HC Deb 25 June 1997 vol 296 cc827-8
2. Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what recent discussions she has had about the operations of the World bank. [3856]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

Since 1 May, I have met Mr. James Wolfensohn twice and had useful discussions about how the bank can focus more effectively on poverty eradication.

Dr. Jones

My right hon. Friend has already made it clear that she intends that the elimination of poverty rather than political and economic considerations must be at the heart of our aid programme. I am sure that she realises that that can only be achieved wholly if the World bank has a similar shift in its priorities. I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend discussed that with Mr. Wolfensohn. Did she also press him on the need for the World bank to be more accountable and transparent, particularly in relation to the publication of the voting records of member nations?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right. We want to get everyone in the world and all the major institutions to sign up to the recommended policy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's assistance committee that world poverty should be halved by 2015. That is achievable if all the world's major institutions co-operate, and the World bank is the key to that. James Wolfensohn is clearly in favour of greater transparency and I favour the World bank's country plans being openly published in the country, so that everyone who lives there knows what the World bank's strategy is. Open publishing of voting records is a more complex and difficult question because it might stultify the debate. We need more discussion about whether open publishing would be helpful.

Dr. Fox

If the international financial institutions continue to drag their feet over the highly indebted poor countries initiative, will the Government make money available unilaterally to kick start the process?

Clare Short

As the hon. Gentleman knows and as we discussed during our previous Question Time, the British Government—his own and this one—have been firmly in the lead on the HIPC initiative in trying to achieve debt forgiveness, and he will also know that Britain has written off all its bilateral debt to 17 of the poorest countries in Africa. The problems are not with the World bank, but with the International Monetary Fund and with some of the member countries. We are doing everything in our power to apply all sorts of pressure and to mobilise public opinion to achieve much faster progress on the implementation of the HIPC initiative.

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