HC Deb 12 May 1999 vol 331 cc300-1
2. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

What assessment she has made of the effect of British development assistance on the promotion of good governance in Pakistan. [82948]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

As the White Paper on international development makes clear, equitable and effective government is essential to the economic and social policies that are crucial for the reduction of poverty. We are currently reviewing the strategy that underpins our work in Pakistan. Governance must be improved—and corruption reduced—to achieve economic and social development and the reduction of poverty in Pakistan.

Mr. Blunt

I am grateful for that answer, but will the right hon. Lady bear in mind, as she reviews the policy towards Pakistan, the fact that Pakistan is involved, as reported in Jane's Defence Weekly, in procuring missile technology from North Korea? Not only that, but Pakistan is also believed to be passing nuclear technology to North Korea, and to be involved in the state sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir. Moreover, as the right hon. Lady has mentioned, Pakistan has perhaps the most corrupt Government and administration in the world. For years, Britain has devoted substantial assistance to Pakistan, but it appears to have had no effect on the behaviour of its Government or on the quality of its administration. Will she therefore consider how our development assistance programme should be taken forward in the future?

Clare Short

We share the hon. Gentleman's concern about nuclear development in both India and Pakistan, which is a danger both to that region and to the whole world. It is also a tragedy that the two countries have both high defence spending and high levels of poverty. The hon. Gentleman would agree that although we must take action, it should not be the poor of Pakistan who pay the price. It was not they who were responsible for the decision to go nuclear. In all humility, I should add that the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported worked for nearly 20 years on Pakistan without having much effect on corruption. I am reviewing our policy, and I hope to do better.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Has my right hon. Friend made it clear to the Government of Pakistan and their neighbours that the generous British public will find it hard to understand why substantial aid should go to Pakistan when it can seemingly find all the money that it needs to develop nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery?

Clare Short

I have made it absolutely clear to the Governments of both India and Pakistan that everything that we do will be reviewed in the light of the nuclear tests. None the less, it would be wrong to hurt the poor of those countries because the elites decided to engage in a nuclear programme. We have reviewed and scrutinised all that we do to make sure that the poor are protected but that there is no benefit to those responsible for the nuclear decisions.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The human and political rights of women are a key element of good governance. Given the stress placed on those rights in some neighbouring states in the region, will the Secretary of State pay particular attention to ensuring that Pakistan adheres to best practice on human rights for women?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Some 70 per cent. of the poor of the world are women, and the poorest children in the world tend to come from households headed by women. Without empowering women and educating girls, we will never make progress on poverty. The position in Pakistan is particularly worrying, and we are doing all in our power to improve matters for women there and to prevent the deterioration that could result from some proposals currently on the table.