§ 2. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)
If she will make a statement on the spending plans for her Department in relation to debt relief for developing nations. 
§ The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)
The Government's policy is to speed up the implementation of the heavily indebted poor countries initiative and to apply it more flexibly to post-conflict countries. Our aim is that all eligible countries are on track for debt forgiveness by 2000. HIPC debt relief draws on resources not from budgets such as mine, but from the World bank, IMF and export credits. My Department continues to provide resources to help countries to qualify for HIPC and is helping countries committed to poverty reduction to pay debt while awaiting HIPC relief. We will continue to work in similar ways to secure debt relief for poor, heavily indebted countries that are committed to poverty reduction.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reply. Will she give an undertaking to speed up debt relief for heavily indebted countries and make a clear and transparent link between debt relief and poverty reduction in developing nations?
§ Clare Short
As I have said, we are strongly committed to speeding up the implementation of HIPC. Shortly after we formed our Government, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting the target to bring three quarters of eligible countries on track by 2000. He and I went immediately to a meeting with the World bank and the IMF, but could not reach agreement on that. We obtained that agreement at the G8 summit, so we are having some effect, but there is more to be done. In particular, post-conflict countries do not have the track record that enables them to qualify, so we must be more flexible there. We are doing all that we can not to impose specific new health and education conditions but, rather, to require a good economic policy to obtain good economic growth to benefit the poor.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
What proposals and initiatives will the Secretary of State put forward for the annual meeting of the World bank and the IMF this autumn to relieve debt?
§ Clare Short
As I have said, we must now seek to implement the agreement reached at the G8 summit between all the major donor countries to speed up the implementation of HIPC—a shift in the position of a number of countries—and the agreement to be more flexible about post-conflict countries, such as Rwanda, about which the hon. Gentleman and the Select Committee are worried. Rwanda has come out of chaos and does not have the track record over the years that would enable it to qualify for HIPC, but the levels of poverty there were so great that, without help to reduce 357 poverty, chaos could well return. Therefore, we need more flexible conditions and we shall be working on both fronts at the meeting.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
This Question Time should not go by without my taking the opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the large increase in her budget which she won from the Treasury. That will be welcome throughout the country. Will my right hon. Friend soon be able to announce how much more might be able to be done for health and education, given, as she has pointed out herself, that many countries are so heavily indebted that they spend more on repaying their debt than on the health and education of their populations?
§ Clare Short
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her congratulations. The Labour party has kept its commitment to reverse the decline in development assistance which went on so shamefully under the previous Administration. Immediately after the election, we announced that we would increase by 50 per cent. our spending on health, education and water in Africa, and that is now being implemented.
I caution everyone involved with debt relief not to see it as the only remedy for poverty. We need debt relief in order to reduce poverty, but there are some poor countries without debt, and debt relief must be seen in that context. We shall be disbursing our increased resources and making announcements in the autumn. I can promise my hon. Friend that a commitment to improve spending on education, health and clean water will be a theme of those.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the HIPC initiative and wish her well in speeding up that process. Can she clarify the extent to which the Government support and intend to honour the specific aims and objectives of the Jubilee 2000 campaign?
§ Clare Short
As I have made clear before, we welcome the Jubilee 2000 campaign. In the various cathedrals in Birmingham at the time of the G8 summit, I addressed groupings from all over the country campaigning on debt. I was proud that so many of the British people came to Birmingham to ask the representatives of the richest countries in the world not to forget the needs of the poorest. We are highly committed to making improvements. It depends to which of the demands of the Jubilee 2000 campaign one listens. Sometimes it talks as though all debt should be relieved unconditionally. We do not agree with that. There are countries with high levels of debt that have spent their money on luxuries or have excessive military expenditure. We believe that debt relief should be linked to a commitment to poverty reduction and sensible economic management. We believe in implementing HIPC more flexibly, not in cancelling all debt unconditionally.