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Overseas Development

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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Aid Programme

36.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will specify the changes to be made in the programme of assistance to overseas countries in view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal to reduce overseas aid by £20 million.

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) on 25th April, the reduction will affect only the still unallocated element in the aid programme. The programme as a whole is increasing this year by more than £100 million in cash terms. No existing programmes or commitments will be affected and a number of them will be increased.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is misleading to speak in cash terms at this time of hyper-inflation and that by using the word "only" she gives the impression of trying to play down this £20 million cut? Is that true or false? Has she seen the motion signed by more than 100 hon. Members who have pledged their word that they cannot support this £20 million cut when it comes to the vote? Will she draw the attention of the Chief Whip and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that pledge by 100 hon. Members?

My hon. Friend will wish to know that there is still an increase in real terms, allowing for inflation, in the aid programme. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip will be taking due note of what is said in the House this afternoon, but I should like to stress that there is still an increase in real terms.

What I think has to some extent happened is that the House did not fully perceive the extent of the increase in the aid programme determined last December, on the basis of which this is now a reduction. Naturally, I very much sympathise with the motion which so many of my hon. Friends and others have signed.

The right hon. Lady will recall saying publicly earlier this month that greater priority was to be given to agricultural production in developing countries, which must mean an even greater outward flow of resources in the future. Can she say quite specifically this afternoon, in development of the question which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has put very clearly, whether the cut in planned growth expenditure will hinder the kind of development which she has in mind and about which she has been talking in detail?

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, this cut means that there will be £20 million less to spend on things on which I should have liked to spend money. However, it is important to appreciate that there is still an increase in real terms and that we still have an unallocated large amount of cash this year, which means that no existing programmes are affected. Indeed, I shall still be able to do quite a lot of new things in the rural development field, but about £10 million less this year than I should have hoped for.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we are increasing the amount in real terms, when we bear in mind that two-thirds of humanity are living in want this is a small amount? Should not the Government get their priorities right? We are spending £3,000 million on defence. Could we not get back a bit more of that and divert more to overseas aid, because if we gave aid to overseas countries it would make a greater contribution to the peace of the world and the prosperity of the people in those countries?

I am sure that the whole Government will wish to take note of that point. I cannot add to what I have already said.

Since the time when the present Government, unlike their predecessors, committed themselves to the 0·7 per cent. target, has the right hon. Lady made an estimate of when that target might be reached? In present circumstances, what does she feel is the likely date when we could reach that target?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he is as expert on the question of targetry, as I am, the problem is that targets relate on the one hand to aid expenditure and on the other hand to gross national product. Until one knows what GNP is, one cannot estimate the percentage of aid expenditure. This has always been the great problem—[Laughter.] This is a serious point, if hon. Members will accept it. There is a serious problem in that the United Nations targetry is not perhaps as well devised as it should be, because in my view it does not necessarily express the efforts of a country in the sense that the GNP comes into the equation.

37.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she has carried out a reappraisal of the British overseas aid programme in the light of the Lomé Convention.

The formulation and appraisal of the British aid programme is a continuing process, which takes account of all relevant factors, including our membership of the EEC. Allowance has accordingly been made for our contribution to the cost of the European Development Fund set up under the Lomé Convention.

While appreciating the sophistication of that answer, may I impress upon my hon. Friend the fact that bearing in mind that the Lomé Convention offers very little to the substantial part of the Commonwealth represented by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which is most in need, a thorough-going reappraisal of the British aid programme should be carried out to ensure that those countries benefit?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the sophistication of my answer. Our bilateral aid to the Asian Commonwealth countries which he mentioned in particular will be sustained as planned over the coming years and, I would expect, be increased. We shall certainly continue to press for this to be supplemented by the EEC.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we withdraw from the EEC a terrible reassessment and reappraisal of our aid will be required, because the Lomé Convention will collapse and those countries which have benefited from it will be the main losers?

It is ridiculous to suggest that the convention would necessarily collapse simply because Britain withdrew. But the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that our commitment through the Community in these matters is a fairly small percentage of our overall British aid programme. We shall continue our British bilateral efforts whether we are within or outside the Community.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Lomé Convention applies to only about 14 per cent. of the developing population of the world, excluding China?

Yes, that is correct. As I have said, however, we continue to press for the EEC to do far more for the non-associates.

European Community (Ministerial Meeting)

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the Development Minister of the EEC.

40.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the other Development Ministers of the EEC.

The date of the next Development Ministers Council has not yet been decided but I expect it to be some time in June.

When the right hon. Lady meets the other Ministers, does she not think that they may be a little puzzled by her attitude? If we were to withdraw from the EEC, as I understand she wishes, would it not at least have a serious adverse effect on the Lomé Convention which she played such an important part in creating? If she bases her wish to leave the EEC on her contention that the Community has not yet done enough to assist the Commonwealth countries in South Asia, has she taken account of the fact that, as shown by the Kingston Conference last week, none of those countries wishes us to leave the Community?

The hon. Member should reflect carefully on the position here. If we remain in the Community, I shall continue to press my European colleagues—

Of course I do not resign [An HON. MEMBER: "Why should she?"] If I may put my reply into a comprehensive sentence instead of responding to what one might call heckling from Conservative Members, those of us who believe profoundly in the principle of letting the British people decide will, of course, abide by the decision that the British people make.

Therefore, continuing from that, if we remain in the Community I shall continue to press my EEC colleagues, as I have in the last year unsuccessfully pressed them, to extend their aid to the poorest countries in the Indian subcontinent. If we were to leave the Community, then of course we should have to make the correct arrangements—I state this purely factually—to protect our Commonwealth countries which are partners in the Lomé Convention. I see no great problems in doing that.

What priority are the Development Ministers giving towards South America, particularly the poorer countries there?

A number of countries of the EEC have bilateral aid programmes to Latin America. We have some limited ones, consisting mainly of technical assistance. It is important to appreciate that not all but most of the Latin American countries now have a level of national income which means that they are not among the poorest developing countries. Nevertheless, they have considerable sections of very poor population within their countries and these are the ones to which our own aid programme is directed.

Is it still the Minister's main objection to the EEC in this sphere that it has not done enough to help the Asian members of the Commonwealth? If so, will she explain how the Asian members of the Commonwealth would be helped if she put at risk the Lomé Convention and thus threw the African, Caribbean and Pacific members of the Commonwealth back into confusion?

I think that there must be some misunderstanding about this. The Lomé Convention affects the Commonwealth countries and other countries of the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa. The problem is that the Asian subcontinent is not part of the Lomé Convention. My efforts over the last year have been to try to get the EEC, as I put it in one speech, to turn a smiling face towards them as well as to its associates. In that I failed, but this is a continuing process. I could only make the assessment that, since this was my major renegotiation objective, on that objective I did not succeed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that one of the main topics of discussion at the next meeting of European Development Ministers will be the possible provision of several hundred million pounds precisely to the Asian Commonwealth countries by the EEC?

I hope that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that this will be a matter of discussion at the next meeting of Development Ministers of the Community. The difficulty is that I have been trying to get that precise discussion since April of last year and it certainly had not occurred, despite my efforts, before we judged the results of our renegotiation in March.

But if we remain in the EEC and the right hon. Lady remains in her office, as I understand she wants to do, will it not be difficult for her colleagues in the Council of Ministers to feel the enthusiastic confidence in her that we should like them to feel?

The right hon. Gentleman may find this difficult to understand, but I have friends among the Ministers of the EEC countries.

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Oil Price Increases

39.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what specific action is being taken by her Department to help developing countries hardest hit by the rise in oil prices.

The contributions we have made to the United Nations Emergency Operation for the hardest hit countries have totalled £84 million. Of this sum, £72 million was contributed directly either as bilateral aid or through various international agencies and £12 million through our share of contributions made by the European Economic Community.

I welcome that reply. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the oil crisis has been serious for us, it has been disastrous for many developing countries, particularly the Asian countries? In the light of that, does he agree that perhaps the Government should rethink the question of cutting £20 million from the aid programme?

I certainly agree with the first part of that question. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with the subject of the second part.

Does the Minister agree that many countries affected by the oil crisis also suffer from natural disasters affecting food? Does he not agree that there is room for the Government to take positive steps on matters such as commodity prices to bring immediate help to those countries?

We have already done a fair amount in terms of food aid and we propose to do more. My right hon. Friend and her right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be attending a meeting in Rome in the not very distant future on this subject. As for commodity prices, that subject was very much under discussion at the Kingston Conference and any further reference to it will probably need to come from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.