Developing Countries (Wages)

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 11 Tachwedd 1996.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Mr. William O'Brien:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance Her Majesty's Government have provided to encourage employers in developing countries which export food and goods to the United Kingdom to pay wages at levels which would help to eradicate poverty; and if he will make a statement. [1328]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The best way of improving working conditions and raising wage rates is through economic development. The Government are working to promote this through our aid programme.

Mr. O'Brien:

Does the Minister agree that wage rates in the developing world are shockingly low? Does he accept that we in the industrial world should do all in our power to increase those rates to help people out of absolute poverty? Does he support Christian Aid's campaign to change the rules to encourage consumers to shop in stores that apply an ethical policy, so as to help people in the developing world improve conditions and circumstances in their own countries?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman raises three important points. Ethical shopping is an important part of a free market. I am glad that the Labour party has had a late conversion to that. Good consumer education is extremely important, but it is up to consumers to make a choice; it is not for some central organisation to impose that choice upon them.

One of the main things we can do to reduce poverty is to open up our markets to developing countries. This country has been at the forefront of that.

We should distinguish between extreme abuses of human rights in the labour market and low rates of pay. We, as a Government and as a nation, have always been against exploitation in the labour market. We believe that the International Labour Organisation is the body to monitor that.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments about the necessity for the United Kingdom to open its markets to the primary produce of developing countries. Would not that be the most effective way of improving living standards, not least for employees on the land in those countries? If that policy is to be properly effective, should not the United Kingdom lead a withdrawal from the common agricultural policy, which militates directly against the food produced in developing countries by imposing barriers throughout Europe?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Government will push for more open markets at the World Trade Organisation summit in Singapore, because that is exactly what we want. We genuinely believe that people in developing countries should be given access to markets, so we should be at the forefront and be giving a lead.

We must continue to examine agricultural subsidies. My hon. Friend is correct in that those subsidies disadvantage developing markets. We have a moral duty to ensure that we do not impose conditions on those markets that make it impossible for them to develop.

Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon

If the Minister really believes what he has just said about the morality of those employing people in the developing nations, why do not the British Government support, instead of block, the additional optional protocol to the United Nations declaration on the rights of the child, which was highlighted today by UNICEF in its report on the effects of war on children? It shows that the armed forces in every nation in the world are the largest employers of children of 15 and 16.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I would have thought the hon. Lady to be the last person to lecture me or anyone else on Conservative Benches about standing up and saying what we believe in. When we say something, at least we stick by it, and we stick by what is in our election addresses.