HC Deb 29 April 1998 vol 311 cc311-3
2. Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

If she will make a statement on progress with implementation of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. [39059]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

So far, six countries have qualified for debt relief worth about $5.7 billion under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. Uganda received relief worth about $350 million earlier this month. Bolivia and Guyana are expected to follow later this year; and Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire and most recently Mozambique qualified for relief after a further period of sound policy. The Government will continue to press for full and speedy implementation of the initiative and we are optimistic that all eligible countries will be on track for debt relief by 2000—the target that was set out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Mauritius mandate.

Mr. Heppell

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her energy and obvious hard work, and 1 congratulate her and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on their commitment to the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. What else can be done to bring other richer nations on board to implement the initiative more speedily?

Clare Short

We are making considerable progress. Shortly after the general election, at the Commonwealth finance leaders meeting in Mauritius, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor declared that the aim of the Mauritius mandate was that three quarters of eligible highly indebted countries should be on track by 2000. At the subsequent International Monetary Fund and World bank meeting in Hong Kong, we could not get agreement. We have just had the spring meetings in Washington, and there is widespread agreement that the target will be reached. We have achieved more momentum but we should not be complacent; there is growing international support and commitment to pushing the initiative forward.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Does the Secretary of State think that the HIPC initiative offers sufficient relief to countries such as Rwanda, which is struggling to recover from genocide? Does she agree that, in view of Rwanda's unique position, the HIPC initiative should be moved much more swiftly and freely to give that country relief immediately?

Clare Short

The hon. Lady is right. The 37 countries that are farthest from the internationally agreed poverty eradication target are either in conflict or have recently emerged from it. Rwanda is one of those countries and, of course, it is one of the world's poorest countries and is struggling to recover from terrible genocide, which is partly the fault of the international community's failure to intervene to prevent it.

Rwanda would not qualify under the strict terms of the HIPC initiative, because it has recently come out of conflict and therefore does not have the necessary track record of responsible economic management. The Chancellor and I are, as we have said publicly, very keen to talk with others about making the system more flexible so that countries such as Rwanda, whose Governments are committed to sensible economic policies, can benefit.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

I welcome the work that has been done in the HIPC initiative so far, but will my right hon. Friend explain how we can speed up the process? I am thinking in particular of Mozambique—33 per cent. of that country's income is repayable as debt, whereas only 3.3 per cent. is spent on education, and only 8 per cent. is spent on health. It is obvious that, if we relieve Mozambique of that debt, it can prosper. I understand that there have been difficulties in the Paris club, but what further steps can she take to speed up the process for Mozambique?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. Mozambique is among the poorest countries of the world; it has only recently emerged from a terrible civil war, which was a consequence of the apartheid regime in South Africa before it, happily, fell. Mozambique, too, has a responsible Government, who are trying to do their best in the most difficult circumstances conceivable.

We have had some success on Mozambique recently. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the fact that the Paris club could not agree that more than 80 per cent. of export credit debts should be written off, leaving Mozambique with a debt relief funding gap of $100 million. The British Government put forward $10 million and successfully challenged others to meet us on that—other donor countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World bank found the remaining funds. Mozambique now has a programme and will receive debt relief by, I think, 2001. In the meantime, we can help it with its debt payments, as we have this year.

Sir Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury)

The Opposition agree with the Secretary of State on the importance of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. Does she accept that good government is an essential factor in determining which states can succeed in tackling poverty? Will her Department continue to attach strict good government conditions to the writing off of debt? Will she say with which countries that is currently a problem?

Clare Short

The right hon. Gentleman is right. Although the east Asian countries had the fastest economic growth, and therefore probably the fastest poverty eradication in human history, a major lesson of the crisis there is that, without proper, transparent government and regulations: not all such economic growth is sustainable. Good governance is a crucial component of the economic policies that benefit the poor.

On the HIPC initiative—which Mr. Camdessus described as an enormously precious baby of the international community with a terrible name—the good governance qualification is part of the good economic track record qualification. Governments must have a good track record to qualify for their first stage of debt relief, and their record must continue to be good. The test is based on good economic performance, which is not the whole of good governance, although it is a necessary component. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the achievement of good governance that can sustain poverty eradication is an essential component of all my Department's work.