HC Deb 07 February 2001 vol 362 cc914-5
4. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What projects her Department is supporting towards the rebuilding of communities in the Balkans. [147641]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin)

The UK effort in the Balkans is designed to help to build democratic government and effective economies. We focus on technical assistance that encourages best possible use of European Union, World Bank and other large-scale resources. Overall, we have committed more than £100 million to long-term development programmes in the next three years. Additionally, we are a major contributor to European Community reconstruction programmes that are worth about £3 billion over the next six years.

Mr. Marsden

In thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I add my congratulations to him on his appointment? May I also pay tribute to the work of our forces in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans? In the case of the engineers, they are literally rebuilding communities. Does he agree with the view of Oxfam and other voluntary agencies that one of the most crucial roles we can play in that area is to rebuild small-scale economic communities, and particularly to build up civil society and non-governmental organisations? Will he assure us that the Department will give priority to considering the support and funding of those types of projects—not least because the successful regeneration of small-scale economies in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans will reduce the pressures on migration?

Mr. Mullin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words and for his justified comments about the work of the armed forces. I agree with him that strengthening democratic institutions and civil society is essential to the creation of healthy democracies in Kosovo and Serbia. We are in discussion with a wide range of NGOs and community-based organisations about ways in which we can assist. In Kosovo, we have a programme to reform public administration that will include co-operation between local government and community-based organisations. For example, last November we funded two Kosovar NGOs to monitor the local elections and to train election officials. We intend to repeat that exercise for this year's provincial elections. We have also been helping to fund the Army's reconstruction work, and we have extended the help to the small enterprises that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

On behalf of the Opposition, may I welcome the Minister to his post and congratulate him on his promotion to dealing with international development matters? Will he, in turn, join me in congratulating the organisations helping to rebuild the Balkans, and the British Council in particular? The council operates throughout the Balkans, but especially in Belgrade and Kosovo.

The Department for International Development has drastically reduced the number of contracts that it places with the British Council. Moreover, the council's budget has been cut, and it will have to spend £18 million on making 900 people redundant. Will the Minister guarantee that no more cuts will be made to the council's budget, and that its valuable work in the Balkans will not be affected?

Mr. Mullin

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. I certainly join her in congratulating the British Council on its work around the world. As she is aware, the council is funded by the Department. Although there has been some reorganisation, the council's budget has not been cut and it will continue with the great deal of good work that it does around the world.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend, and thank him for the commitment to spending £100 million in Kosovo? May I also alert him to the fact that the Scottish charities' Kosovo appeal is grateful for the £3 million that it received from his Department, the United Nations, the USA and the EU? That money will enable the charities to help thousands of people to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Mr. Mullin

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Scottish charities' Kosovo appeal which, along with many other organisations active in the area, has played a very constructive part in the process of rebuilding that shattered economy.

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