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Mr. William Cash (Stone): Does the Prime Minister accept that there are Conservative Members who have taken a great interest in third-world debt? Indeed, I have done so since as long ago as 1989. I am also chairman of the all-party group on Jubilee 2000.
Which countries are holding back the process and why? Is there any truth in the suggestion, which I heard recently at a conference, that it is to do with the reforms demanded by the World Bank and the IMF? As it is absolutely essential that there is immediate relief for people who are living in degrading and impossibly poverty-stricken circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman do what he can about evening out the conditionality imposed on the current debt relief proposals?
The Prime Minister: On the whole, most of the countries want the process to succeed. There are obstacles--for example, the attitude of some members of the US Congress has been a problem in getting the US to do what President Clinton wants it to do.
Some other countries are--let us say--slower than us on untying aid, which is also extremely important. Other countries are hesitant about opening up their markets to the goods of the least developed countries. However, we are making progress on all those issues.
I am happy to pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, individual Conservative Members on third-world debt, but I am afraid that I have to remind him that when his Government were in office for 18 years, they reduced substantially the proportion of national income going to overseas aid and assistance. This Government are raising that again. As a result, I am afraid, of decisions taken by the shadow Chancellor, the amount of money that we are now committed to putting into aid and assistance would, of course, be cut.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): I hear what the Prime Minister says about AIDS and diseases in Africa. Can he give a Labour guarantee--although I do not like to use the word--that that money, or that programme, will start this very moment, this very year? I have been to Africa. I have seen the carnage and the millions of kids who are dying of AIDS and disease. Something needs to be done now--not years later, but now.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): In welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's frank talks with President Putin, may I ask whether he had a chance to raise with him the question of Russian organised crime and its serious effect on many countries in western Europe? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Russians need to tackle that problem? It greatly damages the credibility of a country that we need as a strong and sensible country in the world community.
The Prime Minister: We did, of course, talk about the need to have political and economic reform in Russia. One of the problems that Russia has faced is the high level of organised crime, and I agree that it is important that it deals with that. It is a threat that crosses its borders into the rest of Europe. The single most important thing we can do is to support a process of economic and political reform in Russia that puts in place a proper tax code, a proper commercial system and a proper legal system that together allow the problems to be dealt with. Of course I agree that the problem is huge.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): Fifteen billion dollars of debt relief to just nine poor countries represents an abject failure to deliver on the commitment made at Cologne of $100 billion to 40 countries this year. Given that the Prime Minister himself said that the G8 economies are in good shape, does he agree, in principle, that the priority is not closing the so-called global digital divide, but delivering on comprehensive debt relief--now? If the problem with that is conflict in the poor countries themselves, can he tell us what discussions took place at the G8 summit on how limits and controls might be placed on the arms industries--including the arms industries in the G8 countries, which, by and large, fuel those conflicts?
Debt relief is important, but I am completely convinced of one thing--unless all the problems are tackled together, debt relief on its own will not do the business and will not produce the goods in Africa. We need to deal with the problems of health, trade and untying aid. We also need to deal with the problems of information technology. The truth is that if some of these countries were given access to information technology, it would have a fantastic benefit for them. We should not simply say that such an aim is pie in the sky from the richer countries. Potentially, many countries are crying out for access to information technology and it is a scandal that it costs more to access the internet in Uganda than it does in Britain or the United States of America. That issue is important, too.
The reasons for conflict in such countries have far less to do with the international arms trade than, I am afraid, the attempt by certain factions in those countries to seize control of wealthy natural resources. The dispute in Sierra Leone has one very simple basis: it is to do with the diamond industry. The Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone got the conflict going again over the past few months because the United Nations threatened to take over the diamond industry. Therefore, we need to put in place a proper system that ensures that if diamonds come from an area of conflict, they are not sold on the international market. Dealing with basic questions of conflict prevention is immensely important.
I emphasise to my hon. Friend that I do not believe that debt relief, in itself, is enough. Another issue is the system of governance in those countries, and all the issues have to be dealt with to provide a solution to the problems.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does the Prime Minister realise what enormous targets the summit leaders have set themselves? They have set targets to reduce the number of cases of TB and malaria by 50 per cent. and the number of cases of AIDS by 25 per cent. in 10 years. Those targets are quite extraordinary. Does he realise that the summit leaders have already slipped on their targets for debt relief and that the World Bank's recent report, "Can Africa claim the 21st century?" has shown that many more people are living in poverty now than there were 40 years ago? Are not such targets just a lot of hot air?
The Prime Minister: No--that is unfair and wrong. If, in fact, we get the additional 11 countries through by the end of this year, we will have very nearly met the target that we set in Cologne last year. [Interruption.] If I could just get the hon. Lady to understand my argument, she will see that as a result of that, we will have achieved more debt relief in one year than we did in virtually a decade before. It is always possible to say, "You should have done more and you should have done this or that." I agree that we need to do more, but to say that we have done nothing is wrong.
On the targets for AIDS, malaria and TB, let us take Uganda as an example--it has virtually halved its rate of AIDS. It is possible to take action, but only on the basis of targets that are put in place to act as a spur to countries to ensure that they do their utmost.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I shall ask only for an investigation. When the G8 countries consider the weaknesses of the global financial system, will they examine currency speculation, which has an horrendous impact on third-world nations? One option is the Tobin tax, which is a tax on currency speculation that the G8 could use to handle the massive problem of poverty in the third world. No Government are in a better position than this Government to take a lead on the issue, given the position they have taken on debt.
The Prime Minister: I do not think that I can offer my hon. Friend much comfort on the issue of a tax on the financial system. Part of the work that has been done by the financial stability forum is to do with highly leveraged institutions, hedge funds and so on. However, my own view is that proper systems of transparency and proper accounting standards are the most important issues for the international financial system.
A crisis develops when a financial system is not properly transparent and does not work according to established accounting standards. Dealing with that is the single most important thing that we can do, together with helping some of the poorest countries in the world to put their financial houses in order, which does not always need to be done in the old way of imposing very stringent conditions that they cannot meet unless they cut spending on basic services. However, it does mean working with those countries to make it clear, for example, that people who invest in them are investing in a robust commercial and legal system, and that the money that they put in goes to those for whom it is meant, not into the pockets of leaders or their friends.
We have made a lot of progress in the global financial system. However, our single biggest task is to get more countries to sign up to the transparency and accounting standards that are at the heart of a decent global system.