HC Deb 28 January 2004 vol 417 cc299-300
5. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the steps being taken by the United Nations to increase its effectiveness in fighting poverty. [151167]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

The UN and its institutions play a unique role in promoting development and fighting poverty. The UN's reform programme aims to achieve better co-ordination by the different UN agencies and better support for countries' own poverty reduction plans. The Secretary-General intends to hold an event in 2005 to take stock of progress towards the millennium development goals.

Brian White

I welcome the Minister's response, and particularly the work of his Department, but he will be aware that many of the economic statistics that are used by international institutions do not fully reflect the work that goes into alleviating poverty and protecting the environment. Will he undertake to consider the proposals of various economists for new statistical measures that will more accurately reflect the work on poverty?

Hilary Benn

I am always happy to consider the ideas of others for measuring as effectively as possible the progress that we are or are not making internationally on meeting the millennium development goals. The UN monitors progress towards those goals using information drawn from a number of sources, and it covers tangible matters, such as the percentage of the population that has access to clean water, literacy rates, and the percentage of the population that is being lifted out of poverty. In the millennium development goals, we have a clear set of indicators against which we and the people of developing countries can judge whether we are making progress.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

What assessment has the Secretary of State made on the impact of the US Administration's withdrawal of funds to the United Nations Population Fund and its reproductive health policies, which is having a deleterious effect on many poverty reduction programmes around the world?

Hilary Benn

I agree that that decision is regrettable. It is a matter for the US Administration, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are strong supporters of the UNFPA, because work on reproductive health in particular is fundamental to improving mothers' health and to a better life for children, and it is also fundamental to tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider strengthening the links between training for democracy, citizenship, labour market development and industrial relations when awarding aid?

Hilary Benn

We will shortly produce a policy document on labour standards, and my hon. Friend draws attention to an important contribution that the Labour movement can make in countries by putting pressure on Governments to increase people's living standards. I shall ensure that I send my hon. Friend a copy, because it deals with one of the ways, along with civil society and a thriving democracy, that Governments can be called to account on the extent to which they tackle poverty and improve health and education. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is very noisy, and it is unfair to the Minister and to the Members who are asking questions.

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