BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 17.03.02

Interview: CLARE SHORT, International Development Secretary

Says there isn't crude military action that can deal with the problem of Saddam Hussein. She also discusses the Government's plan to increase the amount it spends on overseas aid.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tomorrow, ministers from the world's richest countries are meeting in Mexico for another of those sessions where they talk about the poor. If they'd always delivered on every promise that's ever been made there'd be no poor people left. But they haven't. When push comes to shove charity usually begins at home - and the poorest stay poor. Indeed, by many measurements the gap between the world's richest and the world's poorest is widening, not getting narrower. The current big promise is that by 2015 the numbers of the very poorest will be cut by half and every child will get at least a primary education. There's much more besides. But it will all cost a lot more - about thirty five Billion pounds, fifty billion dollars every year more than they're giving at the moment - and so far there's nothing like that amount being offered. The International Development Secretary, Clare Short, will be Britain's representative at the talks. She's also in the news of course at the moment because she's worried about what Washington has in mind for Iraq. Just before she left this morning I spoke to her. I asked her first about aid, and suggested that the rich countries keep making promises but don't put up the hard cash. CLARE SHORT: That's not correct, firstly the Millennium Development Goals aren't about money, they are about the world committing to intensify its effort to reduce poverty, get children into school, improve healthcare, therefore children survive and women don't die in childbirth. HUMPHRYS: All of which costs money. SHORT: Yes, but there's also cost reform, aid without reform gives you Mobutu no progress, so just aid isn't it, it's reform to run economies, way on in a way that ensures that they grow, that domestic savings stay at home and are invested back into the economy and they are the conditions that attract inward investment which brings you access to modern technology and then aid can give you access to ideas, policy reform and then speeding up things like getting more children into school and so on. So you need that combination. We've got fifty billion dollars of international aid in the current system and it has been declining because people have become cynical about all of this. They call it compassion fatigue but I think people starting not believing that aid worked. Actually in recent years we've improved its effectiveness massively and we need to turn round that public perception. Certainly, in Britain people care about levels of poverty, but they feel nothing works. So, we've got international consensus on how to do the reform, we've got fifty billion and we're going to a meeting, where if we don't come up with more money, things will turn sour and nasty and I think partly because of that, this is one of the advantages of the EU meetings, we have now had the EU come up with, by 2006 an extra seven billion a year, and commitments to reform and improve the way the money is spent, and President Bush, in an administration that's been saying aid is a waste of time and we don't believe in it, suddenly comes up with another five billion. Now that's not the extra fifty billion that the World Bank say we need to really meet the Millennium Development Goals, but it's turnaround. HUMPHRYS: But it's not a big enough turnaround is it, that's really the point I'm making. Five billion sounds, from the United States, sounds a great deal of money but that's five billion over three years, that works out at about ten per cent of what is already, bearing in mind the United States is the world's richest country by far, a tiny, tiny budget compared with their gross national product. I mean that five billion actually isn't very much, is what I'm saying... SHORT: ..absolutely... HUMPHRYS: ...very mean.. SHORT: It's not very much but this is an administration that in all the preparations for the Monterrey meeting, have been saying aid is a waste of time, we don't believe in aid, we don't believe in the Millennium Development Goals, we are never going to commit ourselves to the 0.7 of GDP for aid which is the UN target. Suddenly, the President makes a speech saying, I support the Millennium Development Goals and I've come up with five billion dollars so that's a turnaround. HUMPHRYS: It's a gesture rather than a really significant... SHORT: Well I think it's a turn around and it isn't - throwing money around is not the only point, the point is to commit to an agenda of reform, to more trade access, to resolving some of the conflicts that large parts of Africa are stuck in conflict and therefore can't develop and then deploying aid well. Of the fifty billion we've got, if we used it more effectively to go where the poor are and to back reformers, it would be worth fifty per cent more. So my own view and I think this is what's happening, in this country, is you've got to show you know what you are doing, you are serious, there's no messing about, the aid isn't being used for cheap political reasons, or for trade reasons, it's really going to help poor people get the chance of a better life. We've got to get the world into that kind of mood and I think things are turning, that is my judgement and as you've said the money is tiny. I mean, Britain, we've increased our spend, we are on three billion pounds. We spend a hundred billion on social security, these are very tiny amounts of money, but well used can really help really poor countries to really turn themselves around and start to grow and reduce poverty. HUMPHRYS: In Britain, we are still nowhere near meeting that point seven per cent. I mean that is the trouble isn't it, and it is a manifesto commitment from your party, it was in 1997, it was again the last time around. And the difficulty is that although as you say, we have been increasing the amount we give, it's still less than half of that target of point seven per cent. SHORT: Yeah, I started though, I mean the last Labour government - you and I can remember that far back, left it at point five two and it was going up steadily to the point seven... HUMPHRYS: And then it came down. SHORT: It came back, I took over it's point two six, we've increased from two point two billion to three point six billion and we've got to keep on going up and get ourselves to would be seven billion in the UK if the UK was meeting the UN target. So we've got a way to go, but in the meantime we've refocused what we do, we've focused on the poor areas, we've focused on reformers, we've untied all our aid from trade contracts. So it's some of the most effective aid in the world and now we're just having a comprehensive policy review and the budgets for another three years, so I'm talking to Gordon a lot. HUMPHRYS: Ah, are you getting anywhere with him.? SHORT: Gordon cares about development as you know. HUMPHRYS: Yeah, what he said was that too often we fail to meet our targets, I mean I'm quoting one of his own documents now "our ambitions outreach our achievements. It's not enough to make a pledge". So, if you are trying to bend his arm, you are in a very strong moral position aren't you.? SHORT: I agree completely. I absolutely agree. Gordon cares, he's made some very strong statements, the Prime Minister has said that Africa is a priority, we deploy our money very, very effectively, you know that's the review of the UK's programme across the world. So I am expecting a good settlement. HUMPHRYS: It's going to have to be good won't it because at the present rate, we did a bit of sums in the office this morning and at the present rate it will take thirty odd years to reach our target. SHORT: That's right, so it's turned around and increased and it's much more effective, but at the present rate of progress, it would take to 2040 for Britain to get to 0.7... HUMPRHYS: That's not good enough is it, you don't believe that's good enough. SHORT: No, it isn't. So as I say, I'm expecting a good settlement this time. HUMPHRYS: Have you got a target yourself? I mean, have you got a date by which we should reach our commitment? SHORT: As soon as possible. And obviously I can't, I'm negotiating with Gordon, I'm expecting a good settlement. I'm not going to say anything that blows that up today. HUMPHRYS: Of course it has to come from somewhere? SHORT: Well, it has to come from the growing British economy. We do survey work now to see how our public education work's going, and this isn't just to sort of get people to like my department. If we don't, as a country, and other countries like us, face up to the levels of inequality and poverty in the world, we're going to hand over a messed up world to the next generation, with growing conflict, environmental degradation, disease, a non-sustainable climate, so attending to these gross levels of poverty and giving the poor of the world a chance to grow their economy in a sustainable way is absolutely key for the survival of humanity and its future decent life. So we've been looking at British public opinion, trying to publish more material, get them to see it's not just a bit of charity for the poor, it's investing in better and safer conditions in world. And British public opinion comes in very strongly, saying these levels of poverty and inequality in the world are one of the biggest moral issues humanity faces, seventy odd per cent. HUMPHRYS: Given that, shouldn't we be setting the target? Shouldn't we be committing ourselves? We're committed, this government is committed ultimately to meeting that point seven per cent, but as you say, it's a very, very, very long way off. Should we not be committing ourselves to saying we will reach that target by, I don't know, three years, four years, five years from now. Oxfam thinks it should be five years. SHORT: I think that would be very desirable and where I would like us to get to, is the British public and their moving from saying 'oh dear, aid is a waste of money' and when we formed our government, I did some public opinion surveying and people said 'we care about poverty, but aid's a waste of money - it doesn't work, it goes for corruption'. And then we asked the public if they liked the ideas of these targets of getting all children in school, halving poverty, and they said ' yes, very good - spend money on it.' So it clearly wasn't meanness, it was not believing in the old order. So, we, I think we've turned a lot of that round, I think people do believe and think it's important both for our own self-interest as well as, as a moral issue and now I want the public knocking on the doors of the government, saying speed up the spend. HUMPHRYS: But it's never going to be a vote winner is it. I mean Prime Ministers are never going to win elections by saying 'guess what, we increased our, our aid packages to the poorest world, but I'm sorry to say, some of that money's had to come from the NHS or Education, or Transport or whatever it happens to be'. SHORT: I don't agree actually. I think people in our kind of comfortable type societies now want our own society to be well run, but they want something fine and decent to believe in. I don't believe that everyone is just completely selfish and materialistic. I think they want the world to be safe and they want a fair and decent world, and they want to be part of a country that contributes to that, and I think, you know, that Britain lost an empire and never found a role, Britain using its position on the Security Council, in the IMF, in the World Bank, in the Commonwealth, in the EU, and so on, to drive the world to be more intelligent about giving the poorest countries a chance to trade decently, have environmental agreements that take their interests into account, enable them to grow their economy and see their people do better, I think people in the UK would take a pride in that. It won't come up as the top headline thing in the polling, but I think people want to believe that politics and their country, is about something finer than their own immediate selfish self-interest. HUMPHRYS: To what extent should aid be linked to good government, to democratic government, I'm thinking obviously here of Zimbabwe and the American attitude to giving more money to, or giving money to Zimbabwe? SHORT: I think the old idea that you make the aid conditional on good government because for some reason we believe in good government and going to force it on people is very old-fashioned. The truth is, you can't reduce poverty, you can't get a growing economy, you can't get all kids into school, and everyone with health care, which people need and you need to get a growing and efficient modern economy. Unless you've got efficient government, you deal with corruption, you spend the public finances properly, you consult people about what they think, otherwise governments make mistakes. So effective, competent, consultative, democratic government is crucial to successful economic performance and the reduction of poverty, so it all goes together. We increase, we change what we do, we don't just fund lots of separate projects, where you've got a weak government that isn't reforming itself. We back governments that commit themselves to the major reforms that will lead to the economic growth, the improved public services for their people, and then we help them tighten up their public financial management systems, lots of corruption is not just bad people, there's some bad people everywhere, it's lousy systems where the money isn't properly managed, the civil service is so underpaid you can't live on the money, and then you get a culture where people are charging, gross inefficiency, so we now focus on all of that very strongly, as well as proper law enforcement. You need that for commercial sector to run, but you also need it for justice when you ask the poor in the world just not being abused by the forces of law and order is one of their top priorities. HUMPHRYS: But thinking about what's happened in Zimbabwe and South Africa's attitude to Mugabe effectively stealing the election. We've got the Americans now, Ed Royce the Chairman of the Africa Sub-Committee in Congress, saying it's harder to aid the continent if Americans perceive South Africa et cetera, is unwilling to stand up for democratic principles. The, the Ari Fleischer the President's spokesman saying much the same sort of thing. Do we go along with that view? SHORT: Well Zimbabwe's a complete tragedy for the people of Zimbabwe firstly who are hungry in an agriculturally rich country, and it's an educated people, I mean this is, the economy's shrunk by ten per cent in one year and it's going to shrink by another ten per cent, so there's brutality, and thuggery and the stealing of an election, the destruction of an economy. Well this is a disaster for all those people and for the surrounding neighbourhood. But we mustn't punish a whole continent because one ageing politician has completely lost his way, and given up on all the decent standards of human rights, and actually, although South Africa hasn't spoken out strongly in the past, President Mbeki hasn't made any comment on the elections yet, so it's not true. And the SADC report, the South African countries monitors of the election made a very, very critical report of the elections, so it isn't true that Africa is saying this is okay, but it's a damage, it's damaging for Africa. HUMPHRYS: Ultimately, this is about money right as you said right at the beginning, money and making sure.... SHORT: it's money... HUMPHRYS: SHORT:'s money behind the ......... HUMPHRYS: ...absolutely accept that, but you can't do it without the money, clearly and we talked about the United States earlier and how it's making a relatively small contribution, some people say, a pathetically small contribution, and now we see they're spending an extra forty-eight billion dollars a year on defence. Doesn't that make you say, they've got it the wrong way round? SHORT: Well I think the US saying, we got it, you know, a mission, to make the world safe, we've got to deal with international terrorism, is reasonable given what happened on September 11th. But you cannot make the world safe from military action alone, as everyone I think now sees in Afghanistan, it's a failed state, all its institutions have collapsed, that's why bin Laden could hide himself there, that's why the Taliban took over, see how happy the people were when they fell and their kids could go back to school. But if we don't help Afghanistan build up the institutions of the modern state and be able to manage itself, it will remain in squalor and poverty, and that's where you get criminality and drug-dealing, and it's those conditions, not that create terrorists because the poor of the world are not terrorists, and the figures in September 11th were, but the bitterness and division in which such things flourish, so it's completely foolish to say we can make the world safe by military action alone, we need effective development to make the world just and evenly developed, to make the world safe. HUMPHRYS: And that applies to Iraq as well, if America does intend to use some of that forty-eight billion pounds to attack Iraq, your view on that is don't do it? SHORT: Our view is that we mustn't ignore the fact that Saddam Hussein is determined to develop weapons of mass destruction. There's no doubt about that from him throwing out the UN inspectors and all the rest of it, but simply blind military action against Iraq doesn't deal with the problem, so we've got to address the problem, I absolutely believe that, and it's wrong to ignore it and it's wrong to say that we shouldn't. The best thing is to get the UN inspectors back here, but there isn't crude military action that can deal with the problem of Saddam Hussein, and with the state of the Middle East and the terrible suffering of both the Israeli and Palestinian people, but the anger there is in the Arab world, to open up a military flank on Iraq would be very unwise. HUMPHRYS: Our European partners seem to think we shouldn't support the United States unless there is a UN resolution saying so. SHORT: My view is very strongly that we should face up to how serious this is. I mean, chemical and biological weapons are almost more frightening than nuclear in that you don't need complicated machinery to deliver them. A little bottle of Anthrax in a river in any country could kill lots and lots of people, so we can't ignore this, that is just - we can't put our heads in the sand, but people's fear that there's going to instant mass bombing or something. That won't do either. There aren't any detailed plans. We need a much more sophisticated debate about what's the best way to deal with it. HUMPHRYS: And if there were to be an invasion there'd have to be a UN resolution would there? SHORT: Yes, absolutely. And we're nowhere near that. I mean we really aren't. The media, not you, that tries to hype it, but no-one has proposed any specific or detailed military action, but everyone who's serious should say Saddam Hussein in his determination to have weapons of mass destruction is a real threat to his region of the world and we've got to get tighter about how to deal with it. HUMPHRYS: Clearly the United States or lots of people who work closely with the White House are talking this up, talking about the possibility of an invasion. If it were to happen, I know this is hypothetical, if it were to happen and Tony Blair were to say we're with you all the way, could you see it yourself, Clare Short, as a resigning issue. You've resigned on a matter of principle once before. SHORT: Twice actually, I'm that kind of person. I think it's because I was brought up as a Catholic. I mean I think like that about everything and I think everybody should, and it's not that I think my government is going to do the wrong thing, but we've all got to have our bottom lines, that's you know, about being a member of a government HUMPHRYS: Is that the bottom line on this one.? SHORT: Well, of course there were conditions in which I wouldn't be able to support action, but I don't expect them to be proposed. HUMPHRYS: But there are conditions. SHORT: Of course, but about all sorts of things. I mean, I'm made like that. HUMPHRYS: I mean some people..... SHORT: I'm proud to be a member of the.... HUMPHRYS: ... you know, you become a team player and all that, and it's not the same old Clare Short. What you're saying is, it is the same old Clare Short. SHORT: Yes, I am the same old Clare Short, and I'm proud to be a member of the government, but I've got lots of bottom lines, but I don't expect the government to breach them, but if they did I would, you know, that's what you should be like in politics I think. HUMPHRYS: Clare Short, thanks very much indeed. SHORT: Thank you.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.