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House of Lords

Wednesday, 28 November 2007.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwark): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Burma: Aid

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Vadera): My Lords, our aid for Burma will double from £9 million this year to £18 million by 2010-11. We expect to expand our support for basic education, health and civil society development in Burma, as well as significantly increase our assistance to Burmese people in the border areas. In the event of genuine political change and progress with reconciliation and democracy, we of course stand ready to support transition and recovery.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her encouraging reply, which adds to the Government’s response to the report of the Select Committee on International Development. What specific measures are the Government taking to encourage India and China, with their huge investments in Burma, to use their contacts with the Burmese regime to restore democracy and respect for human rights?

I also have to mention that the report states, with great alarm in Recommendation 35, paragraph 100—the final paragraph of the report—that Russia has agreed with Burma to design and build a nuclear reactor. How are earth, with a regime that will not allow the BBC into the country, can we be assured that this is safe?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, we have been in constant dialogue with the Indian Government and the Chinese Government, and have been encouraged by the position of the Chinese Government, who assisted us in getting access to Burma for a special envoy, Professor Gambari, twice recently, and shifted their position historically to enable the UN Security Council’s presidential resolution. The situation with India is somewhat less encouraging. Nevertheless, we maintain a dialogue and, yesterday, we heard reports unofficially that there was a discussion about stopping arms sales to Burma, for which we have sought clarification.

We have heard the reports about the Russian nuclear discussions and currently seek clarification. I shall write to the noble Baroness once I have that.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that last week I was in the border areas of Burma—in Karen, Karenni and Shan states—with the internally displaced people who urgently need this cross-border aid? I can testify to the horror of their plight. Tens of

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thousands of people have been driven from their villages by the SPDC regime. They are now hiding in the jungle and scavenging for food, with no shelter, healthcare or education. Will the Minister give an undertaking that in all discussions with the SPDC regime, the Government highlight the plight of all ethnic national groups and their right to participation in all discussions concerning the future of Burma?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I was indeed aware of the noble Baroness’s recent intrepid visit and I look forward to her detailed report. She refers movingly to the plight of 100,000 IDPs who cannot be reached except through mobile units from across the border. Aid to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium can now fund this activity. We are currently in discussions with it and other local civil society organisations to increase our assistance to this target group.

It is crucial that all minority ethnic groups are included, as Aung San Suu Kyi emphasised in her call for a meaningful and time-bound process of dialogue. We cannot achieve reconciliation and peaceful transition to a representative and accountable government without their involvement, so we continue actively to reach out to all those groups.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, uncomfortable as the agreement between the Russians and the Burmese over building nuclear reactors may appear, what can we in Britain do? We cannot police the world other than by referring this to the United Nations. Given the nature of the Question, it seems that the British Government are expected to be able to do something about it.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the first focus of our action will be through the United Nations, but we should recall that Russia is a member of the G8 and has other bilateral relationships with us and through other groups. We will continue to press it for clarification on this matter.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I welcome the doubling of aid and in particular the increase in the amount of aid going to the cross-border consortium. Can the noble Baroness give the House details of when the OCHA report on IDPs across the frontier in Burma is likely to be published, and the response to it? In view of the fact that the Government themselves estimate that there are between 400,000 and 500,000 IDPs in Burma, will they increase the percentage of aid going to the cross-border and in-country projects that will result from the OCHA report?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, we have seen a preliminary draft of the OCHA report and anticipate the final draft early in, we hope, the new year. We will take it into consideration in our discussions with the Thailand Burma Border Consortium as well as other groups in order to increase our aid significantly for these groups. Currently, 20 per cent of our aid to Burma goes to the cross-border groups regardless of the fact that they have 5 per cent of the population and in light of their specific needs, but we will review that once we have the OCHA report.

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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the major criticism made of Burma at the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference was on the basis of a resolution that came from the ASEAN countries? In the light of that, what pressure are the Government maintaining, or which contacts are they pursuing on the ASEAN countries to make sure that they, as the authors of the condemnatory resolution, bring appropriate pressures to bear on Burma?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, no doubt noble Lords will be aware that the recent ASEAN summit was deeply disappointing in not being able to hold a firm line on Burma and, indeed, in withdrawing the invitation of special envoy Dr Gambari to speak. Nevertheless, we are maintaining all possible pressure on the regional partners and do not accept the line that the ASEAN group does not have any influence and that it is simply a matter for the United Nations. We are therefore continuing a dialogue at all levels with the regional parties, including those which originated the statement referred to.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, if Russia, China and India continue to trade with Burma, how can sanctions have any impact whatever on that country? If they were to impact on the export of timber and precious stones, surely that would affect some of the poorest people in Burma who make their living from cutting down trees and mining jewels.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, it is true that the major partners of Burma in trade are in the region and not in the EU. Nevertheless, the EU took the view that it was important to extend the current position on sanctions to timber, gems and metals, and we do have some trade in the EU in these areas. We have attempted to target the sanctions so as to have an impact not on poor people but on the regime. We continue to press India, China and Russia on their trade and, as I mentioned earlier, we look forward to a clarification on the issue of arms sales from India.

Embassies: Latin America

3.08 pm

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, following the announcement of the FCO’s funding allocations for the coming three financial years in the Comprehensive Spending Review, Ministers are now considering how to deploy our staff and resources in London and around the world to achieve our policy priorities. The Foreign Secretary is committed to the principle of maintaining a global network. Any eventual decisions to close posts in Latin America or elsewhere will be announced in due course in the normal way.

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Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, that does not sound very encouraging. Given that four posts in Latin America have been closed recently, which has a damaging effect on our influence in the area, can the Minister confirm that Latin America is still a priority? Furthermore, would he be prepared to consider reopening these small posts as mini-embassies—one-man bands—which would be useful to British businessmen? This has proved very successful in the past.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Viscount is correct to be concerned and to continue to press us in the House to make sure that Britain is committed to Latin America. He will know that we still have 22 diplomatic posts in the region. While four posts have indeed closed, we believe we have retained the integrity of a global network and a real commitment to the region.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, in order to maintain a global network, has consideration been given to variations on, or new forms of, the traditional embassy—for example, by collocation or by placing individual diplomats in sectors such as consular work, visa work and commercial work in friendly embassies? Is there any scope for such creative variations?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I have no doubt there is plenty of scope for such arrangements. We have extended the network of honorary consuls and the next step is obviously to look at where collocation will improve both consular and commercial support. We are open to any arrangements which ensure that we do a good job for British business and, more broadly, British citizens and our relations with the region.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, what was the outcome for the Diplomatic Service of the Comprehensive Spending Review and how does it compare in real terms with the previous grant for the Diplomatic Service? In the light of those statistics, which I hope the Minister can give us, is he content that the Diplomatic Service is able to continue to conduct a global foreign policy?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is obviously very familiar with the difficult spending rounds that the Foreign Office has suffered in recent years. We are satisfied that on this occasion we have been able to protect the basic foreign policy establishment and that we have sufficient resources to continue to meet those global challenges.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, if we are quick, we can hear from all sides of the House.

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Baroness Hooper: My Lords, has any evaluation been undertaken to estimate the effects of the closures and downsizing of not only our embassies but offices of the British Council throughout Latin America? I am thinking not only of lost trade and investment opportunities but of the educational opportunities and exchanges which can bring so much long-term value to this country.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be pleased to know that there was an evaluation of our strategy in Latin America which confirmed that we retained the footprint to carry out these tasks. But there is no doubt that there has been a reduction in both the British Council and other representation in the region and we need to keep the matter under continuous review.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government are very fond of contrasting Britain’s global outlook with the parochial outlook of Germany, France and Italy. Given that we now have as a country fewer missions abroad than each of those three countries, is there not a rather embarrassing gap between our pretensions to be a global power and what we spend on it? In particular we should recognise that German trade and investment in Latin America is far larger than Britain’s, and that may have something to do with the Germans putting a much greater effort into it than we do.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, in the case of Latin America, we have broadly the same number of missions as France and Germany; one has four more than us and the other has two more. But we have 22 so we are snapping at their heels. However, we should look extremely carefully at whether that is sufficient to meet our business and investment goals in the region. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Jones—Digby Jones—is in the House to hear this debate. No doubt we will see if we can find some money for this in his pocket too.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, surely the problem is that we do not want to be seen to be snapping at others’ heels; we want to be very much in the lead. Does my noble friend agree that it is never popular in countries when one shuts down embassies and, however logically or rationally one tries to explain it, there is in that country a feeling that it is being neglected? How will we be able to get over a British point of view in times of real diplomatic need when the chips are down?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we are confident that while the noble Baroness is correct that every closure leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the country that has lost British coverage, in the recent cases where that happened in central America the wounds have healed. We have had good feedback on the level of coverage we are able to provide from regional hubs in terms of our current embassy arrangements there, and we are satisfied that when the chips are down we have the diplomatic establishment in place to make our case and keep friends.

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Olympic Games 2012: Arts Funding

3.15 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have consistently demonstrated their support for the arts. Over the next three years the Arts Council will receive an increase of 3.3 per cent above inflation. The overall lottery contribution of £2.175 billion to the Olympics represents just 19 per cent of lottery income from the time we won the bid to the Games themselves. The arts can still expect to receive around £500 million of new lottery money between 2009 and 2012.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that there is a need for a single government department, even if it means embracing the arts as well as sport? While there is little in common between the two, we have seen a considerable amount of money being transferred from the arts to the 2012 Olympics. What assurances can he give that no more money will be transferred? Can he say when the money forgone will be returned after 2012?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my department is rather proud of the settlement it got for its work, including the arts, over the next spending period. As I indicated, it will receive 3.3 per cent above inflation when other departments are finding life more difficult than that. With regard to when the money will be repaid, there is a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Mayor of London to ensure that those resources that are diverted from the National Lottery to expenditure on the Olympic Games will be repaid when the returns come in from land sales and rents after the Olympic Games are over.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, as the Minister is no doubt aware, one of the factors in London winning the Olympic bid was the agreement to a Cultural Olympiad to be rolled out across the country from 2008 after the end of the Beijing Games. Does he accept that funding for that has inevitably been damaged by the raid on the good causes lottery fund as well as the continuing ongoing diversion of money from the arts by the special Olympic lottery games?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I have indicated, we have taken great care to protect core funding for the arts. We conceive of the Cultural Olympiad as an important part of the build-up over the years to the Olympic Games, and of the Games themselves. We have substantial plans. It would take me far too long to read out the full programme now, but I am happy to put it in writing to the noble Baroness. I assure the House that the Cultural Olympiad is important and will be fulfilled throughout the period of the Games and beyond.

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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in reply to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, the Minister said that the Government had secured the core funding for the arts. Does that amount to a commitment that there will be no further cuts for arts funding until the Olympic Games period has expired?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, we are talking about a period after 2009 in any case. No changes will be effected to these budgets until full consultation has been carried out and there has been time for people to adjust to the new funding position. We are diverting substantial resources from the National Lottery towards the Olympic Games, but then of course the Olympic Games fulfil exactly the criteria of what the National Lottery was established for and why people contribute so significantly to it—apart from the chance of winning. It is a major project of significance to the nation. What could be a larger project than the Olympic Games?

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, would my noble friend accept from me that the arts committee is on the whole very pleased with the settlement that the DCMS was able to secure in the Comprehensive Spending Review? However, taking into account the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, could he ensure that the plans in train for the Cultural Olympiad are made clear fairly quickly, because there is equally some anxiety about the amount of time that will be left to put these plans in place?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her remarks. She is well placed to make a judgment on these issues. We have protected and improved in real terms core funding for the arts, but my noble friend is right in saying that we must move beyond a list of desirable objectives with regard to the Cultural Olympiad to their rapid realisation. The department will of course bend all its efforts to that. What we do have is a most promising list of projects for the nation; the issue now is to establish the funding for that and to draw up final plans. We should recognise that the moment that Beijing hands over the Olympic torch to London there will be an enormous shift in emphasis, and public support for expenditure on the Olympic Games.

Lord Lloyd-Webber: My Lords, I must first declare that I am a member of the British Olympic Advisory Board and that as a part of that I am really excited for London about what could happen. Does the Minister agree that educational programmes form a crucial part of many arts organisations’ budgets, particularly those in music and the theatre? In the light of the Government’s wonderful new initiative regarding music in primary schools, will he monitor arts organisations’ educational budgets and ensure that they are not cut because of any shortfall caused by the funding of the Olympics?

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