HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc272-3
2. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

What plans she has to assist poverty reduction programmes in Cameroon. [37316]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

In Cameroon our development efforts are focused on the forestry sector, which is crucial to Cameroon's overall economy and the livelihoods of a majority of poor people. We have worked in this sector for a considerable period and hope to provide support for a long-term forestry and environmental programme that is part of a strong poverty reduction strategy. That will require a greater effort by the Government to combat corruption.

Mr. Chaytor

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. but is it not the case that 40 per cent. of Cameroon's population live below the poverty line and 29 per cent. are malnourished; and only 1 per cent. of gross domestic product is spent on health care, whereas 6 per cent. of GDP is spent on debt repayment? Will she argue the case for greater help from the international community for debt relief for Cameroon at the Monterrey conference later this month?

Clare Short

Cameroon has been grossly misgoverned. Although there has been a lot of improvement recently, there was terrible corruption and misuse of own resources resulting in extremely poor health and education programmes for poor people. Such is the history of the country. Recent improvements include a better election, better management of the economy and better economic growth.

Cameroon has qualified for considerable debt relief. I do not understand why those who lead the campaign for debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries do not celebrate the fact that 25 countries have now qualified and more than $50 billion of debt has been written off. That is a considerable achievement which in all the countries involved has leveraged much better economic management and social expenditure. That is what is happening in Cameroon. Things are improving, but there is a long way to go.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay)

Given that Poland receives twice as much aid from the European Union overseas aid package as Latin America and Asia combined, and that the top 10 beneficiaries are all countries that border the EU. I put it to the Secretary of State that the Government could do far more to support the poor people of Cameroon by stopping the EU playing petty politics with the poor of the world, and by redirecting the £800 million a year we send to the EU to those countries that really need it such as Cameroon.

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. European Community total aid spending keeps turning further and further away from prioritising the poor: 70 per cent. went to the poorest countries a few years ago; that fell to 50 per cent., and it will be 38 per cent. this year. That is a disgrace and an outrage. That failure was not attended to in the past, before 1997. I have made it an absolute priority to expose how bad the position is and to secure a commitment to a reform agenda that is rolling through the EC, but we need stronger support from Foreign Ministers who like to use aid money for immediate political priorities, which is not the best use of the money. It should be invested in creating systems of government that improve countries' economies and provide services to their people. The hon. Gentleman is right: we still have a considerable problem.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

May I say that I think that there is agreement between my right hon. Friend and people campaigning for more debt relief? There is a celebration of everything that this and other Governments have achieved but, like her, those people believe that more has to be done.

On Cameroon, does my right hon. Friend agree that in the time between decision point and completion point for heavily indebted poor countries there are particular problems which even the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have recognised? Changes in commodity prices mean that the help that Cameroon was to get has been reduced. At Monterrey will she push for flexibility to be built in for HIPC so that countries such as Cameroon benefit more and real poverty can be addressed?

Clare Short

I certainly agree that the continuing fall in commodity prices is a serious problem for many heavily indebted poor countries, as was the rise in oil prices, although they are now going down. Long before Monterrey, we agreed at previous World Bank and IMF meetings that when countries complete their reform process and get their debts written off, we need to re-examine the formula for debt sustainability. If they have had a problem with falling commodity prices, they will need extra help to exit from their debt burden.

Many people are saying that debt relief has failed, but it has not. The next tranche of countries that need assistance are largely in conflict—Sudan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The capacity to deliver that relief might help to incentivise the making of peace. We must drive on with that, not start calling for debt relief for middle-income countries that do not need it.

Forward to