HL Deb 12 March 1996 vol 570 cc734-6

2.48 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Overseas Development Administration's efforts to promote political and economic reform in the developing world will encourage further British private sector involvement there.

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

My Lords, stability, sound economic policies, efficient markets and good governance are essential to attract British and other investment. We encourage developing countries to create these conditions and, through our development programme, support directly their efforts to do so. British business is keen to help the development process and I am taking steps to improve our dialogue so that we continue to learn from each other.

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am aware of all the work that her department does at times of trouble. Can the Minister say what, in a stable situation, her department is doing in particular to make its whole system more efficient?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are three main types of activity. The first is the funding of important policy changes such as the liberalisation of the foreign exchange market; secondly, the freeing up of prices and the improvement of fiscal control or thirdly, making important changes to the management of the financial sector. In that we work very closely with the international financial institutions. We also give technical expertise and investment finance.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, when that assistance is provided to developing countries, does it come with a health warning? Are such countries told that the experience of the British people under such economic and political programmes is mass unemployment; social instability; a rising crime rate; and more people in prison?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have been inundated in the past few years by requests from developing countries to learn how to privatise; how to stop wasting money; and how to do things better than they used to be done. I remind the noble Lord that Britain has the highest number of people employed of any major European country.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, how does the Minister reconcile her commendable insistence on good governance and the emphasis of granting aid to countries which observe that principle with the Department of Trade and Industry's encouragement of business missions to countries such as Nigeria and Burma, which in no way comply with those criteria?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are good reasons for British companies being helped to take up industrial opportunities in countries overseas. We work with, but also separately from, the Department of Trade and Industry in the sense that where we can promote good and better government and training which brings proper respect for human rights, we do so. The British example backs us up. Many businessmen are extremely helpful in that.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what liaison is there between the Minister's department and the United Nations in the promotion of economic reform in the developing world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the department has frequent liaison through the mission in New York which is staffed both by officers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by officials from other government departments. There are regular meetings between the agencies working in New York, the UN secretariat and the secretary-general. I make several trips each year to follow up the work that is being done in both Geneva and New York.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether, in respect of economic reform, the proposals that were advanced and eventually encompassed in the final draft of the Beijing conference—that is to say, the monetisation of the subsistence agriculture for which, very often, women are responsible—are now taken into account in policies for economic reform in developing countries.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, yes, it is. Britain was already taking that aspect into account before the Beijing conference.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, the Minister has stated clearly the importance of private investment. Can she tell the House what she is doing about introducing dialogue between a country with needs and someone in our business world with something to offer?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have set up a business strategy group with the help of the non-governmental organisation, Worldaware. We are meeting on a regular basis to see whether we can match even better the aspirations of many developing countries and the business acumen which is so readily available in this country and from which they can benefit. That is one way of assisting. The other way is to use retired businessmen, through the British Executive Service Overseas, who frequently give appropriate advice to both companies and governments overseas which are trying to modernise.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister give us any figures on the amount of private money going into South Africa where, as she said, it could provide great help in reducing unemployment and in helping good government in that country?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Britain is the largest private investor in South Africa. I am not completely up to date, but the latest figure shows investment of over £1 billion in the first year after the election of the government of national unity.