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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, let me take the amendments together. The amendments do not actually have any effect on the Bill. They change only the wording of a cross-reference in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 and do not have a legislative effect. However, let not that get in our way when debating a substantive amendment.
Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 adds pension credit to the benefits to which the provisions of Section 1 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 apply, as I am sure your Lordships are aware. Those provisions include making entitlement to benefit dependent upon a person making a claim and supplying a valid national insurance number, or the information necessary to trace or allocate a number.
Your Lordships will understand why we need to apply those provisions to pension credit. The gateway has to be secure; it is generous and we must check against any bogus claims. We must ensure that the person making the claim is who he says he is. Part of that process involves tracing a valid national insurance number, or allocating one if, exceptionally, the pensioner does not have one.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, recognises the argument. I suspect that the reason why he has tabled the amendments is not to exclude pension credit from the provision for Section 1, but possibly to have a debate on national insurance numbers. However, he disappoints me as I believe he really wants a debate about "etc.".
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has suggested that "etc." in the cross-reference to Section 1 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 is unhelpful. In fact, the "etc." is there with the intention of being helpful to the reader. It indicates that Section 1 of that Act does not make entitlement entirely dependent upon the production of a national insurance number. The claimant could also establish entitlement by providing information which would enable the department to trace his number, or, if necessary, allocate one.
The noble Lord then discussed national insurance numbers and the question of ID cards. I accept that there is a question concerning the security of access to the system, through NINOs. We have 83 million national insurance records. Of those, 48 million are for the adult population of the United Kingdom. There are 13.5 million for people who have died but for one reason or another the account has to be kept openfor example, a surviving partner of a deceased spouse.
There are 12.5 million numbers that are not national insurance numbers but are child reference numbers given to children where a claim for child benefit is made and a further 2 million numbers for people who live abroad but are claiming benefits. The remaining 7 million include, for example, people from other countries who are working here, or who have worked in Britain, and UK citizens working abroad. That is the reason for the 83 million national insurance numbers.
There are issues of securityI do not challenge that for a moment. We discussed those extensively during the passage of the fraud Act. If your Lordships will agree, and unless there is an attempt to persuade me otherwise, I honestly do not believe that the last amendment of the day, on Report stage of a Bill concerning pension credit, is the right amendment on which to hook a major debate about the security of the national insurance system.
I suppose I could be tempted but I am not sure that the noble Lord who tempted me would be exactly popular with the rest of your Lordships. I hope that that information, particularly about the weight carried by "etc.", which I hope will commend itself to your Lordships as a most useful word, will enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and bring the Report stage to a close.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, two days ago I received a letter from a lady in North Yorkshire saying she had been watching our proceedings on television. She made a number of points that she wanted me to take into account. I hope that anyone who has just turned on their television for the last five minutes will bear in mind the fact that for more than the past four hours we have been debating intensively a number of unbelievably complex amendments, with the object of carrying out our rightful function of seeking to improve the legislation.
Therefore, I believe that a couple of minutes of demob happy exchange, stimulated by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, can be excused. I do not wish to press the amendments to a vote. It could prove a rather nasty shock were I to do so. I thank my noble friendsrather prematurely because we still have Third Readingand noble Lords on the Benches opposite for an extremely helpful series of debates. I hope that we can clarify a number of points and return, if need be, to them later.
I particularly thank the noble Baroness who has been present the entire time, as is normally the case. She is always extraordinarily helpful and assiduous. Our task is to make the legislation better: she has certainly contributed to that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, rises, perhaps I may remind the House that as the Unstarred Question is now the concluding business, the 12-minute limit on speeches is now extended to 15 minutes. That is not compulsory; noble Lords may wish to express themselves in less time.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is just over 10 years since I asked a similar Question on the government's policies towards the South Pacific. It is, therefore, high time that we revisited the region, metaphorically speaking at the very least.
The Pacific islanders are culturally and economically diverse peoples, covering Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, and have had a long history of association with the United Kingdom. We administered many of the island groups within the region. We influenced many of their political traditions and helped them to develop their institutions.
I should like to be more general in my approach. First, I am delighted to note that the United Kingdom maintains a very large number of diplomatic posts in the region. I understand that although a full High Commission in Kiribati closed some years ago, a deputy High Commission has now been opened there. That is all to the good.
Our ability to provide the necessary support and encouragement on a wide range of issues to the island states of the South Pacific, particularly those with fragile economies and environmental problemsand Kiribati certainly has those in large numberdepends crucially on having high quality diplomatic representation. I know how grateful the South Pacific islanders are for the work that those missions achieve. I hope that when the Minister winds up he can bring us up to date by saying what countries have United Kingdom diplomatic representation in the region and whether there are any further plans either to increase, or, heaven forbid, reduce those posts.
Diplomatic posts alone cannot achieve what is needed to secure the necessary support for the region. I understand that the Department for International Development's Pacific officeformerly the British Development Department of the Pacificis to close during this year. In recent years, the aid effort has been centralised through this office at Suva in Fiji. What is the reason for its closing? Perhaps the noble Lord can explain how it is proposed that the DfID presence will be maintained in the region after it has closed. Are we going back to separate aid posts at High Commissions? What about the various British bilateral aid projects, which have existed for many years and have brought a great deal of support to the region and which require continued attention? How can we adequately continue with those projects or develop new ones solely through multilateral agencies?
It is my belief that because of the very specialI would say "unique"links which the United Kingdom has retained with the South Pacific, focused bilateral aid has been and is the best way to achieve the long-term goals through which we can support the South Pacific islands. I am not persuaded, from what I have gleaned so far, that what is proposed for the future will meet that requirement. Aid was, after all, described 10 years ago by my noble friend Lord Caithness as the "core of our policy" towards the region.
Perhaps the Minister can tell us the current figure for our government-to-government aid programme. Ten years ago it was around £10 million a year. To the best of my knowledge, it now amounts to only about £8 million. Why has it been necessary to make this reduction? What is the current flow of United Kingdom funds going to multilateral programmes? What are the agencies involved which will disburse those funds? Is the Minister able to tell us what the total flow of funds now is to the region from the United
Of course other means of providing funding to the region have historically been provided. One route is through the Commonwealth Development Corporation. It has provided substantial expertise and investment, perhaps most particularly to Papua New Guinea. I very much remember in the late 1980s visiting the oil palm projects in Popendetta in Papua New Guinea. Is the Minister able to say what is likely to happen to any current Commonwealth Development Corporation commitment if there is to be any change in the status of the CDC? What views have been expressed by the region about the CDC's potential privatisation?
During the time that my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Brabazon and myself had responsibility for the South Pacific each of us visited the region fairly regularly. Some of my colleagues, with a certain amount of jealousy, said that we visited it far too regularly. There were two major fora for exerting general influence as Ministers. One was attendance at the South Pacific Commission Conference and the other was at the South Pacific Forum Partners Dialogue. I hope that the noble Lord when he replies will be able to say what has been the level of representation by the United Kingdom at those meetings over the past few years, perhaps since 1997.
Will the Minister spell out in particular the role of the United Kingdom now within the South Pacific Commission? It is my clear understanding that that role has now changed. But we were, after all, co-founders of the SPC in 1947. I certainly found that our presence at its meetings was hugely valued by our partners and those with whom we worked in the region. Not only were we serving the interests of the body which we had helped to begin for the benefit of the South Pacific region as a whole, but, more particularly, we had an acute interest in and responsibility for our own dependent territory within the region, Pitcairn Island. What is the status now of the South Pacific Commission and our involvement with it?
There are always wider issues to touch on within the South Pacific region. The countries bordering that region, such as Japan and China, or the domestic powers with territories within it, such as France, the United States and ourselves, have played a major part. It was largely through the South Pacific Forum dialogue that a number of sensitive or potentially sensitive regional issues were discussed by the island states with those bordering the region. Although unpopular, the United Kingdom felt constrained not to sign up to the Treaty of Raratonga because of our mutual interest in ensuring that the French nuclear deterrent remained viable. Thankfully, testing at Muroroa has now ceased. One slight impediment to our relationship with the island states has therefore been removed.
There are other matters. For example, we were influential in encouraging a moderate view towards the United States' wish to destroy chemical weapons at its Johnston Island facility in the late 1980s. That required the calming of nerves and a degree of understanding, which we were able to express in the region on behalf of those who suspected that there might be some risk to the Pacific islanders. Also in the late 1980s, we played a major part in supporting the understandable concerns of the Pacific islanders that long-line drift-net fishing, largely by the Japanese, was damaging not only the albacore tuna stock but also many other fish, birds and mammals in the region. I should be grateful to know whether the Wellington convention, which stemmed from the activities which we undertook at that time in relation to long-line drift-net fishing, is still in operation and whether that type of fishing within the region no longer exists.
Returning to some of our aid issues, perhaps the noble Lord will be able to say whether the Commonwealth fund for small states using residual British Phosphate Commissioners' money still exists. That is the money that came from our joint work with Australia and New Zealand in Nauru. If so, what is it being used to pay for?
Perhaps he will also say what is being done through the Heads of Mission Gift Scheme to enable our High Commissions to make presentations of useful equipment and suchlike throughout the region. Perhaps he can give us some examples of how that money has been spent and how it has been received within the Pacific.
I now turn to two countries in the Pacific which have been of historical importance to the United Kingdom. The first is Pitcairn Island, to which I have already referred. It is our only remaining dependency in the Pacific and we retain full responsibility for its administration through our High Commission in New Zealand where the Governor resides in his capacity also as High Commissioner to New Zealand. Can the Minister say what the population of Pitcairn now is; how its economy fares, particularly, in relation to what is generated from the sale of stamps or from any other means that might be found to develop its economy; and, if he can, what he believes to be the long-term viability of the island? We all know of its loyalty to the United Kingdom and, I am sure, we all want to see its population maintained and its links with the Crown developed as far as possible and certainly maintained.
When did the Governor last visit Pitcairn? Is there any prospect, in particular, of his visiting in this Golden Jubilee year? Are there yet any plans for a ministerial visit? I have long advocated that. When I had responsibility for this area, I found that that was very difficult to achieve. Perhaps with his increasing penchant for international travel the Prime Minister is considering a visit. It might take him some time; he might enjoy it; and we would probably manage without him. It is important that Ministers retain responsibility for those islands and somehow manage to visit them.
The other island group which has long interested us and which has an immensely strong bond with the United Kingdom is Fiji. Never has a country remained more loyal to the United Kingdom, and in particular to the Crown, than Fiji, independent though it is. It is a country which has been through troubled times over the past 15 years. I hope that the Minister can say where be believes matters now stand with Fiji and give us an assurance that the United Kingdom will do all in its power to retain an interest in and support Fiji, not only bilaterally but also through our joint work through the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Two countries that have played a particularly strong role in supporting us in our work to achieve stability and economic viability in the region are Australia and New Zealand. Both are members of the Commonwealth. Both have been extremely active in a variety of ways, not only in supporting the region, but also in complementing and working with United Kingdom efforts towards improving the stability and security of the region and furthering its economic advancement, often through their work in technical co-operation. It would be helpful to know that the strong bonds that exist between those countries and ourselves can continue to be of help in focusing and balancing political and economic aid efforts in the South Pacific.
The South Pacific is a long way from Westminster, but it contains a group of our island states that have consistently shown immense loyalty towards the United Kingdom. Our involvement has allowed us to maintain political influence there for stability and security, but it has also enabled us to be very specific in targeting aid towards the region. That aid has been very much appreciated; it is not enormous in the great scale of things, but a small amount of money has gone a long way.
It therefore concerns me enormously that the Pacific islanders should now be faced with our cutting government-to-government aid effort in terms of staff quantity and quality and the funding of individuals and schemes that have helped the islands to develop their own resources and initiatives. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that, despite the changes being introduced by the Department for International Development, our overall effort in the South Pacific will not be diminished. If economic aid is likely to be reduced, will he encourage the Government to find other ways of enhancing our historic influence and support? If we feel economic restraints in this country, the far greater economic restraints in that region militate strongly in favour of government-to-government support, which can be properly targeted, rather than using solely the more diffuse method of support of multilateral agencies. That will inevitably weaken the United Kingdom's bonds, for which the island states of the South Pacific have always been extremely grateful.
My wife and I chose to go to Vanuatu. It is a beautiful island. It has a lovely climate, charming people, great poverty but at the same time a pride in its independence and membership of the Commonwealth. My visit could hardly be described as a holiday. Our then High Commissioner, Mr Malcolm Hilson, and his deputy, Chris Pool, were determined that I should be kept fully occupied during the four days for which I was there. I therefore had the opportunity to meet many of the ministers, to visit the courts and meet members of the judiciary, to meet the Speaker and see Parliament, to visit schools and to see many parts of the island.
One cannot do that without realising what poverty exists in that part of the world, but also, as my noble friend said, what friendship exists with this country and what value the people place on their historic links with the United Kingdom. I was struck, above all, by the enormous appreciation, stated time after time, that they showed for the desperately needed financial support that we gave them through bilateral aid and other methods.
We are not talking of large sums but, as my noble friend said, of small sums of money, carefully targeted and bringing enormous benefit to the recipient countries. I was therefore sorry indeed to learn of the decisiontaken, I think, last summerby the Department for International Development to phase out by 2004 all British bilateral development aid to the Pacific and therefore, obviously, among others to Vanuatu. That decision is crucial to our relationship with that part of the world.
I wrote to the Secretary of State, Clare Short, and her explanation in reply was that while we were phasing out bilateral aid, we would be providing aid through various multilateral agencies where our contribution would far outweigh our bilateral programme. I should like to make two points about that answer. First, to cancel out our bilateral aid, however small it may have been, sends a damaging message about our commitment to Vanuatu and the other islands of the South Pacific.
Secondly, although I accept that the overall sum given through multilateral agencies may total more than what was given through bilateral aid, is the Secretary of State saying that it will be so increased as to account for all that is lost by the removal of bilateral aid? I may be wrong, but I suspect that that is not so. If I am right, that means that there will be a net loss to the aid going to that part of the world.
Surely, Vanuatu of all places qualifies on both those counts. It is recognised as one of the least developed countries in the world and its educational opportunities are indeed slightand worsening, because its population growth outstretches its economic growth. About 43 per cent of the population of Vanuatu is under the age of 15. Only a third of those children go on to any form of secondary education after the age of 11. Nor can it be said that it was financial restraints that required that the decision be taken. As I understand it, the department rightly claims that it has an expanding budget. Yet, we are talking about bilateral aid that, for the whole of the south Pacific, is £4 million and, for Vanuatu, is something like £300,000 a year.
I acknowledge and welcome two things that have happened. First, I am delighted to hear that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat, has agreed to fund the appointment of Judge Coventry for a second year to assist the High Court in Vanuatu. I am told that his help in dealing with the backlog of work in that court has been enormous.
Secondly, I welcome the fact that the department has been persuadedI do not think that it was its original intentionto retain the small grant scheme under which the high commissioner can give small sums to particular projects. In Vanuatu, that amounted to something like £40,00 a year. That is the sort of figure that we are talking about. Yet, I was given one example in which the expenditure of a mere £1,500 to provide solar panel lighting in a primary school on one of the outskirt islands meant that the children could go to school in the evening, and there was an increase of 50 per cent in the number of children who stayed on into secondary education.
Having been to the courts, I know that they were implementing British law without any textbooks. I was, at least, able to persuade various friends of mine in this country to provide discarded books from their own library. We sent them to Vanuatu, where they were greatly appreciated.
Finally, I shall ask about the effect of the recent earthquake on our relationship with Vanuatu and Vila. Although it may not have been the greatest earthquake ever, I gather that the earthquake that hit the island on 3rd January was, as far as the islanders were concerned, the worst in living memory. What, if any, help are we providing to restore those damaged buildings? That is the sort of crisis to which, as the Minister said in her letter to me, this country would always respond. We do so for larger places, so I hope that we do it equally for those small islands. Is it true that part of Malapoa college, a secondary school under enormous pressure in Vanuatu, has been
We all recognise the pressures on the Department for International Development. We realise that there are other demands for money from bigger parts of the Commonwealth. However, small sums spent wisely in Vanuatu and other small islands of the Pacific would bring benefit to their people that was out of all proportion.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, for introducing the debate. I am particularly grateful to him for making me pick up information fast, in order to say something today. I cannot refer to events of 10 years ago. All I can do is remember sitting on a classroom floor hearing a teacher read from Sir Arthur Grimble's book A Pattern of Islands. I stand in awe of the noble Lords, Lord Glenarthur and Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who spoke with real, intimate knowledge.
In examining the information that I picked up from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the various islands, I was struck by the elements of political instability, whether it is an armed coup in Fiji, a coup in the Solomon Islands, difficulties with the economy in Nauru, financial mismanagement in Tonga or, in many places, the specialism of the parliament in having votes of no confidence. Perhaps, democracy is a little brittle; perhaps, something should be done about democracy in those small states. Work is going on to assist emerging democracies in other parts of the world through the offices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. One of my questions to the Minister is whether that area should be examined with regard to the island states.
The second part of the Question asks about the Government's policy on economic aid for the islands. Again, the DfID book is helpful. On page 114, repeated from somewhere else in the book, there is a schedule showing bilateral aid to the Pacific. It says that no breakdown by country is available, as bilateral assistance to the Pacific is provided under a single
When one has a lot of numbers, one must do something with them. The figures of 6.6 million people and £4 million mean that there is 60 pence apiece. So the bilateral aid to the Pacific islands, including Papua New Guinea, is 60 pence apiece. These are island states and islands are expensive. There are multitudes of islands. I think that it is likely that aid will be required to fund ports, harbours, airports, helicopter pads and items of that nature.
One island, Niue, has 1,865 people. At 60 pence apiece, the aid is £1,100. Of course I appreciate that it will not be allocated in that manner, but when we consider the level of aid in that way, it is clear that we are talking about very small money indeed. One wonders what can be achieved with such small amounts. I should have thought that a strong case could be made for looking at those islands where democracy needs help, but also clearly where the economies need help. We should bear in mind always that small islands are expensive and that these small islands, many of which form part of the Commonwealthit was indicated earlier that they have been loyal membersare deserving of support and should not be included in this book as "sundry other areas".
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Glenarthur who is so knowledgeable and such a good friend of the South Pacific islands for initiating this debate. It is clear that his years as a Foreign Office Minister have left him with a lasting connection with and ongoing interest in the region. The debate has been extremely interesting and I have learnt a great deal from the well-informed contributions of my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland. They have reflected exactly the high quality of debate frequently heard in your Lordships' House.
Even in the 12 or 15 minutes now available, it is difficult to do justice to such a large and varied area, so I shall concentrate briefly on just three aspects of the smaller islands, but I shall not include Australia or New Zealand. The three aspects are all inter-related.
The issues of health and poverty are two factors which are inextricably linked in the South Pacific islands, along with political development, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur in his enlightening speech. Perhaps the most difficult problem which affects all the islands is their economic development, hindered by isolation from foreign markets, lack of natural resources, inadequate infrastructure and, tragically, periodic devastation by natural disasters.
Secondly, I turn to the health of the South Pacific islanders. The levels of obesity and chronic weight-related diseases are growing at an alarming rate in the Pacific islands as, I am afraid, they are in many other countries, and even in the United Kingdom. A recent report published in the Times Educational Supplement stated that almost one adult in five in the UK today is obese. From a committee report in the other place, the obesity figures have tripled over the past 20 years. The National Audit Office has reported that obesity-related diseases are costing the National Health Service half a billion pounds annually, along with 18 million sick days and 30,000 premature deaths a year. This, we should remember, is in the United Kingdom.
In the South Pacific islands, the latest figures from the International Obesity Task Force show that levels of obesity in that region, in particular among women, are the highest in the world. Some 55 per cent of Tongan women and 77 per cent of men and women in Nauru are clinically obese. Understandably, this places a tremendous burden on the health services of those islands.
The report suggests that the problem is heightened by the traditional cultural notion, as in several other countries, that "bigness" is a sign of wealth and power. Yet according to the same report, obesity is actually linked to poverty and low economic status. Perhaps an aid development programme could also include packages for education on health matters, in particular on weight-related illnesses.
Finally, I turn to the political situation. Countries like Fiji, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, and Vanuatu, so movingly described by my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, are both popular tourist destinations. They may seem like tourist havens in a tropical paradise, but even in that tropical paradise we have heard of the political instability in the region, especially in 2000, a point emphasised during our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland.
Thankfully, the South Pacific islands are starting to re-emerge as democratic nations after a period of unrest, but there remains a need for the international community to ensure that the Pacific Island states do not become havens from which organised crime or future terrorist attacks can be planned, financed or launched.
Yet the present Government appear to show a remarkable lack of interest in the political rebirth that I have described. They have also demonstrated a reluctance to engage in this part of the world. We on this side of the House hope that Her Majesty's Government will look seriously and favourably at development programmes for the South Pacific islands region. I agree totally with my noble friend Lord Glenarthur about the importance of diplomatic representation. This is an area with which we share a rich history. We trust that the Government will continue to work with the islands' respective governments in a constructive manner.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting short debate demonstrating a tremendous wealth of experience, excluding the three noble Lords on the Front Benches who have rather less experience than the two former Ministers who have spoken and whose expertise is well known. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, for raising the debate, in particular because, on behalf of the Government, it gives me a chance to put on the record the importance that the Government attach to the South Pacific region.
Noble Lords have outlined the many strong historic links we have with the islands of the South Pacific, and I want to assure the House that we have not forgotten our history. Government-to-government links today continue to be strong and are even expanding into new areas, including one aspect of healthcare referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings; namely, the fight against HIV/AIDS infection. There has been an increase in expenditure in that area.
Particularly important are our links with the Pacific through the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the European Union. I know, of course, from our time in the other place of the tremendous interest that the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, has in the Commonwealth. We shall continue to use our influence through these institutions and do what we can to help Pacific island states to meet their international obligationsfor example, by assisting them with the process of ratifying the UN's international human rights covenants.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has a detailed, first-hand knowledge of the Pacific from heading up, on no less than three occasions, the UK delegation to the annual post-forum dialogue with the Pacific Islands Forum. I pay tribute to him for breaking new ground by attending the first dialogue in 1989. Sending a UK delegation to the dialogue is perhaps the most tangible way that we can continue to show our commitment to the region.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, asked me to let him know what our level of representation has been in recent years. We have been represented at ministerial level every year since the dialogue began, except for two occasions. One of those occasions was last year. However, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is hoping to attend this year. We are still awaiting dates from the Fijian Government about precisely when it will take place.
Another very tangible expression of our support is our continued diplomatic presence in the region. We continue to maintain High Commissions in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga, and last month we formally re-opened a High Commission office in Kiribati. This office, which is headed by a resident deputy high commissioner, reports to the High Commission in Fiji. Although we have been back in Kiribati for only a short time, we have already helped the I-Kiribati Government to host a parliamentary workshop on HIV/AIDS and have identified a key member of the I-Kiribati civil service to study in the UK under the Chevening scholarship scheme. We have no plans to change our current level of representation in the region.
As the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, outlined, the Pacific continues to experience a number of serious inter-ethnic conflicts, a point also referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. Fighting in Bougainville, which lasted for more than 10 years and claimed hundreds of lives, seems thankfully to be drawing to a close with the agreement last month by the Papua New Guinean Government of the constitutional amendments required to give limited autonomy to the province. But there are many high-powered weapons still circulating there, as there are also in the Solomon Islands. Although there has not been a similar loss of life in Fiji, inter-ethnic tensions continue to simmer there too.
We have been actively engaged on a political level in doing what we can to bring an end to these conflicts. We have supported the UN's pioneering work on weapons disposal in Bougainville, and, with our partners in Australia and New Zealand, worked to ensure that elections were held on schedule in the Solomon Islands last December. As a result, we now have a new government, with a fresh mandate, in that economically desperate country. There is, however, still much to do, and we will continue to keep up the pressure on the Solomon Islands Government to address the law and order situation, end duty remissions and pass a realistic budget.
Following the Commonwealth's lead, we have recently resumed full co-operation with Fiji after a period of strained relations following the coup. We will continue, both bilaterally and with our Commonwealth partners, to monitor the situation, and, in particular, any attempts to distort the constitution in favour of ethnic Fijians and to implement policies which favour ethnic Fijians over Fiji's other peoples.
In addition to these actions on a political level, we have also been engaged in a number of practical projects in the field of conflict prevention. We have contributed to the UN's work on arms disposal on Bougainville and to the international peace monitoring team in the Solomon Islands. We are providing training for the Papua New Guinea defence force.
Another area where we have traditionally had an important role to play is in supporting the judiciary in the Pacific. As your Lordships will know, many of the legal systems in the Pacific were set up by British colonial officials and are rooted in British traditions. One of our most far-reaching projects in the Pacific has been built on our shared heritage in this area. As was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, this concerns the funding of Justice Roger Coventry, a senior British judge, to work with Vanuatu's supreme court. The attachment of Justice Coventry has been a major success in restoring public confidence in the judiciary. He has helped the court to clear a large backlog of cases and has improved the effectiveness of the court's operations. Noble Lords will agree that a fully functioning supreme court is a significant force for stability, and we have extended this successful project for a third year. We are grateful to the Commonwealth Secretariat for making this extension possible.
Elsewhere in the Pacific, in the Solomon Islands, we have helped to strengthen the country's court of appeal by providing financial support for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, who sits as its president, and we have assisted with the running of the high court by funding its registrar for a period of two years.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, asked whether the fund using residual British Phosphate Commissioner's money is still in existence. It isalthough it is now called the Pacific Islands Friendship Fund. The attachment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, was funded from this pool of money, as were other projects such as electoral assistance in Fiji and voter education in Papua New Guinea.
These have been some of the main areas where we have helped, but we have also made a significant contribution to the holding of elections in the Solomon Islands and Fiji and are preparing to do the same in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, particularly mentioned the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. As he said, good governance is an extremely important issue, and we have spoken to that foundation on a number of occasions about working with us on projects in the South Pacific. So far our discussions have not led to anything specific, but we are keen to explore possibilities. For example, we may invite its representatives to a series of workshops for parliamentarians which we will shortly be running in the Solomon Islands. So that issue is on-going.
Let me now turn more specifically to Britain's development relationship with Pacific island countries. We continue greatly to value this relationship, but of course, as a number of noble Lords have said, it has not stayed the same over the years. There have been many changes within these countries and within Britain's own development strategy, which has evolved considerably since 1997. It now centres on the Government's commitment to the attainment of internationally agreed targets for poverty elimination. In order to achieve these targets, the Government take a global view of development issues, in which it is important to collaborate with others to help build a more effective international development system. In particular, we concentrate our assistance where there are large numbers of poor people and where we have special expertise.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, mentioned the level of expenditure per head. In areas of south-east Asia and elsewhere where there are huge populationsI have not had time to do the calculationhe will find that the expenditure per head is considerably lower. It goes without saying that we all want to spend more, but we should bear that point in mind.
With these considerations in mind, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development decided in early 2001 that we should not continue with separate British bilateral projects in the Pacific after March 2004. This means that we shall maintain our interest in the region by refocusing our contributions to multilateral institutions. We shall also continue with our assessed contribution to the Pacific community and honour our commitment to the Tuvalu Trust Fund. We also stand ready to respond to any humanitarian crisis that may arise. The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, mentioned the earthquake in Port Vila. Immediately following the earthquake, the department agreed to fund scientific and engineering assessments by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. In addition, we hope to support proposals from the EU to assist with rehabilitation work, which may include the points that he raised.
DfID's contributions to such institutions as the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank already average some £8 million a yeardouble what we spend on our bilateral programmesand our multilateral contributions will rise as the Pacific benefits from increased funding available under the Cotonou agreement.
To be more specific about our aid through the multilateral agenciesa point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisleas I said, we are spending £8 million a year. As multilateral funding increases, particularly under the Cotonou agreement, which is a good example, so will our proportionate share. Our share will increase as a proportion of the total that
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, asked about the Commonwealth Development Corporation. Decisions on the future of individual investments are a matter entirely for the CDC. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that the purpose of the public/private partnership is to mobilise increased investment in developing countries, including in the Pacific.
What then are the Government's current priorities in the Pacific? The region does not suffer from the acute levels of income poverty found elsewhere in the world, but Pacific island communities none the less experience plenty of poverty and exclusion. As elsewhere in the world, we wish to help build democratic, accountable government. Accordingly, education and governance are priorities for DfID assistance and attention is focused on the poorest islandsparticularly on Vanuatu, of which the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, spoke so movingly and effectively, Kiribati and the Solomon Islandsand on strengthening regional organisations.
Let me reassure the House that we are committed to completing existing activities and to fulfilling our pledges of new assistance. For example, for some years we have supported a curriculum development project for primary education in the Solomon Islands. This has just been extended for one year, to December 2003, to ensure its completion. Emergency assistance to maintain primary education in the Solomons, which we agreed last year but which has been slow to disburse, will also continue beyond its original implementation period.
We shall fulfil our commitment to assist Vanuatu with basic education. But, rather than proceeding entirely bilaterally, we are now planning to collaborate with UNESCO, thereby strengthening Vanuatu's links with a multilateral organisation. Our assistance will consist of technical assistance and grant funding to support Vanuatu's Education for All Forum in developing a realistic policy and implementation plan for education, both formal and informal. I can give further assurance that the small grants schemesaround £300,000 per yearwill continue. They are administered by high commissioners.
The UK actively supports the Secretariat of the Pacific community. Recent representation at its meetings has been by our ambassador in Suva and by DfID officials. We contribute to the Secretariat's core budget and support selected programmes. At present, DfID is considering collaborating with the Secretariat and any other interested donors in establishing a much-needed socio-economic regional database. This
DfID is also discussing with the European Commission the possibility of seconding a trade adviser to its delegation office in Suva, whose services would be particularly relevant to implementing the trade provisions of the Cotonou agreement. There is also the prospect of staff secondments or exchanges with the World Bank and the New Zealand ODA in the field of education.
These are just a number of examples by which I hope to assure your Lordships that we shall continue the commitments that we already have, and that we take very seriously the multilateral programmes that are now coming to the fore. I hope that these few examples demonstrate to the House that the British Government are working actively to help the small island economies of the Pacific. They may be far away, but we stay in close touch with events there and will continue to play our part, both bilaterally and in international fora, to ensure that they are better able to meet the challenges of global change and make the most of the opportunities that it brings.
All those who have taken part in the debate have spoken effectively about the warmth of the contacts between ourselves and these small, scattered islands with such diverse histories and communities.
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