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Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

Our budget for assistance to Vietnam this year is £50 million, which includes support for improvements in basic education, preventing the spread of AIDS, supporting economic development and strengthening governance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently signed a 10-year development partnership agreement with the Government of Vietnam, and committed some £250 million in aid to Vietnam over the next five years.

That is a very significant sum, which acknowledges Vietnam’s achievements in addressing key issues and lifting 30 million people out of poverty. It also addresses the challenges of dealing with corruption, of accountability and of governance. But what measures are being taken to minimise the overheads involved in that large sum, not least in the DFID administration and in the Vietnamese Government, so that the amount of assistance going to ordinary people is maximised and the costs are minimised?

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the achievements of Vietnam. Economic growth has averaged about 7 per cent. in recent years, and since 1993 the Vietnamese Government have reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty from nearly 60 per cent. to just under 20 per cent. Those are considerable achievements, and I hope that the aid we have committed—to which my hon. Friend rightly referred—will help to lower the figure even further.

I can reassure my hon. Friend about administration costs. Ours amount to less than 3 per cent. of our programmed funds, and we expect them to fall further over the next 12 months as we make a number of staffing changes and review the way in which various back-office functions are provided.

The Minister will be aware that the Vietnamese Government have been responsible for a campaign of censorship that has seen the internet filtered and two newspapers closed down. He will also be aware that the Vietnamese Government are conducting a campaign against the Montagnard people of the central highlands, and that they are responsible for a campaign of harassment and detention of pro-democracy activists. What are this Government doing to ensure that the Hanoi regime respects the human rights of its people?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we still have key human rights concerns in the context of our discussions with the Government of Vietnam. I shall deal with the specific concerns that he has raised in a second, but I hope he will acknowledge that there have been significant improvements in human rights in recent years. Freedom of religion is an example: more churches are being built. There is also more reporting on corruption and on political affairs more generally, and there is more transparency in the way in which the Government operate, which includes more democracy at local level and more non-party candidates standing for election.

I accept that the Vietnamese Government have more to do in terms of human rights. The ever-present security apparatus keeps too effective a lid on dissent. As part of the development partnership agreement signed by my right hon. Friend, we intend to continue to raise our continuing and legitimate concerns about human rights with the Government of Vietnam.