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Less-Developed Countries

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal, in the light of the Brandt commission report, what priority he attaches to projects and programmes to alleviate poverty and to expand food production, in the less-developed countries.

The Government welcome the Brandt report as a comprehensive analysis of the question of international development and of the very serious problems which undoubtedly face developing countries. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development said in his statement to the House on 20 February we shall, within the limits of our resources, seek to relieve poverty in the developing world. This includes help with the expansion of food production.

How can my hon. Friend reconcile that reply with the Brandt commission recommendation in respect of official development assistance? Does he not agree that the Government have announced a disproportionate, if not savage, cut in official development assistance?

I respect fully the strength of view held by my hon. Friend, who, over the years, has taken a strong interest in the problems of developing countries. I suggest to him that if he looks carefully at the figures, he will find that in real terms the drop in expenditure next year over this year is only just over 1 per cent. and that, cumulatively, over a period of four years it is only 14 per cent. in real terms.

I reiterate that it is important for us to have a strong economic base before we can make a really productive contribution to other countries. My hon. Friend may like to know—he is probably already aware—that we contribute, as a proportion of our gross national product, a far higher proportion than many other countries and higher than the average for OECD countries.

Did the Government have any consultation with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) a member of the Brandt commission, before making their Budget proposal on overseas aid?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has read the Brandt report. It covers a wide range of issues, not only economic assistance. It is just as important to talk about preferential trade policies and the need to increase private investment overseas, which are essential engines of development, as it is to talk in terms solely of economic assistance.

Is my hon. Friend aware that at least eight separate United Nations organisations are concerned with giving help to developing countries in order to improve their food production? Does he not agree that the Government could put pressure on the United Nations to rationalise these aid-giving organisations so that less money is spent on bureaucracy and that what little money can be given goes on helping those countries with agriculture?

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. It should be known that we have heavy commitments on the multilateral side which we do not propose to reduce. But we think that some of the organisations to which we are committed, in terms of economic assistance, need to take a sharp look at the manner in which they donate their funds.

Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that a 14 per cent. cut really is a savage cut? Does he not feel, in the light of the Brandt report and all that was said in the debate last Friday, that to reduce aid steadily to the level where it was, or worse than it was, in 1974–75, including the effect on Commonwealth countries, is a matter for some shame and disgrace?

I can only repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that the average contribution of Britain is 0·48 per cent. of GNP in economic assistance. The average for OECD countries is 0·35 per cent., so our contribution is substantial. Until we have a strong economic base, we shall not be in a good enough position to help our friends.

Order. We were one minute late starting overseas development questions, so I will call one more.