HL Deb 13 March 1995 vol 562 cc551-3

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take following the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen from 6th to 12th March.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we shall decide what action to take once we have studied all the detail in the summit's conclusions, and in the light of national circumstances and priorities.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; I recognise that, again, she has demonstrated her personal commitment. However, will she agree that the gap between her own position and that of the Government as a whole remains as wide as ever? Exactly what additional resources were generated at Copenhagen for the fight against poverty and injustice to which she so powerfully referred? What are the Government going to do to meet their share of 20 per cent. in the 20:20 compact to direct aid towards those in greatest need in the third world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, the Government are completely at one. The speech that I gave in Copenhagen had the full support of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The conference was clearly not about additional resources. I have just come here from being with the president of the Philippines, who spoke about the conference in almost identical terms to those in which we have spoken; namely, that there is a need for growth before you can create the industry and the productivity to alleviate the conditions of the poor. But in every project there ought to be concentration on the needs of the poor. The British aid programme is already working well towards the 20:20 concept, which was accepted in essence but not in detail at the Copenhagen Summit.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, bearing in mind that there were 121 heads of government and heads of state present at the conference, and that the Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, was not there, I should like to know whether he was invited, and if not, why not? If he was invited, why did he not go?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there were about 100 heads of state and heads of government. Other delegations were led by the responsible Ministers, who were considered by their heads of government to have appropriate knowledge, and possibly even more detailed knowledge than the heads of government might have had. Indeed, the Prime Minister was invited, but the noble Lord may note that, as he was in Palestine from yesterday morning onwards, he would have found it extremely difficult to be there for this weekend. I can assure noble Lords that all that could be done to help this summit forward was done by me and my delegation.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, what action was agreed for debt relief, and on how to make the developing world more competitive?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the conference was not about debt. But the noble Viscount may have noted that in addition to bringing the Trinidad terms up to full Trinidad terms at the Pans Club meeting in December, the United Kingdom has also put forward suggestions that will be discussed in April on the whole question of relieving multilateral debt. We have also welcomed the reduction in commercial debt through the Brady plan.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, under what conditions would the Government think of implementing the 20:20 compact, considering that 11 other EC nations already believe that the time is right, including Japan?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, I should tell the noble Lord that there are not 11 EU nations which believe that the 20:20 proposal is right. The noble Lord's figures are wrong. The whole concept of 20 per cent. of aid being devoted by donors to social projects and 20 per cent. of government assistance from the country that receives the aid is not one that can be put in the simplistic terms in which many have spoken. We seek to target our aid, not only country by country on the poorest, but within country on the poorest, so that basic education and health form part of our assistance.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that one way in which she is carrying out the better targeting of aid—here I declare an interest as chairman of one of the charities that is helping the third world—is through the NGOs using money on behalf of the ODA? Is that not a more effective way of using the money in terms of aid?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the non-governmental organisations can be very good with specific projects and specific work. We use the services and work with more than 150 non-governmental organisations in the British aid programme. However, there is no doubt that their work is best done on the ground in these countries. I am glad to say that most of the NGOs who were at Copenhagen with me, and many of whom met me at 8 o'clock on Saturday morning, were extremely supportive of the way in which we work with them.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the proper treatment of the poor nations by the rich is essential to the future of the world economy and stability? Is she aware that we on this side believe that she is fully seized of that and is an utterly fit person to proceed with these policies?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his kind remarks. Let me say that we have increasingly sought to target our assistance better. A successful outcome of this conference will mean that people all over the world, donors and recipient governments, concentrate on people-centred sustainable development. That can be brought to the best conclusion, namely, the real alleviation of poverty, only if they also have economic growth—and that means sound economics too.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, will the Government advise the House whether their policy with regard to social development internationally is the same as their policy for social development in this country, which I believe was typified by the Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party as the rich getting richer on the backs of the rest of the population?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is rare that one of your Lordships speaks without knowing what is really going on. But we have one such case now. UK unemployment has fallen by 572,900 and the measures in the last Budget—a package of work incentives worth over £600 million—are part of our programme. That is a very good mirror of what we are trying to do in our overseas development programme.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we are all agreed that growth is essential to generate the wealth from which social programmes can be financed? So why is it that, at a time when the Government speak of economic recovery, our aid programme, as a proportion of gross national product, continues to plummet to about half the level that it was when the Conservatives came to office in 1979?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as we have said often in this House, it is not just a matter of the quantity of aid; it is about targeting and quality. If we had had the same targeting and the same quality in 1979, then the noble Lord would have a point to make. But we did not. We now have a very much better delivered aid programme. While I shall always be glad to see more resources for it, I shall make the very best of what I have got.

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