Inside Parliament: Government's charity begins at home: Labour attacks 'skewed aid priorities' - Minister reveals aid to tax havens - Identity card Bill defeated

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Indy Politics
Coincidence or routine cynicism? Faced with a Labour-initiated debate attacking the Government's overseas aid record, up pops an ODA press release announcing that Britain is give a further 46,500 tons of food to the Horn of Africa.

Tom Clarke, Labour's overseas development spokesman, doubted that it was a coincidence. Opening the debate with wide- ranging criticism of the failures and skewed priorities of the aid programme, he dryly observed that the timing of the announcement - worth pounds 11m - was 'extremely interesting'.

How many Opposition debates on the subject would it take to raise Britain's aid budget to the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product? Mr Clarke reminded the House that Labour got the figure up to 0.51 per cent in 1979, but now it was less than half the UN target.

He criticised the Government for offering only pounds 100m of assistance over three years to South Africa when three times that had been 'squandered' on the Pergau dam in Malaysia and described how he toured camps of starving Rwandan refugees without seeing any British presence.

Mr Clarke said the latest reports from Ethiopia suggested that the country was facing a famine even worse than that of 1984-85 with between 6 and 7 million people at risk. A 'much larger' response from the international community was needed than that announced by Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development.

The food will be distributed through UN and voluntary organisations before the rainy season makes roads impassable. Ethiopia and Sudan will get 20,000 tons while 5,000 tons will go to Kenya and 1,500 to Eritrea. The deliveries will take Britain's total bilateral food aid to the Horn since January 1993 to more than 200,000 tonnes.

A more unusual use of British aid was disclosed by Lady Chalker in a letter to Labour's Hugh Bayley, admitting that her budget is being used to regulate tax havens in the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean.

Three United Kingdom-recruited offshore company regulators are being paid for at an average cost, including salaries, accommodation and air fares, of pounds 70,000 a year for each post. The BVI raises pounds 12m a year from taxes and charges on offshore finance, but spends only pounds 733,333 on regulation. Turks and Caicos raises pounds 1.5m but spends only pounds 200,000 on regulation.

Mr Bayley, MP for York, said: 'Britain's bilateral aid has been cut from pounds 1.6bn to pounds 1bn since 1979 and it is a scandal for any of the valuable and limited resources that are left to be squandered on creating tax breaks for rich British citizens.'

A Tory backbench move to introduce a Bill providing for a national identity card was defeated by 113 votes to 89. Harold Elletson's Bill was aimed not at the statute book but at keeping ID cards on the political agenda. 'There is nothing alien or sinister or fundamentally un-British about the concept of ID cards,' said Mr Elletson, MP for Blackpool North. He envisaged a smart card introduced in conjunction with the banks to combat credit card and benefit fraud. His scheme would be voluntary and self-financing. It was not about restricting the freedom of the individual.

'Which one of us here would be prepared to say he would stand up and fight for the rights of the fraudster to go undetected or allow the terrorist to continue to go about his murderous business hidden behind the cloak of false identity?'

Opposing the Bill's introduction, John Heppell, Labour MP for Nottingham East, did not think ID cards would have any impact on terrorism. He said the main problem with social security fraud was not people giving false indentities but false information. Nor did he suppose that the average burglar would pack his ID card.

'This is a gimmick. It is an attempt by Conservative MPs and the Government to try and reassure the ordinary citizen that they are doing something about these problems.' Mr Heppell said setting up the scheme could cost pounds 475m and running it between pounds 50m and pounds 100m each year.

Speaker Betty Boothroyd yesterday added another term to the list of unparliamentary terms when she rebuked Emma Nicholson, Tory MP for Devon West and Torridge, for referring to Labour's Tam Dalyell as 'a Lord Haw-Haw'.

Mr Dalyell had objected to the comparison with the traitor William Joyce who broadcast to Britain during the Second World War. The Linlithgow MP and Miss Nicholson have contrary views on Saddam Hussein's burning and drainage activities in Iraq's marshlands.

During defence questions on Tuesday, Mr Dalyell said burning had been carried out for 5,000 years for hygiene reasons. But Miss Nicholson, who justifiably believes the Iraqi dictator is trying to exterminate the Shia marsh Arabs, accused him of swallowing poisoned propaganda. 'Perhaps we in Parliament now have a Lord Haw-Haw in our midst?' Miss Boothroyd does not want the term used again.

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