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Government Aid

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she is satisfied with the level of aid given by the British Government to developing countries.

The present level of overseas aid is not as high as I would wish. Future levels will be considered in the next public expenditure review, having regard to the Government's acceptance in principle of the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, which does not altogether surprise me. Does she agree that one way of avoiding fluctuations in the level of aid to overseas countries would be to set out immediately a plan for Britain to contribute a certain percentage of its GDP each year? Beyond that, will she tell us exactly what was agreed in terms of the common aid fund, which was left so vague at the Summit Meeting?

A number of considerable and important expressions of good will were made at the Summit Meeting at Downing Street. I am talking about expressions from other countries—for example, the United States. I think that this is important. We shall have to wait a little time to see how they express themselves in material terms. I am sure that in the public expenditure review this summer we shall be taking into account the atmosphere of the Summit Meeting at Downing Street and the precise statement that emerged from it.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister said that the Government were always willing to give humanitarian aid to the liberation movements of Southern Africa? How vigorously is the Department carrying out that policy? Will my right hon. Friend publish details in the Official Report?

I shall be glad to publish details in the Official Report. I think that it might help considerably to clarify some of the matters that have been in doubt. I believe that there is a Written Question to be answered later today, so I cannot go too far into detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Cambodia?"] If one is allowed to answer interjections, I hope to say something about the Cambodian question before long.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her original reply to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) sounded a little strange as in announcing his economic measures last December the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were going to reduce the money available for aid by £50 million in the current financial year and by a further £50 million in the next financial year? Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or has it been altered as a result of the Downing Street Summit Conference? If it is still the Government's policy, when is the right hon. Lady planning to announce the details of where the cuts are to be made?

I have already answered questions in the House about the effect of the cuts at the end of last year. I should be delighted to welcome the hon. Member as a recruit to the cause of resisting cuts in public expenditure.

Since President Carter and all of us in the West are deeply concerned about relations with other countries, can my right hon. Friend say what aid is being given to countries such as Chile and Indonesia? Such countries have Governments not renowned for their concern for civil rights and liberties. What studies are being carried out by her Department to develop ways of assisting countries that need aid and that could also assist development areas in this country?

We give a limited amount of aid to Chile—not to the Government of Chile, but to agencies. In particular, we give aid to the Catholic Church in Chile to help oppressed and repressed people. It is a limited amount of aid. I hope to increase it. There is a later Question about that on the Order Paper.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I am instigating studies in that area at the moment. It is important that we relate our aid and development programme to the needs of British industry. I believe that it is entirely possible to integrate the two more effectively than we have achieved so far.