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Debt Cancellation

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 15 June 2006

8. What recent assessment he has made of progress on cancellation of the debt of the world’s poorest countries. (77549)

At their spring meeting, the World Bank governors confirmed the 100 per cent. debt cancellation for heavily indebted poor countries, matching the debt relief that the International Monetary Fund has been providing since January. World Bank debt cancellation will be implemented on 1 July, the first day of its financial year. Debt relief is already making a difference in Zambia, for example, where the Government are using the proceeds of debt relief to abolish health fees for rural populations.

How will my hon. Friend ensure that the funds released to the poorest countries through debt cancellation will be used for basic services to achieve the millennium development goals, particularly reproductive health services for HIV prevention, the reduction of child and maternal mortality and gender empowerment?

My hon. Friend is right to press us on those issues. She has considerable expertise and a fine record of campaigning on those issues over many years. She has mentioned reproductive health, and she knows that unprotected sex is the most common cause of HIV/AIDS infection, which currently affects millions in developing countries, including 2 million children around the world. Worldwide, less than one in five people have access to HIV prevention services. Last year, DFID spent £242.9 million on improving maternal health services and reproductive health services, but, as I have highlighted in the case of Zambia, releasing resources for investment in preventive health care is the particular focus of discussions. We must do everything that we can to fight the scourge of AIDS around the world.

The Chancellor has highlighted the importance of trade as well as of debt cancellation as a means of lifting people out of poverty. The Government know that a good result from the Doha round will lift more people out of poverty and improve the economies of particular countries. When did the Chancellor last meet Peter Mandelson face to face to put that case?

We are in regular touch with commissioners on all those issues. The successful completion of the round is extremely important. Although we made progress at the end of last year, the situation is still disappointing. The hon. Gentleman is right to press for further action, and we will not lower our ambitions. In particular, agriculture is key—we need an ambitious outcome to the round, which means an ambitious outcome on agriculture. We will continue to press commissioners and Trade Ministers around the world to get an outcome as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating organisations such as Jubilee 2000 on their work over many years in highlighting the need to cancel debt in the poorest countries of the world? Does he agree that that type of people power can be incredibly effective both at home and abroad? Will he therefore update the House—

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Make Poverty History was a truly brilliant campaign—it was probably the most successful political campaign that I have ever seen in terms of mobilising, in particular, young people to support international social justice. There has also been some fine campaigning by hon. Members. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) is promoting a private Member’s Bill that has Government support tomorrow. The Bill will make sure that we continue to make progress on the millennium development goals, and I urge all hon. Members to be here tomorrow to support it.