to further loss of life and serious conflict in the future.

It was important for the Opposition to seek a full debate on this issue today. I hope that there will be further opportunities in normal time-- whatever that might become--to discuss these serious matters. Given the millions of people who are dying from malnutrition and the tens of millions of refugees worldwide, it is regrettable that this country should become so obsessed with trivia that it does not give proper attention to such issues.

6.26 pm

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport) : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye. I confess that I did not expect to be called quite so early, but I am delighted. I note that a number of Opposition Members have gone about their other business. I am sure that they will return, but, in view of the 10-minute rule, if you find that we are short of speakers later, perhaps you will allow us a second go.

It is clear that right hon. and hon. Members who seek to catch the eye of the Chair today have taken a particular interest in overseas development and aid to less developed nations for some time--in some instances, before they


Column 276

entered the House. There is evidently considerable expertise among right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken or who have yet to speak.

Although I appreciate that the Opposition are here to oppose, some of the wording of Labour's motion is unfortunate, if not deliberately disingenuous. It criticises the Government for

"the failure to target aid on those in greatest need . . . the absence of any clear, coordinated strategy for promoting effective and sustainable development".

Earlier, hon. Members spoke of targeting aid to benefit the poorest people in developing countries. One important aspect of the British overseas aid programme is its quality rather than quantity. Targeting and quality are absolutely vital.

So far, except by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, sufficient gratitude has not been expressed for the enormous efforts of those who work for non-governmental organisations and the Overseas Development Administration. They do splendid work, often in very difficult circumstances, and Britain is rightly proud of them. In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) drew attention to some of the difficulties of moving towards the target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product. Although the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) may refer to this later, I did not hear a clear statement of where the Opposition intend to find the money to move from the present percentage of GNP to the target of 0.7 per cent.

We all recognise the importance of moving gradually towards that target. Because of the situation in the United Kingdom, I would be the first to accept that it is regrettable, in view of the real increases over the past four years, that there is to be a small reduction in the percentage over the next couple of years. As we look towards the next decade, it is vital that we build towards the target figure of 0.7 per cent.

Although I am sure that the hon. Member for Monklands, West did not mean to be too unfair, as he is generally very even-handed, he did not adequately describe the enormous success of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in negotiating the Trinidad terms. We should not belittle a drop of £1 billion in the indebtedness of some of the poorest nations in the world.

So far, 22 nations have benefited from the renegotiation of the Trinidad terms. I take issue with a point made earlier in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). It is not simply a question of writing off the debt of lesser developed nations : as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, we must consider the way in which the economies of lesser developed countries are run. In the short time available to me this evening, I want to consider that issue.

First, I want to refer to a point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes). I agree that we should take great care when protecting our aid workers. I have always believed that, if they cannot operate satisfactorily, we should consider withdrawing them from work, wherever they are. Bosnia is just one example. I am particularly concerned by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Monklands, West that we are not doing enough in troubled areas. The implication was that we should send in more British troops to sort the problem out. Long before I became a Member of this House, I recall attending a dinner at the home of Derek Partridge, the then


Column 277

long-serving British high commissioner in Freetown in Sierra Leone. He had done sterling work with his colleagues, and was about to leave his post.

The then longest serving Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone was also at the dinner. As a small group of us discussed the incursion of Charles Taylor's men from Liberia into Sierra Leone--I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and to Baroness Chalker for ensuring that appropriate assistance is being given to help displaced persons in Sierra Leone--the Foreign Minister tackled the high commissioner and said, "We need your military assistance to tackle the incursion." As the House knows, because of the war many hundreds of miles from Freetown, there was a coup, and that Government in Sierra Leone fell. One of the poorest countries, and one of the most difficult countries from the point of view of providing aid, is struggling with leaders much younger than I am. When they marched to complain to their leaders in Freetown, they suddenly found that, by default, they were running a country when they had been used to running a platoon of soldiers.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) is detained on other business, and will return to the House shortly to contribute to the debate. In London last year, he and I met a senior journalist on one of the local newspapers in Freetown. The gentleman concerned, who was in his 60s, was advising the young men of 25 and 26 on how they should be running the country.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State drew attention to the importance of British aid not just helping with health care programmes or providing tangible support for irrigation projects, but helping through the know-how fund to deal with some of the difficulties to which I have referred.

I conclude by paying tribute, as I did earlier, to the work of the ODA. Although we should be moving, sooner rather than later, towards the 0.7 per cent. target, there is already a £2.2 billion fund in the ODA budget. I believe that that fund is being used extremely effectively, and I very much hope that we will, in the not too distant future, be able to see a real increase, as we have over the past four years.

6.36 pm

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) : The Opposition motion draws attention to

"the absence of any clear, co-ordinated strategy for promoting effective and sustainable development".

I was struck by June's UNICEF briefing which, under the heading "Aid is not enough", states :

"The industrialised nations will also have to create an enabling' rather than a disabling' economic environment within which the developing world can achieve economic growth. In practice, this will mean agreements on fair and stable commodity prices, agreements on more open access to markets for the manufactured exports from poor countries"

and

"agreements to write down a significant proportion of debt". I want to address the question whether there is any sign that the industrialised countries, including our own, are creating that enabling environment for the poorest developing countries. I believe that there is little evidence that they are.

Before I was elected to the House, I was a lobbyist for several development and environment non-governmental organisations. Just prior to the 1992 general election, I spent some time lobbying for the interests of the poorest


Column 278

people in the poorest countries in the GATT negotiations. I was often told by, among others, senior officials at the GATT secretariat and senior negotiators from the European Commission that Africa had nothing to do with GATT or the Uruguay round.

I do not think that those people were expressing pejorative judgments on Africa or the African people. That view was simply the reflection of a reality in their eyes, that African countries, which buy little and sell less on world markets, were not to be players in negotiations that were to govern world trade. That was a club essentially for the rich nations, and for the wealthier sections of some of the middle-income countries. The trading rules that were going to be shaped in the Uruguay round were going to be shaped in those interests, not in the interests of the poorest countries. That highlights a contradiction at the heart of the economic policies that have been pressed on poor countries in recent years through the structural adjustment programmes promoted by the World bank and the International Monetary Fund. At their heart, they assume that the route to development for the poorest countries is through the effective participation of those countries in the global markets governed by the new trading arrangements. However, the conditions for that have not been created and the rules of the game have not been shaped in the interests of the poorest countries.

In the promotion of those structural adjustment policies and with the aim of enabling--that is the theory--the poorest countries to participate effectively in the global market, a number of measures have been taken. The poorest developing countries have been required to make proportionally much larger tariff cuts on their imports than the European Community and, indeed, industrialised nations generally would consider. Those countries have been forced to dismantle protectionist agricultural policies which were far smaller in scale and impact than the protectionist common agricultural policy, or United States agricultural policies.

Indeed, those countries, having dismantled their own agricultural policies at the behest of the bank and the fund, will continue to face subsidised export dumping from the European Community and from the United States of America. Their exports will continue to face escalating tariff barriers, and the greater the value added they attempt to give their goods, the greater their barrier to exporting to our markets.

It was mentioned that GATT has reduced the relative value of the Lome agreement to many of the poorest developing countries. In response to my intervention, the Minister said that compensation for the Lome countries would be addressed in the future round of negotiations. That is very significant, because the Uruguay round went on for seven years, and, according to the original agreement, it was supposed not to be completed without a full assessment of its impact on the poorest developing countries. However, to all intents and purposes, that deal is complete, and only now are people beginning to address, without commitment, the impact of that agreement on the countries which will lose.

Although many developing countries have signed up to GATT and will join the multilateral trading organisation, the decision-making lay largely in the quad group of major countries, and, to a lesser extent the only place where


Column 279

developing countries had a voice was in groups such as the Cairns group, which was dominated by the middle-income agricultural producers.

The external polices that are being pressed on the poorest countries, coupled with those of debt, have already made it inherently difficult for those countries to participate successfully in global markets. That has been made worse by the internal impact of the structural adjustment policies which the bank and the fund have promoted. Almost by definition, the poorest developing countries lack the developed productive capacity, both physical and human, to produce, sell and trade effectively in global markets.

Structural adjustment policies have simply failed to develop the human resources and ensure the capital investment to enable those countries to play the role set out for them within the global market. All too often, those countries have found that they have been competing over a limited range of basic commodities whose prices have fallen as a result.

Often, despite the emphasis on paper on developing the human capacity of the poorest countries, the immediate impact of structural adjustment policies has been to reduce expenditure on education, health and the skills and abilities of the poorest people. Indeed, although to some extent structural adjustment policies have been linked with political changes-- they have promoted privatisation, reduced the role of the state, and reduced state spending--in most countries the main immediate effect of structural adjustment policies has been to widen the gap between the rich, who do exist in poor countries, and the poor in poor countries.

However, from the successful experience of other developing countries such as those in south-east Asia, we know that the fundamental principles that enabled them to expand were, first, that there was a very narrow differential of incomes between the rich and the poor ; secondly, that there was equitable access to resources such as land and an equitable distribution of land ; and, thirdly, that the state in those economies played an important role in organising economic activity and promoting the development of those countries.

Although there have been lessons about how very poor countries can become successful players in the international economy, those lessons have not been learnt, encouraged or applied, particularly in the countries of Africa. Far too little has been done, beyond the rhetoric, to enable the empowerment of poor people within developing countries. Indeed, the real political effect of structural adjustment policies has been to take the capacity for autonomous decision-making from the poor and the existing governmental structures of developing countries and place it in the hands of what effectively is an international bureaucracy promoted by the bank and the fund. The Government's policies are going wrong in a sector that has not been mentioned today. It is a matter not just of the level and quality of our aid programme but the fact that our aid programme, however good it is, is swimming against the tide of the type of economic development which is being encouraged among developing countries.

They are being set an impossible task--to move from their current poverty and lack of well-developed, productive technologies and well-developed and diverse


Next Section

  Home Page