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House of Lords

Thursday, 18th June 1998.

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

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether good relations between Church and state depend on the central organisations of the main Christian denominations being located together in Westminster.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, no. The geographic location of these bodies has no bearing on their relationship with the state.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Nevertheless, I wonder whether he shares my disappointment to hear that it is proposed to move the headquarters of the Methodist Church from Westminster Central Hall to Marylebone Road. Does he agree that, alongside Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Central Hall serves as a symbol of the Free Church witness at the heart of the nation? It would be a tragedy if that were put at risk, particularly because of its unique pastoral ministry to the Palace of Westminster which, in my view, should not be under valued.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, Pererin 'rwyf mewn anial dir, which, being translated for the ungodly, or those who cannot speak Welsh, if the two are not the same, means, "I am a pilgrim in a desert land", but Marylebone Road is not all that far away in the desert, surely.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, with the much acclaimed and welcome elevation to the peerage of the Reverend Dr. Kathleen Richardson, who is currently the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council and also one of the presidents of the Churches Together in England, does the Minister agree that the representation of someone who is a former president of the Methodist Conference can only enhance Church-state relationships in the future?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I absolutely agree. She is a person of enormous worth, virtue and talent; and of course your Lordships' House will be enlivened and assisted by her presence.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, surely good communications depend on good relationships between people, particularly in these days of IT, and not on geographical location.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is what I said earlier. I think that even in Marylebone Road there are telephones.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, having attended many services officially on behalf of

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Westminster Council in the Methodist Central Hall, I would regret any change in that regard. Does the noble Lord think that the proposed move is in any way connected with press reports that the serving of liquor is to be allowed at functions there? Are the Methodists moving because they feel they cannot stay in a building where that happens, or is it because the cost of the building has become far too great?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as far as I am aware, no final decision has been made by the appropriate body as to whether they are going to move or not. Whether it is because alcohol is going to be served, I do not know. The decision really is a matter for the internal governance of an organisation which is, and ought to be, wholly free of state control or even ministerial comment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is nothing wrong with serving liquor? After all, at Cana the water was turned into wine.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, my Lords, but that was at the end of the evening.

Developing Countries: Unsustainable Debt

3.4 p.m.

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What actions they have taken to reduce developing countries' unsustainable debt following the G8 summit in Birmingham.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, following the Birmingham summit, the Prime Minister has written to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the World Bank to ask them to take forward the proposals discussed there. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has invited Church Leaders and heads of non-governmental organisations to a second Downing Street seminar on debt. This week UK officials have been discussing debt relief for a number of developing countries in the Paris Club.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, will the noble Lord give an indication of what went on at the meeting on 2nd/3rd June concerning the debt situation in Rwanda at which Britain was going to raise the issue of reducing unsustainable debt for a country which has very little ability to repay those loans?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Rwanda is one of the countries to which urgent attention has been and is being given. As the noble Lord knows, the HIPC initiative has been in operation for some time now. The impact of the Birmingham summit was the speedy and determined implementation of debt relief to more countries under the HIPC initiative. The intention is that all poor countries should have begun the process of

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securing debt relief by the year 2000. I accept that the conditions in Rwanda make a very strong case for that country.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I recognise the considerable contribution Her Majesty's Government have made to moving forward the debt reduction plans. But does my noble friend agree that, as long as the United Kingdom remains 14th among the 21 major aid donors in the level of its aid, we are on rather shaky ground when we seek to persuade other countries to increase their debt relief, as they are always in a position to say that they make a major contribution through increased official development assistance?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that both are necessary. It is necessary for us to pay our share in the aid programme. Indeed, the Secretary of State for International Development is working particularly hard in that area. But at the same time the contribution of all of us to debt relief under the HIPC initiative and in pursuance of the Naples Agreement ought not to be put on one side.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the unsustainability of these loans would suggest that in the past many of them were blown rather than properly invested? What will be done to make certain that future aid will be properly invested so that it can be properly sustained?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is the thrust of the HIPC initiative and why progress on it has, for some people, been too slow. The intention of relief of debt for the heavily indebted countries is that they should qualify for this relief only when they have shown that they have a sustainable programme of economic reform in compliance with the requirements of the International Monetary Fund.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, on the evidence of the current progress of the Heavily Indebted Poorer Countries initiative, there are only four countries that will have full debt relief by the year 2000; namely, Bolivia, Guyana, Mozambique and Uganda. Does the Minister agree that this shows woeful complacency on behalf of the G8 with regard to the cause of international debt relief? Are the Government willing to set a shining example to the other creditor countries by cancelling all UK aid and export credit debt by the year 2000 for the benefit of the world situation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in response to an earlier question I acknowledged that there is concern about the slow progress of the HIPC initiative. It is not quite as bad as the right reverend Prelate said. Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire can be added to the list that he mentioned, but I would not expect him to be satisfied with that. There are major problems for us in deciding unilaterally to forgive our debts, not least the fact that we are far from being the largest creditor country. If we were to forgive our debts unilaterally,

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that would relieve the pressure on other creditors. The money would go to the governments rather than to those most in need in the countries concerned. It is not quite as simple as some very well meaning people seem to believe.

The Earl of Bradford: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that one of the problems with debt relief is that it tends to penalise the responsible in favour of the irresponsible?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that that is what I said in response to the question about the HIPC initiative. If debt relief is to be effective, it has to go to those countries which have their economies under control and which can demonstrate that the benefits of debt relief will go to those most in need in those countries. To that extent I agree with the noble Earl.

Baroness MacLeod of Borve: My Lords, I know parts of Africa very well. Does the Minister agree that we owe those countries quite a lot and that they are in great trouble? Having to pay back debts to other countries is like having a noose around their neck. They want to pay back. Some of the African countries are in a disastrous state and people are starving. Does the Minister agree that some of the wealthier countries should give those countries more money?

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