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On the costs of the summit, the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that that is a matter for the Japanese Government. I would simply point out however, in fairness to them, that they also made a statement at the time of the summit that they intend to offer some $18 billion worth of aid to developing countries. We should give them credit for that.
As for the GM foods position, I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman means by that. I simply restated the position that I have stated throughout. It is not a question of backing the stance of the United States--we have a very cautious approach. Despite the position that he now takes on GM foods, I remind him that we have not licensed a single additional GM food in this country. It is this Government who have acted on labelling: the Government of whom he was a member refused to act on labelling.
What we have said--and where I strongly agree with what President Clinton said yesterday--is that it is important that we take decisions on the basis of science and evidence. That is what is important and I hold to that entirely.
On the point about national missile defence, we have made it clear throughout that we understand exactly why the United States is concerned about the possibility of rogue nuclear states. We are trying to ensure that the fear that the United States has--perfectly legitimately and justifiably--is taken account of in a way that does not put at risk the substantial progress that has been made on nuclear disarmament over the past few years. It is vital, therefore, for us to continue a dialogue on what will be one of the most important issues that we shall have to face over the next few years.
I entirely agree that it is very important for us to push ahead with the WTO round. I think that Seattle was a serious failure. We must recognise that the single most important thing for many of the poorest countries in the world--as important, indeed, as many of the things that we are discussing in relation to debt--is to gain access to the richer countries markets. It cannot be justified that wealthy countries keep out the goods of poorer countries, when such access is the very best way in which those countries can have a secure future without having to depend on aid and development assistance from the wealthier countries. I cannot say that we made as much progress on that as I would wish, but the position of the United Kingdom Government, at any rate, is very clear.
As for debt relief, the money is there--that is, the $100 billion target that was set at Cologne. What we need to do is get the countries through the decision point process. Nine have already gone through, and a further 11 should be through by the end of the year. We recommitted ourselves to that at Okinawa. However, we must also deal with the countries that are currently in conflict and cannot get through the decision point process for that reason. There is a clear need for us to renew our efforts, which is why we have agreed to send delegations from countries such as ours to countries that are in conflict to tell them, "If you want to take advantage of debt relief, you must resolve some of the basic issues of conflict; otherwise, the money will simply be wasted."
The UK has a very good record of writing off debt and of debt relief initiatives. I should point out, however, that when we came to office not one country had received the debt relief. Those countries are now receiving it, very much as a result of the work done by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development. I agree that we must go much further. We are very much in the forward advance, but we are having to act after several years during which not a great deal happened.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): As I think all hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise, a welcome feature of the summit--however frustrating the rate of progress may be--is the developing recognition among wealthier nations that collectively we must do more for the poorer nations.
Let me ask the Prime Minister a couple of specific questions arising from his statement. One concerns his discussions with President Putin, which he described in his statement as "especially valuable". That is an especially interesting statement; I think we would all like to know why the discussions were so valuable. For instance, did the Prime Minister have--and did he take--the opportunity in those bilateral discussions to tackle Mr. Putin on the continuing problems and oppression that afflict Chechnya in particular?
My second question concerns the report, not referred to in the statement--it may be accurate, or it may be inaccurate--that the Prime Minister was at pains to reassure his Japanese hosts that he intended, in a future Parliament, to move as quickly as possible towards a referendum on the issue of a single European currency and to take a positive stance on such a referendum. Is that report accurate? If so, what comments did the Prime Minister's opposite numbers make?
Finally, given the emphasis placed by the summit on the need to help the developing and the underdeveloped world, and given the fact that some of us were either at school or at university when the Brandt report, for example, was under way, does the Prime Minister agree that here we are, an entire global political generation later, yet we have still made pathetically inadequate progress in the attitude of the developed world to the underdeveloped world?
The Prime Minister spoke of writing off $100 billion of debt--which was agreed at last year's Cologne summit--but only $15 billion of that debt has been cancelled. Given what he just said in response to the Leader of the official Opposition about the other countries involved, does he think that that remains a realistic target? If it is, what is the time scale for achieving it?
Does the Prime Minister agree that more work needs to be done to ensure that the heavily indebted poor countries do not have to meet such stringent economic criteria to qualify initially for eligibility for debt relief? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have signed up to that cause with Jubilee 2000. The more that the Government can do on behalf of everyone in this country to give an impetus to achieving that goal internationally, the better.
The Prime Minister: On the issue of my bilateral talks with President Putin, we discussed the Russian economy and issues such as North Korea. We did indeed, however, also discuss Chechnya, and we made clear our concerns about human rights there. In turn, President Putin made very clear his commitment to finding a political solution. As for the euro, the position that I set out to the Japanese Prime Minister is precisely the position that I always set out. I really cannot help how that position is interpreted, although it seems to be interpreted in different ways depending on which day of the week it is. Perhaps what the Japanese emphasised to me in return was more important--that for Japanese inward investors, the important thing is that a decision on the euro is taken on economic grounds. In other words, the question is whether the decision is taken on the basis of what is right for the British economy. Of course, the position that we have set out allows us to do just that.
The Japanese are not saying that we should join the euro tomorrow. They are saying that, when the decision is taken, as investors in our economy they want to know that we will have the interests of the British economy--British jobs and investment--as our highest priority.
As for debt and debt relief, it is important that we do not put over-stringent hurdles in the way of the heavily indebted poor countries. However, it is not only a matter of economic hurdles; it is also important that we have systems of governance in those countries that make it clear that any money that is put in will go to those who really need it. That is not an unreasonable precondition. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the $100 billion
Therefore, although I understand the frustration of all the campaigners on the issue and support very much the work of organisations such as Jubilee 2000--as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have been at the forefront on these issues for the past couple of years--we have to make it clear that in some countries there are problems which prevent us from getting that money through.
I should like to take this opportunity to set out what the United Kingdom has done. We are increasing our aid budget by 20 per cent. in real terms in the next three years, with our aid:gross domestic product ratio rising to 0.33 per cent. We have already written off almost £250 million of debt, and we have made a commitment to write off a total of £1.7 billion of debt to the HIPC countries. We have pledged a bilateral contribution of $375 million for the HIPC trust fund, which is another important part of the process. We have announced a doubling of the amount that we are prepared to make available to improve access to drugs and medicines in developing countries. We have also led the way in tackling the problem of conflict, and particularly of conflict diamonds. We are also establishing with other countries a new taskforce on renewable energy, to help to bring clean electricity to 2 billion people who are currently without it.
If we add up all those sums, with the additional money that we are providing to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa, it becomes clear that we have made more progress on the issue in the past three years than the United Kingdom has made for many decades. I think that we can be proud of that achievement.