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China: Aid

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 8 April 2010


Asked By

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK.

My Lords, including humanitarian aid allocated in response to the earthquake in Sichuan, which registered eight on the Richter scale, killed 70,000 people and left 300,000 people injured and millions homeless, DfID has spent on average £34.5 million per year over the past five years in China. In its report last March, the International Development Select Committee of the other place noted that DfID had used limited resources to maximum effect, building influential relationships and highly effective aid projects.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his Answer. I know that there was disaster relief, but a lot of aid is not disaster relief. If the Minister casts his eye around the world and sees the great and pressing need that there is, does he think it is right that we give such vast sums of money to a country that is in line to become the second largest economy in the world, and which was able to spend £20 billion entertaining us all so lavishly at the Olympics?

My Lords, what we seek to do through our international development aid budget is to eradicate poverty. We must not be dazzled by Shanghai and Pudong, although Pudong is dazzling in itself. Four hundred and fifty million Chinese citizens live on less than $2 a day, and 200 million on $1.25 a day or less. The UN has estimated that in 2007 251 million Chinese people had no access to safe drinking water. We are assisting the Government of China to improve their large programmes that deliver to poor people such basic services as primary education, prevention and treatment of AIDS, HIV and TB, water and sanitation and health sector reform.

My Lords, although many will welcome what the Minister said about the positive programmes for the relief of poverty in China, will he tell us what funding is currently being given by DfID to the UNFPA and the IPPF, which in turn give funds to the Chinese Population Association, not least in the light of the reports last week from Shandong province that newborn babies have been thrown into the river there as part of the one-child policy, and the continued imprisonment of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human rights activist, who was imprisoned for exposing the forced abortions for, and sterilisation of, women in China?

My Lords, I confess that I do not have the information about the amount in sterling or dollars that we have given to the organisations that the noble Lord named. I shall seek that information and write to him. Of course we raise the issue of human rights with the Government of China. There is a review of system twice a year where we discuss these things. We raise them on the basis of what we understand and of what the interested parties, the families and others, want us to raise. On several prominent occasions, including the one referred to by the noble Lord, we have raised these issues with the Government of China and sought to ensure that they will adopt a more enlightened policy on these issues in future.

My Lords, is it not one thing potentially to consider stopping aid to China and quite another to consider reducing the aid budget, given that it is a very small proportion of what we spend? Given that only 4 per cent of Tory MPs back the Government’s public policy of ring-fencing international development, how confident is the Minister that, if the Conservatives were elected, that would be delivered?

The picture that the noble Baroness paints is not one that I would look upon with any degree of comfort or sympathy. However, I take great comfort and sympathy from the latest polls, which suggest that there will not be a Conservative Government.

My Lords, of course the Minister is right that there are pockets of real poverty and deprivation in China—that is indisputable. However, is it right that in the past five years we have spent more than £170 million in China when the primary responsibility for dealing with that poverty should be with the Chinese Government, who are now presiding over a huge and growing economy and an enormous sovereign wealth fund, and who are such a strong competitor to our own companies doing business abroad? The noble Baroness has raised a very important question about the way in which we are prioritising our aid at the moment. I should not have thought that, given its enormous and growing wealth, China could by any standards resile from its responsibility for dealing with its own poverty.

I understand, although I do not necessarily accept, all that my noble friend says. It has to be appreciated that we are assisting China in dealing with its problems relating to poverty. For example, we have brought it into contact with the National Health Service in terms of national health reform in China, particularly clinical assistance, and we have done the same in relation to agriculture. Whether we like it or not, China is a major player on the world stage and will remain so. It is not the only country in that position—India and Brazil will be too—and it is in our interests to have good, strong, ongoing relations with that country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, this is only a very small part of our aid budget, and it will be reviewed at the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2011. A review of our relationship with China across the whole area will take place before the CSR, and no doubt the points that my noble friend has made will be taken into account in that.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister agrees that we all want to alleviate the stresses of poverty, wherever it may be found. Does he agree that our international development aid—that is, British taxpayers’ money—should be directed to the poorest in the world? We heard from my noble friend Lady Morris that China spent more than £20 billion on the Beijing Olympics; it spent several billions on its ambitious space programme; it has its own aid programme, too; and it is sitting on exchange reserves of more than £2 trillion. Can the Minister explain the workings of the present system that is used to calculate this aid, resulting in British taxpayers giving more than £40 million a year to China?

My Lords, the development of a country plan is the DfID mode of dealing with activities in a country. The last one for China was developed in 2006 and it comes to an end in 2011. As I said, a review will take place at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Also, in praising DfID’s endeavours in China, the Select Committee on International Development in another place said that there should be a continuing, smaller programme until 2015. Therefore, not everyone seems to see China in the way that some noble Lords do. It must be remembered that ultimately we are seeking to achieve the MDGs, which are about halving poverty by 2015. China has brought 476 million people out of poverty in the past 20 years, and that is assisted by what we do in that country. It is not about helping the Chinese Government; it is about helping poor Chinese people.