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Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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If he will make a statement on aid to Cuba. [118380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

DFID does not have a bilateral programme in Cuba. There is a £120,000 small grants scheme, administered by the Foreign Office, which supports civil society projects. The EU currently provides $12 million of aid, and the Commission is reconsidering its engagement with Cuba, in the light of the human rights crisis there.

While much progress needs to be made in Cuba, not least in the field of human rights, the island has started on the road to reform. I do not condone recent events, but demonstrable progress has been made in the past 20 years. Would not that be built on by facilitating entry to Cotonou and by the development of a bilateral aid programme? Is it an instance in which the broad policy of aid for the poorest prevents us from helping a country that is making progress in development?

I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has done to promote relations between this country and Cuba. However, the issue—especially in relation to the EU—rests very much with Cuba itself. As he may know, it was Cuba that withdrew its application to join the African, Caribbean and Pacific group. We are currently supporting civil society, and the Cuba initiative deals with non-aid relations. It is for Cuba to deal with the human rights abuses and to reapply, perhaps at some future stage, to join the ACP group.

Would not the most important thing that we could do to help the people of Cuba be to use our newfound influence with the American Administration to persuade them to drop their trade and diplomatic embargo on that island—an embargo that should now be consigned to the dustbin of history? Would not that be the best way to ensure that the people of Cuba could look forward to the prosperity and stability that they so richly deserve?

If we are talking about aid from Europe, it is important that Cuba deals with the human rights abuses. A major project involving EU technical assistance is coming up on 26 June and, at present, the focus is very much on that. It would be a major step towards tackling some of the financial and banking issues on the island. One would hope that once the situation improved, the country could rejoin the international development community.

Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thank all those who cheered. Perhaps they will now be quiet.