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White Paper (Representations)

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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5.

What representations her Department has received in response to the White Paper on International Development in respect of its emphasis on poverty. [14111]

We had about 150 detailed written submissions from outside bodies in preparing the White Paper, many of which called for a focus on poverty elimination. Since its publication on 5 November, the White Paper has had an enthusiastic and positive reception, particularly for its commitment to work towards ending world poverty.

What mechanisms will the Department use to target investment from British companies on the poorest countries, and how will those targets benefit the poorest people in those countries?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We shall be working with our development partners to help poorer countries to create an enabling environment which will attract more investment. In particular, we shall work to reduce initial costs and the perceived risks of investments which support the aim of poverty elimination.

Does the Minister agree that it is very sad that a country as rich as ours cannot increase its proportion of aid to developing countries? I understand that the Department is to review and redirect funds over the next two years. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the review will be totally transparent and that the House will be told which countries and organisations are to be the winners and losers?

I am beginning to wonder whether the hon. Lady has read the White Paper. It commits the Government clearly to reversing the decline in money spent in development which occurred under the previous Government—a decline from 0.51 per cent. of total spending and rising when Labour left office to 0.27 per cent. and falling now.

We also intend to create a public-private partnership of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which will put hundreds of millions of extra pounds into the development programme. It is about time the hon. Lady recognised that, and congratulated the new Government on what we are doing.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that abject poverty can be created by sudden natural disaster? What has been his Department's response to the worsening crisis in southern Somalia as a result of flooding of the River Giuba, which has reportedly caused at least 150,000 people to be cast into total destitution over the past day or two in a situation of worsening anarchy?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question. As soon as I heard about the situation in southern Somalia, I discussed it with our officials, and we have made it absolutely clear—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also made it clear—that we shall make resources available through the international aid agencies working in Somalia. As soon as we get a request we shall consider it sympathetically. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support.

Will the Minister confirm that he is making all haste to allow the Commonwealth Development Corporation to access private financial sums to invest in ethical projects such as those that we have discussed? Can he give the House some idea of the time scale for the changes that he intends to bring about?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In fact, the purpose of the public-private partnership is to access more money to help poorer countries. It will, however, require legislation, which we hope can be introduced in the next Session. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indicating his willingness to serve on the Committee that twill examine that legislation.