Strategic Defence Review

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 25th March 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ms Judith Church Ms Judith Church Labour, Dagenham 1:39 pm, 25th March 1998

What discussions her Department has had regarding the strategic defence review; and if she will make a statement. [34630]

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

My Department is engaged in the defence review process. I have recently given evidence to the Defence Select Committee, and have had useful and interesting meetings with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to discuss the review.

Photo of Ms Judith Church Ms Judith Church Labour, Dagenham

I know that the Secretary of State shares my view that ridding the world of the scourge of land mines will be a crucial contribution to international development objectives. Does she agree that those objectives will be best achieved if there is a co-ordinated strategy with other Departments? Will she pursue that matter with other Ministers?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

My hon. Friend knows that we are doing all we can in that area. We are increasing our efforts to support land mine clearance and to strengthen the capacity of countries with many land mines to do their own clearance work so that we may speed up the process. My hon. Friend is correct: the post-cold-war world is different, and so is the challenge to our armed forces. As I said earlier, the risk of war is more prevalent in poor countries, the victims are increasingly civilians and there are more refugees than ever before. The room for more collaboration between the Ministry of Defence, my Department and the Foreign Office to try to prevent and resolve conflict is very great in the current historic circumstances.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

This morning the Defence Select Committee took evidence from Saferworld, among other bodies, as part of its inquiry into the strategic defence review. That organisation mentioned Pakistan, which is the recipient of one of the United Kingdom's largest bilateral aid programmes. It pointed out that Pakistan spends 25 per cent. more on military expenditure than on health and education combined. Pakistan has a missile programme and is developing weapons of mass destruction. It is also suspected of supporting terrorism in other countries. Will the Secretary of State review her policy of granting to Pakistan one of our largest bilateral aid programmes?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about Pakistan. He has tabled written questions about that country and the Government's strategy in that regard. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear-capable, have high defence spending and high levels of poverty. They are in unresolved serious conflict over Kashmir, and the situation is a danger to the people of India and Pakistan, and indeed the people of the world. We must see how we can engage most positively in order to promote development, encourage a reduction in defence spending and remove the causes of conflict.

I am certain that it would not be right simply to disengage before we have tried everything else. When a country spends too much on defence and has high levels of poverty there is much suffering and many causes of instability. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we cannot keep supporting the Government of Pakistan if they continue to spend disproportionately on defence.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

In the context of the defence strategic review and the discussions that are taking place, will my right hon. Friend consider abandoning the joint funding of retraining for Russian officers, as Russia is not a third-world country and because that would be a major financial saving to her Department?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I am happy to inform my hon. Friend that my Department does not fund the retraining of Russian military officers. However, I shall ensure that his suggestion is passed to the appropriate Department.

Interestingly, my Department has been very unwilling to engage in military restructuring in the past. We have never gone further than demobilisation, because we obviously do not wish to become involved in the organisation of armed forces. However, we believe that that might have been a mistake in the case of Sierra Leone. Perhaps, if we had done more to make the armed forces in that country accountable to the civilian power, the last coup would have been avoided. We are examining our work in that area, but we shall not go as far as training Russian military officers.