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On these Benches, we have pressed for this point at all stages of the Bill. We feel that the UK should implement the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials, which has been ratified. As the Government feel unable to accept the amendment, or to give us a date for the criminal justice Bill, I shall have to seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I begin by saying, for the reassurance of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as much as for the reassurance of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that my unaccustomed appearance at this unusual point in the proceedings is not intended to pose any serious threat to the Bill's passage.
I intervene because this is an opportunity to re-express, and indeed to reaffirm, an anxiety that I share with others about what may be one of the unintended consequences of the shift in posture, implied in the Bill's passage, towards the priorities for the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I say "reaffirm" because our anxieties have already been expressed in representations to Ministers, by myself in writing on
If I may be allowed to do so, on behalf of all three of us, I declare a common interest because we are all trustees of the Thomson Foundation, which exists to promote instruction and understanding of the principles of journalism and the free press around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is the acting chairman of that trust. I declare an additional interest as president of the Great Britain China Centre.
The point arises from the continuance or non-continuance of a programme of instruction in the principles of journalism which the Thomson Foundation has been running, in concert with some help from Her Majesty's Government, for a number of years. Indeed, it started during my time as Secretary of State in the Foreign Office. I was encouraged then to give it help by my noble friend Lord Campbell, who came with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to make representations to me. It is a programme whose very existence at one time would have seemed very remarkable--that, over the years, we should be giving help, in concert with Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, in instruction in the principles of objective journalism. The programme looked in danger of foundering, as colleagues will understand, at the time of Tiananmen square. None the less, it has continued.
The anxieties arose at the beginning of this year when, in a letter written on 26th January from DfID to the Thomson Foundation, it was said, by way of warning about the prospect of continuing the programme:
Since then, my noble friend Lord Campbell and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who is here to speak for himself, have made representations about this point. I received a long letter from the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, reaffirming the Department's negative posture. We have continued to pursue the point basically because it seems to us that although the relief of poverty must, of course, be an aspect of the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards a country such as China, as are the matters that we were discussing in relation to the previous amendment to the Bill, so also is what we can do to help to promote good governance. Colleagues will know that we have been running a number of programmes, in which the Prime Minister himself has taken part, promoting an understanding of the rule of law in China. Those are being financed by another part of the Government's programme.
Our anxiety is that the unduly strict application by DfID of the poverty focus, which is understandable, is jeopardising programmes that have other justifications in the promotion of good governance, which is equally important for the promotion of sustainable development in these countries. That anxiety spills over into other areas, because there seems to be a lack of consistency in what is happening on this front. Some cases of exactly this kind have received help in a new form from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights fund; for example, in Namibia and Belarus, Thomson Foundation programmes are still running, with money coming from a different pocket. In another case, programmes have been run in Georgia for some time, but diminuendo, largely because our ambassador in Georgia was himself in charge of the Know-How Fund, and knew how to have access to those funds to sustain the programmes.
Finally, the Department itself is financing programmes of that kind in some places. In Sierra Leone, for understandable reasons, the Thomson Foundation has its largest DfID contract. It is required to carry out the promotion of media integrity in that country, as part of what is known as the reconstruction of civil society. For another example of the links between press freedom and good governance, one has only to look at Zimbabwe, where it is so manifest that economic stability is linked to good governance and that one aspect of good, or bad, governance is the intolerance of press freedom.
There is no argument in principle between any of us. In principle, we all want those programmes to be maintained. My anxiety, and this is not a political point, is the division between the Overseas Development Administration, as it used to be, and the FCO. In my days in that office, the two were part of one all-embracing organisation, and joined-up government was quite easy. I had only to chat to my noble friend Lady Chalker, my last colleague in that post, to resolve a problem under one umbrella, as it were. The departments have since been divided and there may be a lack of integration between the two.
Perhaps I may sum up my concern in a couple of sentences. A programme for the funding of journalism training in China, which has been running for many years, may now be discontinued. I believe that such an outcome would send a profoundly wrong signal to the Chinese at a time when signs of increasing liberalisation, of course within relatively narrow limits, of their press and media are moving forward hopefully, albeit slowly.
The link between that kind of progress and other economic and social changes which are calculated not only to alleviate poverty but to promote an improvement in human rights is surely hard to dispute. And both those propositions are important aspects of British foreign policy towards China. One would like to be reassured that discontinuity will not arise because of some interdepartmental glitch, or whatever. All the objectives are good and we want to see them being maintained.
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