Select Committee on International Development First Report


Memorandum from Wallasey Council of Christian Churches, Social Responsibility Committee

  1.  We are writing to you as members of a group commissioned by the Wallasey Council of Christian Churches to discuss with our MP, Angela Eagle, the concerns of the churches about the arms trade. This has made us very aware of the role of the ECGD in supporting that trade. We are also aware that our churches are also concerned that the long-term effects of what the Government does are beneficial to the future of developing countries, not harmful. This concern has been made evident by the wide church support for Jubilee 2000.

  2.  We are writing to you, therefore, as people without direct experience of the working of the ECGD, but as concerned citizens who believe that ethical considerations should play an increasing role in government policy, not least in foreign affairs.

  3.  Dealing first with the questions in Section 2: Striking the Balance, we believe that sustainable development should be a vital objective in government support of trade and aid. In this connection there are two areas of immediate concern.

  4.  The first of these is the arms trade. In general the export of arms has a negative contribution to sustainable development. It ensures that government money of the relevant states is poured into arms instead of into welfare and development. The arms are also used to put down internal dissent that results from poor welfare provision. Selling of arms to one country almost inevitably results in neighbouring countries buying arms "to keep up" and this in turn destabilises whole regions. It is true that the primary responsibility in this respect is that of the section of the DTI responsible for Strategic Export Controls with whom the ECGD presumably works. But we have to say that in our view the commitment of the DTI to expanding trade too often overrides the caution that would be imposed by the reality of the results of this trade. Our concern over the extent of our involvement in the arms trade is, of course, shared by a majority of voters.

  5.  The second major concern is with large scale engineering projects such as dams, which too often ignore environmental issues and the needs of the local population, and even the international implications for other users of the waters of rivers.

  6.  Debt forgiveness in conditions in which the money will be used to help the poorest people should be taken very seriously, even if this involves the taxpayer in greater expenses. Of course, it will be important that countries are not encouraged to take on debts that they have little chance of repaying, so that "lending" becomes a form of covert aid. But that having been said, the present situation is clearly intolerable.

  7.  The pursuit of an ethical foreign policy should take a determing role in the availability of cover. In the long run this is vital for the welfare of all people, including the inhabitants of this country. If one looks at the wars of the last 40 years in which to varying degrees we have been involved, human rights issues have been a crucial element in their creation. Environmental issues are also becoming increasingly important for the future of the world. Examples of cover for projects which have given deep public concern are easy to find, including, for example, the arming of Iraq before the war against it, the arming of Indonesia, and the Pergau dam in Malaysia.


  8.  Having made these initial points, it is possible to turn to the first question about amendment of the ECGD's Mission Statement. Clearly, from what has been said above, we would like commitment to these ethical principles written in to the Mission Statement. It would help to set the tone of the Department and make it more likely that profit and balancing the accounts was not the sole consideration in making decisions. Ideally support for arms exports should be totally excluded.


  9.  In the light of what has been said above we would consider it a very retrograde step if there was any reduction in accountability through privatisation. Indeed, it would be our view that the operation of the Department should come much more closely under the influence of the Department of International Development and the Foreign Office. We would also recommend that NGOs with an interest in aid should be involved in the Advisory Committee.


  10.  Many people who have knowledge of the activities of the Department of Trade in the field of support for exports of arms in general and of exports to Third World countries, are deeply suspicious of the priority given to trade as a value in itself. Confidence in government activity in these areas woud be reinforced by a commitment to ethical principles reflected in the Mission Statement and control exercised under a proper system of accountability.

Wallasey Council of Churches

October 1999

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