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Eec Development Ministers (Meeting)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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With permission, I would like to report to the House the outcome of the meeting in Brussels last week of the Council of Development Ministers.

In the context of our renegotiation objective in this field, further discussion took place about the need for a Community world-wide aid policy, based on the criterion of relative poverty and need in developing countries, and requiring a roughly equal balance in aid to associated and non-associated countries. At my suggestion, the Commission presented a framework or "fresco" paper. The Council agreed that the Commission will now draw up specific proposals on the financial application of this. I hope that it will prove possible for the Council to take firm decisions at its next meeting in March. I gave the Council a note setting out my own views on the types and amounts of additional aid to non-associates we believe to be appropriate.

In addition, a major item of ongoing business was finally resolved. The House will know that since last June I have been urging the Community to release the whole of its original offer of$500 million towards the United Nations Emergency Measures to assist those developing countries most seriously affected by the rise in oil and commodity prices. It was finally agreed in October that a first part, $150 million, would be released.

I am afraid that, in spite of a great deal of support for my own view, which was strongly shared by some other Governments, the final decision of the Community is disappointing. A further $100 million is to be released, but there will be no further direct Community contribution, unless, by June, it is apparent that the total of the $250 million from the Community, some ongoing food aid, and bilateral contributions reported directly to the United Nations by individual member States do not amount to $500 million. That is, in my view, highly unlikely.

In the light of this, the Government have decided to make a further bilateral British contribution to the emergency measures. In round figures we have already contributed £40 million bilaterally. I am now providing a further £20 million as direct help to India, and, subject to parliamentary approval, I will provide a further £5 million to the World Food Programme, to be directed principally to Bangladesh, and a further £5 million in cash to the United Nations Special Account for the hardest-hit countries.

Including the £13 million which is our share of the contribution being made from the Community budget, our assistance under the emergency measures so far totals, therefore, some £83 million—over $200 million. The House will appreciate that I worked hard for a different decision last week, but I am sure that it will be generally agreed that, in the circumstances of the developing world this year, we must now do all we can independently.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that statement. Can she say something more about the factors which contributed to the disappointing result? In particular, what is the attitude on the world scene of the United States and the oil producers? Would she also agree that, while it has always been assumed that bilateral aid would supplement whatever the Community might give, we shall be in a better position to support the other countries in the Community which share her view if we make it perfectly clear that we intend to remain full members and act as such?

As regards the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, I trust that he will use whatever influence he has to convey to the other member States of the Community how urgent it is that a decision shall be reached in March on the world-wide aid proposals which I put to the Community as part of our renegotiation objective. What happens in this field of our renegotiation will depend upon its decision.

The answer to the first part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question is that from June to the end of the year, and certainly until October, the debate within the Development Council concerned what was called conditionality—that is, should the Community make a contribution unless there was an adequate contribution from the oil-producing countries on the one hand and the United States on the other? The new factor introduced last week, which came as a surprise, was the insistence by one or two countries, which was slightly changing the rules in the middle of the game, that bilateral contributions should be counted as part of the Community contribution, which was, clearly, not an acceptable proposition to several of us.

Is there anything more which my right hon. Friend can do to ensure that all the Governments of the Community are aware of the urgency of reaching a decision in March?

I have done my best in various circles to ensure that they are fully aware of that. I think that there is now a considerable amount of good will to our proposals. However, the point is that it is one thing to have a general understanding, and, indeed, a resolution in principle, but what matters in this area is that it should be translated into hard financial proposals for the future. That is the question which will be at issue in March.

First, may I compliment the right hon. Lady on what she has sought to do in trying to make the Community's aid policy more outward-looking and liberal?

May I follow up the question asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)? Do I gather from the right hon Lady's response that the main opposition to her proposals was based on a feeling that the oil-producing countries and the United States should give more proportionately than they are giving and that, unless they did so, the Community should hold back? Is that the basis of their opposition? Is she yet in any position to say, in view of the fact that there has undoubtedly been movement, as she would freely concede, whether she is optimistic that in March we shall reach a decision which can be reconciled with the Government's renegotiation objectives?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, that was the position until October. Much of the conditionality which certain countries were imposing—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is conditionality?"] I am sorry. Brussels has a terrible effect, because one tends to use Community jargon at times. "Conditionality" means that other countries in the Community sought to impose conditions before the Community contribution to the emergency measures could be released. I sought not to impose such conditions. I apologise for the noun.

That was the position until October. Since then I think that the Opposition on those grounds has to some extent softened, but the new factor which was brought in last week, which was unacceptable, was that the contribution from the Community should not be financed purely from the Community budget but should also consist of bilateral contributions, which several countries are making in any case.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, there is a very good chance that this matter will be very seriously discussed in March on the basis of the Commission's paper. However, as to whether other member Governments will be prepared to reach the kind of decision which I regard as necessary at this stage, I cannot tell.

If I understood my right hon. Friend aright, is not this EEC offer of aid to the most hard-hit developing countries an extremely disappointing one? Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear whether she is satisfied with it?

I think I made clear in my statement that I regard this as a disappointing result. This was ongoing business at the Community. There was a possibility. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is 'ongoing business'?"] I think "ongoing" is a sufficiently accustomed word to the House of Commons in this matter.

There was a possibility here that there could be, in addition to what each member country did towards the emergency measures, an additional contribution from the Community, which would incidentally have made it possible for one or two member countries to have made a contribution, because they could not do it on a bilateral basis for various reasons. Therefore, it is disappointing that the final Community figure is only half of the one originally proposed. However, it is in those circumstances that I feel, having fought since June with a great deal of assistance from a number of other countries in the Community and then having reached this result, that we must now do what we can on a bilateral basis.

Bearing in mind the sheer gravity of the world food crisis, is the right hon. Lady aware that many of us share her disappointment at the inadequate response to the United Nations emergency programme not only from the EEC but from other countries far richer than ours? I applaud her decision to take bilateral action, and I hope that that decision will be followed by other nations.

Will the right hon. Lady not agree that all that gives extra emphasis to the conference of Commonwealth Ministers which is to be called in March to look into practical means of raising food production in Commonwealth countries? Will she indicate what changes she thinks are necessary to the British aid programme to further that end?

As always, the hon. Gentleman has valuable comments to make on these matters. The likely result of the Commonwealth Development Conference will be an even greater emphasis on a policy which my Ministry has always adopted in the course of the last eight months—that is, to give a priority emphasis to rural development. I hope that we shall be assisted in that policy by the proceedings of the Commonwealth conference.

Will my right hon. Friend say what progress, if any, was made last week in preparing the Community's mandate for the negotiations with the 46 ACP countries for the convention, and, in particular, whether there was any discussion as to what would happen with the Commonwealth ACP countries if we withdrew from the Community?

No. As I think my hon. Friend probably knows, there will be a further meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of this week, to deal with the question of Protocol 22, which I shall be attending. That will begin with a meeting of the member States of the Community to take further the proceedings that were interrupted two weeks ago.

I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of overseas aid, but may I ask the right hon. Lady how she justifies the amount of £20 million to India, whose Government have been guilty of the crime of wasting the substance of her own starving people in constructing a nuclear bomb? What conditions will the right hon. Lady attach to the money?

The conditions attached to the money are that it is programme aid—that is, it is money which will make it possible for India to buy goods which she needs from Britain. All our views on the Indian nuclear explosion are clear. However, the fact remains that India is one of the countries most hard hit by the rise in oil and commodity prices and that she is a desperately poor country. Our aid will be directed solely to helping the people of that country. I think that we must be very careful to separate the provision of aid to benefit the people of the country from the criticisms we may have of unrelated policies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that her statement, as far as it dealt with the achievement of the renegotiation of our aims at Brussels, has an ongoing, conditional optimism? To which issue does my right hon. Friend attach great importance and which issue does she think will be most difficult to resolve in the next month or two?

I think that will be the basic question whether we can persuade the Community to share our view about the distribution of Community aid as between countries which are associated and those which are not associated. The countries which are not associated include some of the largest and poorest countries in the world. The question will be whether we can sufficiently persuade all the members of the Community to share our view. Certain members share our view. Others are so far hesitant. I do not think that I am unduly optimistic, but my hon. Friend will recognise that in any negotiations one does not succeed unless one tries to succeed.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her policy of ensuring that Community aid is given on a more worldwide basis and on the basis of need will be supported on this side of the House, bearing in mind that the first impetus in that direction was given by the summit conference in December 1972 where the principle was accepted by the Community on the initiative of my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister?

If I can correct the hon. Gentleman, not quite. That resolution was finally adopted by the Community only at a meeting in July.

Albeit second best, if there is to be an expansion in bilateral aid is there not a case for reconsidering the scheme of 13 years ago whereby aid is in some way tied to under-employed industries in this country, unsatisfactory though this may be in principle?

To do that precisely and directly would obviously present many problems. I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that when there are orders for British goods that follow either a parlicular aid project in a particular country or a technical assistance consultancy, it is very likely to involve engineering and the kind of goods for which we are now urgently seeking new employment opportunities in Britain.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that fresco papers proposing ongoing procedures for infrastructure purposes can on occasions prove to be counterproductive and perhaps it would be better to concentrate on debt reduction and décollage, in the interests of multilingual jargon?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that one of the unfortunate aspects of the membership of the Community that we inherit was the jargon that was already ongoing there.