HC Deb 29 April 1998 vol 311 cc315-6
5. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

If she will make a statement on help given to Bangladesh to foster democracy. [39062]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

We are supporting improvements in the effectiveness of governance in Bangladesh and supported independent monitoring of national and local elections. As my hon. Friend will know after his successful visit last year to Bangladesh, we are also working to strengthen parliamentary institutions. We are currently looking for ways of providing further help, especially in supporting the democratic rights of the poor.

Mr. Bennett

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Given the very difficult physical and climatic problems facing Bangladesh, does my hon. Friend accept that non-governmental agencies in Bangladesh are doing an excellent job? However, must not that work be matched by local, democratically elected politicians making the parliamentary system work, so that they can encourage both investment and aid to help Bangladesh overcome its horrendous problems?

Mr. Foulkes

I agree with everything my hon. Friend said. Save the Children Fund is one of the non-governmental organisations that are working very effectively in Bangladesh. It is working on civil rights advocacy and primary health, it is working with vulnerable children and it is helping poorer communities to cope with floods. Hon. Members might like to know that the director of Save the Children Fund has written to the Secretary of State to dissociate his organisation from remarks made by Conservative Members—including one Opposition Front Bencher—purporting to represent the fund's views. Save the Children Fund welcomes the White Paper and its aims, and I hope that Conservative Members will not only retract, but apologise for, their remarks.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

Does the Minister agree that, among its many rather impressive achievements, Bangladesh's creation of its own, native-born non-governmental organisations has been very impressive? Does he agree also that development of NGOs within a country is one of the best ways of strengthening democracy at every level?

Mr. Foulkes

I am happy to agree with all the hon. Gentleman's comments. The Grameen bank, founded by Professor Younis, is one of the most notable and successful NGOs, lending small amounts of money to people, particularly women, to start businesses. Its example has been followed around the world by many countries.