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Jim Knight: Like most hon. Members, I agree with the spirit of the new clause, which would restrict assistance to Governments guilty of gross violations of human rights. We do not want to support people who commit such violations, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), I remember with revulsion the support that this country extended to Governments such as those in Burma and Chile, who had committed—and continued to commit—gross violations of human rights.

I have therefore considered the proposal with some care to determine whether I can support it, and I have listened to the debate. The central problem that needs to be resolved in connection with this new clause—and with new clause 3, which we may discuss later—is how we get countries whose Governments commit such violations to reform. Do we disengage completely from them, blacklist and cold-shoulder them so that they are left outside the international community, or do we engage with them?

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Sometimes we might want to do both things, but the new clause requires that only the cold-shouldering option can be taken. It would remove the option of engagement, which I believe should be taken up much more often.

When I intervened in the speech by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), I mentioned a scheme in Belarus. It was funded by the EU, through TACIS—technical aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States. The scheme had two local government partners—Mendip district council in Britain, and the authority in the city of Svetlogorsk. New clause 1 (4) states:

Local government is part of Government, so the scheme that I am about to describe to the House would not have been allowed to progress, had the new clause been passed.

The chief executive of Mendip district council, on a visit to Svetlogorsk, saw an extraordinary situation in which a city was experiencing an exponential rise in HIV/AIDS infection as a result of an epidemic of drugs in a new town created by Khrushchev in the 1950s. He populated the town with various ne'er-do-wells from throughout the Soviet Union so that they could work in a chemical factory. The indigenous population were skilled at growing their own narcotics. That was a fairly explosive combination, as one might expect, but it was kept under control by the Soviet state.

When that state collapsed, there was an explosion in drug abuse, which led to an exponential growth in HIV/AIDS infection. When the chief executive of Mendip district council visited the city, following visits from children of Chernobyl—the city is in the Chernobyl fallout area—he saw what was going on and saw that the local government there refused to acknowledge that there was any problem.

The initiative and partnership that followed, funded by the European Union through TACIS, was an exchange of expertise. Mendip organised local government officers, drugs charities and health authority officers to travel to Svetlogorsk. They gave of their own time; TACIS paid only their air fares. They shared expertise in dealing with HIV/AIDS infection. As a direct result of that initiative, the exponential growth in HIV/AIDS infection in the city of Svetlogorsk levelled off. That partnership was then expanded into waste management and all sorts of matters that certainly would not be regarded as humanitarian assistance, but which represent a development of civil society.

Part of the success of that partnership was due to the fact that the local government in Svetlogorsk was willing to acknowledge that there was a problem and was willing to publicise the problem. It was willing to train its own officers, and to tell local police officers, "When you are searching a drug addict, do not put your hands in their pockets unprotected; otherwise you too may be infected." Such basic educational messages spread through the city and turned the situation around. I use that example to illustrate how helpful local government partnerships can be.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman speaks passionately on a subject about which he knows a lot, but he is missing the point of my new clause: it excluded medical aid.

Jim Knight: I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I ask him to listen to what I am saying in turn. I am

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saying that what might appear to be simply medical aid developed, in this case, into many other areas, such as waste management; but more fundamentally, it changed the attitude of the mayor and the local administration. It has empowered the citizens of that city and made them engage with their government in a way that central Government would have nothing to do with. The nature of that central Government is pretty abhorrent to me, but the partnership works locally and, incidentally, it gave a great boost to the officers of Mendip district council.

Tony Cunningham: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the new clause is the fact that it talks about

If we were limited to providing humanitarian aid, we could provide the drugs, but we could not build the clinics or hospitals and we could not obtain the nurses and doctors for the long-term programmes that would benefit the country. The new clause would allow us to deal with patients once they were ill, but would not allow us to prevent them from becoming ill or to provide them with decent clinics and hospitals.

Jim Knight: I do not want to take up more of the House's time. I just wanted to use that example to impress on the hon. Member for Castle Point the fact that we do need the flexibility for Governments to engage, be it at central or local government level. I ask him to withdraw the new clause so that we may move on.

There are times when the new clause probably would not work, anyway. Consider Cuba. Blacklisting by the United States has been tried and does not seem to have shifted Fidel Castro to date, unless I have missed the news. It could even be argued that we are not getting far with sanctions against Iraq. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the new clause and allow us to move on.

6.15 pm

Mrs. Spelman: At the start of the debate, I grew a little bit concerned that, having had very little party political point scoring on Second Reading or in Committee, we were about to descend into it now. We are returning to the final stages of the Bill after an exceptional break. We all understand the reasons why the final stages of the Bill had to be deferred from just before Christmas to make way for the emergency legislation. The passage of time has probably allowed us more time to reflect on the conflict in Afghanistan and its aftermath and the way in which the legislation would work in the case of such a country. In a way, the passage of time has allowed us to bring some fresh thinking to the discussion.

I had the slight feeling, on hearing the exchanges that have just taken place, that it is quite difficult for the Labour party to hear fresh thinking from the Conservatives. We had quite a lot of exchanges devoted to what had happened in the past, when the Conservative party was in government. It may be proving quite difficult for the Government to hear from us the fresh thinking that we wish to inject into the debate. One of the few advantages of being in opposition is the chance to think again—the chance to do blue-skies thinking and to bring

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fresh arguments. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will give us credit for the fact that we are coming fresh to the debate. Many Conservative Members, including myself, were not in this place when the Conservative party was in government, so we feel particularly free to suggest new ideas.

When I hear hon. Members say that it is simply too difficult to do something—I heard the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) say that it was too difficult effectively to tackle Governments who are shown to have tolerated or perpetrated human rights abuses—I feel that it is a challenge, and that we should be able to find a way of cracking that conundrum. I know, because I was told very early on as I tried to get to grips with my brief, that the received wisdom is that we should not make development assistance conditional on the receiving Government's having an acceptable human rights record.

Later in the debate I shall cite some case studies. The present situation is not very satisfactory in the eyes of ordinary members of the public, to whom we as a party have been listening. When I talk to ordinary members of the public about increasing development assistance, they often voice to me the major reservation that the money will only get into the hands of the wrong people. They therefore do not feel a strong desire to increase the level of assistance.

We share with the Government the United Nations target of increasing our assistance to 0.7 per cent. of GDP, but we must take the public with us. That is what it is all about. In taking the public with us, we need to try to satisfy the public disquiet over development assistance money getting into the wrong hands and being used for the wrong purposes. That is a basic motivation that underlies the new clause.

The purpose of the new clause is to raise the concern that Governments should address human rights in their relations with other states where there is evidence of human rights abuses. There is always a danger of glossing over issues of human rights where other political expedients are seen as paramount.

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