5 Jul 2000 : Column 313

House of Commons

Wednesday 5 July 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Wednesday 12 July.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If she will make a statement on her policy towards development aid to Ethiopia. [127737]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Our current bilateral programme in Ethiopia is small, our work on food security is on-going and, so far this year, we have contributed £9 million for food aid directly and another £14 million through the EC. The recent signature by Ethiopia and Eritrea of a cessation of hostilities agreement is a welcome and positive development. We are encouraging the international financial institutions and the European Union to re-engage as the peace process unfolds and we will, over the coming months, review our bilateral programme.

Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. She is right to bear in mind the conflict that took place between the two countries. However, it is urgent to renew development aid, because the last thing that we want three, four or five years down the line is a repeat of the situation that we have just seen in Ethiopia. Will she therefore think very carefully about how she can speed up the development aid that that country so desperately needs?

Clare Short: I applaud the hon. Gentleman's objective, but we have to make a distinction. Humanitarian aid and food aid go to anyone regardless, and we do not stop them because of war--people have to eat. However, development aid must not support countries arming themselves and going to war, so we have to nuance that. Of course, we want to reinforce peace and get on with development. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea are desperately

5 Jul 2000 : Column 314

poor countries, and the people there are subject to hunger because they are so poor. We shall do all that we can to help development and to maintain the peace.

Aid Budget Reform

2. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What discussions she has had with EU officials on reform of the aid budget. [127738]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): My right hon. Friend and I have frequent exchanges with Commissioners Nielson and Patten about reform of the European Commission aid budget. We are working for the implementation of our strategy, a copy of which I have here and a copy of which is in the Library of the House. We are constantly pressing the Commission and other EU member states to improve the poverty focus and effectiveness of EC development assistance.

Mr. Swayne: Given the description of the rotten heart of Europe that the Secretary of State gave to the Select Committee on International Development yesterday, what prospect is there of the United Kingdom regaining control of the budget so that it might be deployed according to our own exemplary standards?

Mr. Foulkes: We have a much better prospect of that with the Labour party in power than we would have if the Conservative party were in power. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in 1992, his Government renegotiated the financial perspectives, and the amount of Britain's aid budget that we contributed to Europe went up from 20 to 30 per cent. When we negotiated the financial perspectives last year, we kept the figure constant. With an increasing budget for development, that means that we have, unlike the previous Government, more money to spend on bilateral assistance. The percentage spent on bilateral assistance will be increasing.

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): What steps can the Secretary of State take to refocus EU aid spending towards poorer countries?

Mr. Foulkes: That is exactly what we are discussing with the Commissioners. In 1987, about 75 per cent. of European Community aid was spent on the poorest countries of the world, but 10 years later the figure was just over 50 per cent. That is not good enough and we argue that there has to be a switch towards a poverty- focused programme. At last, the European Commission has published a draft policy statement that is moving in that direction. Commissioner Nielson strongly supports that, and we are backing him 100 per cent.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): The House does not need a history lesson from the Minister. We need something specific in terms of action to make the situation better. Will he confirm that the Government will table paving reforms at the current intergovernmental conference so that a mechanism is put in place to enable member states who choose to do so to take urgent and immediate action to spend most of their aid budgets bilaterally if the Patten reforms do not prove to be a

5 Jul 2000 : Column 315

success within the next 12 months? Is that not a proper response to the EU aid fiasco? We want not empty words but positive, constructive and common-sense action.

Mr. Foulkes: I do not know about you, Madam Speaker, but I think that the hon. Gentleman does need a history lesson. He has the barefaced cheek to come here to try to lecture us. As I pointed out in reply to the main question, it was under his Government that the percentage of money spent in Europe increased substantially and yet no action was taken to make that spending more effective. We have taken action to make the spending more effective. We have produced a strategy paper and we are working to get it implemented. The number of Commissioners dealing with development assistance has been reduced from five to two; we have renegotiated the Lome convention; and we have financial perspectives that do not increase development assistance. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman took a history lesson and learned from us.

Mr. Streeter: I assume that that was a very long no to my specific question. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I that if steps are not taken at this year's IGC to effect radical surgery of the EU aid budget, no action will be possible for several years--unless he knows the date of the next IGC, which I know he does not--during which the world's poorest countries will continue to be cheated out of vital help and support by bungling Brussels bureaucrats. If they do not seize this heaven-sent opportunity to implement a framework for a better aid policy, will it not be just another example of this Government being long on rhetoric and short on delivery?

Mr. Foulkes: This is barefaced cheek from the Opposition; what is more, it is carefully rehearsed barefaced cheek. The Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported did absolutely nothing to reform the European Community development programme. In fact, they increased it by 50 per cent. We are moving in the right direction: there is a poverty focus and an agreement to streamline the programme and delegate it to the countries concerned. We are moving in the right direction, and under this Government we will continue to do so.

Beijing Plus 5 Review

3. Ms Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): If she will make a statement on the final report of the Beijing plus 5 review. [127739]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): The principles laid down at Beijing were reaffirmed despite the efforts of some hard-line states to reverse previous gains. The report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women--UNIFEM--on progress worldwide since Beijing will be placed in the Library.

Ms McCafferty: Does my hon. Friend agree that 70 per cent. of the world's poorest people are women? Is he aware that, next week, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities will launch a special report to mark world population day that will highlight the fact that reproductive health and rights are human rights? Will he do everything possible to ensure that the sexual health and

5 Jul 2000 : Column 316

reproductive rights of adolescents and women are regarded as human rights and are part of the Government's international development policy?

Mr. Foulkes: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I can reassure her that the gains made in Cairo were successfully defended in Beijing, despite the persistent efforts of hard-line states to undermine them. We would like much more explicit commitments to women's sexual rights, particularly the right to control their own sex lives, but a number of conservative countries are still blocking that.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Does the Minister agree that many of the world's conflicts occur in some of the world's poorest countries and that often many of the non-combatants affected are women and children? Does he also agree that those women often suffer sexual violence as well as the violence of the wider war? What measures is his Department taking to ensure that those women's rights and children's rights will be central to its emergency aid for such conflicts?

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman has pinpointed something that we have said on several occasions during Question Time: poverty is exacerbated by conflict. It is difficult for us to implement programmes to help the poorest people, particularly women and children, during conflict.

The question of violence against women was discussed at Beijing plus 5 and real gains were made. So-called honour killings, acid attacks, marital rape and forced marriage were condemned and recognised for the first time as a cause of concern. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is some progress.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Of the 12 specific promises agreed in Beijing, how many has the United Kingdom fulfilled?

Mr. Foulkes: We have made substantial progress on the promises that were made. If I had the time, I would spell out each of them one by one. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, at Beijing plus 5, there was no retreat from previous agreements on abortion; there were many strong references to the threat to women posed by HIV; the key role of the women's movement in non- governmental organisations was recognised and the importance of women's rights at work is underlined in the report; the need fully to extend inheritance and property rights to women was accepted; and, as I said earlier, real gains were made in relation to violence against women. I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is substantial progress.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Has my hon. Friend had any discussions with the Chinese about the spread of HIV-AIDS from Burma? I should like to congratulate the Department on its excellent publication on that country, which came out yesterday.

Mr. Foulkes: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I am pleased to tell him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State plans to visit the border area to look at the project that he identified. I am sure that he agrees that that will be a great step forward.

5 Jul 2000 : Column 317

Next Section

IndexHome Page