HC Deb 23 May 1994 vol 244 cc17-8
41. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what criteria are used in determining whether there has been gross human rights abuse in countries in receipt of British aid.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Judgments concerning human rights are based on assessments of individual country circumstances. Those are judged in the light of universal and internationally agreed standards.

Mr. Gapes

Why is it that China is the fifth country in the list of countries receiving British aid, why is Indonesia the 11th, why has Britain's aid to China increased from £21 million to £35 million last year and why did we spend £21 million on Indonesia? Given their appalling human rights records—Tiananmen square on the one hand and East Timor on the other—why is it that we give aid and trade provision support to China and Indonesia?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in Chinese affairs and is a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The view that he expresses are very much out of line with those of the Select Committee, which in its report suggested that it was only right that we should continue to have a relationship with China. The principles of aid have to take into account not only human rights, which the hon. Gentleman has identified, but other factors. China is a large country in which we have a modest programme. It is wiser to be in there discussing matters and making our views known to the Chinese than to be breaking off any relationship with them.

Sir John Stanley

As Rwanda must be one of the countries in which the most gross abuses of human rights are occurring, what steps will the Government now take to take further measures to save life in that country and to alleviate the desperate suffering that is occurring there?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

My right hon. Friend raises the most dreadful and barbaric tragedy in the world at this moment. He will be aware that we have announced emergency relief aid worth £3.3 million in the past few weeks. I have no doubt that further consideration to other assistance will be given in due course.

Mr. Harvey

Should not the human rights records of countries be considered consistently throughout the aid programme? Given that countries like Kenya and Malawi have, at various points in time, had aid withdrawn, why do large sums continue to be given to Indonesia, particularly given the record of East Timor?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As I have said, every country must be considered on a case-by-case basis. We make our concerns about human rights very clearly known in Indonesia. However, there are attempts to improve the situation and Indonesia has a terrific record of relieving poverty. The incidence of poverty in 1970 was 60 per cent. and that was reduced to 15 per cent. in 1990. Aid for what is still a relatively poor country, and for what was a very poor country, is being extremely well used.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister agree that, despite its history, Uganda's human rights performance has improved immensely? In view of that, how are the Government going to respond to the President's plea for assistance to deal with the problem of the 40,000 or more bodies in Lake Victoria, which are a result of the genocide in Rwanda? Does not the international community have a responsibility to respond to that plea in the light of the forthcoming catastrophe in public health both in Uganda and in neighbouring countries?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Most certainly we recognise that terrible aspect of what is already a terrible problem. We are responding to the appeal of President Museveni by giving assistance to the Save the Children Fund, which is working with the Lutheran World Service to clear and to bury the bodies on the north-western shores of Lake Victoria.

Mr. Cash

Will my hon. Friend accept from the Conservative Benches that we, too, are deeply concerned about the situation in Rwanda and about the problems set out by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) with regard to Lake Victoria? Will my hon. Friend also consider the fact that one of the reasons why Uganda would have difficulty in providing the necessary resources is that one third of its entire budget goes on paying back interest on debt? Would not it be sensible to recognise that Uganda has now, with the recent elections, established a degree of stability that should lead us to do everything possible to suspend the debt in Uganda as an example to the rest of Africa?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

My hon. Friend will be aware that Britain was foremost in initiating the Trinidad terms for debt relief and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, did so in 1990. Twenty-two countries have benefited, 17 in Africa. However, that debt relief is based on criteria which have been carefully worked out to help the poorest nations, not the middle-income nations. Those criteria must apply wherever debt relief is applied. If Uganda comes within those criteria—I cannot at the moment answer my hon. Friend on that point—it will be eligible for consideration by the Paris Club.

Back to
Forward to