HL Deb 28 June 2000 vol 614 cc894-6

2.51 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to co-ordinate United Kingdom interests at the third World Water Forum to be held in Japan in 2003.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the United Kingdom's interests for the second World Water Forum were coordinated through a cross-departmental group comprising the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Secretary of State for International Development led the delegation, which included representation from the private sector, civil society and professional associations. We plan to consult widely on co-ordination of United Kingdom interests for the 2003 forum.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, though it falls a long way short of what is needed. I hope she will agree that water is an exceptionally important industry throughout the world. At the World Water Forum, which took place in the Hague with 4,500 delegates, the British participants found each other by looking through the list of attendees. The French, German and Japanese delegations were all properly co-ordinated. Can the Minister assure us that we will immediately look for a lead agency in government to take this matter in hand so that British industry is properly represented at the Water Forum in 2003?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I made clear in my original Answer, we take co-ordination extremely seriously. We want to ensure that industry, civil society, the professional associations and government departments are represented on our delegation. At the Hague conference we wanted to ensure that the poverty and development focus was clear in terms of what was discussed at that forum. I agree that water is exceptionally important. We take our responsibilities in that area extremely seriously and will be coordinating at an early stage to get the best out of the 2003 forum.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, as one of the 4,500 delegates at the World Water Forum in the Hague, can I make a plea that when arrangements are being made for the third Water Forum, that the Office of Science and Technology be included among the departments so that British science, technology and engineering can be adequately represented?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. As I said in my original Answer, a cross-departmental working group attended the last forum. The actual delegation comprised the Department for International Development, the FCO and the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but other departments were consulted before we went to the forum. I entirely agree that we need to ensure that science has a clear role in our preparations for 2003.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, given that 40 per cent of the population do not have access to adequate sanitation, can my noble friend say what the Government are doing to address that aspect of the water problem?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made some progress in relation to access to safe water in that the numbers of people throughout the world who do not have such access has gone down to 1 billion. As my noble friend said, some 2.4 billion people—40 per cent of the world's population—do not have access to adequate sanitation. The Department for International Development is investing £50 million into a combination of water and sanitation projects. That figure will be increased to around £360 million in the coming years.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is it not unfortunate that, following the conference in March of this year referred to by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, the non-governmental organisations jointly issued a statement totally disagreeing with the ministerial statement? Does not that underline my noble friend's point that there should be proper co-ordination? Cannot the UK lead the way by bringing NGOs as well as other bodies into their co-ordination plans in readiness not only for the next world forum in 2003, but also for the next water conference in Germany in 2002?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that working in partnership not only with the NGOs but with business, with governments and with international financial institutions is a key part of the strategy of the Department for International Development. We worked closely with NGOs in preparing for the water forum. However, we live in a democracy and it is important that, where NGOs disagree with government, they have the right to say so. We have consultations with NGOs and others who are involved with development through our policy forums. That is to ensure that NGOs understand our agenda and, as far as possible, we understand theirs. It does not mean that the agendas will always be the same.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, given that an important and early beneficiary of public sector investments in water supply in developing countries is often the private sector, particularly the multinationals, does the Minister agree that the Government should place special emphasis in the forum on encouraging more private sector investment in water supply in developing countries, possibly through public-private partnerships?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, that is an approach which the department has taken extremely seriously.

We recognise the significant potential contribution of public-private partnerships to improve access to sustainable water and sanitation services for poor people. In fact, we have worked with other governments to access the potential contribution of the private sector. We have also worked with the World Bank and the government of Japan, and launched a public-private infrastructure advisory facility to assist developing countries to establish appropriate enabling environments for partnerships with the private sector.