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House of Lords

Wednesday, 6 April 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Poverty

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Government welcome the Make Poverty History campaign. The Government want to make progress on more resources for aid, debt relief and fairer trade. We define poverty in terms of the millennium development goals, particularly halving the proportion of people living below a dollar a day by 2015. Africa is being left behind. During our G8 presidency we intend to agree a comprehensive action plan for Africa's development.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that there is a great deal of positive feeling about the way in which the Government have made development issues central to the political agenda? Does she agree that the Commission for Africa chaired by the Prime Minister made the point that poverty is not only to be assessed in terms of sickness, shelter and all the other indices but also in terms of exclusion from political influence in the world? Is there not a major task to be tackled in ensuring that at a time when we talk about democracy and its importance in the world we make the international institutions of the UN, and other international institutions, more accountable to the poor of the world and enable them to be fuller stakeholders in establishing the agendas of those institutions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. As regards the point about the international institutions, my noble friend will know that the Secretary-General of the UN has been looking at that matter and has recently published a report. Indeed, the United Kingdom Government have warmly welcomed that report and have published our own consultation document with respect to some of the proposals.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, following the PNQ yesterday on Zimbabwe and the important Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House not agree that the two linchpins in the war on poverty promoted by the Africa commission are good governance and fighting corruption? What action are Her Majesty's Government taking against their chosen handpicked
 
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members of the Africa commission who have publicly supported the rife corruption and dictatorship of Mugabe in his recent fixed elections?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that we see the three elements at the heart of these initiatives as being human rights, security and development, although I agree with the noble Baroness that good governance and fighting corruption are important elements of that. My noble friend Lady Symons made it absolutely clear that we shall continue to work with our African partners with respect to Zimbabwe. We have a different view regarding the way that we think the international community should handle Zimbabwe. However, a number of African governments and leaders share our concern as regards their initial view on the damage that is being done to the continent.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, over the years there have been many projects to relieve poverty in the world. We remember the water decade and how that was intended to bring fresh, pure drinking water to every home in the world. Those were dreams that faded and hopes that were never realised. What mechanism have the Government in place to ensure that the pledges and hopes of the Make Poverty History campaign are monitored, and that their successes—I hope, more than their failures—are reported to us?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government see it as our responsibility to report on the commitments and pledges that we have made rather than on the commitments and pledges made by the Make Poverty History campaign. Members of that campaign will themselves report on the progress that they make as a coalition in challenging governments globally to meet those concerns. The noble Lord will know that this Government have taken a different approach. We want to work in partnership with developing country governments. We want there to be a very clear recognition of rights and responsibilities on both sides. We monitor progress not only against the commitments that we have made but also against the commitments that developing countries have made.

Lord Rea: My Lords, now that the United States appears to have turned down the chance to co-operate with us in creating the International Finance Facility which was proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer three months ago, will the Government try to work with other G8 countries, and other countries if they can, to match that fund of $50 billion? My noble friend will be aware that that $50 billion matches the amount that would be raised if all countries reached the figure of 0.7 per cent of GDP in development assistance—a sum which is essential if we are to reach the millennium goals.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the $50 billion is the sum that we think is required if the world community is to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015. As
 
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regards the IFF and the G8, France, Germany and Italy have already signalled their support. My noble friend will know that Sweden has also signalled its support. This is about increasing aid volume in addition to countries moving towards the figure of 0.7 per cent of GDP in development assistance. We are still hoping that the United States Government will come on board. I am not sure where my noble friend heard that the proposals had been turned down by the United States Government; that is not my understanding. We are still hoping that they will come on board.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I congratulate the Government's general intent vis-à-vis poverty in Africa in particular. Will the noble Baroness expand on the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in respect of corruption? It is such a deep, fundamental problem in large parts of Africa that it aborts improvements in governments and development. What is the Government's response to the recent OECD report on corruption, which had some extremely critical things to say about this country and our complete failure to date to bring one prosecution under the extra-territoriality provisions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that in addition to the OECD report, the Commission for Africa report looked at the issue of corruption and the role of developed countries in terms of issues such as the return of stolen assets. We are working with developing country governments in putting anti-corruption mechanisms in place and on reform of the public service. We are also looking at what more we can do about corruption—not just the UK Government but developed country governments more generally—and we are looking at the business sector through the extractive industries initiative.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, returning to the subject of the IFF and the answer given by the noble Baroness, does she agree that for the very poorest in the world the Chancellor of the Exchequer is some kind of conjuror waiting for something to come out of the hat; and that is the International Finance Facility? When will the Government recognise that for the poor there is nothing in the hat, and this is turning into a confidence trick?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Earl. A series of goals were agreed by the international community in 2000, including halving world poverty by 2015. We will not meet those goals, particularly on the continent of Africa, without more resources and aid going in or without dealing with issues such as trade and debt relief. The majority of countries have not reached 0.7 per cent of GNI; in fact only four countries have reached 0.7 per cent. To enable us to put in more resources we must find another way of doing that. That is precisely what the IFF is there to do.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, will the Minister focus her attention on the question of poverty
 
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in the Pacific rim countries? Is she now in a position, in the last days of this Government, to indicate whether the Prime Minister's promise to match the funding raised by the British people for the victims of the tsunami and those people who are suffering considerable poverty as a result will be met before this Parliament is finally dissolved?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have addressed this question before for the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He is being rather hopeful in talking about the last days of this Government. I made it absolutely clear that we had made a commitment with respect to the immediate humanitarian needs caused by the tsunami that we would allocate additional funding for long-term development once the needs assessment from the World Bank came in. We looked at that, and we made our pledges in relation to that. There is no point making a pledge until we know what the money will be spent on.


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