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Aid Programme

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

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asked the Minister for Overseas Development by what percentage his overseas aid programme in the current year and in 1976–77, respectively, is greater or less in real terms than the programme for 1974–75.

The net aid programme in 1975–76 expressed in 1974 constant prices is lower by 1·3 per cent. than in 1974–75. In cash terms, however, it shows an increase of some £100 million. The net aid programme for 1976–77 is 1·1 per cent. higher than for 1974–75.

In view of those disappointing figures and of the many demands on very limited resources, will the Minister consider whether it is wise to continue giving aid to India in view of the recent political developments there? Is it fair to ask British taxpayers to give a great deal of money to help to finance the programmes of a country which is at present destroying democracy and freedom and making nonsense of the rule of law?

In a sense I answered that when I replied on the previous Question. I want to repeat from this Dispatch Box that it is not my business or that of Her Majesty's Government to determine the policy of other independent countries. There are within the world about 100 countries that receive aid from a number of sources, not only from Britain but from other aid donor countries and from international agencies. Many are not democracies. Some have internal practices of which we might disapprove. We have to ask two basic questions: do they need assistance, and can they make effective use of that assistance?

Although it would not be right or practical to investigate the political purity of all the countries which are aid recipients, and although many of us who are anti-Common Market regarded the Lomé Agreement as wholly inadequate because it did not provide for the poorest nations of South-East Asia, is my right hon. Friend nevertheless aware that some of us have misgivings about what is happening in India and are bound to share in some measure the sentiments expressed rather surprisingly from the other side of the House?

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has reservations about what is happening in India. However, I hope he will not suggest that we should cut off aid to India or to other countries which may be pursuing policies of which hon. Members may not approve.

As for the extension of the Lomé Agreement, it is the policy of the Government to see the aid programme of the Community extended to non-associates. We shall be arguing for that policy within all the machinery of the Community.

The right hon. Gentleman has twice sought refuge in the word "effectively" or "effective use". As that word is, on the face of it, imprecise since any expenditure is bound to produce some effect and to that extent be effective, will he essay a more precise definition and in particular say whether any qualitative criterion is involved?

No; without giving a very long lecture I will not attempt it. I suggest to the House that a study both of the British aid programme and of the aid programmes of other donors, of the United Nations agencies, of the World Bank and other similar bodies, shows that over the years we have become very much more expert in assessing development projects. So also have the developing countries themselves in many cases become much more effective in their development projects and avoided earlier mistakes. On the whole, the experience of recent years has been more successful than was the experience 15 to 20 years ago.