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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 7:58 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 7:58 pm, 13th October 2008

I am terribly short of time, because I believe that there is to be a ministerial statement soon. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I need to make some progress.

The foundation has written a new corporate strategy, which identifies three particular strengths or niche markets for the foundation: political party development, parliamentary capacity building and local governance. We have agreed a business plan to pursue those specialisms, and to increase the organisation's turnover and budget. We have sought to build alliances with other bodies based at Westminster and elsewhere in this country that also have an interest in democracy building. They include the National Audit Office, the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the British section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Clerk's Department's Overseas Office, the House of Commons Library, the International Bar Association, the Reuters Foundation, certain universities, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. We have brought many of those organisations together to create a Westminster consortium.

We have also managed to broaden the foundation's funding base. We continue to receive grant in aid worth £4.1 million a year from the Foreign Office, but in addition, we have won tranches of money from the Foreign Office for programmes of work in other countries, including Ukraine, Egypt, Serbia and Macedonia, and from the Department for International Development for work in Sierra Leone. Recently, as part of the Westminster consortium, we won a £5 million contract from DFID for parliamentary capacity building in Uganda, Mozambique, Lebanon, Yemen, Ukraine and Georgia, and we are currently negotiating what I hope will be a $15 million to $20 million contract with the United Nations Development Programme for parliamentary capacity building work in Ethiopia.

During the past three years, the WFD has refocused its priorities and activities, and broadened its funding base. Over the next three years, the priority will be to deliver measurable impact—strengthening citizens' rights and democratic institutions—in the broader range of programmes that we have been commissioned to undertake, in order to strengthen the foundation's reputation and to enable it to continue to win contracts.

Sadly, I do not have time to say a great deal about the foundation's work, but I believe that it makes a huge difference. For example, DFID commissioned the foundation to do nine months' work with all the political parties in Sierra Leone in relation to its elections last year. We sought to help the parties to build policy platforms based on issues rather than on ethnic differences or regional loyalties. We persuaded the parties to set out their policies on pledge cards, and we persuaded Sierra Leone public radio to organise a version of "Any Questions?". The idea of African politicians having to answer questions about their policies from members of the public was quite an innovation.

We also supported a role-playing exercise, in which each party worked out in advance what they would do in their first day, their first week, their first month and their first three months of office if their party were elected. With the then President Kabbah, we went through the process to find out what he would do in those first days and weeks if he was not returned to office. When would he move out of the state house? When would he set up his office as leader of the opposition? What facilities would he expect to have in order to fulfil that role in Parliament? He was defeated in the election, and he did move out of the state house and become leader of the opposition.

In Africa, it is very unusual to have such a "revolving door", involving a genuine multi-party contest at an election in which the party that was in power is defeated and a party that was not in government is elected. In Sierra Leone, however, the door revolved, and the actors changed. I believe that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy had a real part to play in ensuring that that happened.

Having spent three years at the helm of the WFD, I have now decided to stand down. I believe that I have achieved the goals that the then Foreign Secretary set for me when I was appointed, and that a new chairman will bring new ideas and a fresh focus for the challenges ahead. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has been asked to appoint my hon. Friend Meg Munn to the WFD board, and I hope that the board will elect her to the chair. It would be a major asset to the foundation to have a former Foreign Office Minister, alongside my right hon. Friend Lord Foulkes, a former DFID Minister, on the board.

The WFD does a lot with the relatively limited assets at its disposal, but I believe that it could do much more to express the UK's soft power in emerging democracies. I hope that the Government will maintain the grant in aid, because without core funding, the foundation would have serious problems. I also hope that they will look for opportunities in other countries in which the foundation could play useful roles, and then fund the WFD to undertake them. The Foreign Office and DFID should both do this, and we should be encouraging multilateral bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations to do so as well. As chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I worked with three Foreign Secretaries, and I thank them for their support. I urge the Government to keep supporting the foundation, as I believe that it is one of the best assets of the Foreign Office, the Government and the United Kingdom.

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