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G8 Summit

4.41 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

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    tackle the link between the trade in illicit diamonds and the conflicts in Sierra Leone and other diamond-producing countries in Africa.

    "At present, it costs far more to access the Internet in Uganda or Kenya than it does here or the United States. We agreed a series of measures set out in the charter to close the digital divide between the developed and the developing world, with huge potential for delivering educational and medical services cheaply or free across the Internet.

    "This comprehensive programme reflects the real sense at the summit that with our own economics in good shape, the time has come to devote more attention and more priority to the plight of the world's poorest countries. This is not only a matter of solidarity and justice, it is also a hard-headed economic investment in our markets of the future.

    "Third on our agenda was the enormous problem of drugs and organised crime. With the global market for drugs now estimated at up to 500 billion dollars a year, we need to see the international cartels for what they are--major international businesses with the same need for banking facilities, working capital and investment funds as any other business. The G8 agreed to a further clampdown on money laundering, tax evasion and banking secrecy. That will be underpinned by eight standards developed by G7 Finance Ministers in a new report published at Okinawa which set out the measures with which financial centres will need to comply to avoid sanctions in future.

    "Fourthly, we discussed the issues raised by GM foods and crops. Obviously there are still differences of view within the G8 on the risks associated with the new GM technologies. But we all agreed on the need to work harder to establish a clearer scientific consensus and to base policy and trade decisions on science.

    "Fifthly, we discussed the environment, where we agreed to tackle illegal logging, and to encourage renewable energy in developing countries where 2 billion people currently have no electricity, and pledged to work harder on early entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.

    "In addition to the formal business of the summit, I had bilateral meetings with the other G8 leaders. My meeting with President Putin was especially valuable. I also had a useful discussion with President Clinton on the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa.

    "People will always find plenty to criticise when international leaders gather. But it is worth remembering that it was the decisions made following the Birmingham Summit two years ago that led to a new financial architecture that has brought greater stability to the world economy; good for jobs; good for living standards. It was at Cologne last year that we made the big breakthrough on debt, and contributed substantially to ending the conflict in Kosovo. And as a result of the decisions made this year in Okinawa, over time fewer children will die of killer

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    diseases like AIDS, TB and malaria; more children will be lifted out of poverty; more children will get access to basic education; more people in the developing world will get access to computers and electricity, and the measures agreed in relation to crime and drugs will make a real difference in a fight that can be won only at the international level.

    "Britain played a leading role in shaping the agenda and the main outcomes of the summit. Both on the world stage and in Europe, the Government are standing up for Britain and standing up for what is right".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.49 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend the Prime Minister a few moments ago in another place. But I wonder whether the noble Baroness read the Guardian this morning, and whether she has any response to the conclusion that it reached that Okinawa was a "talking and eating shop".

Naturally enough, in his Statement, the Prime Minister did not report on the alleged costs of this summit. However, can the noble Baroness confirm the reported cost? Is £500 million not a little on the steep side for such a meeting? Indeed, it would keep this House running not for just a weekend but for a decade. We can imagine what that amount of money could have done to relieve poverty and sickness in Africa. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary, whose taste for frugal living is so well known, raised any concerns over the level of spending? Can she also tell us what specific action the Government will take to encourage a limit on spending at future summits?

We note the active involvement of President Putin in the summit. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether Mr Putin's visit to North Korea led to any breakthrough on the North Korean missile programme and whether there was any discussion on the proposal of the United States for an anti-missile shield? If so, can she tell us how her right honourable friends set out the UK's policy to Mr Putin on AMD? Further, was the Prime Minister able to support Mr Putin's proposal to hold the next meeting of the G8 in Russia?

Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the Prime Minister had the opportunity in these bilateral discussions to raise the now increasingly fatuous boycott of Austria by the EU 14? Did he try to involve Japan or the United States in a diplomatic boycott of Austria? If not, is it not high time to drop participation in this boycott unilaterally? If the Government fail to raise it, does it not mean that they have no real commitment to it?

The conclusions that have been reported refer to discussions on GM foods at the summit. Can the noble Baroness tell the House how the Prime Minister set out the UK position? Did he, as has been widely reported,

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echo the views of President Clinton that GM foods are safe and that that trade should be opened up? I wonder whether that is consistent with current United Kingdom policy and the very real fears that are held by people in this country.

Before the summit, the Prime Minister set out the central issue for the summit as being to carry forward action on third-world debt, and pledged his leadership on that issue. He said that he wished to be associated as closely as possible with the conclusions. There is a feeling that, once again, in this as in much else, rhetoric was followed by failure. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether anything new was actually achieved in this area? For example, was any debt cancelled as a result of this summit at Okinawa? Were new defences put in place to prevent future irresponsible spending on arms and lavish living by elites in highly indebted nations? Is the noble Baroness aware that we on this side of the House would welcome real progress on debt relief, accompanied by such measures? But, sadly, we see none as a result of this summit.

What new thinking emerged from this summit reflects credit on the Japanese presidency. It tried to cut through verbiage to find ways to help poorer nations, to extend the IT revolution, and to combat disease and poor education. But how will that now be translated into very real practical action? The problems of malnutrition, poverty, disease and inadequate education are too real and too painful to be assuaged by fine words alone. This summit must not be allowed to go the same way as did so many in the past that the Prime Minister has attended--seemingly fine words, followed by hollow and empty inaction. On this occasion, we must all hope that that pattern is not repeated.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I, too, thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for what I regard as the unrewarding chore of repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I put it that way because, despite the enjoinder in the Statement, it is right to be deeply sceptical about the purpose and achievements of Okinawa; and, indeed, of G7, and now G8, generally.

I agree with the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the cost of the event. There were reports of television screens being provided for the whole of Africa under one initiative. Indeed, there were times when one thought of men and women in many of the worst-affected parts of the world sitting in front of their computer screens surfing the Internet, while dying of poverty or AIDS. I am glad to say that later in the summit some attention was given to those matters. But it is easy to believe that such occasions sometimes border on the frivolous when dealing with some of the most fundamental issues of our time.

However, the problem of G7/G8 goes beyond the events of Okinawa. It is right to ask whether there is a crisis of identity that the Government should address as regards the future of G7 and G8. For example, the

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European Union has four places on G7, but the very important East Asian group of nations--particularly important financially--has only Japan to represent it. Russia is included in G8, not for reasons of its wealth but for geo-political reasons. If Russia is included, why not China? Then there is the role of Canada. Canada is included, although the United States is an adequate representative of North America. But Australia, which has an important geo-political role and is a rich country, is not represented in either G7 or G8.

The latter are important issues. I do not expect the noble Baroness to give a detailed reply, but I should find it reassuring if she were to say that such matters are in the Government's mind and that they are considering whether G7 and G8 in their present forms will really serve our purpose best in the future. I should also like to know whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the right mechanisms exist for ensuring that summit decisions are implemented. Alternatively, do the world leaders go from summit to summit, year after year--for example, Birmingham, Cologne and now Okinawa--paying very little attention in the mean time to what happens in between to implement their decisions?

Of all recent summits, it is true to say that there is a dangerous gap between declaration and delivery as regards the aspirations of summits, which are often worthy, and the consequences of the decisions that have been made. For example, that would apply to a number of references to the future made in the Statement that I believe all of us can welcome. I have in mind the references in its closing paragraphs to health and other matters. We have to say that these remain aspirations until there is evidence, next year and thereafter, that steps are being taken to implement such declarations.

When it comes to the question of debt, the issue of delivery is particularly in evidence. When we debated the Cologne Statement and the question of world debt on 21st June last year, I recall that I asked (at col. 680 of Hansard) what "practical steps" would then be taken to implement the decisions taken over that weekend; in other words, I wanted to know precisely what would happen after the summit. I was struck this Friday by the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, seeking to justify what appeared to be a lack of progress in this respect. I make no criticism; indeed, I found her arguments to be quite strong. However, at the same time, the Prime Minister's team in Okinawa was suggesting that he was surprised at the shortfall and was making inquiries as to how it had occurred. We need to know whether the Government are keeping abreast of developments on the repayment of world debt.

Here I turn, again, to the Statement and what it says about the new timetable. It indicates that the summit hopes that the countries to which G7/G8 were committed last year will begin to gain the benefits of the decision on their debt by the end of the year. Could the noble Baroness tell the House what practical steps will be taken now to implement that decision? Within the next few months, how can we measure whether we are making adequate progress in that direction?

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We can welcome some of the things in the Statement, but given past performance overall, I believe that we in this House and the nation need persuading that it was not just another meeting of world leaders, useful in itself, but with its importance much exaggerated.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to discussions on defence. I add my voice in asking whether--obviously not in the main conference, but on its margins--there was any discussion about the Strategic Defence Initiative. In this context we must remember that the show was stolen by President Putin. If there was discussion at the margins of the meeting, what did President Putin say about his discussions in North Korea and what in turn did the Americans say as to whether or when they might push the matter forward?

5 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for welcoming the Statement. I begin with the point that each of them made concerning the cost and what they referred to as the extravagance of the summit, and its appropriateness. As always, both noble Lords were immensely courteous and considered in their responses. But I believe that the individual criticisms of the way in which the Japanese Government hosted the conference perhaps verge on the discourteous. It is clearly not for the UK Government to criticise their host in that way. When the Birmingham Summit was held two years ago, the cost to this Government was £6.5 million. That was considerably less than the cost of the Okinawa Summit. However, it is worth pointing out what the Japanese Government and their spokespeople have pointed out on several occasions; namely, that a great deal of the expenditure was investment in what is quite a poor area of the Japanese economy. As I say, it is not for the UK Government to criticise the way in which their host chose to hold this particular event.

The question of debt was clearly the most important and, in some ways, the most difficult part of the summit itself. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged that there was not such fast progress as the UK had hoped for. But there have been positive moves on debt repayment. For example, more has been achieved in the 10 months since the last IMF meeting on debt repayment under the HIPC II agreement than was agreed in three years under the previous initiative. There has been more done in one year than there was in the previous decade on that basis. That means that there has been real progress. Countries such as Uganda and Bolivia came within the scope of the original debt relief. They have already been in receipt of an extra 1.3 billion dollars to spend on their own economies. In a sense, that answers some of the issues on the way those economies and the people who live within them will be directly affected.

As noble Lords will be aware, nine countries have so far come within the terms of the HIPC II agreement. As a result of the Okinawa Summit it is hoped and intended that a further 11 countries will come within

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its scope. In practice that means that of the 100 billion dollars agreed at Cologne last year, as I am sure the House understands, 50 billion dollars of that figure was for the states themselves to "forgive", if that is the appropriate word, and give up the requirement on the debt repayment. At the moment around 20 billion dollars have been repaid. If we include the extra 11 countries by the end of the year, there will be another 15 billion dollars. Therefore, we are talking about making progress towards three-quarters of the target suggested at Cologne.

As I have said, the Prime Minister himself has acknowledged that from the perspective of the United Kingdom, we would have preferred to go faster. But those particular achievements should be neither ignored nor underestimated, particularly in the context of the previous decade of non-activity in this field.

It is also worth underlining what the United Kingdom has done bilaterally. It has taken a leading position. We understand that the HIPC countries owe us £1.7 billion. So far, of the nine countries which have reached their so-called decision point, we as a country have been writing off about £241 million which they owe us. If the further 11 countries reach their decision point by the end of this year, the total UK Government write-off will then be £659 million for the 20 countries. That leaves £1.6 billion of HIPC debt outstanding.

It should be pointed out that a great proportion of this money is from countries involved in conflict. That is the problem for many of the countries which have not reached the decision point in the overall HIPC plan, and precludes writing off the debt. It would be quite inappropriate for the debt to be written off with the understanding that any of the moneys that became available were being used to finance internal conflict, unlike Bolivia and Uganda where we hope that they have been used for investment in public services and so forth. That would be entirely inappropriate and against the programme's objectives.

We have expressed concern about keeping up the momentum. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, we will monitor closely the progress of the other 11 countries. We believe that the United Kingdom has made good progress in this field. Overall, three-quarters of the agreements made at Cologne will have been achieved by the end of this year. The other agreements have not been achieved largely because of internal concerns, particularly wars within the countries which have not yet reached the decision point. They might be potentially eligible for relief, but not under those circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, raised the question in general as to whether the G7 or G8 has any locus in the context of discussing the issues leading to proper action. It is worth recalling that there have been substantial agreements in the past, and indeed at this particular summit, as a result of the leaders coming together in an informal context leading to frank and useful discussion. For example, when one considers the things achieved by G8 since the Birmingham Summit which this country hosted, one sees that we

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have secured substantial reforms of the international financial architecture in response to the Asian financial crisis. That was begun under the presidency of the United Kingdom. I say in parenthesis that material relating to the meetings of the finance ministers before the summits which produced the detail on this subject and financial crime have been placed in the Library. They are ongoing and are additional back-up to the G8 process and they are useful in that way.

Another achievement has been the united response to the India-Pakistan nuclear testing question.

There is also the question of heavily indebted countries' relief. As I have said several times, we are making slightly slower progress than we had hoped. However, progress would probably not have taken place at all but for the G7 and G8 arrangements. I believe it would be widely agreed that in 1999 the G8 was the effective forum for negotiating the Kosovo peace agreement culminating in Russia's reconciliation with the West. Indeed, this particular summit has enabled President Putin to play a very important part and to be a significant player at international conferences in a way which we perhaps might not have been foreseen some time ago.

As regards President Putin's involvement in the summit and the Russian situation, it is not the case that the missile plans of the United States were discussed formally within the summit. My understanding is that the only issues which were talked about as regards nuclear safety concerned the surplus Russian weapons grade plutonium. How that is dealt with is obviously of paramount importance for the fulfilment of a G8-shared non-proliferation and disarmament goal. Once again, once sees the G8 format and forum as a medium through which these matters can be moved forward.

As far as I understand--I was not present--the Russians did not ask for debt rescheduling or to host any summit in the future. I was not personally present. I believe they recognised that as they are not yet even members of the WTO, they need to improve some of their international arrangements, particularly on the financial side, before that type of issue can be discussed in any realistic way.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me about GM foods and whether anything which had been said, either within the summit or in the policy statements and press conferences since then, reflected a change in UK government policy. As has been said consistently, there has been no change in UK government policy either pro or anti-GM foods or crops. However, we have consistently argued--and did again at Okinawa--that there should be a sensible debate based on science rather than emotion, as the Statement said. That was the rationale behind the Edinburgh conference on GM food safety that the UK funded. The UK is keen to see the development of other fora based on scientific exchange of information and view of that kind. We hope that that will be progressed as a result of the discussions at Okinawa.

On the general point of debt relief, I mention again not just the enormous change that has occurred in the past 10 months as a result of the agreements at

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Cologne but also the fact that the aid budgets have been increased. The UK aid budget, for example, has increased by 20 per cent under the new CSR agreement. That is something of which we should be proud, both as a government and as a people.

I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, criticise the record of the Government in this international development area when one considers the record of the previous administration where the aid budget was reduced and where in 18 years no progress was made on any kind of debt settlement of the kind which I have described as having occurred in the past 10 months and the past year. However, I fully recognise--as did my right honourable friend in the Statement--that we have not made sufficient progress, but something is better than nothing.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while many of us would applaud what she said about the record of this Government in their commitment to the third world, there is on this side of the House profound disappointment about the progress made on debt? For many of those working in the front line of development, debt is a life or death issue. After the British Government have given such a magnificent lead, it is disappointing that the response of others has not been better. Does not my noble friend agree that it would be unfortunate if the message that went out was one of rationalising that some progress has been made rather than one of profound disappointment that more progress has not been made? Does my noble friend also agree that while it is excellent that Russia is becoming part of these conversations about the future of the world--that cannot be anything but good for the future of the world--part of that process means that one must abide by the spirit and the commitments of those who are already in the club? I hope therefore that my noble friend can assure the House that a firm line was taken with Russia on the totally unacceptable way in which it has conducted its campaign in Chechnya.

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