Westminster Foundation for Democracy

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak 12:00 am, 7th April 1998

What plans he has to promote and expand the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. [36530]

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We strongly support the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. In recognition of its excellent work, we recently increased its grant in aid from £2.7 million in 1997–98 to £ 3 million for 1998–99.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

I am delighted to hear that answer. I have had contact with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, having hosted visits with both eastern European and African delegations in the past. The extra grant will be very welcome. Will my hon. Friend encourage the Westminster Foundation to promote contacts between British parties and their sister parties in Europe?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That is a little easier for the party in government than for the major Opposition party: I am not sure that the Conservatives have any friends left in Europe. There is certainly a need on both sides of the House for greater understanding of political trends throughout Europe. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is encouraging that, and we hope that the Leader of the Opposition will begin to catch up with us.

Photo of Charles Wardle Charles Wardle Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Funds from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy have been used to assist with beginning to modernise and democratise party political machinery in the Republic of Moldova. I welcome the Minister's remarks, as much remains to be done. Is it not a fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House can, and do, contribute their political experience and know-how in countries where democracy is still in its infancy? Is not the foundation the ideal conduit for that sort of exercise?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

There is no doubt that the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is widely respected—and not just in this country. When the chairman of the foundation, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), visited America recently, he was told that the Americans regard the foundation as being extremely high value for a relatively low cost. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) is right: the exchange between parliamentarians and other initiatives undertaken by the Westminster foundation are cementing the democratic process in many parts of former Soviet eastern Europe.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a bit of a cheek telling the emerging nations how to practise democracy when half the British Parliament is not elected? Would it be a good idea for the new Labour Government to close down the other half that is not elected? We would then be in a position to tell the rest of the world what democracy is all about.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend knows very well that the Government intend to ensure that at least the hereditary element in the other place disappears. I must confess that the matter is not directly in my hands. We shall have to see what opposition we meet from the Conservatives and from their lordships in another place.