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International Debt Relief

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 10th May 2007.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth 10:30 am, 10th May 2007

What recent steps he has taken towards international debt relief and financing of international development; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Twenty-two countries have now received debt relief. We expect another five countries to qualify for cancellation in 2007. I am also working with international colleagues to ensure that Liberia can receive debt relief as soon as possible.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

In congratulating the Chancellor on his leadership of the international community on debt relief, which stands in stark contrast to the record of the Conservatives, may I probe him on the issue of international development? Does he agree that if we are to see long-term positive developments in the third world, it is important to have co-operative models that empower individuals and communities to be entrepreneurial and to take control of their own futures?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done to promote international development, particularly through his interest in Africa. The discussions that we are having are not simply about debt relief, education and health, important as those are, but about how we can raise levels of agricultural productivity, enhance micro-credit and bring about economic development in these countries. It is, however, necessary, when we are doing these things, to ensure that there is sufficient international development aid available for supporting micro-credit and economic development, as well as education and health. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the record of the Conservatives, who halved the level of overseas aid as a percentage of national income. The figures that have just come out show that under a Labour Government we have doubled it.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

One of the countries in particular need of development assistance is Iraq. The position is worsened by the internal conflict, which we have partly helped to precipitate. What changes in Government policy on Iraq can we expect when the Chancellor becomes Prime Minister?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

At the recent conference where the Iraq compact was discussed, more countries agreed to provide additional debt relief to Iraq. Everybody understands that it is incredibly important for the future for people to have a stake in Iraq through policies of economic development and creating employment. To answer the question specifically: there has been more debt relief for Iraq.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

May I genuinely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being about to achieve a long-standing ambition, and wish him well? And in respect of this question, may I ask how he selects the countries that are eligible for debt relief? Clearly, it is important to select countries to give them debt relief, not only to enable them to borrow more money but so that they can create a better quality of life for the people of those countries. How are those countries selected?

Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The hon. Gentleman is right; we cannot give debt relief unless there is a guarantee that the money will go towards poverty reduction, education and health. In recent years, it has been remarkable that, as we have given debt relief and provided aid, in Kenya, for example, 1 million children have been able to go to school, in Uganda we have trebled the number of young children in education, and in Zambia and Tanzania the number of children in education is rising. Those are examples of the results of debt relief and providing aid. I hope that Conservative Members will not say, as they tend to do, that aid does not work. What does not work is doing nothing. What does work is what we have done to provide educational opportunity and health in Africa.