HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc271-2
1. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

What support her Department gives to micro-credit agencies in south-east Asia. [37315]

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn)

Micro-finance services play an important role in enabling families to earn a living and reduce their vulnerability to poverty. In south-east Asia, working through the Women's World Banking programme and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest, we are supporting micro-credit programmes in the Philippines, Cambodia. Laos, Indonesia and Thailand. We are also directly funding a project in Vietnam working with a number of non-governmental organisations.

Paddy Tipping

I am grateful for that reply. Will my hon. Friend confirm the importance of micro-credit agencies in helping to create sustainable infrastructure, especially when resources are focused on women and the poorest members of the community?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Micro-finance is all about spreading the risk and helping people to earn income from a variety of activities. The average loan is very small—the smallest is about $30, the largest about $300—and between 70 and 80 per cent. of users of micro-finance are women, so it plays an additional role in improving their position in society.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I agree with the Minister that micro-credit agencies are an excellent way in which to spur economic development in poor countries. There is no doubt that Afghanistan is one Asian country in dire need of economic development. Given that that country is faced with starvation, does he share my exasperation at reports of poppy growing increasing again and our apparent impotence in the face of that problem? What ideas other than micro-credit to get farmers to diversify production has the Department come up with to tackle that pernicious trade?

Hilary Benn

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the problem of the recurrence of poppy growing in Afghanistan. The whole House knows that the ultimate solution to that problem is to enable farmers for whom that is a source of income—for some, the only source—to find an alternative livelihood. Micro-finance and other methods of support offer ways in the long term to enable farmers to depart that trade and earn a living, as the whole House wants.

Forward to