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Aid Policy

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

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asked the Minister for Overseas Development whether he intends any adjustment of the policies of his Department, in view of Her Majesty's Government's anti-inflationary policy as outlined in the White Paper "The Attack on Inflation", Cmnd. 6151.

Bearing in mind that it is usually the poorest countries which suffer most from the effect of world inflation and that it is the philosophy of the Labour Party to give most help to those who are most in need, will my right hon. Friend enlarge on his answer and state clearly and categorically that, despite the savage cuts in public expenditure outlined in the White Paper, there is no intention on the part of the Government of further decreasing the percentage of our gross national product which we spend on overseas aid?

A reduction was announced in April of £10 million in what would have been the programme for 1975–76 and for 1976–77. Beyond that, public expenditure in general is under review and I cannot anticipate the result.

It is our stated intention as a Government to move as quickly as we can to the fulfilment of the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. Meanwhile, within our aid programme we shall give greater priority than hitherto to the very poorest countries—those with a per capita income of $200 per year or less—and to the poorest groups within developing countries.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that some adjustment is necessary in the case of India, which has been able to construct and explode a nuclear bomb? If the Indians can divert resources of that kind to such activities, surely India should not get any hand-out from the United Kingdom in present circumstances.

I do not think that Member of the House should describe development aid programmes as hand-outs. They are a contribution which the more affluent countries make and should make to the development plans of the developing countries. India is the biggest single aid recipient from this country, but in view of her size she is certainly not treated over-generously. Indeed, she gets a great deal less per capita than many other countries and has used that development aid very intelligently and very successfully over the years.

Does the Minister agree that although overseas aid can play a vital and indispensable rôle in the development of poorer countries, some of the poorer countries have far greater inequalities of wealth than are to be found in the aid-giving countries and that the time has come when the countries which give generously should make clear to some of the recipient countries that they should bring about such changes in the structure of their own society and government as would enable development to take place rather faster than has been the case hitherto?

I would go part of the way with that, but not all the way. We are dealing with independent countries. We are not in a paternalistic situation where we can dictate to them the political and social policies they should follow. One of the considerations that we have to bear carefully in mind is that where we are providing aid it will be used effectively. We have to judge the ability of a country to make effective use of our aid as well as judging its need for it.