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1 Jul 1998 : Column 339

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Development Awareness

1. Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York): What steps she is taking to inform the public about her Department's work. [46864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): As we made clear in our White Paper, the Government attach great importance to increasing development awareness in the United Kingdom. To that end, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been visiting every corner of the country to publicise the commitments in the White Paper. My right hon. Friend will be in York next Wednesday. We are in the process of establishing our development forum, which will meet regionally and then nationally each year to discuss development strategy, and I am chairing the working group on development awareness so that we can strengthen our work in the field.

Mr. Bayley: In the wake of the pain of last night's football game, does my hon. Friend agree that the world would be a much better and safer place if people in this and other countries took as much interest in world development as they do in the world cup? Will he discuss with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment the importance of getting a world studies strand in the school curriculum?

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): A Hearts supporter.

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend is right to say that I support the team that won the Scottish cup this year. Although I am a Scotland supporter, I sympathise with all the England supporters over the tragedy that took place last night.

A great deal is being done to ensure that development studies are included in the curriculum. I have an A-level geography examination paper from the London examination board, which includes questions about development. We have had discussions with the Department for Education and Employment about giving development a higher profile, and some members of our development awareness working group, including myself, had a meeting with Professor Bernard Crick, who chairs the working party on citizenship, to discuss including global citizenship in the curriculum. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that we are already doing a great deal.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Does the Minister recall his party's manifesto promise that, in government, Labour would increase the aid budget, and will he tell the British people why, in the first 12 months of the Labour Government, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Kingdom aid budget has been cut by 2.2 per cent?

Mr. Foulkes: Let me make it clear that I remember all our manifesto commitments, each of which we are

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implementing. This year, we have doubled the budget for development awareness. When the comprehensive spending review is published, the hon. Gentleman will know exactly what we intend to spend on international development, and it will be clear to the British public and to the Opposition that we will spend a great deal more over the next few years than the previous Government did.

Mr. Streeter: The Minister has not answered the question. The Government have been in power for 14 months and have presided over a cut in the UK aid budget. They found extra money for schools and hospitals; why have they not found extra money for the aid budget? Is this not yet another new Labour broken promise?

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman is talking about the calendar year 1997, half of which was under the previous Government. That Government inherited an aid budget of 0.51 per cent. of gross national product and rising; it left us with 0.27 per cent. and falling. We are committed to turning that round in the course of this Parliament.

Mr. Streeter: When?

Mr. Foulkes: If the hon. Gentleman will have a little patience, he will see, when the comprehensive spending review is published, that the changes under Labour will start to reverse the decline.

Good Governance

2. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What steps her Department has taken to encourage stable and democratic government as part of its aid programme. [46865]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Good governance is essential to the achievement of sustainable economic growth, which is the only way to achieve a lasting reduction in poverty. It is clear from experience that conditions imposed on reluctant Governments in return for aid or loans tend to fail to secure reform, while Governments who are committed to poverty reduction use aid to invest in human development and economic progress. Good governance is therefore crucial to development, and it is the focus of much of our work. In 1997-98, we committed more than £70 million in efforts to promote good governance, including democratic reform.

Mr. Winterton: I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. I presume that she agrees that good governance is an essential factor in the determination of which states are best able to tackle both poverty and debt repayment. Does she accept that multi-party government is another essential element in ensuring that we can achieve more through United Kingdom aid, and reduce poverty and deprivation in countries to which we give aid?

Clare Short: I entirely accept that, without good governance and the intention to promote poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth, no amount of conditionality or intervention will succeed. We need to back Governments who are determined to reduce poverty,

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and to introduce optimistic models. When Governments are not determined, we must find ways--for instance, through non-governmental organisations--to assist people who are suffering; but sustained development will not be possible in those countries.

In general, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about multi-party democracy. He may have had Uganda particularly in mind. I remind him that there is a commitment for the people of Uganda to decide in 2000 whether they want multi-partyism, or prefer to retain their present system of democracy. We say that that is for the people of Uganda, not us, to dictate; but the principles of democracy, and the ability to vote out a Government and local representatives, are key, and must be observed everywhere.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): As my right hon. Friend will know, the NGOs in Afghanistan have now been moved into very unsuitable accommodation, and the persecution of women in that country by the odious Taliban continues. What, if anything, can the international community, and those who--obviously--are still giving aid to the persecuted in Afghanistan, do in the way of sanctions, or making the Taliban behave humanely towards women and children?

Clare Short: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Taliban has, for example, attempted to prevent women in difficult labour from going to hospital, because women are not allowed to go to the same hospitals as men. That is a fundamental issue of human rights: it is crude apartheid, and is causing enormous suffering. We are trying to get the international community to agree on an absolute precondition of equal treatment if any help is to be given, and the Red Cross has bravely stood by that. As long as everyone stands together, I think that we can secure that position, but it is a constant battle.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Is not one of the best ways of ensuring democratic and stable government in many of those regimes--especially in the poorest countries--to ensure a proper reduction in debt, and the interest on debt? As chairman of the all-party parliamentary campaign for Jubilee 2000, may I ask the Secretary of State to give earnest consideration to ensuring that that debt is reduced by 2000, and that we are not given answers that really come from the Treasury? The right hon. Lady has specific responsibilities; will she use them to the utmost effect?

Clare Short: I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I are working together in absolute agreement. We are determined to secure more speedy implementation of the highly indebted poor countries initiative. I agree that countries that are saddled with massive unpayable debts are set up to fail, because they cannot secure the resources with which to promote education, health and other aspects of human development.

We are strongly committed to backing good government. As I told the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), a Government who commit themselves to poverty reduction and improving health and education should then have the opportunity to have their debt written down to sustainable development, so that they can succeed and make progress. We are committed to securing the fastest possible progress.

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European Court (Freezing of Aid)

3. Barbara Follett (Stevenage): If she will make a statement on her Department's response to the European Court's freezing of some of the aid budget lines. [46866]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): My Treasury colleagues, who lead on this issue, have upheld the previous Government's decision to challenge European Union spending that had no legal base. The United Kingdom did not object to any budget line for assistance to developing countries, but the EU Commission decided to suspend future grants for those lines, while also reviewing the implications of the court's judgment. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury agreed with the Commission and the European Parliament on 23 June that all new grants not disbarred by the judgment will proceed by mid-July.

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he do all that he can to ensure that such matters are resolved with the minimum of delay, particularly as regards budget lines relating to land mines and human rights? Will he also ensure that the European Parliament has some discretion over awarding sums to smaller bodies?

Mr. Foulkes: It was for that reason that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary had her meeting. She wanted to ensure that those budget lines were reinstated, and that the money should be spent as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) will agree that the Government are right to ensure that effective control of public expenditure is treated as importantly in the European Union as it is in the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Have there been any proposals to freeze European or British aid to India and Pakistan on the basis that, as they can afford to develop nuclear weapons, they do not need aid?

Mr. Foulkes: We have given that point careful consideration. The Government have condemned the testing of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, but we are concerned that some of the poorest people in the world live in those two countries. We are working with non- governmental organisations, international organisations and state governments, as well as the two international Governments. Stopping our programmes would harm some of the poorest people in the world, and that is why we have decided to continue with bilateral assistance.

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