Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 515 - 519)




  515. May I welcome you once more, Secretary of State, to our Committee, this time to consider the terribly important and tragic issues of HIV/AIDS which we have been studying, not just taking written evidence for the last four months but also because on each of our visits overseas HIV/AIDS has impacted on everything we have seen in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and also in the African countries we have visited, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia. HIV/AIDS is a dominant problem in all of those countries. So we feel that this is a really important developmental issue. I understand that you have a short statement to make and I am sure what you are going to do is answer a lot of the questions we have in mind right at the beginning so one of the issues we want to ask you straightaway, and perhaps you could include it or cover it during your initial statement, is the situation you see on the outcome of the Durban Conference and the Okinawa Statement, which of course was yesterday reported to the House by the Prime Minister. No doubt you will tell us how optimistic or pessimistic you are that the international community has an agreed effective strategy and adequate funds to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Secretary of State?

  (Clare Short) Thank you very much. I noted your interest. Andrew Robathan made an important speech in the debate on Mozambique helicopters indicating the scale of this and yet it was not discussed in a way that immediate crises are. I want to make some very short introductory remarks. The first point I want to make is that we at our very best are only part of an international system. Sometimes when people get emotional about things like AIDS they say, "What is the United Kingdom doing? Can the United Kingdom do more?" as though we can do it, and we cannot. We are not the whole of the international system. We do not operate everywhere. We can try to be a leading force both in influencing the international system to operate better and to do good work from which we learn and which drives forward our understanding of what can be done. But sometimes the discussion is as though a government like ours can lead the whole world effort, and of course we cannot. The second thing is that within that, therefore, as well as trying to strengthen international co-ordination and forward-thinking and effectiveness of implementation, we have up to now worked on prevention. I think up to now that has been right and we have then driven forward programmes and efforts where we were strong and where we could get in and that has been opportunistic because you depend on governments and responses to be able to get beyond very small interventions. I think we are moving, as the document presented to the Committee showed. I am sorry it is so long. I think it could have been summarised and I apologise for that.

  516. We have read it very carefully. It needed to be long.
  (Clare Short) Okay, good.

Mr Rowe

  517. Do not encourage them!
  (Clare Short) We are widening and deepening our own efforts and thinking. I do not apologise for it and I think it is right still to put a massive effort into prevention. That saves lives, saves suffering, saves economic cost but of course as ever more people get the illness, which has all the economic consequences it has in the education sector and all the other sectors, one needs to put more effort into care but still with a major effort on prevention. The third thing I would say is that the major barrier to more effective action in many countries, but particularly in Africa, where the consequences are so great, has been the unwillingness of African governments to move—with the great exception and the fine lead given by Uganda and Senegal—so when people splash around numbers and say $2 billion is needed, that sounds all very well and it sounds as though the only problem we have got is that miserable, rich donors will not provide the money. That is just untrue. We have not been able to spend or get in and when there are governments that will not move, that are hiding, pretending, not facing it, we cannot be a substitute for a government that will not take action. We can find little interventions or NGO efforts but it is impossible for us, and that has been a major problem for us across Africa and indeed other countries. As with the debt campaign, a lot of campaigners talk as though all governments in developing countries are good governments dedicated to their poor and dedicated to the right policies, and that is not so. We need to mature this debate to get more effective action and more effective pressure into the international system. My final point, which is responding to your question, and I might bring Julian in on it too, is we think that Durban has probably been a turning point. The amount of energy and noise and attention to a conference hosted in Africa and, in a funny kind of way, the controversy around President Mbeki's position may have helped to make the noises louder and the debate more vigorous, and there has been something of a sea change, a mobilisation in Africa. South Africa itself has been neglectful to get to this point without having had a really serious strategy, but is now moving. Okinawa—how much that adds? The right things are said, as you would expect, and it is important to get the right things said rather than the wrong things said but implementation is also very important. A lot of the things that were said at Okinawa were good. One of the things I am very pleased about in the time we have been in Government is that the G7/8 have been forced to pay more and more attention to development and that is a great achievement and I think that will continue. You will know that there now is agreement that there will be a report annually on progress against the international development targets at G8. Otherwise it is just so disgusting that the world's richest countries meet and talk only about their own affairs. I think we might have achieved something of a sea change. Could I ask Julian to comment on what Okinawa added.


  518. I ought to welcome Julian Lob-Levyt—
  (Clare Short)—Who is the head of our Health and Population Department.

  519. And Bob Grose.
  (Mr Grose) HIV Adviser.
  (Clare Short) For his sins.

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