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World Bank

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will seek the removal of the managing director of the World Bank following reported attempts to delete references to contraception from the bank’s Madagascar country assistance programme.

My Lords, no. President Wolfowitz confirmed at the bank’s spring meetings that improving reproductive health is absolutely crucial to development and will remain an integral part of the bank’s new health strategy. We emphasise the great importance that the United Kingdom attaches to reproductive health, including family planning, and to the bank’s support for this in its country assistance strategies. We will continue to press the bank on the critical issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

My Lords, has the Minister seen reports of the leaked e-mails from the World Bank official alleging that, on the orders of the managing director, Mr Daboub, all references to family planning were deleted from the Madagascar country assistance programme? Has she seen reports in the newspapers that other programmes in the region have been tampered with and that the World Bank’s strategic programme, which was presented at a meeting last weekend, has been watered down as regards family planning and contraception?

My Lords, we have seen those reports and have been lobbied by a number of our NGOs on this matter. That is precisely why the issue was raised with Mr Daboub himself, not only by the Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development but also by my colleague Hilary Benn when he attended the spring meetings last weekend. We were assured that sexual and reproductive health remains a key plank in the bank’s strategy. We will of course continue to ensure that that remains the case.

My Lords, the Question specifically mentioned Madagascar. Am I right in thinking that our embassy there is closing, or has closed? If so, who is representing our interests?

My Lords, if I remember rightly, Madagascar is now being covered by our high commission in Mauritius with a local office in Madagascar.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in asking this Question. I speak as chair of the All-Party Group on Madagascar. On a recent delegation, we were very impressed by the Madagascar action plan, which includes the provision that the fertility rate—the number of children per family—is, according to the plan, falling from 5.4 as of 2005 to between three and four in 2012. Given that such reductions are absolutely indispensable to give a country such as Madagascar any chance of meeting the millennium development goals, would my noble friend note that the Madagascar action plan is very welcome and needs all the international support that can be given to it? The signs that the World Bank is not giving full support are very regrettable, and I hope that the Government will reinforce the message that Hilary Benn and others have given to the World Bank.

My Lords, the Madagascar country assistance plan was approved by the World Bank board on 3 April. It has two pillars: the first is to promote investment and growth in rural and urban areas and the second is to improve access and quality of services, including health. The plan states that, in relation to health, the strategy will help the Government to make further progress on reducing child and maternal mortality by offering access to reproductive services, reducing child malnutrition, improving the availability of clean water and sanitation services, and so on.

My Lords, the World Bank and the IMF are institutions that were founded over 50 years ago and were suitable for the landscape in the world at that time. Today there are serious concerns about the appropriateness of the World Bank and the IMF, let alone the president of the World Bank’s partner’s salary. What are the Government doing to initiate and encourage urgently needed reform of the World Bank and the IMF to make them appropriate for today’s world?

My Lords, the noble Lord may know that we have been at the forefront in pushing for reform at the World Bank and the IMF. He may wish to look at the speech given by my right honourable friend Hilary Benn on 12 April. He talked about the three major issues that need to frame the World Bank’s long-term strategy. He said that it needed to look at its structure, how it helped its members and how it would tackle issues regarding climate change and natural resource depletion.

My Lords, I hope that all noble Lords, and indeed the Minister, have read the report, Return of the Population Growth Factor, by the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. It states clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea, said, that we shall not achieve millennium development goals unless we meet the family planning need all over the world.

My Lords, it is extremely worrying, therefore, that the Minister has not really answered this question. Is she not concerned that people in the World Bank are using religious reasons to cut programmes, just as the American Government have done with UNFPA programmes? It is a very serious matter. What representations on this issue will she make to those people?

My Lords, I can represent the facts, which are as follows. In a World Bank statement on 15 April, the managing director who is under discussion this afternoon said that he recognised,

“that he is the managing director of an institution that implements policies approved by an international board of executive directors, and that his job is to execute those policies, independently of what his personal views on any particular issue may be”.

We raised the issue with the president of the World Bank, and he has assured my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that these issues remain central to the work of the bank. We will continue to monitor that. The noble Baroness should be well aware of this Government’s commitment to those issues and to meeting the target on reproductive health by 2015. We have put considerable resources into this issue. I cannot deal with speculation in the newspapers; my job is to deal with the facts as they stand.

My Lords, Madagascar has so far escaped the worst of the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, but the figures show that sufferers are disproportionately female: there are three times as many young female sufferers as male sufferers. In such a situation, does the Minister agree that contraception and family planning have a vital role to play in combating the disease?

Yes, my Lords, I do. I also think that putting gender equality issues at the centre of the development agenda in Madagascar is critical.