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"Eliminating World Poverty"

3.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development about international development. The Statement is as follows:

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    "We will give particular attention to human rights, transparent and accountable government and core labour standards, building on the Government's ethical approach to international relations.

    "We will use our influence to promote political stability, social cohesion and, wherever possible, to resolve conflict. I recently announced a doubling of my department's resources for demining. I will be signing for the United Kingdom the international convention on anti-personnel landmines in Ottawa next month.

    "We must also do more to reduce the external debt of developing countries. The Chancellor of the Exchequer launched a new initiative at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' meeting in September. I have also set in place arrangements to write off aid debt owed to the UK by lower income Commonwealth countries committed to pro-poor and transparent policies. We will do all we can to mobilise stronger international commitment to debt reduction.

    "The Government attach great importance to increasing development awareness in Britain. Every child should be educated about development issues so that they can influence the shape of the world they will inherit. And every adult should have the chance to influence the Government's policies. We will establish a working group of educationalists and others to improve development education.

    "We will also establish an annual development policy forum representing the many strands of society with an interest in international development. We will publish an annual report explaining how we will secure the objectives described in the White Paper and what progress has been made against the international development targets. We will also consult on the case for a new international development Act.

    "The resources which the international community has made available to support the development process have declined over recent years. The previous administration almost halved Britain's development assistance as a proportion of GNP. This Government will reverse the decline in UK spending on development assistance. We also reaffirm our commitment to the 0.7 per cent. UN target.

    "Every generation has a moral duty to reach out to the poor and needy. But the present generation carries an extra responsibility to ensure the international development targets are met. If we do not, there is a real danger that by the middle of the next century the world will simply not be sustainable. Population pressures, environmental degradation, conflict and disease could impose catastrophic pressure on the planet.

    "This White Paper sets out how we can make progress. We should not overestimate what we can achieve alone. We should not underestimate what we can achieve with others. The new British Government commit themselves in this White Paper to working

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    for a major advance in poverty elimination and the building of a more just and sustainable future for all the people of the world".

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating her right honourable friend's Statement made in another place. I think it is a Statement we can welcome but I am not certain. It is a very opaque and rather wishy-washy Statement which I find difficult to draw nuggets of truth and fact out of. I feel rather like someone fishing around in some very dirty bath water trying to find the soap. Sometimes I think I have my hands on it but it slips out of my grasp; at other times I find things which perhaps I wish were not in the bath at all. There seem at points in the Statement to be indications of some very old Labour policies coming into what is on the whole, I think, a reworking of our 1994 policy, and all the more welcome for that.

In particular, I note that the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 was originated by my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey, who is to be warmly congratulated. I hope that the noble Baroness opposite feels able to share in those congratulations. We have a chance to debate this Statement and the White Paper that underlies it in a great deal more detail next Monday, so I shall not speak for too long. However, there are some points on which I think the Government might take the chance today to give us a better idea of what is really going on in terms of policy and how the words of the Statement will translate into reality.

When the Government talk about refocusing our international development efforts on poverty elimination, what sort of projects currently being undertaken will now not be pursued? I can understand what kind of new projects the Government envisage, but what will they not do that we are now doing? Can the noble Baroness confirm that what we are not doing in particular is just deciding that our policies will be to make the poor more comfortable rather than--as our policies were--to make them rich like us? Surely it would be a backward step, an old Labour step, to talk in terms of keeping the poor poor and comfortable.

The Statement states:

    "We will offer such countries a longer term commitment".
Is this something that the Treasury has agreed to? If it has agreed, is this something we can hope for in other areas too? The year by year progress of the Treasury has crippled many sections of our economy. Has the DfID suddenly had a derogation from that to enable it to offer five-year plans and commitments of money? I should be delighted to hear that that was the case. The Statement also states that there will be more resources. Can the noble Baroness confirm that those will be put into bilateral aid schemes rather than channelled through the European Union or other multilateral schemes?

The Statement makes, I think, one mention of voluntary agencies. I hope that such scant attention to the part they play does not mean that we are going to

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see a more centralised approach. I hope we are going to continue to make use of their many talents and indeed rely on them to a greater extent than we have in the past, if that is possible.

The Statement heralds the end of the aid and trade provision. I have two questions. First, the Government are retaining the option of providing mixed credits. Does the budget for that option exceed the aid and trade budget, or, if there is a reduction, how much is that reduction? When the Government talk about sparing projects which contribute to the primary aim of reducing poverty, which projects undertaken since 1993 would fall outside that provision? Which particular projects would the Government--had they been in power in 1993 and afterwards--not have undertaken under their new provisions that were undertaken under aid and trade?

We welcome the CDC privatisation; it is a very forward looking move. However, who will be prepared to invest in it, with Clare Short acting as gauleiter of the ethical and socially responsible investment policy, has yet to be seen, but if that can be achieved we shall be delighted. We shall also be delighted to see other government departments becoming more involved in our development policies, particularly, as mentioned in the Statement, environment, trade, investment and agricultural policy. If one is to raise countries to equality with us, we need drastically to alter some of our trading agreements with them. At the moment, there are, for instance, very low tariffs on raw materials and much higher tariffs on manufactured goods. That has to end. We have to encourage countries to develop beyond the stage of gentle poverty to being true competitors with us.

I am delighted to see that the Government will put some more effort into resolving international conflicts. One hopes they have learnt something from their experiences in India in that regard. I am delighted to see that the Government will continue our policy of writing off debt, particularly, as the Statement says, for Commonwealth countries. But I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could make accessible to the House a list of those countries who are to have debt forgiven and to confirm that the anti-corruption policies put in place by her predecessor, my noble friend Lady Chalker, will continue and that we shall not forgive debt of corrupt regimes just because they are poor.

The Government have a policy of increasing everyone's awareness of development policies, in particular through education. May I urge the Government to be open in what they do? What is said in the Statement by way of involving a sort of little clique of educationalists in developing this policy, which will then be quietly slipped into all our curricula, seems to me to be the wrong approach. This is something which should be done openly and we should all understand what is happening.

Lastly, when the Government talk about increasing their aid spending, I think we can be totally comfortable. I hope, however, that the noble Baroness can confirm that the Government will pay equal attention to increasing the private element of our support for

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developing countries. In recent times that has been over twice the level of government aid. In many ways such aid is likely to be better directed and more suitable for lifting a country as a whole out of poverty. We must pay particular attention to encouraging that.

The Statement says little about the education of women, the availability of contraception, or women's issues in general. I am surprised at that. I hope that the noble Baroness can explain the omission. I shall be grateful for some indication from the noble Baroness as regards support for the Zimbabwean land grab, if I may so call it. Is this a policy that the Government support and will fund? Or is it something that they regret?

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