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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, it would clearly be very much easier for Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box to be able to say that every single application in every form which had been brought before the Medical Research Council had been funded. I am sure that the noble Lord appreciates that that is an unrealistic position. However, I can say that we have spent 30 per cent. more in real terms on medical research and I believe that to be a very fine record.

Overseas Aid: Debt Burden

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the British Government are at the forefront of discussing multilateral debt in all relevant international fora. The World Bank and the IMF have important roles in contributing to the solution. But debt relief alone is not enough. There must also be continuing economic policy reform to promote sound growth. That is essential for effective and sustainable poverty reduction strategies.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming the recent decision by the IMF and the World Bank to recognise that many countries have a debt problem which is simply not capable of being resolved? At the forthcoming spring meeting of the IMF and the World Bank, will the Government urge those two bodies to take rapid action to reduce the burden of debt on many of the poor countries?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that it is very welcome that the IMF and the World Bank are both now moving in the right direction with suggestions being put to the different meetings in April and the meeting of the development committee. Some shareholders still remain to be convinced of the ideas which are being advanced. We shall continue to debate and lobby for a solution to the problem of multilateral debt at the April meeting.

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Lord Geddes: My Lords, does my noble friend have any news in relation to the discussions regarding replenishment of the International Development Assistance?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am delighted to announce that today in Tokyo the negotiations on the replenishment of IDA were concluded successfully. That means that the United States will not contribute to the first year of the package, but it will clear its arrears to IDA 10 and will pledge 800 million dollars a year for the following two years. That is very good news. If we achieve the right results at the spring meetings I believe that many countries will have a much brighter future.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I welcome the news about IDA; I believe that it will be welcomed on all sides of the House. However, the proposals in the solutions paper apply only to eight countries. Will the Minister push for more of the 41 highly indebted countries to be included in the proposals?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I shall be very happy if we can make progress, first, with eight and then go on to deal with the remaining 33. We need to get the principles established as regards solving the problem of multilateral debt before overloading the whole system. We have made good progress as a result of the efforts of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on bilateral debt; we have made some progress on commercial debt; and we now need to make real progress on multilateral debt.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, in the past, much of our overseas aid was misdirected and, in some recipient countries, misappropriated? Is she aware that the emphasis now on giving aid for managerial expertise is to be welcomed? Is not the increase in private investment to third world countries also to be welcomed when those countries need trade, not aid?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that Britain's development assistance has not been misdirected. Indeed, we have been at the forefront in monitoring and evaluating our aid to ensure that it was not misdirected or misapplied. We have extended our systems to other bilateral and some multilateral donors to make sure that their assistance is not misapplied. I agree with my noble friend that the wider use of managerial experience from this country and others to put right the inabilities of civil servants and politicians alike in some developing countries is most welcome. The great increase in private investment flows to developing countries means that many are now much more able to get involved in real trade, provided that the developed countries do not bar that trade with themselves.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we on this side of the House congratulate her and her colleagues on the part they played in bringing about the replenishment of IDA? That is splendid news. Will the Minister also accept that we are full of goodwill for

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the lead which she and her colleagues are giving on debt generally? However, at the spring meetings, can she say whether the Government will give priority to ensuring that the IMF plays its part by selling some of its gold stock towards debt relief as proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a year ago? Will the Government also ensure that meetings are held soon between multilateral and bilateral creditors to work out a meaningful strategy for the most severely affected countries?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first two questions is, thank you. The answer to his third question is that, of course, we are going to work away at that possibility. We have to persuade other colleagues who are not yet fully convinced of the need for the sale of the gold that that is the right way to go. So far as concerns the overall plan to reduce debt and help countries to stand on their own two feet, the noble Lord knows full well that we are 100 per cent. behind that aim.

British Fishing Fleet: Decommissioning

2.53 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are able to co-ordinate the rate of decommissioning of fishing boats under the United Kingdom's scheme with the numbers of newly built vessels being added to the British fishing fleet.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the United Kingdom operates a restrictive licensing system, which means that new vessels must acquire existing entitlements to fish. Decommissioning is a voluntary scheme, the uptake of which is determined by competitive tender within the available funding. There is no link between decommissioning and new build.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply. As fishing effort must be reduced to conserve fish stocks, and, accordingly, the United Kingdom, like other countries, is operating a scheme to take boats out of commission, can the tonnage of new boats coming into service be restricted by the licensing system in order to achieve overall reduction? Further, can my noble friend comment on the statement made at the weekend by the visiting EU Commissioner, Signora Bonino, that the British fleet's tonnage has doubled in the past 10 years, given that a substantial part of that increase must have been caused by Spanish boats joining the British register?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as regards the first part of my noble friend's question, I do not believe that we have a problem in that respect. All new boats that enter the register must do so as replacements for a rather greater tonnage of boats that have left the register. Therefore, as fishermen upgrade their boats--as they continue to do in large numbers--the actual tonnage of the British fleet and its engine power will decline.

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So far as concerns the comments of Signora Bonino, I must disagree with the figures that she offered. She did not take account of the fact that a large number of vessels were not actively fishing at the time when the original figure that she quoted of 116,000 gross registered tonnes was compiled. If one looks at that in a more modern way--that is, that all boats are entitled to fish--that would increase the size of the fleet at that point. Signora Bonino quoted a current fleet of 239,000 gross registered tonnes. That is a figure that we do not recognise from any source. Indeed, our figure would be about 207,000 gross registered tonnes. The overall picture is of a UK fleet which is slowly declining but which has not declined at the rate required of it under the agreements into which we have entered.

Lord Gallacher: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the engine power of fishing vessels is taken into account in the licensing system as well as the length of the vessel and tonnage? Further, can the noble Lord say whether the engine power of foreign vessels permitted to fish in UK waters is monitored?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord's second question first. Each state monitors the engine power of its own boats. We believe that the engine power is monitored in the same way as we monitor engine power; in other words, it is controlled. However, we have no way of checking the engine power of a boat at sea. We need to do a static test when it reaches port. As regards the noble Lord's first question, I can say that, yes, there are controls on engine power. If one is replacing a boat now, one has to ensure that the replacement boat has a lower tonnage and less engine power than that specified on the surrendered licence of the other boat in order to get a licence for the new boat.

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