HL Deb 28 April 2004 vol 660 cc772-4

2.45 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they will assist the new South African Government in reducing acute poverty and high unemployment.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, despite progress since 1994, around 11 per cent of South Africans still live on less than one dollar a day. More than 5 million are infected with HIV and almost 40 per cent are unemployed. The Department for International Development will spend around £30 million this year on programmes to help South Africa to tackle these problems. These include support to improve the quality of education, and help to create secure livelihoods and employment and to tackle HIV/AIDS.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am sure that she would agree that successful programmes such as the Black Economic Empowerment programme have rightly contributed to the ANC's increased majority in the South African elections. However, when it comes to the rural areas, does she accept that the present policy of land privatisation is doing nothing to help the very poor and the landless—who, as she says, are contributing to the 40 per cent unemployment in urban areas? Cannot our DfID, with all its expertise, give advice which I am sure would be welcome to the ANC on this subject?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the Black Economic Empowerment programme in South Africa has contributed a great deal. On land privatisation, he will know that the Government of South Africa are committed to a fair, legal and transparent land reform process. Good policies are in place, but progress has been extremely slow. DfID has proposed support for the Department of Land Affairs which includes helping it to resolve some of the longstanding land claims of labour tenants on commercial farms, many of whom are in Kwazulu-Natal. We are at a very early stage of discussion with the South African Government on that issue.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, following the noble Earl's question about land reform, are Her Majesty's Government concerned at the emergence of a pressure group, the Landless People's Movement, which is threatening farm invasions if more progress on land reform is not made quickly?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the South African Government themselves are concerned about this issue. I understand that many of the claims relating to urban areas have been settled and that the problem relates to rural areas. As I said in my previous answer, good policies are in place, but progress has been extremely slow. We would like to work with the South African Government on this issue, using some of our technical expertise.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords—

Baroness Northover

My Lords—

Noble Lords

This side!

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I should not really need to adjudicate; there is plenty of time. We have heard neither from the Labour Benches nor from the Liberal Democrat Benches, so we can do it in neat order.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, in congratulating the African National Congress on its magnificent election victory, is my noble friend aware of its pledge to redistribute 30 per cent of agricultural land by 2014, combined with comprehensive assistance to emergent farmers? Can she say what discussions will take place between our Government and the South African Government on the technical and practical assistance we can offer to produce this very worthwhile redistribution?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The ANC's original election pledge was to transfer ownership of 30 per cent of agricultural land within 15 years, which would have taken it to 2009. However, the deadline has recently been put back to 2015. We are concerned that, at the current rate of progress, the South African Government are unlikely to meet even that delayed target. That is why we have offered our support on land issues. That support is still at the design stage. We are in discussions with the South African Government, particularly the Department of Land Affairs, about ways in which we can help them to resolve some of those long-standing issues.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I echo what the veteran campaigner, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said in welcoming the results of the election. We on these Benches express our congratulations to the South African people on their successful transition from apartheid to democracy. However, does the noble Baroness share my worry—she clearly does—that, over the same decade, the AIDS pandemic has taken hold of South Africa so that the incidence of HIV among young people has increased from I per cent to 20 per cent? Can she tell us more about what DfID is doing to help South Africa in this crisis, what proposals the department favours for the support of the increasing numbers of AIDS orphans, and when it will publish its strategy for HIV/AIDS?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady North over, in congratulating the people of South Africa, particularly on holding peaceful, free and fair elections.

On the issue of HIV/AIDS, last year the Government of South Africa announced a comprehensive plan for the care and treatment of those infected, including access to anti-retroviral therapy. The noble Baroness will know that that was an issue of some controversy within South Africa. We are supporting that programme as part of a £30 million commitment agreed last year to help South Africa to tackle HIV/AIDS. Indeed, I myself visited one of the projects in Johannesburg when I visited South Africa last year.

DfID's own HIV/AIDS strategy has been the subject of consultation and discussion with a number of community organisations. I shall write to the noble Baroness, if I may, when I have a much clearer idea of the publication date.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, will the Minister elaborate on what role Her Majesty's Government are playing with the World Trade Organisation to assist in the removal of trade barriers, in particular the agricultural subsidies that are having such a crippling effect on African exports and obviously have a knock-on effect on poverty and unemployment? When Her Majesty's Government take up the chairmanship of the G8 summit and the presidency of the European Union next year, what role will they play in ensuring that African development issues such as poverty and unemployment are put back on the central stage of the agenda of the industrialised nations?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, on the issue of trade barriers, as the noble Lord will know, we have worked tirelessly within the European Union, and within the WTO more broadly, to ensure that this trade round is a development round. We were not successful at Cancun; for a number of different reasons, those trade talks broke down without agreement. We are back trying to talk with our development partners and our developed countries partners on these issues. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was recently in Brussels, negotiating further with our European counterparts on some of those issues. Related negotiations on issues such as sugar are ongoing. So we remain committed to removing trade barriers and breaking down agricultural subsidies—although I have to say that it is not easy.

As the noble Lord will know, Africa is one of the priorities that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set for our G8 chairmanship. In addition, my right honourable friend has established the Africa Commission.