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Arms Trade

3. Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): What assessment she has made of the impact of the arms trade on underdeveloped countries; and if she will make a statement. [147640]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): There are very few applications for licences for exports from the United Kingdom to developing countries. Where relevant, my Department assesses whether exports would hamper the sustainable development of such a country. If we believe that they would, we object to them. However, many developing countries have bloated and ill-disciplined armed forces.

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Since March 1999, therefore, we have started to engage in security sector reform to help those countries to build responsible armed forces.

The Government will shortly publish a draft Bill to strengthen controls on arms exports. We are also working to ensure that the very important United Nations 2001 conference on small arms leads to comprehensive action, including the removal of small arms from the continent of Africa, where they are fuelling conflict.

Mr. Cohen: I thank my right hon. Friend for that important answer. Has she seen the new report from the Campaign Against Arms Trade which shows that, every day, that trade kills or maims 2,000 children around the world? Has she seen the Oxfam briefings on Mindenao or the Congo which state that tens of thousands of people, many of whom are children, are being killed by the small arms trade? Is not the trade dramatically undercutting her otherwise excellent international development policy?

Could we have more detail on what action the Government will take against the illegal small arms trade? Will she also use her weight in Government to press for registration and regulation of the brokers operating from this country?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that, on his last point, he will be pleased with the contents of the forthcoming Bill. There is no doubt that conflict in Africa, for example, is desperately holding back the development of that continent. In fact, 20 per cent. of its people are affected by conflict and becoming ever poorer. Small arms are the means of perpetuating that conflict. Massive numbers of small arms have already been traded and distributed across the continent, where there is also the capacity to produce ammunition.

As small arms are not coming from the United Kingdom, we want the United Nations initiative to work to ensure that arms are handed in and that exports from the Ukraine, for example, are stopped. We need the United Nations conference on small arms to be as powerful as the conference on land mines and to make a real effort to remove small arms from areas affected by endemic conflict.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent the Department for International Development was consulted in the preparation of the draft Bill on the control of arms and arms brokers? Will she say why, four years after the Scott report, we have still not seen the promised draft Bill? Is that just laziness on the part of other Departments, or is she concerned that the Government have been influenced by the arms industry?

Clare Short: I give the House an absolute, 100 per cent. assurance that the Government have not been influenced by the arms industry. My Department has also been fully consulted on the Bill to be published shortly. It has not yet been introduced because we have had Queen's Speeches stacked with legislation that we have had to pass. We have much more good legislation to come. That is why it is very important that we be returned at the next election.

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4. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): What projects her Department is supporting towards the rebuilding of communities in the Balkans. [147641]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): The UK effort in the Balkans is designed to help to build democratic government and effective economies. We focus on technical assistance that encourages best possible use of European Union, World Bank and other large-scale resources. Overall, we have committed more than £100 million to long-term development programmes in the next three years. Additionally, we are a major contributor to European Community reconstruction programmes that are worth about £3 billion over the next six years.

Mr. Marsden: In thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I add my congratulations to him on his appointment? May I also pay tribute to the work of our forces in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans? In the case of the engineers, they are literally rebuilding communities. Does he agree with the view of Oxfam and other voluntary agencies that one of the most crucial roles we can play in that area is to rebuild small-scale economic communities, and particularly to build up civil society and non-governmental organisations? Will he assure us that the Department will give priority to considering the support and funding of those types of projects--not least because the successful regeneration of small-scale economies in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans will reduce the pressures on migration?

Mr. Mullin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words and for his justified comments about the work of the armed forces. I agree with him that strengthening democratic institutions and civil society is essential to the creation of healthy democracies in Kosovo and Serbia. We are in discussion with a wide range of NGOs and community-based organisations about ways in which we can assist. In Kosovo, we have a programme to reform public administration that will include co-operation between local government and community-based organisations. For example, last November we funded two Kosovar NGOs to monitor the local elections and to train election officials. We intend to repeat that exercise for this year's provincial elections. We have also been helping to fund the Army's reconstruction work, and we have extended the help to the small enterprises that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On behalf of the Opposition, may I welcome the Minister to his post and congratulate him on his promotion to dealing with international development matters? Will he, in turn, join me in congratulating the organisations helping to rebuild the Balkans, and the British Council in particular? The council operates throughout the Balkans, but especially in Belgrade and Kosovo.

The Department for International Development has drastically reduced the number of contracts that it places with the British Council. Moreover, the council's budget has been cut, and it will have to spend £18 million on making 900 people redundant. Will the Minister guarantee

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that no more cuts will be made to the council's budget, and that its valuable work in the Balkans will not be affected?

Mr. Mullin: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. I certainly join her in congratulating the British Council on its work around the world. As she is aware, the council is funded by the Department. Although there has been some reorganisation, the council's budget has not been cut and it will continue with the great deal of good work that it does around the world.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend, and thank him for the commitment to spending £100 million in Kosovo? May I also alert him to the fact that the Scottish charities' Kosovo appeal is grateful for the £3 million that it received from his Department, the United Nations, the USA and the EU? That money will enable the charities to help thousands of people to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Mr. Mullin: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Scottish charities' Kosovo appeal which, along with many other organisations active in the area, has played a very constructive part in the process of rebuilding that shattered economy.

St. Helena

5. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): When she expects to make a decision about constructing an airfield on the island of St. Helena. [147642]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): We received the draft summary report of the comparative study of options for sea and air access to St. Helena at the end of December, and the draft full report at the end of January. We will now discuss the findings with the St. Helena Government. No presumption should be made that the report will lead to support being offered for construction of an airfield. The study is intended to identify the most cost-efficient solution to St. Helena's international passenger and cargo transportation needs.

Mr. Russell: I welcome the Minister to his new portfolio, and thank him for that very full reply. However, I am disappointed: I had hoped that he would fly to St. Helena with me in May next year, on the occasion of the island's 500th anniversary. Does the Minister have any idea when the airport could open, once work on it has begun?

Mr. Mullin: I am happy to fly anywhere with the hon. Gentleman. As I said, we have only just received the draft summary of the report, so it is still a little too early to start making firm commitments. The Government are committed to ensuring continued access to St. Helena. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed already that the Department will provide funding equal to the least expensive capital options. The choice, of course, is between replacing HMS St. Helena, and building an

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airport with related infrastructure. The decision will depend on the outcome of the study that we are considering.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): Is the Minister aware that when I had the pleasure of going to St. Helena on behalf of the then Government, more than a decade ago, a delegation of the island's elected councillors told me that they did not want the airstrip that was on offer? Airstrips are not compulsory.

Mr. Mullin: I certainly agree that airstrips are not compulsory, and we shall, of course, take into account the wishes of the islanders. However, we are being pressed quite hard on the subject by people with various interests, including some of the islanders. We are studying the options and will consider which is best.

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