Skip to main content

Human Rights

Volume 180: debated on Monday 12 November 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


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.