HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc273-6
3. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If she will make a statement on the steps her Department is taking to help reduce poverty in Tanzania. [37317]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

The UK is one of the major development partners of Tanzania, which has made significant advances in recent years. For example, the Tanzanian economy is growing at 5 per cent. annually and primary school enrolment is set to double this year.

Mr. O'Brien

I join the Secretary of State in celebrating the qualification of a number of countries to the HIPC community. I think that the right hon. Lady would agree with me that Tanzania is one of the best examples of good governance and a commitment to democratic institutions, thus justifying our aid and trade incentives and debt relief to help health and education programmes. If we look nearby in Africa at the appalling example of Zimbabwe, how can we justify continuing to give aid to countries ruled by tyrants and dictators? The aid does not get to the people through their health and education programmes and is given at the cost of being able to continue to support countries such as Tanzania which have done what is required to justify that aid.

Clare Short

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not been concentrating; Tanzania is making considerable progress but has had problems of governance and democracy in Zanzibar. As well as its serious corruption problems, its public financial management systems need strengthening, and we are trying to help in that regard. It is moving forward, but I do not agree that it is an example of perfect governance—it is an example of progress where more needs to be done.

Zimbabwe is, of course, a total tragedy for all its people, with negative economic growth and terrible brutality in attempts to distort the election outcome. We have modified the way in which we provide aid to make sure that nothing is provided to the Government—we give help to the people of Zimbabwe. There is hunger in that agriculturally rich country and through the World Food Programme and other organisations we are helping to provide food aid to stop people going hungry.

Zimbabwe also has a terribly high HIV/AIDS infection rate, affecting one in three adults. Zimbabwe's Government have not taken action, but we have a fairly big HIV/AIDS programme operating there. I do not think that the people of Zimbabwe should be sentenced to infection by HIV/AIDS because of their Government's neglect, or that the international community should do nothing.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that in Uganda, for example, the programmes referred to by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) are in place and there is a direct link between debt relief and improving primary education. In meeting those millennium goals, is it possible to tie together more closely future debt relief programmes so that they link directly to the appalling state of public services such as health and education? We are leading by example, so will my right hon. Friend play a key role in ensuring that world partners meet the fantastic goals that we have managed to achieve? What steps can she take to encourage them to match our targets and bring their targets up to the same speed?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. Uganda set up a fund for its debt relief to make sure that it was spent on the poor. We have done better than that in the enhanced HIPC initiative. In order to qualify for debt relief, it is now an absolute requirement on every country that it puts in place a poverty reduction strategy on which it consults all its people. That will combine the management of the macro-economy to make the economy grow and reduce poverty, and all the country's aid revenues and debt relief spent on bringing proper public services to the poor. The debt relief is thus leveraging massively better economic management and public sector programmes to help the poor, and doing that extremely well.

It is true that the UK's programme is focused on helping countries to meet the international development goals. The Scandinavian countries are with us in that. We could increase by 50 per cent. the value of the $50 billion of aid that there is in the international system if everyone would focus it on the poor and back reformers. There is a lot to do.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Does the Secretary of State feel vindicated by the World Bank report on the air traffic control project in Tanzania, as that report suggests that she was right and her Cabinet colleagues were wrong, and suggests that the project was poor value for money and bad for Tanzania's development? Will she now try to re-open that issue in order to get the contract cancelled?

Clare Short

The UK Government decided not to refuse a licence for the British Aerospace air traffic control system on the grounds that buying it would affect the sustainable development of Tanzania. There was a difference of view within the Government about that, but that is not the end of the matter. Before that, the Tanzanian Government had given a written undertaking to the World Bank board to review the contract in the light of an International Civil Aviation Organisation report which stated that the technology was extremely expensive and old, and that Tanzania does not have any military aircraft and could get a much cheaper modern civilian air traffic control system. The Government of Tanzania are still committed to that review, so the fact that the UK has issued a licence does not mean that Tanzania will necessarily buy the system. The contract is at present frozen and Tanzania must honour its commitment to the World Bank board. That was a condition of it completing its debt relief programme.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what contact she has had with EU member states in order to tackle world poverty?

Clare Short

I have frequent contact with EU member states about how we might better tackle world poverty. We have discussed how we might combine to improve the use of EC aid resources. Of course, the EU took a leading position at Doha on improving trading rights for developing countries. All of that is important. The money that we put through the Commission and the member states in development aid is 60 per cent. of worldwide overseas development aid, and the EU is the biggest market destination for the exports of developing countries. By doing better, the EU could transform the prospects of developing countries. We are making progress but there is a lot left to do.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

It was brave of the Secretary of State to say publicly that if it were up to her, she would not have issued a licence for the sale of the air defence system to Tanzania. Does she agree that such a dispute at the heart of Government will discourage further private investment in places such as Africa? Does she also agree that it has undermined the credibility of the Government's policy of relieving debt in order to refocus those resources on health and education?

Clare Short

One person's bravery is another person's recklessness, but I am grateful for the hon. Lady's comments. Disputes at the heart of Government are entirely healthy. Ministers holding different views and arguing them out is what Cabinet Government is all about, and long may it continue.

I took a certain view on whether the licence should have been issued, but the hon. Lady might want to note that the power to refuse a licence because an arms contract might affect the sustainable development of a poor country was not in place under the Government whom she supported. It is a new provision introduced by our Government. I took the view that I did; Tanzania will make its decision in its own interests, but I do not believe that that argument in our Government undermines the prospects of investment in Africa.

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