HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 cc1034-5
9. Ms Church

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans his Department is making in preparation for the world summit on social development in Copenhagen in March; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry)

With colleagues from other Departments, we have attended the four preparatory meetings held in New York over the past year.

The Government are committed to achieving a successful summit. Our principal priority is to improve the focus of the international debate about the issues of development.

Ms Church

I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he accept, however, that a number of charities—including Oxfam—believe that the Government are not taking the summit seriously enough? In view of the Rowntree report on the growing inequality in Britain, should the Government not use the summit to address the inequalities in this country as well as others?

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Lady has made two bad points. First, in answer to her point about Oxfam, we have a substantial aid budget—some £2.2 billion—which we put to very good use throughout the world. Poverty is also a bad point for the hon. Lady to raise as average incomes in the United Kingdom have risen by more than a third since we came to office. Average incomes are up for all family types. The less well-off have enjoyed a rise in the possession of consumer durables, and vulnerable groups have been much better protected. The hon. Lady will have to find much better points.

Mr. John Marshall

When my hon. Friend goes to the summit, will he remind it that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that minimum wage legislation destroys jobs and that youth unemployment in this country is much lower than in Spain, which has a minimum wage?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend makes extremely good points. There has been much misinformation about the nature of the summit and some mischief making in seeking to confuse its purposes with those of the EU social chapter. They have nothing whatever to do with each other. The summit is about improving development throughout the world.

Mr. Robin Cook

Is the Minister aware that the social summit will be attended by the Heads of Government of all the G7 countries except America, which is sending its Vice-President, and by the Heads of Government from all of Europe from Poland to Portugal except Greece, which is sending three Cabinet Ministers? Why are the British Government not sending the Prime Minister or even one Cabinet Minister? Does that not demonstrate the utter indifference of the Conservative party to fighting poverty at home or abroad?

Mr. Baldry

We shall be sending my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, who stands equal to anyone in the world with her knowledge of social development and overseas aid issues.