HL Deb 27 February 1991 vol 526 cc972-3

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will use their influence to ensure that the World Bank will not finance projects which destroy or degrade tropical forests.

Lord Reay

My Lords, yes, the World Bank is engaged in a major review of its forestry policy. Our Executive Director and his staff have had, and will continue to have, detailed discussions with bank staff on the new policy. We are also encouraging the bank to consult knowledgeable non-governmental organisations. We anticipate that the bank will publish in July the results of its review which we expect to place particular emphasis on sustainable forest management and conservation.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging Answer. Is it not a fact that in the past developments have concentrated on the economic benefits of forest exploitation without taking into account the goods and services which are presently provided by forests and the cost of moving the indigenous population? Will he assure the House that those considerations will be included in the calculation in the future and that a sustainable development will be the basis of the discussions that take place?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure that some of those bad practices may have occurred in the past. However, the World Bank now looks in great detail not only at the economic aspects but also the environmental and social aspects of projects which come up for appraisal. Very detailed guidelines are issued to all bank staff involved in appraising the projects. It is very strictly controlled by the board. I therefore believe that many complaints made in the past do not apply now.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, will my noble friend at the same time encourage the World Bank to develop low-cost equipment which enables sunny but poor countries better to utilise solar energy? That will result not only in a saving of money but alleviate women's drudgery and save the rainforests at the same time.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is making a wise proposal. I should think that the World Bank has already investigated the possibilities of solar energy. However, I am happy to pass on her proposal.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 1989 an estimated 1.8 per cent. of the world's tropical rainforest was destroyed? Does he agree that one of the problems is that third world countries often are forced to plunder their timber resources in order to pay their overseas debt? Has the Minister any new initiatives to deal with indebtedness in third world countries?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we have been doing a considerable amount in that field. Noble Lords may remember that my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister announced an additional £100 million which was to be devoted exactly to the forestry sector. Projects under this amount have been proceeding.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that prominent world scientists now put the destruction of the rainforests as a major threat to mankind, followed by all things nuclear, the destruction of the ozone layer, and waste products from the chemicals industry?

Lori Reay

My Lords, I entirely agree with the thrust of my noble friend's question. Some 17 million to 20 million hectares disappear each year. It is clear that stopping the loss of tropical forests is one of the most urgent environmental challenges that the world faces.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister congratulate the environmental lobby on its new enthusiasm for forestry? Will that be interpreted in the UK by an extension of the forestry industry?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we are in touch with the lobbies in this field. Friends of the Earth has been kind enough to make arrangements for the ODA to receive more than 20,000 postcards from its members and other members of the public. They draw attention to what it sees as being the irresponsible actions of the timber trade as regards tropical deforestation. We do not entirely agree with that view but it is an example of the contact that we have.