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Overseas Development

Volume 180: debated on Monday 12 November 1990

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Saw Mill Projects


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what help is given to transportable saw mill projects.

We are supporting a project promoting the properly managed use of portable saw mills in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon islands and Vanuatu. We are ready to consider other projects provided that the International Institute for Environment and Development review of the project is positive.

In addition to encouraging the turning of wood on islands into construction timber, which is of great advantage to the local people, will my right hon. Friend try to find ways of promoting ecological trading in planks from fine timber so that, instead of mass clearances which do no good to local people, we can have sustainable development in wood? The use of portable saw mills would allow that to happen rather than all the wood having to be dragged away in the form of trees.

One of the useful aspects of the walkabout saw mill project is the training that it provides in marketing, rotational felling in woods and environmental awareness which will prevent the very results that my hon. Friend fears. With the benefit of training, indigenous peoples will find that the projects are not only environmentally sound but avoid the need for mass felling, road building through forest areas, heavy extraction plant and everything that we dislike about large-scale wood felling.

Human Rights


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he has to link United Kingdom overseas aid to human rights observance.

The observance of human rights is an important factor which the Government take into account in allocating aid to developing countries.

Does the Minister accept that that reply will be extremely disappointing to many British people who fail to understand why British overseas aid should not be directly linked to human rights observance? Does she understand that there is great concern about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the Punjab, Kashmir and many other places? Will she urgently consider adopting the suggestions being made in America and elsewhere that aid should be linked with human rights?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am already doing what he asks. The Government take the human rights record of aid recipients very seriously, but there are many other factors which we must consider at the same time, including a nation's poverty, the state of its environment and its population and health problems. One cannot consider human rights in isolation, but we never fail to consider them in making a decision.

Is not it absolutely right and extremely important that a country's human rights observance should be a fundamental part of any development aid awarded by this Government? Will my right hon. Friend give us some examples of where the human rights record has played a fundamental part in the award of aid?

It is easier to say where, sadly, we have had to take action because the human rights record was so bad. In that respect I can name Somalia, Burma and Sudan. However, it is also important that we try not to hurt the ordinary people who are very vulnerable. That is why we often maintain humanitarian aid through non-governmental organisations and perhaps the United Nations when we cannot possibly continue to give Government-to-Government aid to countries where human rights are not respected.

With regard to the question by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), will the Minister make representations to the new Government of India in relation to human rights violations in the Punjab? We are aware that the Punjab is a small part of the area covered by the Indian programme, but, as it is the largest programme in the Government's overseas development effort, it would be appropriate for strong representations to be made as a matter of urgency given the allegations—which have been supported—of regular human rights violations.

We are extremely disturbed by the recent communal violence. It is too early to comment on whether the new Government will get to grips with the problem, but obviously we believe that they should. I hope that we will enjoy the same close relationship with the new Government so that we can talk frankly and help the Indian Government to bring about peace in those areas and a respect for human rights which is so essential.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what humanitarian aid has been provided for Cambodians over the past two years; and what plans he has for further provision of such aid.

In the past 18 months, the ODA has committed £565,000 supporting 12 NGO projects. A number of other NGO project proposals is being considered. We have also allocated £1·25 million for programmes carried out by the United Nations childrens fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation. In addition, up to £100,000 will be spent through British NGOs to help civil war displaced persons. Cambodia's humanitarian assistance needs are monitored regularly.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is a very encouraging answer? While a resolution to the political situation in Cambodia is unfortunately taking time, the Government appear to be getting on with humanitarian aid through the NGOs which is generous, highly effective and shows no sign of diminishing.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. However, we are not just involved in humanitarian aid. The friends of the co-chairmen's working group met at the weekend in Jakarta. We are working together with the permanent five under the chairmanship of the Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and we are doing all that we can to bring about a meeting at which the co-chairmen can bring the Supreme National Council together. Until there is a peaceful solution in Cambodia, no matter how much money we put in or how much help we provide through the NGOs, we will not be able to bring peace to the people.

Why does the Minister come here month after month offering limp and petty excuses for denying proper developmental aid to one of the poorest countries in the world? Does the Minister realise that the United Nations General Assembly resolution on Cambodia, which was passed in October without dissent, calls on donor countries to provide resources for the economic and social reconstruction of Cambodia? When do the Government propose to implement that resolution which they signed and voted for?

As usual, the hon. Lady goes wide of the aid brief. However, we have always believed that the United Nations had to have a central role in restoring peace and stability to Cambodia. We have also given the humanitarian aid that we can put in. We now want to ensure that the co-ordinating committee in Paris thrashes out the details for a settlement. As soon as that is done, we shall be able to follow through on giving more help and aid to Cambodia which it needs for reconstruction.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on Britain's environmental aid to Brazil following the recent visit of the Minister for Overseas Development.

During my three-day visit I signed agreements for two new environmental co-operation projects. I saw some of the serious urban environmental problems of Recife and Olinda in the north-east, where Britain provides technical co-operation. I opened the Anglo-Brazilian environmental conference, supported by ICI, on the theme of "Ecological Restoration for Forest Conservation" and I discussed environmental matters with Brazilian Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that her visit was particularly welcome as it highlights the importance given in this country to the question of tropical forests? What progress has been made under the memorandum of understanding with the Brazilian Government? Can my right hon. Friend mention any projects that are being developed under the agreements?

Following the memorandum of understanding that was signed last year, our programme is making good progress. We have already agreed four projects at a cost of £4·6 million: the Institute of Hydrology climate research project; the Caxiuana research station; the Recife environmental control project; and aromatic plant development. We expect to approve shortly a further four projects, costing another £4 million. We are discussing a number of other proposals with the Brazilian authorities. One of the other major steps forward is to get our forestry adviser based permanently in Brasilia to monitor what is going on there on the ground.

What part are we to play in Project North-East in relation to the drylands?

That was precisely one of the subjects on which, when I came back from the north-east, I asked for more information and work. I discussed the matter with Mr. Lutzemberger and with Mr. Goldenberg. I hope that there may be work that we can do with the Brazilian Government, and indeed with governments of local states there, to try to bring some solutions to those very dry lands.