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Philippines (Aid)

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. David Hunt.]

12.7 am

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Overseas Development on his appointment, as I understand that this is the first occasion upon which he will be addressing the House on aid matters. From my brief experience in the House, I know that he will find the debates on Third world matters more agreeable than his previous experience on other matters might have been.

I feel that it is right that we should have this debate not only to discuss the important matter of Mindanao but to deal with the wider implications of Government policy on aid, and particularly to the Philippines.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor on recent events, but some of us were slightly surprised that the announcement about Mindanao took place on 5 January, during the recess, after we had had two fairly important debates on the Third world when hon. Members might have expected an announcement of that kind. I questioned the Prime Minister on that subject on 2 December. Her reply implied that the announcement would be made soon. Because of the great interest in the matter on both sides of the House, expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) and Harlow (Mr. Newens) and by the hon. Members for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram), who made powerful speeches on the subject, I thought that a statement would have been made while the House was sitting.

The press statement that was made contained these words:
"the Minister for Overseas Development has agreed that the Commonwealth Development Corporation should participate in an oil palm project in the Philippines being undertaken by National Development Company of the Philippines—Guthrie Plantations Incorporated, to which CDC will be lending £6·4 million."
That was an important statement. The statement as it stood, while endeavouring to meet some of the criticisms that have been made and some of the serious views on both sides of the House, was in some respects a little naive. For example, it said:
"NGPI have invited CDC to station a representative in the area to monitor these provisions on a continuing basis, and also to nominate a CDC director to their Board."
I should like to ask some questions about that appointment. Running through the statement is the suggestion that we should have greater reliance on the endeavours of the Filipinos in those matters than I feel recent history entitles us to have. The statement also said:
"The NDC have given an assurance that the service has no connection now nor will have in the future with The Lost Command or its leader, Colonel Lademora."
There has been no evidence, much as we would wish to see it, that the Government's position is so strong as to encourage that assertion to be made. Whereas all hon. Members have the highest regard for the CDC and wish it well in its endeavours, and although it has the good will of the House, we must urge upon it constant vigilance when dealing with the people who will be involved in the project.

That is why I should like to ask the Minister about the specific responsibilities of the person who is to monitor the provision. Will that person be the manager of another plantation? If so, that is some distance away from the point where one would expect managerial involvement on a day-to-day basis in view of the serious nature of the commitment. I should like to hear the Minister's statement on that matter.

The statement also contains these words:
"The drawdown of the CDC loan after June 1983 will be conditional upon CDC being satisfied with implementation of the new security arrangements."
I wonder what measure the Minister sets for satisfaction and who, for example, will decide how effective or acceptable the implementation is. What will be the general guidelines? I should like to have more information on that point, as would many people who are deeply interested in the matter. There are those who, while encouraging the CDC, have great reservations about how the Government attempt to approach all the problems.

There are and ought to be serious Government responsibilities. The Government cannot shut out all of these responsibilities and leave them with the CDC, particularly in view of the delicate situation in the Philippines.

Amnesty International, which has a splendid record in these matters, made a comment which should be repeated. I ask the Minister to note its views:
"Amnesty's investigation of the activities of the Lost Command suggest that this pars-military group has considerable entrenched power in the area in which the CDC assisted project will operate … The Lost Command is almost certain to attempt to assert that influence with regard to a project as economically important as this one."
It is for that reason that I believe the House will wish to have the maximum possible surveillance of these matters and to discuss the progress or otherwise that has been made from time to time.

I end with some general remarks. The standing of Great Britain, the basis of our commitment to human rights and our attitude to developing countries may be judged by how well these matters progress. It ought to be made clear that, whatever our views on aid, we cannot accept the abuse of human rights which has been taking place in the Philippines under President Marcos.

Martial law was imposed 11 years ago. Two years ago we were told that it had ended. This, in my view, represented nothing other than the kind of public relations excercised by President Marcos and his regime to which most of us have now become accustomed and which ought not to be taken too seriously.

Despite seven decades of parliamentary government in the Philippines, it is a sad fact that the state of affairs described so eloquently in the recent report by the Amnesty International mission to the Republic of the Philippines does exist.

There is a responsibility on the House to assert its views on these matters; to resist the denial of human rights in the Philippines and attacks on trade unions to the extent that an old man of 79 is still in prison because of his trade unions views; to express its repugnance at attacks on the Church; to recognise that the Church is endeavouring to express the views of the people it seeks to serve and to represent; to resist the militarism of the Philippines; and particularly to express itself very clearly on the so-called "salvaging policy" of people being murdered and disappearing without explanation. There are tortures in prison, and so on. I am sure that all of this is totally unacceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I have said this in the knowledge that we wish the CDC well and wish it success in its endeavours. Many people remember with gratitude the ideas that CDC seeks to expound. They were first expressed by Creech Jones. Those ideas are still relevant today. Nevertheless, we must be extremely careful that our policies on aid and development are not taken to mean that as a nation or as a House we are propping up regimes whose attitudes to the basic fundamental rights in which we believe are totally unacceptable. It was Edmund Burke who said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing. The importance of this debate is that even by discussing these matters, the House is saying that in the light of the appalling record of the Government of the Philippines, we at least can be seen to be doing something.

12.20 am

Does the right hon. Gentleman have the agreement of the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke) to intervene in his Adjournment debate?

I am sorely tempted to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke), thereby relieving my right hon. Friend of that task. However, I shall not do so, as it is not up to me. As I was the Minister who took the decision to allow the CDC to go ahead with this project, I thought that I should just say that it was my decision.

I heard the evidence from the various voluntary agencies concerned with this matter. We heard a lot about it in the debate in the House. I recognise people's feelings, particularly about the Lost Command. I took all those considerations into account, but I had to decide "Yes" or "No". It was no good hanging fire.

I am sorry that the decision was announced during the recess, but had Parliament not had such a long recess it would have been announced during our first week back. On balance, I took the decision that on the whole the record of the CDC is so good that it would be of benefit to the poor in that area to have the CDC there. That is why I took the decision, and that is all that I wish to say.

12.22 am

I thank the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke) for his kind words about my appointment to this job. I am very much aware of the responsibilities that I have inherited.

This is clearly a significant subject. I am conscious of what and whom I have to follow. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir N. Marten) commands enormous respect in the House and outside, and has done so for many years. He put in a nutshell what I shall say, and I am tempted to sit down, but on my first appearance at the Dispatch Box in this new role that might be thought to be a somewhat cursory approach. I shall therefore try to set out the considerations that have guided our approach. I reinforce what my right hon. Friend has said. The decisions were his, but they seem to me to be exactly right.

The subject of this debate is British policy on aid to the Philippines, and hon. Members will know that most British bilateral aid is directed towards the poorest developing countries and to members of the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend is particularly associated with the cause of the Commonwealth.

Although in neither category, we recognise that the Philippines is a member of ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations—a group whose objectives we generally support, and which is playing an increasingly important role in the affairs of South-East Asia and the Pacific. Our aid involvement in the Philippines is, however, very small compared with that of say, Japan or the United States, Belgium, Germany and Australia. It is roughly on a par with countries such as France and the Netherlands.

We have a small technical co-operation programme, costing about £150,000 a year. This is almost entirely devoted to meeting the cost of training Filipinos, mainly from the public sector in this country. Our funds cover the cost of about 16 new training awards each year.

We are also giving support, under the joint funding scheme, to British voluntary agencies working with local groups on small-scale projects in the Philippines. Such support will be in excess of £240,000 over the period 1981 to 1984. In addition, some 18 volunteers are recruited by Voluntary Service Overseas, which, of course, operates entirely independently of the Government, although it is in receipt of substantial funds from my Department.

When suitable opportunities have arisen, we have made allocations—there have been two to date—from the aid and trade provision in support of British firms competing for sound development of projects. Finally, there are the activities of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, on which the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie has touched.

In addition, the Philippines receives assistance through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Community, and the various specialised agencies of the United Nations, to which the United Kingdom is a substantial donor. Nevertheless, our share of the total aid provided from all international and bilateral sources to the Philippines is less than 2 per cent. of the total.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, however, has expressed particular anxiety about human rights in general in the Philippines. Although this is not relevant to British aid policy towards the Philippines except in the most general terms, let me first make it clear that the Government deplore all abuses of human rights, whether in the Philippines or anywhere else. The Philippine Government are well aware of our views. We were encouraged by their decision to lift martial law in January 1981, after nine years, throughout most of the country.

I would not wish to pretend that we regard the treatment of human rights there as beyond reproach. It is not. But there are infringements of human rights in many countries; and these issues are all too often closely associated in particular with developing countries.

The Commonwealth Development Corporation's proposed investment in Mindanao brings into sharp focus the conflicting factors which we have to weigh up in many of our relationships with developing countries. It is fair to say, though, that observers of the CDC's involvement in this project would readily admit that they have been able to gather information with surprisingly little difficulty, even though much of it has been critical of the policy of the Philippines Government and of the behaviour of its security forces.

I think the facts of CDC's involvement in this plantation project are well known to hon. Members. I shall briefly run over the background.

Last summer CDC sought approval for a loan of up to £6·5 million to a company, NGPI, formed by the National Development Company of the Philippines and Guthries to develop an oil palm estate in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. A parallel loan of the same amount would be made by the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank.

It was at this stage, last August, that the Catholic Institute for International Relations drew to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the CDC the fact that NGPI was employing members of a paramilitary organisation known as the Lost Command as its security force. This organisation is engaged in anti-guerilla operations but, it is alleged, has committed serious violations of human rights, including murder and extortion, in the province of Agusan del Sur in which the NGPI project is located. CIIR asked that CDC should withdraw from any projects in which the National Development Company was involved until the Lost Command was removed from the area.

Following these representations, arrangements were made by the general manager and other officials of CDC to visit the Philippines to look into these allegations and review the position on the spot. This they did in the latter part of October.

During his visit, the general manager of CDC succeeded in negotiating a number of undertakings about security arrangements with the Philippine authorities. The board of CDC subsequently sought approval from my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury to proceed with the project with these new safeguards. He decided that before reaching a decision it would be right for him to discuss the matter fully and openly with a number of right hon. and hon. Members who had expressed concern, the voluntary agencies which had made representations and the CDC.

A meeting was held on 29 November; and in the light of it, as my right hon. Friend reported to the House on 7 December, he asked the CDC to seek to secure adequate safeguards concerning the new security arrangements and the observation of fair employment practices, as well as the association of peasant farmers with later stages of the project.

The CDC held further discussions in the Philippines in December. As a result, the CDC received from the National Development Company and NGPI their agreement to provide a number of contractual undertakings and assurances and my right hon. Friend, therefore gave his approval to the CDC lending £6·4 million to the project.

The contractual undertakings that the National Development Company and NGPI have agreed to give cover two areas. A new security force for the estate will be provided by the National Development Company to replace the existing force. It is now being raised and trained and will be available to NGPI by the end of June 1983 at the latest. It will form part of a new security service, which is being set up by the National Development Company to serve all its subsidiary companies and it will be responsible for the protection of the estate's employees and its property and assets.

NGPI has also undertaken to take all practicable measures to protect its employees against harassment; to provide suitable medical and educational facilities and, where appropriate, housing; and to continue to pay employees at rates complying with the requirements of Philippine law and comparable with rates payable on similar estates in the region. CDC will have the right to withhold loan disbursements after 30 June 1983 if these provisiona are not observed to its satisfaction or at any time after that date while any part of the loan remains undisbursed.

In addition, the National Development Company has assured CDC that the new security service has no connection now, nor will there be in the future, with the Lost Command or its leader, Colonel Lademora. Pending the replacement of the existing security force, a detachment of the Philippines constabulary has been established in the middle of the project area to ensure that there is no disruption during the transitional period.

The CDC board has given assurances that, in its judgment, it feels that the measures taken to replace the Lost Command are likely to be effective. I am confident that the main point originally made by CIIR and Amnesty International has therefore been met. I realise that they might have wished the disbandment of the Lost Command to be achieved, but I do not believe, in all honesty, that this is properly a matter for the British Government or for CDC.

The National Development Company and NGPI have also assured CDC that they intend to provide for significant participation by peasant farmers, if they so wish, in later stages of the project. They have invited CDC to station a representative in the area to monitor these undertakings. He will be the CDC development manager resident nearby in the same province, who is engaged in investigating and preparing a separate CDC project and who will be able to visit the NGPI project frequently. CDC, as the House knows, has also been invited to nominate a director to the board. This will be CDC's regional controller in south-east Asia. It really should be possible for CDC to exercise a close supervision of what is going on in the scheme.

I believe that the undertakings and assurances that have been secured since CIIR first raised the matter are significant and valuable concessions, representing a real attempt to meet the criticisms that have been made. They should enable CDC to ensure that the project is carried out to the standards that it would normally expect elsewhere in the world. The project is providing nearly 2,000 jobs in an area where there are virtually no other employment opportunities.

CDC's experience with similar developments in neighbouring countries is that the secondary development effects are quick to spread to local villages and townships. Above all, however, a substantial demand has manifested itself from small farmers who wish to become associated with the scheme as outgrowers and thus be given access to growing a remunerative cash crop. I accept the need for vigilance, but I trust that the undertakings and assurances which I have outlined will permit the security and success of the project, which I believe can bring real benefits to the people in a poor and seriously undeveloped part of Mindanao.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to One o'clock.