HC Deb 01 July 1998 vol 315 c348
8. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

What assistance her Department is providing to Russia in the current financial year. [46872]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

The know-how fund is the primary source of the United Kingdom's help to Russia and the former Soviet bloc countries that are making the transition to democracy and a market economy. In Russia and elsewhere, the know-how fund has a good reputation for providing fast and flexible assistance in support of reform. Given the worrying continuing growth in poverty in Russia, greater emphasis in future will be placed on assistance for the social, environmental and governance aspects of reform.

Mr. Watts

I thank the Minister for that reply. I agree that a great deal of benefit has been derived from the use of the know-how fund in helping Russia to reform its economy. However, is it not time to focus all our help in that area on dealing with poverty and the environmental problems that face the Russian people?

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, dealing with poverty partly means having an efficient economy that generates the wealth to care for people. We shall continue that aspect of the work, but we are shifting the focus to social reform. Too many people are falling through the system and Russian men have lost nearly 10 years of life expectancy since the fall of the old system. We are about to publish our Russia country strategy paper and that will give details of the way in which we intend to make that change.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the aid and assistance to which she has just referred goes to the Russian people and does not end up being laundered by the Mafiosi, who are certainly part of the problem of the present Russian crisis?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is right. The problems of corruption are great. The know-how fund does not go through Government; it goes direct to projects. It is tightly monitored and has a reputation for not getting embroiled in corruption in the way in which many other programmes do. Corruption is part of Russia's problem and it is hurting poor people in Russia.

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