HC Deb 29 March 2000 vol 347 cc326-8
4. Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)

What recent progress has been made on debt relief for the poorest countries; and if she will make a statement. [115432]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

Debt relief under the enhanced heavily indebted poor countries—HIPC—initiative has been agreed for the first three countries, with Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania being assessed next. Under the new framework, countries are required to develop poverty reduction strategies, which are published, to qualify for debt relief. In that way, we shall ensure that debt relief will help the poor. We are concerned that progress in finalising enhanced debt relief is slower than was originally promised and agreed.

Mr. Pond

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. She will be aware of the Jubilee 2000 claim that 19,000 children die every day as a result of debt. Although I recognise and welcome the progress made under her leadership by the UK Government on this issue, will she do everything that she can to instil a sense of urgency in some other countries in order to reach the commitment made at Cologne that, by the end of this year, 25 countries will be brought to decision point? Time is running out for those countries, and time is running out for those children.

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. The promise that three quarters of the eligible heavily indebted poor countries would have received their enhanced debt relief by the end of 2000 is slipping; it is in danger of not being met. The Government are doing all in our power to exert pressure in Washington to achieve speedier processing of applications. We could do with the support of all Members of Parliament and, indeed, the Jubilee 2000 coalition to put pressure on all the Governments involved as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that the promises are kept.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, if she were to continue with the debt relief package to Zimbabwe, that would send the most appalling message to other countries that, however badly they behaved, they could nevertheless be the beneficiary of debt relief? Will she and the Government take action to deal with the appalling situation in which the only productive element in the economy—that of the white farmers—is being destroyed in an otherwise bankrupt system? May we please have some action from the Government—at least by having Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth?

Clare Short

This substantive question is not on Zimbabwe either. Zimbabwe is not a highly indebted poor country, nor is it eligible for debt relief. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation in that country is extremely serious; the whole economy, including farming, is in trouble. No fuel is available; the economy is grinding to a halt, and the situation is desperately serious for all concerned. We must do everything that we can to get Zimbabwe back on track for the sake of all its people—black and white.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond), my right hon. Friend expressed her dissatisfaction with the rate of progress in the delivery of relief to heavily indebted poor countries. Could she tell the House about the administration blockage in that process and what steps can be taken to clear it?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Behind closed doors in Washington, in the processes of the World Bank and the IMF, countries are able to take up positions that are not the same as those that they take in public. Some countries have not yet found the resources that they owe to the HIPC trust fund in order to carry through the process. However, we have all agreed that countries that establish broad poverty reduction strategies should be able to get on track. They can then refine the programme and receive complete debt relief later. Some countries in the IMF and World Bank put down so many conditions that it takes much time to get countries moving. The whole international community needs to exert pressure over that matter.

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