HC Deb 03 November 1999 vol 337 c282
5. Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

What assistance Her Majesty's Government are giving to Commonwealth banana-producing countries to assist diversification. [95584]

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

Through the EU, we are providing substantial funds to promote diversification and alternative income opportunities in Caribbean banana-producing countries. We are also supplying technical help to those programmes and support through our own programmes to help reduce vulnerability by developing educational skills and encouraging diversification. I might add that, in 1998, under the Commonwealth debt initiative, Jamaica, St Lucia, Dominica and Grenada all had bilateral debt cancelled.

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that most Members feel that the Commonwealth should have first charge on the UK aid budget, particularly the bilateral aid budget. Fairly or not, a lot of Commonwealth Caribbean countries say that they feel neglected. Only the other day, Prime Minister Jospin of France was in Guadaloupe to promote the interests of Francophone banana producers. Is it not time that the Government gave greater urgency to assistance for the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, not only through the EU aid budget, but through our bilateral aid budget?

Mr. Foulkes

I assure the hon. Gentleman—and the chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)—that there is no diminution in our concern for the Caribbean banana producers and the other Commonwealth countries. The position is quite the reverse. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has visited the Caribbean, and we have set up a Caribbean forum to discuss the problems of the region. I have visited the Caribbean on a number of occasions—[Interruption.] I shall be very happy to go again, and shall, indeed, do so when I go to Jamaica next month.