HL Deb 16 November 1998 vol 594 cc978-80

2.53 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

On how many occasions the full interdepartmental working group on overseas development co-operation has met at ministerial level since May 1997 and what consideration it has given to security sector reform.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Interdepartmental Working Group on Development has met three times, most recently on 24th September 1998. Security sector reform was discussed by the committee at the latest meeting. The meeting considered an analysis of the link between security and poverty elimination and supported proposals for DfID involvement in security sector reform. A paper outlining these proposals will be published in the New Year.

DfID support for security sector reform is likely to focus primarily on strengthening the capacity of civilian authorities to control expenditure, to make security forces more accountable. For example, an interdepartmental team recently visited Sierra Leone to examine the security needs of that country. Ministers have endorsed the recommendations that the UK provide assistance to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Defence to hold security forces accountable. DfID will provide some part of this assistance.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that full and encouraging reply, but does she not agree that the poverty eradication to which the Government are committed will depend upon the success of closely integrated policies in which trade, Treasury, environment as well as development all have their part to play, and that part of the test of the success of DfID is the degree to which it is able to bring interdepartmental policy together? Does she not in particular agree, with reference to security policy, that in too many places development is undermined by conflict or by the ready availability of light weapons and it is absolutely essential to look at demobilisation and the withdrawal of weapons from circulation if there is to be any chance of progress being sustained?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, one of our objectives is to ensure that there is sustainable peace as well as sustainable development. The Government seek to promote international security in a variety of ways; for example, through our membership of organisations such as the UN and NATO, and also through our work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. We also promote security through our support for sustainable development, good governance and human rights. The interdepartmental working group has been an effective forum for promoting the Government's commitment to consistency of all policies affecting developing countries. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has had a series of bilateral meetings with her Cabinet colleagues, has addressed the Defence Select Committee, has given a speech at the Royal College of Defence Studies, and later this week will meet the chief of the defence staff to discuss issues of joint interest.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, in view of the outstanding achievement of the Armed Forces in the current emergency in Honduras, which I think everyone appreciates, will the Government report more fully on the role of the Armed Forces in international development, including long-term development?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that question. I shall report his request to the department.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, might not the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have added education to the list of elements that need to be brought together in ODA policy as being the element perhaps most of all that leads to long-term, sustainable development?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, development education is a key part of the strategy and the interdepartmental working group includes representatives from that department.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, do the Government intend to continue supplying large quantities of aid to African governments which are engaged in military adventures in the Congo, or will they seek to cut back on aid if those activities continue?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, the Government have pursued a foreign policy with an ethical dimension which spreads the values of human rights and democracy. We have been committed to that since we came into power. We have, among other things, taken the lead in establishing, for example, the International Criminal Court and the EU exports code of conduct. I hesitate to mention specific countries in answer to the noble Lord's question.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, has the interdepartmental committee given consideration to the strategic role of local government in promoting democracy and development at local level? What ongoing support is being provided by the Department for International Development for UK local government to enable it to undertake technical partnerships with local government partners in developing countries?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the role of local government is not a matter which has been specifically discussed at the interdepartmental group. However, my noble friend will be aware that partnership is a central part of the strategy in the White Paper. The Government are committed to raising awareness of development issues across the country. As part of that process local authorities and local authority associations have been involved in the development policy fora at both regional and national level.

In addition, the DfID is committed to developing country strategy papers with its partner countries and those are being discussed more widely both within the UK and within our partner countries. Country strategy papers examine, for example, the nature and potential of partnerships with local government, civil societies, other donors and the private sector.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, as the noble Baroness failed to answer my question in any respect, perhaps I should ask it again more bluntly: are we to continue subsidising war in the Congo?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I repeat that the Government have made it clear that their foreign and development policies do have an ethical dimension. It is inappropriate for me to comment on one country in particular.