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Developing Countries (Assistance)

Volume 959: debated on Monday 4 December 1978

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41.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what action has been taken to maintain an effective and increasing programme of assistance to developing countries

The aid programme is growing by 6 per cent. a year in real terms under decisions already announced. By 1981–82 it will be 40 per cent. larger than in 1977-78. Our aid strategy is to assist the poorest countries and the poorest people.

Would not the cause of world peace and progress be better served if we diverted less expenditure to arms and increased expenditure on solving the problem of world poverty, in view of the fact that two-thirds of mankind are suffering from want?

I agree entirely, and so do my colleagues in Government. This is evidenced by the fact that expenditure on defence has been cut compared with that on overseas aid, which has been increased.

Is not there a fundamental inconsistency in the Government's policy? The aid policy tries to encourage Third world industry, but the trade policy veers in a protectionist direction, preventing those same industries from having sufficient access to our markets.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the complexities of these matters. There can be contradictions and a danger of contradictions. The Government are concerned to avoid a policy of protectionism while at the same time safeguarding particular industries in this country which are vulnerable. In general, in our international negotiations we pursue a policy of liberalisation of trade to benefit the developing countries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of all her welcome efforts in writing off debts, the Lome convention negotiations are making it clear that our EEC partners are not prepared to open markets to the underdeveloped countries? Is she aware that the Lome countries are exceedingly angry at the way in which the negotiations are proceeding?

I note what my hon. Friend has said. The Lome negotiations, which are essentially a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are not for me, are in their early stages. People are stating their positions. I do not think we can say that negotiation has begun.

Can the Minister tell us what action she and her Department are taking to assist the new Government of Ghana, with their more liberal economic policy under General Akuffo?

We have recently announced a considerable programme loan to Ghana. If I have the opportunity in early January, I hope to include Ghana in my visit to West Africa.