|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Bob Spink: If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will realise that I excluded purely humanitarian aid from the remit of the new clause. Medicine, food and disaster aid is therefore exempt. The new clause covers budget support and development aid. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with my constituents who do not want British money to support despotic regimes. We do not collect taxes to do that, and our constituents do not pay taxes for that.
According to Library research paper 01/85, published on 1 November 2001, clause 1 states that the Secretary of State may provide development aid if she is satisfied that this is likely to contribute to a reduction of poverty. The paper states:
Furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the UK or;
Improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries."
Jim Knight: In Belarus, the Government under Lukashenko is one that most of us would want to put on a list, if one were to be manufactured according to the provisions of the hon. Gentleman's new clause. However, I have been part of an initiative involving a partnership between two communitiesone in this country and one in Belarusseeking to resolve a particular problem in relation to AIDS and HIV, which has also extended into other areas of civil society. In the city of Svetlogorsk, this has achieved an extension of the participation in government by a much larger number of people. If such activity is repeated across a country, it can turn that country around and start to move the political climate towards one that might overthrow a President such as Lukashenko and replace the system with a more democratic one. I would not want that sort of effort to be put at risk by blacklisting any development assistance being given to projects such as these.
Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman is obviously a great expert on Belarus and on that kind of aid. I do not think that my new clause would put such aid at risk, because it would exclude humanitarian and medical aid. My proposal would bring forward the spreading of democracy and good human rights practices in countries such as Belarus.
I shall give an example of my own. The millions of pounds in aid that the British Government give to Vietnam should be conditional on the Vietnamese Government making significant progress with their human rights record. How else are we to get change? That must include Vietnam ending its persecution of Christians and the adherents of other religions, and stopping the continuing atrocities against the Montagnard people of the central highlands.
Giving aid to Governments who engage in or tolerate gross human rights violationsas Britain currently doesonly supports such despotic regimes, and is more likely to hinder than to help long-term development. Making aid conditional can promote human rights. It can also give more purpose and long-term impact to our aid programmes and make them more focused, and make development sustainable, which is one of the key qualifying tests that the Government set out for their aid programme. This could be a sound way to secure change in Zimbabwe, to give another example.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Does the hon. Gentleman's entirely laudable commitment to human rights represent a policy shift within his party? I well remember, when the Conservatives were last in government, that it was their policy to encourage trade with Burma, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. I can also remember the time when Baroness Thatcher, as she is now, dubbed sanctions against the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa
Bob Spink: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words in introducing her question. I know how seriously she takes these matters, and the House always listens when she speaks on these subjects, but I think that on this occasion she is wrong. The new clause would allow humanitarian aid to be made available and it would put pressure on regimes that are doing things wrong to plan and make improvements and to move towards democracy. In the longer run, it would achieve what she most wantsa safer world in which there is more care for people's freedoms.
The hon. Lady made some sound points about the Conservatives' record, but we are now opening our ears to what the people have to say. Our constituents do not want us to give taxpayers' money to despotic regimes that flout human rights; they want us to use that money on development aid, as we should, and they want to see us do so with a sense of purpose in order to develop good practice around the world.
Tony Cunningham (Workington): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), I think that the hon. Gentleman's aims appear to be laudable and I understand why he wants to link human rights, good governance and aid. However, I share the concerns that my hon. Friend expressed. It is the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world who are suffering under despotic regimes, and they are the people whom we should be helping.
The new clause refers only to humanitarian aid, but two major issues are health and education, and money for those comes from a long-term budget rather than a humanitarian aid budget. The new clause would not allow us to spend money to improve health and education through, for example, non-governmental organisations in the civil society that we are trying to help and protect, instead of giving aid to Governments. The danger of the new clause, however laudable it might seem, is that it will lead to people who are suffering now suffering even more.
Bob Spink: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He made some sound points. It seems from all the interventions so far that there is agreement between hon. Members on both sides of the House that my intentions in tabling new clause 1 are laudable and right in principle, but the detail may require more discussion and development. That is the point of the proceedings,
I shall give an example of a purposeful use of aid so that the House will understand my aims. The United States uses legislation and the suspension of overseas aid as a means of promoting human rights abroad. We can learn from its International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which created a number of tools to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy goal and to combat religious persecution in other countries.
The law identifies a wide range of diplomatic and economic tools that the President may apply to those countries that engage in systematic and on-going violations of human rights and religious liberty. The action that the President may take against such violations of religious freedom includes suspending US Government aid to offending states. That constitutes US Government recognition of the principle that aid should not simply be handed out to overseas Governments without their human rights records being seriously considered.
The US Act is an example of creative and common- sense use of legislation, including the leverage that may be applied through overseas aid to put significant pressure on states with poor human rights records. The mere existence of the Act and the range of sanctions that may be applied against state violators of human rights puts significant, tangible pressure on them to improve their human rights records. In the longer run, it will achieve better, more sustainable development, which is what we should all seek.
We in Britain should adopt a similar approach to promoting religious freedom and other human rights across the world. The new clause would deliver smart sanctionsencouragement for and pressure on countries to open up their borders, which is a step in the right direction that Conservative Members have promoted for many years. Many Governments who grossly violate religious freedoms and other human rights are unlikely to listen to persuasion and mere expressions of concern alone, notwithstanding the extraordinary persuasiveness of the Secretary of State, who is in Tokyo.
We should call on offending Governments to stop allowing human rights abuses, and non-humanitarian assistance to those countries, such as the budgetary support that the UK gives the Pakistani Government, should be used as leverage for them to improve their human rights records as soon as possible. That could have been done with Pakistan.
The new clause would allow the Government to use economic as well as diplomatic levers on Pakistan, for example, to persuade it to move from its system of governmenta military dictatorshiptowards democracy and a stronger civil society, which I know the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) wants to promote.