HC Deb 14 July 1999 vol 335 cc387-8
1. Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)

What steps her Department is taking to strengthen the Commonwealth's role in development activities. [89752]

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

About 57 per cent. of our bilateral programme goes to Commonwealth countries. We are also supporting work with Commonwealth Youth, local government, media and science organisations and a large programme of Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships, as well as other programmes administered by the Commonwealth Secretariat. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh our agenda for poverty eradication was adopted, and we hope this will be taken further at the next CHOGM in South Africa in November.

Dr. Vis

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that trade is vital in assisting development in Commonwealth countries? What is he doing about that, with particular reference to the next multilateral trade round?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right. I did not mention trade, and he is right to ask me to do so. Britain is contributing to the trade and investment access facility, which was set up at the CHOGM in Edinburgh in November 1997. One of the best examples of British assistance that I have seen is the regional negotiating machinery in the Caribbean, where we are helping to improve the capacity to negotiate and put forward a case in the trade round. With three trade rounds coming up—the discussion on free trade areas of the Americas, the post-Lome negotiations and the next World Trade Organisation round—it is vital that Caribbean countries have that capacity. I am proud that Britain is helping them in that way.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Despite the Minister's statements, does he share my concern about the fact that the economic growth of countries in the developing world—South Africa, for example—has been harmed by the Chancellor's sale of our gold reserves? Does he regret the fact that the Government's actions have sent the markets on which those countries depend plummeting? Was he or the Secretary of State consulted about the Chancellor's decision? Did his Department object or make any protest about the effect that the sale would have, and has had, on some of the poorest countries in the world? Perhaps he will tell us what is the point of his Department giving aid with one hand when another Department takes away countries' economic health and strength with the other.

Mr. Foulkes

I think that the hon. Lady has missed the point. The price of gold has been decreasing progressively. Other countries are selling gold. We advocated the sale of the gold of the International Monetary Fund to help to pay for the debt cancellation for developing countries, so as to help those countries. We are talking about a small fraction of the amount of gold held in the world. The hon. Lady is becoming agitated when she need not. I hope that she will support us in getting the IMF gold sold, so that debt cancellation can be swift and effective.