HC Deb 10 April 1989 vol 150 cc572-4
72. Mr. Barron

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will consider publishing the United Kingdom's voting record at the World Bank.

Mr. Chris Patten

I have considered this question, but have decided for the moment to make no change in the longstanding practice of successive Governments.

Mr. Barron

Will the Minister reconsider that answer in view of the fact that the United States of America not only discloses its voting record in the World Bank but encourages other countries to do so? It seems to me and many others essential that people who ask for help from the World Bank should know what decisions are being taken, because that will help them to put their case.

Mr. Patten

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the advocacy of the United States in the World Bank. It has not been as successful there as elsewhere, as we do exactly the same as everyone else in the organisation, with the exception of the United States.

It is important to remember that votes in the World Bank board are extremely rare. Our main interest is that the World Bank should be as effective as possible, but, as a matter of course, we consult widely on controversial matters that come before the board— for example, with interested environmental groups.

Mr. Jack

What are the Government doing to encourage the World Bank to develop more environmentally sensitive approaches in its investment policy, particularly on the rain forests?

Mr. Patten

We are doing a good deal to encourage the World Bank and other multilateral organisations to do more environmentally. The World Bank has learnt a good number of lessons in the past few years. We also intend to do more through our bilateral programme in this extremely important area.

Miss Lestor

Will the Minister reconsider his answer about the World Bank, bearing in mind that the Canadian Government have expressed concern that matters should not be shrouded in secrecy and that more information should be available? The United States Treasury Secretary, Mr. Brady, has written to the president of the World Bank about the same issue. Remembering that things that are kept secret by the Government tend to be leaked at the end of the day, is it not important that taxpayers should know how we behave on these important matters in the World Bank, and should not the information be made available?

Mr. Patten

To be honest, the best way of keeping a secret is to make a speech or deliver an answer in the House. It is conceivable that that will continue to be so for this answer, too.

We should not get this out of perspective. It seems to me that, as the recent controversy over the power sector loan for Brazil has shown, when matters of controversy arise there is a good and open debate about them. The members of the Overseas Development Administration who are at present answering the thousands of letters about the proposed loan to Brazil, which I think is unlikely to go forward in the shape originally suggested, would not think that matters had been shrouded in secrecy.

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