HC Deb 10 January 2001 vol 360 cc1063-6
3. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

What assessment she has made of progress in focusing development aid on the reduction of poverty. [143197]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

We set out in our 1997 White Paper our aim to persuade the international development system to focus its efforts on achieving the international development targets. Those include halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, universal primary education and improved health care for all. We now have unprecedented agreement between the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations system, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, G7 and others that meeting the targets should be the focus of our joint efforts.

On current trends the halving poverty target is likely to be met because of major progress in Asia, but most African countries are not yet on target. Progress in being made on health and education, but greater effort is needed. The Chancellor and I are hosting a conference in London next month to encourage all countries and development agencies to increase their efforts to ensure that today's poor children are not the parents of larger numbers living in extreme poverty in the next generation.

Dr. Palmer

My right hon. Friend's priorities will be welcomed in all same parts of the House. Unfortunately, the European Union's priority in this area is increasingly focused on the Mediterranean and Balkan countries. The proportion of multilateral European Union aid is down to 41 per cent. for the most impoverished countries, and will probably sink further if nothing is done. Will my right hon. Friend press our European Union partners to give real priority to poverty reduction at the coming meeting on this issue in Stockholm?

Clare Short

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. As he knows, we are seriously concerned. It is disgraceful that, for a considerable number of years, an ever lower proportion of EU development assistance has gone to the poorest countries, the effectiveness of which leaves much to be desired. We have been working hard on the reform agenda and there are now strong commitments to reform. [Interruption.] We should not turn away from the Mediterranean and the Balkans, but middle-income countries need different forms of assistance from very poor countries. They do not need big resource transfers, but help with reforms to ensure that they run their Governments better. I agree, and I hope that the House agrees, that the EU, which has promised to reform, must do so. [Interruption.] Our aim is that 70 per cent. of its assistance should be focused on poor countries by 2006.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal to hon. Members, particularly Government Members, not to conduct private conversations. They are not appreciated.

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the people of Ghana and its new President, John Kufuor, on the successful, democratic and peaceful change of Government which they have just achieved? Is she planning any early meetings with the new Government to consider what her Department can do to help reduce poverty in Ghana, and does she have any view on whether Ghana might be successful if the new Government decide to apply for debt relief under the HIPC initiative?

Clare Short

I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. Ghana's achievement in its democratic transition is fantastically important. President Rawlings ended up changing to democracy, but came to power through a military coup. For Ghana to go through that and have a proper, peaceful and democratic election is an important achievement for the Government. I have plans to visit Ghana, probably towards the end of February. There has been economic reform in Ghana and it has done well, but it slipped a bit before the election, so we need to help it to get back on track and get its economy growing to improve the lives of its people.

Ghana is a HIPC country and has considerable debt. The previous Government decided not to apply for debt relief. I am sad to say that it was under pressure from some donors. It will be possible for the new Government to go for debt relief, and that would help Ghana to get back on an economic reform agenda. It is for Ghana to decide. It was Ghana that decided previously not to go for such relief, but it is entitled to do so if it wishes.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi on providing development aid should there be a return to democracy in Burma? Can my right hon. Friend throw any light on the story that the World Service ran early this morning that there have been discussions with the regime and Aung San Suu Kyi in that country?

Clare Short

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, but if Burma turns to democracy the world will help it. We would be delighted to do so and massive support would be available to help build a new democratic and economically successful country.

I heard the reports, not on the World Service but on the BBC this morning. Some talks have been brokered by the United Nations and the World Bank. At this moment, I do not have enough information to be optimistic, but if we can be optimistic, if there is reform in Burma, that will bring relief to many long-suffering people—as I hope there will be.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

The right hon. Lady and I agree that to make progress in reducing poverty we need, among other things, to eliminate corruption. Why then, two years after signing the OECD's convention on bribery—making it an offence to bribe officials abroad—have we still no legislation implementing it? We have had the rhetoric. Last April, in a parliamentary answer, a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry promised legislation as soon as possible, and the Home Office has said that it is looking to bring in legislation at the earliest opportunity. But now the UK is attracting fierce international criticism. The head of the OECD's anti-corruption unit said: As far as we can determine there has not been an effective prosecution under existing UK laws. This wasn't good enough. To put it bluntly, no one is going to be as bad as the UK. We know that the Government are all spin and no delivery, but, to put it bluntly: "You made the promises, where is the legislation?"

Clare Short

I find it astonishing that the Opposition seem to think that is was year zero when they lost the general election. We inherited advice that had been the position of the previous Government, that—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady would listen. It was the view of the Conservative Government, and our initial advice—attention, please—that the existing UK law complied with the OECD convention. That was false, false, false, as usual. It was a bit like "Where's the trains?"—we know why they are missing. Again, it is the fault of the previous Government.

We set up a working party which determined that the advice from the previous Government was completely wrong, as with so much else that they did. We are now committed to legislation, and it will be introduced as soon as a decent Government publish a Queen's Speech, which happily will not be a Government of whom the hon. Lady will be a member.