13 Mar 1996 : Column 839

House of Lords

Wednesday, 13th March 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

Overseas Aid

Lord Rea asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much of their overseas aid budget is currently spent on debt reduction.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, in the financial year 1994-95 £3.1 million of the aid programme was spent on the cancellation of aid debt. Exceptionally, in 1994-95, £25 million of British programme aid to Zambia was earmarked to help Zambia service its multilateral debt.

Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and acknowledge that only a small part of our bilateral aid programme is directly spent to service or repay debt. Is he aware that a large part of development assistance is used to buttress and restore the economies of the recipient nations so that they are in a position to service their debt, for instance, to the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund who require their credits to be serviced before offering further assistance? Does the Minister realise that, according to a recent study, over half of bilateral aid now to sub-Saharan Africa goes indirectly in that way back into the hands of creditors rather than being used for genuine development and poverty reduction?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, indeed a considerable amount of money goes in that way. The reason is that these countries need to be able to service their debt if they are to continue borrowing from these institutions. If donors had not provided the money, for example, to Zambia, budgetary constraints would probably have meant that government funding for the social sectors would have had to be cut back.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the noble Lord give an indication as to why there are no set figures agreed between the Government and the NGOs over the level of the budget of the Overseas Development Administration which is spent on debt relief?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, debt relief is not generally part of the budget of the ODA but something which comes from other areas. Therefore debt relief and the NGOs have no relation to the ODA budget.

Lord Moyne: My Lords, can the Minister say whether it is the case that the real value of third world debt automatically reduces in line with world inflation?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, yes, of course it does. But it can happen that their inflation rates are considerably higher than the currencies in which the debts have to be serviced.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that this is really a very grave matter and that globally

13 Mar 1996 : Column 840

as much as £3 billion a year may be diverted from bilateral aid programmes intended for development to pay off debt to multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF? Can he assure the House that at the World Bank--IMF meetings in April Britain will give a lead in mobilising new and additional funds from multilateral sources such as World Bank resources themselves, the IMF gold stocks, or a new issue of special drawing rights, so that the multilateral institutions begin to play their part in the crucial fight against the burden of debt?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, yes. The British Government have consistently pressed for action on multilateral debt. At last year's annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, my right honourable friend the Chancellor called on all the international financial institutions to examine further measures to deal with the problems of multilateral debt for the poorest and most indebted countries. That work is currently under way. We expect firm proposals at the spring 1996 meetings of the World Bank and the IMF in April.

Lord Rea: My Lords, is it true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, actually advocated at a meeting with the International Monetary Fund that it should use some of its gold reserves to help towards reducing the outstanding debt, particularly of the most indebted countries?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, that is one suggestion that has been made. As I said, the work on this matter is currently under way. We expect firm proposals in April of this year.

Sheep Dips: 1952 Scab Eradication Programme

2.42 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the active ingredients in the sheep dips used at the time sheep scab was eradicated in 1952.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the annual report of the Animal Health Services in Great Britain shows that at the end of 1952, 216 dips were approved by the Ministry for use when sheep were required to be dipped to treat sheep scab. Of these, 95 were of the tar acid class, 54 arsenical, one lime and sulphur, one soda sulphide and 65 benzene-hexachloride.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is it not an indication that sheep scab can be controlled with the very much more potent chemicals that we have now? Was not a major factor in the control of sheep scab in the 1950s the policing of the dipping to make sure that every single sheep was dipped, and we then got rid of scab? Is it not the case now that the incidence of scab is increasing rapidly? Have the Government costed the effectiveness of having

13 Mar 1996 : Column 841

a supervised double dip, with every sheep being brought in from the hills, and of humanely shooting any sheep that cannot be brought in for some reason or another?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, one of the difficulties that we face is that the dipping compounds that we now use are not so effective as those that we had in the 1950s. Benzene-hexachloride, otherwise known as Lindane, its active constituent, was extremely effective, extremely long-lasting and generally nasty to people and the environment. Although organophosphorus compounds are good, they are not so effective and are much more liable to lead to problems such as becoming too dilute in the dip and, as a result, mites escape. That resulted in a long campaign of compulsory dipping which failed to eliminate sheep scab or to get us to the same position as we had achieved 20 or 30 years earlier. At the end of that, we concluded that there was no point in continuing compulsory dipping because it was not achieving the objective that it had set out to achieve. If we were to attempt to embark on the sort of campaign which the noble Countess suggests, of having every sheep in the country dipped on one single day, our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that that would cost about £15 million. On the other hand, it would take only one farmer somewhere to misbehave and the whole exercise would not have been worth while.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the very latest information, 11,464 shepherds and flockmasters have certificates of competence in sheep dipping although there are some 56,000 shepherds and flockmasters in the United Kingdom? What are the Government doing about the 45,000 who are presumably using these dangerous chemicals without the proper protection?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I sincerely hope that they are not using those chemicals without the proper protection. There has been a great deal of publicity about the protection that should be used--not least because of the efforts of the noble Countess and her colleagues. The noble Lord is right about the number of certificates in issue. He always knows things ahead of me--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: True!

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Veterinary Products Committee is reviewing the effectiveness of the scheme and while it is doing so I do not want to comment one way or the other as to how satisfied we might be with it.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have to come clean. I received that figure from the Minister about five minutes ago.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, is it not now possible to develop a type of sheep which is entirely resistant to scab, by cloning?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we would have to call it a "New Labour" sheep.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to ask the Government to reconsider my

13 Mar 1996 : Column 842

proposition? I was not asking for all sheep to be dipped on one day because the products that are available at the moment--incidentally, some take the form of injections--are effective for at least a fortnight. The dipping could be spread over that period and could be carried out area by area, with the sheep being confined to those areas concerned for the period during which the dipping is carried out. This is a serious matter--I am concerned about sheep welfare as well as human welfare--and many sheep are suffering because of the increase in sheep scab and the failure of some farmers to dip. Only some farmers do not dip properly. It is certainly not true of them all.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, if there emerged in the community of sheep farmers a wish for that to be done and a determination to eliminate sheep scab, which we do not see or sense at the moment, we would take seriously the suggestion of the noble Countess. We feel that at the moment any such programme would be more than likely to fail and would turn out to have been a waste of effort and resources.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page