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Commons Chamber

Volume 80: debated on Tuesday 11 June 1985

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 11 June 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Birmingham City Council Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered tomorrow.

King's College London Bill Lords

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time

British Railways(Trowse Bridge) Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Oral Answers To Questions

Employment

Crown Immunity

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about removing Crown immunity from workplaces covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act; and what consideration he has given to the matter.

The General Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union has sent my right hon. Friend a report on this subject. This followed our meeting with the trade union, the right hon. Member and other right hon. and hon. Members on 17 April. We have asked the Health and Safety Commission for its considered view of the case set out in the report.

I welcome that request to the Health and Safety ▸Commission. However, is the Minister aware that Crown immunity protects from criminal prosecution so-called Crown institutions, such as hospitals, when they break the law under the Health and Safety Acts and that this is gravely damaging to patients? Can he give one good reason why a hospital which food-poisons its patients should be immune from prosecution when a hotel which food-poisons its visitors can be prosecuted?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the food hygiene regulations are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I cannot give him a good reason, but I can give him a true reason. It took two years, from 1977 to 1979, for the Labour Government to take no action. I therefore believe that we are pursuing the right course in asking the commission for its advice, and we shall then consider the advice that it gives.

Does my hon. Friend realise that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that inactivity in this regard is quite shameful? Frankly, the deaths from food poisoning at the Stanley Royd hospital in Wakefield cannot be tolerated. At present, patients going into hospital face possible danger. However, there is no question of environmental health officers being entitled to go into hospitals—they go in by invitation. I therefore urge my hon. Friend seriously to hold talks so that Crown immunity is stripped away to ensure that patients enjoy the same privileges as they do if they dine in a hotel or restaurant.

As I have said, we shall give serious consideration to the advice for which we have asked. Although there are differences between Crown and non-Crown premises, there is a shadow procedure for Crown notices similar to statutory notices, which ought to have a great effect.

Disabled Persons

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the operation of the quota system for the employment of disabled people.

The Government have been concerned for some time about the working of the quota scheme. I have recently received from the Manpower Services Commission a report on the scheme by a working group representing all interested parties. I am now considering its advice and recommendations.

As only 30 per cent. of employers reach the 3 per cent. quota, will the Minister use the code of practice on the employment of disabled people as a means of strengthening the quota? If the code of practice does not work, will he give statutory backing to it?

As the House knows, the hon. Lady has long and valuable experience of this subject. From our evidence to the all-party disablement group six weeks ago, she will be aware that the principal difficulty is the reluctance of disabled people to register. However, the DROs in the employment service are doing their best to persuade employers the advantages of employing disabled people. I am glad to say that this is reflected in the figures for placings, which have gone up from 69,000 to 71,000 against an extremely disappointing general employment background. We hope that this trend will continue. If it does not, and in the light of research which the special MSC report recommends, we shall consider what further action to take.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is at last beginning to tackle the problem. What does he intend to do about the certification of exemption, which is all too readily available to employers? Does he agree that the regulations for exemptions should be much stricter and stiffer?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The reluctance of disabled people to register means that only 32,000 registered disabled people are eligible and available for the quota scheme, so, even if every one of them were taken into employment, the total would still be less than half that required by the Act.

Does the Minister agree that Government Departments could set a good example by fulfilling the quota themselves? Is he aware that data made available earlier this year show that only five out of 44 Government Departments reached the 3 per cent. quota, and that, even more disgracefully, the DHSS, which ought to be well above the quota, accounts for only 1.5 per cent.? Will the Minister ask his colleagues to do something about that?

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. The Government should set an example. As I have explained, the sheer mathematics of the problem makes it virtually impossible to comply, but I take his point about the poor figures for the majority of Government Departments. I have written to them once about this and I shall be writing again. I am glad to say that by Department has the best record of all with a figure of 2.5 per cent.

Rade Unions (Postal Voting)

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now introduce legislation to make compulsory the use of postal voting in ballots for trade union political funds.

If the Secretary of State will not go so far as legislation, will he at least authorise the certification officer to grant exemption from postal balloting based on the case put to him by individual unions?

The rules have been agreed by the House and the ballots are now taking place. One has been a fully postal ballot; two have been conducted on a part workplace and part postal basis. I am encouraged by reports of the efforts being made to conduct the ballots in the appropriate way. The House will remember this in the future and will expect the same standards to be observed by all unions.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that irregular and corrupt practices regularly take place in union elections, not just in relation to political funds, but in the election of union officers and when strike decisions are taken at mass meetings? Does he agree that it is time those practices were brought to a halt in the interests of the average union member?

My hon. Friend helpfully supported legislation which has effectively outlawed mass meetings and removed immunity from them. We welcome the procedure increasingly being followed in any question of strike or industrial action whereby there must be a secret ballot if immunity is to be retained. That is a most important and successful reform.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ballots on political funds that have taken place so far have been extremely successful, not just in their results, but in the way in which they have been conducted? Is he further aware that more discussion and interest is shown by trade union members in workplace ballots than in postal ballots, as the turnout figures show?

I confirm that my information is that in the one fully postal ballot the turnout was 20 per cent., whereas in the two part workplace and part postal ballots the figures were 57 per cent. and 67 per cent. Despite all the opposition from Labour Members about monstrous and impossible impositions on trade unions, I note and welcome the observance of our legislation by the unions. We shall note the efforts made to ensure fair balloting, and we shall expect that to be the practice in all future ballots in the interests of union members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that far too much money is donated to and by trade unions without ballots and proper consultation? Was that not illustrated last weekend by the unfortunate donation of £16,000 by the rock star, Bruce Springsteen, to support miners who were sacked during the strike, which probably also illustrates a lack of proper consideration and advice?

With regard to the legislation and the steps that are being taken, I welcome the important development that if a ballot for political funds is conducted, and is successful, it is the duty of that union to notify each of its members under the 1930 legislation, which was repeated in the 1984 Act, of their right to contract out of that political fund. If the ballots are to be correctly conducted, the House would expect that step to be implemented.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we do not want lectures from Conservative Members of Parliament, who get money from companies which are members of the CBI—which would not know a ballot if it stared them in the face — and that we do not need hypocrisy from the Liberal party, which has just received the biggest-ever political donation of £188,000 from the British School of Motoring and for which no ballot was conducted? Would it not be a good idea if everyone who has paid through the nose for lessons at the British School of Motoring were given the chance of a ballot to decide whether the Liberal party should have received that money? Is it not the height of hypocrisy?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has still not learnt the important lesson. As a Member sponsored by a union that must bitterly regret the fact that it did not dare to consult its members before embarking on such a disastrous strike, I should have thought that even he might have begun to understand the merits of ballots.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that postal balloting must be evaluated in the much wider context of an improvement in the general industrial climate? Therefore, will he join me in welcoming the recent decision by British Rail to end the closed shop?

I noted that announcement. My impression was that the closed shop in British Rail ended about two years ago, and I am surprised at the excitement about the announcement. Following our legislation, the British Gas Corporation, the Post Office, British Telecommunications and all the water authorities have notified all their unions that the closed shop is ended.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear that he rejects the scurrilous charges that are made about irregularities in ballots without the production of evidence? If no such evidence is available, we should treat those charges with the contempt that they deserve. Does the Secretary of State accept, after three political fund ballots, that a combination of workplace and postal ballots produces twice as many participants as does a pure postal ballot? Will he make that clear to the Prime Minister, who is considering new legislation for the trade unions in pursuit of her vendetta against them?

It is incredible that, so recently after the serious events in the Transport and General Workers Union, the hon. Gentleman can allege that there are no malpractices in trade union elections. If anything could clearly underline the importance of our legislation and of the emphasis that we have given to fair and secret ballots, those recent events have done so.

Youth Training Scheme

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he will next meet the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission to discuss the second year of the youth training scheme.

My right hon. Friend and I frequently discuss the progress and development of the youth training scheme with the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, and did so yesterday.

At one of his meetings, will the Minister of State make sure that he gives a very strong lead on the second year of the youth training scheme? If the second year of YTS is not planned as a proper foundation stone for a real training programme for our young people, YTS and all the Government's temporary training measures will fall totally into disrepute. We must have a foundation stone for real training in the 21st century, not cheap job experience.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely crucial that the second year of the youth training scheme should be real training, with qualifications at the end of it, so I am delighted to have his support. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is precisely what my right hon. Friend and I and the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission are saying.

Following the launch of the Genesis programme, when my hon. Friend sees the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission will he discuss how greater advice and encouragement can be given to trainees to use their skills to set up their own businesses?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the enterprise courses are part of the youth training scheme. I agree that many trainees should consider setting up in business on their own. In fact, that has already happened.

Labour Statistics

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will arrange for equal prominence to be given by his Department in the publication of numbers of people employed at the same time as the release of statistics showing the numbers unemployed.

We seek to give equal emphasis to employment as well as to unemployment, since clearly both statistical series are important to obtain a clear perspective of what is happening in the labour market. The figures are released at different times in the month as soon as they are available.

I share the concern that is felt by all hon. Members about unemployment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we were to succeed in securing wider publicity about the number of people employed that would not only recognise the steps that the Government have already taken to create more jobs, but offer some hope in an otherwise rather depressing scene for those who are still unemployed?

I understand my hon. Friend's question. I have been seeking to emphasise that point. Hon. Members know that during the past 18 months there has been a rapid increase in the working population. That has made the task not only of providing more jobs but of reducing unemployment more demanding.

In view of those bullish remarks, does the Secretary of State think that by the time of the next general election there might be a return to the same number of people in employment as there were when the Labour Government left office? If that is too optimistic, does he think that there might be a return to within 1 million of that figure?

The challenge that is being faced not only in this country but in every other country of the Western world is very tough. I have never concealed that fact and I have never sought to put forecasts before the House. I take encouragement from the rapid increase in the number of new jobs being created and from the fact that the most recent forecast of the Confederation of British Industry is the most optimistic for many years. I hope that at last there will be the scale of improvement that every hon. Member wishes to see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are parts of the country—for example, not far from my own—where the number of jobs available is much greater than the number of people applying for them? Does he also agree that one of the disincentives to people seeking employment in those areas is that it is too easy, for young people in particular, to move into employment which is some kind of cul-de-sac? Can he give an assurance that he is taking that point on board?

There is no doubt that the overall figures show a considerable improvement in the number of vacancies, but I am the first to accept that they are not evenly distributed around the country. In many areas there are frequent complants about skill shortages and the difficulty of getting labour for jobs, but that at least shows that there is an improvement. We hope that the improvement in the economy will help to reinforce it.

Since the right hon. Gentleman is so interested in the employment figures as opposed to the unemployment figures, will he now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and say what were the employment figures in 1979 and what are the employment figures now.

The figures are known to the House. There is a later question on this subject. Between 1979 and March 1983 there was a net fall of about 1.8 million in the employed labour force. Since March 1983 there has been an increase of about 600,000 in the employed labour force.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Liverpool research group estimates that the black economy is now worth about £45 million a year? Does he think that people registered as unemployed are contributing towards that vast sum? If so, what can be done about it?

I am under no illusions. It is a substantial figure. The chairman of the Inland Revenue has on occasions tried to make an estimate of the scale of the black economy. I have no doubt that it is substantial and that some unemployed people are taking advantage of the situation. However, I am well aware that there are many parts of the country with substantial problems of unemployment which are not met by explanations of that kind.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the figures would be more realistic and would give us a better ability to interpret the situation if they included whole-time equivalents?

There is obviously something in that. I have made it clear that there are a number of part-time jobs. However, some hon. Members have an illusion that the increase in the employed labour force, to which I have referred, is entirely part-time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is an increase in full-time male employment, in full-time female employment, in self-employment and in part-time employment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is growing interest in the employment figures, for two reasons: first, because the CBI has forecast that by the end of this year there will be 1 million more people in work than there were at the last general election; and, secondly, because of the embarrassment that that will cause to the alliance parties, which, in their manifesto at the last election, said that the biggest increase that could be expected over the same period would be far less than one million jobs — about 650,000 — if their policies were pursued?

I do not know how much of an embarrassment it would be. I suppose it would depend on how many people actually read their manifesto. I was not aware of the point as stated by my hon. Friend, but I note what he says. Certainly there is considerable optimism about the creation of more jobs. I do not conceal from the House the challenge that we have to face, with the substantial increase in the working population. We may be meeting that challenge better than other countries in Europe, but not well enough to achieve a real reduction in unemployment.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the numbers of people who have been unemployed for over 12 months; and what this is as a percentage of those registered unemployed.

On 11 April 1985, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of claimants in the United Kingdom who had been unemployed for over 12 months was 1,334,000–41 per cent. of the total.

Does the Minister recollect that in April 1980, 334,000 people, or 23 per cent. of the total, had been unemployed for more than 52 weeks? Is he aware that eminently respectable people, such as Hywel Jones, director of the Henley Centre for Forecasting, have estimated that unemployment will continue to rise year by year until the end of the century? Will the hon. Gentleman look at the facts of the case rather than at dogmatism and produce a policy for employment?

The hon. Gentleman should recall that at the time to which he refers the community enterprise programme was in existence and had 30,000 places. Since then, under the community programme for the long-term unemployed, that has been expanded to 130,000 places. Now, with the Chancellor's announcement in the Budget, it has been increased to 230,000 places. That is a practical example of what the Government are doing and how we care for the long-term unemployed.

As the most notable aspect of the plight of the long-term unemployed is their lack of any formal or educational qualifications, will my hon. Friend pay close attention in any extension of the community programme to the training content of the programme and the prospects for remedial education?

That is precisely what we are doing. As my hon. Friend is probably aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that about 50,000 places in the programme will have a training element.

Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister's weekend statement that there will still be about 3 million people unemployed at the time of the next general election? Do not the figures mean that the overwhelming majority of over-50s who are currently classified as long-term unemployed have no reasonable chance of a full-time job so long as the Conservatives remain in office?

The hon. Gentleman has probably seen the outturn statistics for the community programme.

The hon. Lady is right to ask. They show that one in three get a job and that their opportunity of getting a job is greatly enhanced as a result of the community programme, which, as I explained, has been expanded substantially by the Chancellor's Budget proposals.

The Minister has told us that there are now 1,200,000 fewer people employed than there were in 1979. How many of those who have been unemployed for more than 12 months are young people who, training schemes apart, have never had a job?

I cannot cite the precise statistics. The hon. Gentleman has rightly put his finger on a key area. Many of the 21 to 24-year olds did not have the opportunity offered by a youth training scheme. If the last Labour Government had bitten the bullet in 1978, those people would have had that opportunity. Because of that lack of action, their position has been made rather more difficult.

Young Persons (Langbaurgh)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make further arrangements to cater for the high unemployment rate amongst young people in the Langbaurgh region in view of the fact that the youth training scheme will not be available to all those eligible in the area.

There has been no shortage of places in the Langbaurgh area under the present youth training scheme; and young people there will benefit substantially from the expansion of the scheme.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the reassurance that, despite the rumours in the area, there will not be a shortfall. The major consideration is, however, about the national average of a 60 per cent. take-up of full-time employment after YTS is completed. In Langbaurgh the figure is about 20 per cent., or even less, despite the hard work of the staff. What encouragement will there be for young people to embark upon YTS for one year if their chance of obtaining full-time employment following that scheme is less than 20 per cent.?

The rumours to which my hon. Friend refers are always regrettable because they lead to a great deal of disillusionment and to uncertainty about whether it is worth going on to the scheme. I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the expansion of the scheme and the fact that the number of places provided for in Langbaurgh is larger than the number of projected applicants. Subsequent entry into employment must necessarily depend upon the level of economic activity where the scheme is situated. The scheme's extension to two years has been widely welcomed. The extension will give a higher level of skills and training to those participating in the scheme and will further enhance their employment prospects.

Wages Councils

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has received any further representations regarding the proposal to abolish or reform wages councils.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there is little evidence that the abolition of the wages councils will create any real jobs? Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the Government would be better occupied in creating real and lasting jobs than in destroying the wages councils, which action will remove the protection for all trained workers?

No, Sir. I take this opportunity to point out that the movement of wages and costs, especially unit labour costs, throughout the economy makes a very substantial difference.

Has my hon. Friend read the recent survey of members of the Institute of Directors, which showed that 54 per cent. of those interviewed would employ more people if wages councils were abolished?

I am delighted to hear that. Most of those members already have the opportunity of doing that because they do not all operate in wages council industries.

Are statistics available for each travel-to-work area giving the number of people covered by wages council awards?

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the United States had had wages councils, it would not have been able to create 10 million new jobs during the past 10 years? [Interruption.]

I wish that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) would stop answering my questions for me. As she has rightly pointed out, the United States has a national minimum wage. It is important to start looking at the real effects of minimum wage legislation, how it operates in this country and the age groups it most affects.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, or deny, that his Department is thinking about attacking the minimum wages paid to people under 21 so that their wages will be about the level paid to people under youth training schemes?

The hon. Gentleman should pay a little attention to the motives and success of the people in the electrical contracting industry, who freely negotiated a reduction in the starting pay and raised the number taking part in traineeships by three times in 18 months. So, the simple answer to his question is no.

If evidence is being called for, is my hon. Friend aware of the work done by Mr. Stanley Siebert of Birmingham university, who has estimated that there are about 230,000 jobs lost for teenagers because of the minimum wage structure established by the wages councils?

Yes. The important thing is to put people on the bottom rungs on the ladder and ensure that more have a chance to move up the ladder.

Given the large number of press leaks that we saw over the weekend, will the Minister tell the House what the Cabinet decided last week—if the Secretary of State has told him? Will the Minister confirm that it means that the current consultation is something of a sham? In reply to a large number of representations it was said that the system should not be weakened in any way. Those assurances have obviously been ignored because of the Cabinet's decision to legislate in the next Session either to weaken or to abolish the wages council system.

The difficulty in answering the hon. Lady is that hers is the only question to which she does not give the answer. The only person to whom I offered advice wrote an article that was exactly the opposite of what I said.

Will my hon. Friend accept that one of the defects of wages councils is the abnormally high rate fixed for school leavers, usually 60 per cent. of the rate for an adult trained worker, and that that precludes the employment of many school leavers?

Yes. It is worth recognising that most school leavers, or people of school leaving age, face four choices. They can stay on at school, getting no income whatever; they can try to get one of the jobs that are available, in a wages council industry or some other industry, at a fairly high rate of pay; they can stay on in education, at a college of further education, where they get less money; or they can use the youth training schemes, where they can get training to make them better qualified for employment. It is better to make sure that the wages that they get in wages council industries are not so high as to stop most of them getting their feet on the bottom rungs of the ladder and moving upwards.

Labour Statistics

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment, on the latest available figures, what is the total number of unemployed under the age of 25 years.

On 11 April 1985 the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom under 25 years of age was 1,213,000.

Does the Minister realise the depressing nature of that figure? Have not the Government, through their economic policies, written off a large proportion of the generation under the age of 25? When will the Government act on their behalf? What hope can there be for those people in the future if there is continuation of the same miserable policies?

As I said in answer to a previous question, the Government have not written off the 18 to 25–year-olds. The Government have expanded the community programme to almost double its size. As the hon. Member will be aware, about half of the people on that programme are under 25.

Is it not time that we had a significant drive to get more young people to take jobs in the service industries? In view of the high unemployment figures, is it not ludicrous that restaurants and hotels throughout the country are staffed almost exclusively by foreigners?

I agree in part with what my hon. Friend said. There are many opportunities available in hotels, restaurants and the retail industry. As he will no doubt know, there are large numbers of youth training scheme places aimed at precisely those parts of the economy.

Does the Minister know that, as the end of another school year approaches, the prospects for school leavers throughout the country—certainly in my constituency in Leicester—are very bleak indeed, and that many of their school friends who left at the end of the last school year are still unable to find jobs? The youth training scheme may be admirable, but it is no substitute for a job.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows well, in Leicester, as in other parts of the country, every one of this year's school leavers will have the opportunity of taking part in a quality youth training scheme. That is more than ever happened under the last Labour Administration.

One regrets the large number of unemployed people under the age of 25, but is my hon. Friend aware that in the city of Leicester, because of a dispute within NALGO, the community programme has not been agreed as an agency agreement with the city council, and that, therefore, 400 jobs cannot be confirmed? Will my hon. Friend arrange for the jobcentres to publicise the number of jobs going begging, numbering about 1,600 in Leicester? If those jobs were filled, it would reduce the number of unemployed and would be of help to the rest of the country.

As my hon. Friend will know, I am aware that NALGO in Leicester has, for the moment, not approved the community programme. One must, therefore, assume that it is not worried about the long-term unemployed. At present I am looking into that matter.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of those in employment are in full-time work; and what the proportion was in May 1979.

The labour force survey conductec in the spring of 1984 found that 79 per cent. of employee; regarded themselves as working full time. That compare; with 82 per cent. in the survey conducted in the spring of 1979.

Does the Minister realise that that reply and those figures mean that there is a growth in part-time employment, which means that there are fewer full-time employees? Is he further aware that those part-time employees are represented in the main by the council—I mean, by wages councils? Bearing in mind that the Government have a policy to abolish wages councils, is the Minister aware that bosses and employers will walk all over those people? It is obviously a typical Tory party policy.

I am certain that the House will feel thai the hon. Gentleman's question lost nothing in the briel interval during which he rehearsed his punchline. If he examines the figures, he will see that the difference between 1979 and 1982 is small. Indeed, the proportior has hardly altered. There is nothing disreputable about part-time work. It is generally accepted that future patterns of employment in industrial societies will include an element of job-sharing and splitting, and flexible early retirement. Government policies and special employment measures are directed towards that.

Skillcentres

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently attending skillcentres; and what were the figures for 1984 and 1983.

During April 1985, the latest month for which information is available, on average 8,800 people attended skillcentres at any one time. For April 1984 and April 1983 the numbers were about 10,600 and 12,100 respectively. Overall, however, skillcentres plan to train 35,000 adults in 1985–86 compared with 33,000 in 1984–85 and 31,000 in 1983–84.

Does the Minister recollect the words of the Secretary of State, who recently said that the shortage of skill in Britain represented a time bomb which, if not remedied, would blow the whole economy to pieces? Why, then, has he changed his mind and decided to keep open only two skillcentres out of all those that have been closed? The two that have been re-opened are in Twickenham and Southampton, and members of the Conservative party in those two areas knew that their centres would remain open before the Minister announced publicly the new decision.

I recollect well what my right hon. Friend said about skill shortages. Surely the hon. Gentleman was not listening to my answer. I pointed out that in the year ahead 35,000 people would be trained in skillcentres, compared with 31,000 in 1983–84. Furthermore, thanks to the rejigged adult training strategy, 250,000 people will be trained next year, as opposed to 125,000 in the past year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it does not matter whether the physical building is called a skillcentre, a technical college or a training centre; what matters is the quantity, quality and cost-effectiveness of the training?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely why the adult training strategy has been adopted.

Will the Minister come clean and accept that the so-called re-jigging hides the fact that throughout the country short-term "cheapo" courses are being substituted for genuine year-long skills training in our skillcentres? Is it not a surprise that the two skillcentres that the Minister has saved are in Tory marginal seats? Is he aware that men and women in other areas will take that lesson hard, they having had their skill-training opportunities taken away from them?

The decision as to which skillcentres to keep was made entirely by the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission. The hon. Gentleman will know that the leader of the CSU pleaded with the chairman of the MSC to retain the Southampton skillcentre. He will know also that it was the Labour-controlled council which guaranteed money for the Southampton centre. Those are the facts.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was present at Victoria station to meet President de la Madrid of Mexico at the beginning of his state visit to this country. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a state banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen in honour of President de la Madrid.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing resentment in the country over the activities of the European Court of Human Rights? Is it right that a court dominated by foreign judges should dictate who enters Britain, should prevent naughty schoolchildren from being caned and should discuss the future of Myra Hindley? Is it not time that these decisions were brought back to the House and the Government? Will my right hon. Friend give notice that we shall terminate our membership and recognition of this body?

I can understand why my hon. Friend feels deeply about some of the judgments that have been given. However, we have signed that declaration and we must abide by its rules. The court held, for example, that the immigration rules applying to the admission of husbands had the legitimate aim of protecting the domestic labour market. It is worth noting that Myra Hindley has tried previously to get her case before the European Court and has failed. It was ruled inadmissible.

Will the Prime Minister join me in deploring the concentration of television interviewers and Conservative Central Office on something called the TBW factor? Does she agree that it is merely a pathetic excuse for the failures of the Government's economic and social policies?

I note that the right hon. Gentleman cannot find a more effective and more important supplementary question than that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the victory of Barry McGuigan was a great victory and one which symbolised the capacity of the different communities in Northern Ireland to live together when they have the will to do so?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I congratulate the winner most warmly. We are all delighted at the reception that he received in both parts of Ireland.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

How many people will have to pay increased national insurance and pension charges if the state earnings-related pension scheme is abolished, which apparently the right hon. Lady is determined to do?

Any increases will be nothing like those that would have had to be paid had SERPS continued. There will be a certain number of increases, because SERPS will continue until the end of the century for those who are entitled to it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the money that is paid out in pensions this year has to be met by contributions, a factor which I wish he would remember more often.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if she decides to intervene in the current moves to find a peace settlement in the middle east she will have the wholehearted support of the House, and no one will criticise her for visiting Cairo, Amman and other centres in that area, or suggest that she should take a holiday instead?

We cannot intervene directly, as my hon. Friend knows, but we keep closely in touch with these matters, both with the parties concerned and the United States. I have often been asked to visit Egypt and Jordan as Prime Minister, and by the time that the long recess comes it will be about time that I accepted those kind invitations.

The right hon. Lady gave an evasive response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans). Is it not the plain truth and the plain fact that every worker, whether contracted in or contracted out of SERPS, will have to pay more as a consequence of any abolition of the scheme? Why does she not come out and admit that?

As long as SERPS carries on, yes, more contributions will have to be paid to meet the liability. The right hon. Gentleman must be well aware that the contributions paid so far towards SERPS are not being accumulated to pay out SERPS but are used to pay out existing basic pensions as well as increments on former graduated pensions that have built up. The situation will be far worse under the system that he proposes. If SERPS were fully in operation for the period in which it was arranged for it to be in operation it would cost £661/2 billion, compared with the £15 billion now on the same price terms.

The Prime Minister wants us to forget that not only did she vote for the scheme but that she endorsed it at the last general election. Setting that aside, how does the abolition of SERPS meet the problems about pensions that are bound to be encountered? We know that contributions are going up because of the right hon. Lady's deliberate act trying to abolish SERPS. Is she now saying that there will be a real cut in pensions in 20 or 30 years' time, and that she favours that? Is the alternative that extra payments will go in extra subscriptions to private pensions, without any particular advantage for anyone now having to pay for pensions?

No, and if the right hon. Gentleman read it all carefully, he would find the answers for which he is asking. SERPS goes on, for all those entitled to it, up to the end of the century. The outgoings on SERPS have to be met by incoming contributions. As to beyond the century, the contributions that people will make to new occupational pension schemes will be accumulated and will therefore be there, saved and ready to be paid out. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Labour's proposals for pensions alone at the last general election would have already added—[Interruption]—£10 a week to the national insurance contributions of the working population. The right hon. Gentleman never thinks of the working population, which has to pay for all his promises.

Why does the Prime Minister never want to talk about her pensions policy now or in the future? What is she trying to evade now? What does she have to hide about the future? Is she in favour of a real cut in pensions in the future simply because she will not bear the obligations, through a state scheme, that people are willing to bear?

SERPS could not be delivered, in spite of all the right hon. Gentleman's promises. At the next general election, at any time, I will stand on our record and on our proposals compared with his. He is proposing to quadruple spending on pensions in real terms over the next 50 years, but he is refraining from saying that the majority of his constituents, the working population, will have to pay for his extravagant promises.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when the earnings-related pension scheme was introduced, its actuarial value was far too optimistic? Does she further agree that, whereas the working population is today paying 9 per cent. of its earnings in national insurance contributions, if SERPS were not altered, some 15 per cent. of every worker's gross income would have to be paid out? The working population could not sustain such a burden.

I do not believe that the working population could sustain the burden. What is more, the figures on which SERPS was calculated took no account of the number of pensioners after the year 2010, which will now be 3 million higher than the figure taken account of in SERPS.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the bizarre background to the secrets trial currently in progress at the Old Bailey? Can she assure me that when the verdict is announced—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's question may well be sub judice.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read the article prepared by supporters and members of the Federation of Conservative Students, for publication in the Aston university student newspaper? The article is so outrageously offensive that it can even express pleasure at seeing black people die in the fire at Bradford City football ground. Will the Prime Minster repudiate such vile rubbish which comes fom members of her party? Will she take this opportunity to assure the House and the country that that rubbish in the Federation of Conservative Students will be cleaned out? Does she agree that the article represents a true sickness in the FCS?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will send me the evidence that he has to support his assertions—

I do not know who prepared the alleged article. I do not know whether the alleged article, which the hon. Gentleman has sent me, was published. Perhaps he will send me supporting evidence for his contentions. If the article was published, that is disgraceful, whoever wrote it.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

Although the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill has now been effectively killed off, the fact remains that the House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly against experimentation on human embryos. As it was possible to deal with surrogacy in isolation, does my right hon. Friend agree that experimentation on human embryos is also a matter that could be dealt with in legislation soon? Does she further agree that, if it is true that we must wait at least two years, and probably longer, for a Government Bill, that would be unacceptable to many hon. Members and reflect grave discredit on the Government?

As my hon. Friend said, we introduced a Bill to deal with commercial surrogacy, which we felt had to be dealt with urgently. We intend to bring in a comprehensive Bill with regard to the Warnock proposals as soon as it is practicable. As my hon. Friend said, there will be a good deal of contention about the Warnock proposals and it is as well that that should be resolved before we bring forward a Bill. I am well aware of the strength of views expressed by hon. Members during debates on the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). Indeed, I share many of those views.

Although I welcome the visit of the President of Mexico, was it really necessary for the streets of London to be snarled up for two hours? Traffic was unable to move and constituents were unable to get into the House. Is it really necessary to plan visits in this way?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that it is the habit and custom for those on a state visit to be met at Victoria, or sometimes at Windsor, and for them to proceed through the streets of London. I think that most of the populace of London would wish that to continue.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

In the light of my right hon. Friend's interview on Sunday, can she now produce a word that would describe an Opposition party more interested in analysing the reason for past military success than in producing a defence policy designed to avoid future military defeat?

I hope that my hon. Friend will think that I showed great restraint in not quoting the remark in full, since it has a great pedigree. In full, it would have been "stark staring bonkers."

Legal Profession Reform

3.30 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the development of a more unified legal profession by enabling solicitors, as of right to exercise rights of audience in all courts and tribunals, civil and criminal, in England and Wales; to regulate and provide for advertising of pupillages and tenancies in barristers' practices and to enable barristers to establish practices anywhere in England and Wales with direct access to those seeking legal advice and when appropriate, representation, there being no mandatory intervention of any solicitor's or barrister's clerk or any other person whatsoever; to enable barristers and solicitors to practise together in any mutually acceptable form; to enable barristers to litigate for professional fees; to enable barristers to advertise; and to abolish the rank and title of Queen's (or King's) Counsel and the two Counsel rule
The first thing that we must do is summed up in the words
"let's kill all the lawyers",
as Dick said in Henry VI, part II. Ever moderate, and because some of my best friends are lawyers, I am not proposing to take that extreme course, but I am proposing to save the lawyers from themselves, and to save the consumer from them.

My Bill deals with three problems. The first is the ever-escalating scale of legal costs. In the BBC libel case it is estimated that of £900,000 of legal costs, £650,000 were fees. It worked out at £1,149.42 per day for QCs and £574.71p for their juniors. Secondly, the processes are slow, arcane, cumbersome and inefficient. Thirdly, the system is characterised by monopolies and restrictive practices that are at variance with the competitive ethose of the times. Too much is regulation by barristers for barristers.

Therefore, the first thing that my Bill does is give solicitors rights of audience in every court, thus ending the barristers' monopoly of the higher courts, which will be welcomed by most customers. After all, there is no point in having a Rolls-Royce when a Mini will do equally well. Most people prefer to be represented by someone who knows them, and knows their problems and their case, rather than by a total stranger who is thrust on them at the last minute, all too often on the day of the case itself. The rich can buy the barrister of their choice, but the poor get Murphy's law, and all too often Murphy himself.

The Bill will be welcomed by most solicitors. It allows those who want to specialise in advocacy to do so. Indeed, on 27 March last year, the Law Society launched a campaign to end the Bar's monopoly of advocacy. It said:
"citizens should be entitled to retain the advocate of their choice and not to have to employ more lawyers than are necessary for the case."
I say, "Hear, hear," to the Law Society, for once. I am afraid that the Law Society has gone a little quiet about it probably because of the threat by barristers that conveyancing will be handed to banks and building societies unless the Law Society lays off. I have to tell the Law Society that conveyancing will go to banks and building societies anyway, and the principle of equal access to the courts is right.

Secondly, the Bill abolishes the distinction of QC, a title conferred by the Lord Chancellor in his doubtless idiosyncratic and wholly undemocratic way, behind closed doors, with no appeal. It is essentially a mark of status. As one QC wrote to congratulate a newly appointed QC:
"You'll talk the same rubbish—but now they'll listen to you."
If people are going to charge higher fees, as QCs do, it should be for quality as designated by the market place, not for status. They should not be able to charge for a junior on half fees to milch the customer at the same time.

The third and most important part of my Bill will democratise the Bar. How wrong it is that we should have a self-selecting, self-regulating elite of some 4,800 barristers whose training is shorter, more amateurish and less adequate than that for solicitors. The profession is exclusive and amateurish, and there are rich rewards. I am talking of incomes of up to £250,000 a year, and even higher. Such incomes are showered on the top, while at the bottom penury prevails. There is a struggle for survival so intense that one has to have either private means or well-placed connections to get in and survive the starvation years.

The right hon. Lady the Prime Minister has testified to what a struggle that is. I was deeply moved in her biography by Penny Junor to read what a struggle the right hon. Lady had to get into chambers, and how much prejudice there was against a woman, just as there is now prejudice against blacks, and how Sir John Senter promised her a place in his chambers and then threw her out at the end of her pupillage, together with the present Secretary of State for the Environment. It was the right hon. Gentleman's first experience of abolition.

Many are called, but few are chosen, and especially not working-class provincials. Mr. Norman Lloyd, the careers officer at Manchester university, quotes one barrister as saying:
"My advice to working class students would be to avoid the bar at all costs."
Mr. Lloyd says:
"The entry route is an obstacle route so elaborate and so bizarre that it might have been invented by the producer of It's a Knockout."
He is right. That is why my Bill regulates pupillage to ensure that it is a proper training and that it is paid. That is why it regulates tenancies to ensure that they are advertised openly, encourages the co-operative pooling of fees, as in Lord Gifford's chambers, and stops exploitation by the head of chambers.

The Bill allows barristers to set up practices wherever they please even in co-operation with solicitors—as the Royal Commission on legal services recommended — without the intervention of barristers' clerks.

Barristers' clerks have been variously described as an untrained legal mafia or as barristers' pimps. They have been described as a "unique and disturbing breed" — unfortunately I forget where that quotation comes from —who manipulate the monopoly power of barristers, all too often for their own purposes because clerks take between 5 and 10 per cent. of all fees. They can earn from £30,000 to £100,000 a year, much of it from public money. Their power must be restrained, and my Bill proposes to do so.

The Bill allows barristers to set up anywhere without the necessity of having clerks. It allows barristers to take customers without going through the intermediary of a solicitor, as they can already take cases from abroad. It is interesting to note that barristers have girded their loins and revised their practices to deal with Common Market competition, but they will not give customers in this country the same benefit. The Bill allows barristers to advertise—something that solicitors have now begun to do, with great benefit to the profession and to the public.

Most other countries have a unified legal profession, and it works well for them. It would here. I see no reason for our obsession with keeping two or even three legal taximeters ticking over, shuffling papers and people to and fro, aggregating dramatis personae in cases, and with not setting up a common training for barristers and solicitors.

It is important to note that my Bill only opens the way to unification. It allows solicitors and barristers to work together in any way that suits them and their purpose. It does not enforce a unified profession.

The Bill keeps specialisation, but it eliminates its excesses. What is most important is that it opens the gateway to change at the Bar. It ends the rigidities and inflexibilities. It paves the way for a more democratic, open and efficient profession which can adjust to the times, because this Government of barristers have made a gospel of competition.

I am not seeking to inflict the same damage on the legal profession as the Government have on manufacturing, by the misguided application of competition. I am saying that the test of restrictive practices, wherever they are, must be public interest and not the convenience of a dreadfully complacent, conservative profession.

On that test, barristers need to be brought kicking, struggling and, no doubt, pleading into the 20th century if we are to have a healthier and more open profession and a better and cheaper service to the public. We want not a closed, proud, restrictive and exclusive profession, but one which serves people and protects their rights and liberties. That is what my Bill will provide for.

3.39 pm

I wish to oppose the Bill, but before doing so I wish to declare an interest. In a strange reversal of roles which may appeal to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I am able to say for the first time in my life that I am a solicitor briefed to appear on behalf of the Bar. Having said that, I must also say that many members of my branch of the legal profession must be surprised to see that a measure which at first glance may appear to benefit them should come from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. After all, following his single-handed effort to break the solicitors' monopoly of conveyancing, his achievement may well be popular in certain quarters, but he is hardly the most popular toast at the annual dinner of my local Law Society.

The core and essence of the Bill is in the very first sentence, which says that solicitors should have the same rights of audience as barristers in all the courts. I freely accept that, if the House was minded to accept that part of the Bill, the other parts within it fall naturally into place. It would be quite illogical and unfair to give solicitors an equal footing with barristers in courts while at the same time imposing restrictions on barristers in relation to fee collection, partnership and access to the public.

I shall devote my main attention to that part of the Bill, except to say — en passant, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) might also say — that the last sentence in the Bill, which calls for the abolition of the two-counsel rule, is just a tiny bit out of date, as I understand that it was abolished some years back.

There are three principal reasons why I invite the House not to extend the rights of audience which solicitors presently enjoy. First, when the last Labour Government set up a commission to examine the legal profession, they rightly framed its terms of reference to incorporate this very question. When the commission finally concluded its judgment—it had 15 members, of whom only two were barristers — its decision was very clear. Even more important than its clarity was the fact that it was helped in its deliberations by a wide process of consultation, not just with solicitors, barristers and the judiciary but with many organisations and people with connections in litigation. The commission concluded that the restriction of the rights of audience in the legal profession underpinned the profession and was in the public interest. That is why this Conservative Government accepted those recommendations.

I have heard nothing since that commission reported, and certainly nothing in the arguments of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, which leads me to think that Parliament should now take a totally different course.

The second reason is that, paradoxically, I believe that the Bill will be detrimental to those whom it is apparently designed to assist — solicitors and members of the public. You, Mr. Speaker, may be aware of the dramatic changes that have occurred in solicitors' practices in the last few years. Those changes were well set out in a recent article in the Financial Times. We have seen the growth of major City of London firms which have concentrated to themselves an expertise almost exclusively in certain types of legal work. At the same time we have seen a tremendous extension of scope in the law and its practice.

All these developments have made it increasingly difficult for the average solicitor in the small and medium-sized firm to perform his vital role in his service to the community. That they are still able to do so is caused by a variety of factors. One of the main ones is that in this country there exists an independent and experienced Bar which is available to all solicitors, and hence to all clients, throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales.

The Bill would destroy that independent Bar and, in the wake of that destruction, would destroy many of the small and medium firms to which I have referred, driving their clients into the arms of the bigger firms. The vital role of the independent smaller solicitors practising in every constituency would become a thing of the past.

Finally, I ask the House to reject the Bill because I believe that it perpetuates a disturbing trend in our society —to attack, disparage and ultimately destroy excellence in our professions. No one in the House, not even the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, would dream of promoting a Bill to abolish the distinction between general medical practitioners and medical consultants. No one would deny that both those professions perform equal but different roles for their patients. The same is true of the legal profession. By and large, it serves the community well, with trust and integrity—something that cannot always be said of legal professions in other parts of the world.

Members of Parliament who are barristers can be expected to oppose the Bill and those who are solicitors are likely to view with suspicion a Bill about their profession which comes from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. It should also be expected, however, that members of the public, who should be our prime if not our only consideration, will feel on mature reflection that they will be ill served by this measure. It is in their name, in their interests and on their behalf that I invite the House to reject the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 119, Noes 151.

Division No. 234][3.49 pm
AYES
Alton, DavidLeighton, Ronald
Atkinson, N (Tottenham)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Barnett, GuyLitherland, Robert
Barron, KevinLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyLofthouse, Geoffrey
Beith, A JLoyden, Edward
Benn, TonyMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bennett, A (Dent'n & Red'sh)McKay, Allen (Pemstone)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyMcTaggart, Robert
Boyes, RolandMadden, Max
Bray, Dr JeremyMarek, Dr John
Brown, R (N c tle-u-Tyne N)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Bruce, MalcolmMaynard, Miss Joan
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Mikardo, Ian
Campbell-Savours, DaleMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Canavan, DennisMiller, Dr M. S (E Kilbnde)
Cartwright, JohnMitchell, Austin (G't Gnmsby)
Clay, RobertMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnO'Neill, Martin
Cocks, Rt Hon M (Bristol SOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Coleman, DonaldPark, George
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Patchett, Terry
Corbyn, JeremyPavitt, Laurie
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Penhaligon, David
Crowther, StanPike, Peterv
Cunliffe, LawrencevPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dalyell, TarnPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Prescott, John
Deakins, Ericadice, Giles
Dixon, DonaldRandall, Stuart
Dormand, JackRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Eastham, KenRobinson, G (Coventry NW)
Edwards, Bob (Wh'mpt'n SE)Rogers, Allan
Ellis, RaymondRost, Peter
Evans, John (St Helens N)Rowlands, Ted
Ewing, HarryRyder, Richard
Fallon, MichaelSedgemore, Brian
Fatchett, DerekSheerman, Barry
Fisher, MarkSheldon, Rt Hon R
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Richard (Aldndge)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fraser, J (Norwood)Short, Mrs R (W'hampt'n NE)
Freud, ClementSkinner, Dennis
Gould, BryanSteel, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Stott, Roger
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hamilton, W W (Central Fife)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hancock, Mr MichaelThorne, Stan (Preston)
Harman, Ms HarrietThurnham, Peter
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithTorney, Tom
Haynes, FrankTownend, John (Bridlington)
Heffer, Eric SWainwnght, R
Hogg, N (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Holt, RichardWelsh, Michael
Hoyle, DouglasWiggin, Jerry
Hughes, Dr Mark (DurhamWinnick, David
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Woodall, Alec
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Jessel, TobyTellers for the Ayes
Johnston, RussellMr Michael Meadowcroft and Mr. Ken Weetch
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Kirkwood, Archy

NOES
Adley, RobertAnderson, Donald
Aitken, JonathanAtkins, Robert (South Ribble)
Alexander, RichardBaker, Rt Hon K (Mole Vall'y)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBaldry, Tony
Ancram, MichaelBanks, Robert (Harrogate)

Batiste, SpencerLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir FredericLord, Michael
Best, KeithMcCrindle, Robert
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnMaclean, David John
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnMajor, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterMalone, Gerald
Boscawen, Hon RobertMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bottomley, PeterMates, Michael
Boyson, Dr RhodesMather, Carol
Brandon-Bravo, MartinMaude, Hon Francis
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonMawhinney, Dr Brian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Mellor, David
Browne, JohnMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Bruinvels, PeterMonro, Sir Hector
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Moore, John
Budgen, NickMorris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Burt, AlistairMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Butler, Hon AdamMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Needham, Richard
Cash, WilliamNeubert, Michael
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Nicholls, Patrick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Norris, Steven
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Onslow, Cranley
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Osborn, Sir John
Colvin, MichaelPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Coombs, SimonParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Cope, JohnPawsey, James
Cormack, PatrickPollock, Alexander
Corrie, JohnPowley, John
Crouch, DavidProctor, K. Harvey
Dicks, TerryRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Dorrell, StephenRathbone, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Renton, Tim
Dunn, RobertRhodes James, Robert
Durant, TonyRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Dykes, HughSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Farr, Sir JohnSims, Roger
Favell, AnthonySkeet, T. H. H.
Fenner, Mrs PeggySmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Fookes, Miss JanetSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Fox, MarcusSoames, Hon Nicholas
Gale, RogerSpeed, Keith
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Stanbrook, Ivor
Garel-Jones, TristanSteen, Anthony
Glyn, Dr AlanStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Ground, PatrickStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Gummer, John SelwynStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Stokes, John
Hargreaves, KennethStradling Thomas, J.
Harvey, RobertSumberg, David
Haselhurst, AlanTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelTerlezki, Stefan
Hayes, J. Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Hayward, RobertThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Henderson, BarryThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Hind, KennethThorne, Neil (llford S)
Hirst, MichaelThornton, Malcolm
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Trippier, David
Irving, CharlesWaddington, David
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickWaldegrave, Hon William
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Wallace, James
Key, RobertWatts, John
King, Rt Hon TomWheeler, John
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Winterton, Nicholas
Lamont, NormanWood, Timothy
Lang, IanYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Lawler, GeoffreyYounger, Rt Hon George
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Lee, John (Pendle) Tellers for the Noes:
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSir Ian Percival and
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Mr. Nicholas Lyell.
Li I ley, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Opposition Day

[14TH ALLOTTED DAY]

Developing Countries (Famine And Debt)

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Before I call upon the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, I have to announce that no fewer than 15 Back Benchers have indicated that they would like to speak in the debate. I hope that will be borne in mind by both the Front and the Back Benches.

3.58 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the Government's continuing and substantial cuts in overseas aid and its failure to provide an effective response to the crisis of drought and debt afflicting Sub-Saharan Africa; and calls on the Government to double the official United Kingdom aid programme, both advancing our assistance to developing countries towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product and generating employment opportunities in Britain, to take urgent and new measures to increase food, fuel and aid for agricultural development to famine areas, and to promote joint international action to re-schedule and, where possible, write-off the debts of the poorest countries.

There are three main parts to the motion: first, the aid programme in general; secondly, the call for new measures; and, thirdly, the demand for rescheduling and, where possible, writing off the debts of the least developed countries.

The House is aware that the Minister likes to give the appearance of being a well-meaning wet corralled in a hard Cabinet. However, a recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on famine in Africa shows that the Government have made no additional resources available for famine relief. The funds have been taken from other ODA development budgets, and in one case, which we raised earlier on the Floor of the House, food aid, which would now be highly welcomed in Bangladesh, was reallocated to Ethiopia instead of extra aid being provided.

One of the major recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was that extra funds should be added to the aid budget to cover Government contributions to major disasters such as we are witnessing today in Africa. It is scandalous that at a time when long-term development needs have never been so clearly urgent, Britain is contributing much less to those needs, because £100 million in the 1984–85 financial year was transferred from the development budget to emergency relief.

The Government argue that the ODA's contingency reserve is adequate. We recommend that from now the Government should calculate average annual contributions to emergencies — for example, over the 1980 to 1983 period—and should add into the aid budget for this year a sum equal to the difference between this figure and the planned emergency contributions to Africa. It is time that the Government started to account for emergencies and mobilised the net resources needed to meet them.

The House has also widely noted that the Conservatives have cut the total overall aid programme since they came to office in 1979. But it is not clear by just how much it has been cut. In practice, the total net aid budget has increased from £1.099 billion in 1984–130 billion in 1985–86, a 2.8 per cent. cash increase, but, taking inflation into account, representing a real decrease of about 3 per cent.

The aid contribution of the United Kingdom is now 0.33 of 1 per cent., which represents nearly a 20 per cent. cut in aid spending by the Conservatives since they came to office. As a proportion of GNP, therefore, the Government have not only allowed the programme to fall to under half of the UN target of 0.7, but Britain's record compares badly, for example, with a Government who are much criticised by Conservative Members, that of the French, with 0.76 per cent. of GNP; Germany, 0.49; Belgium, 0.59; the Netherlands, 0.91; Norway, with over 1 per cent; and with a dramatically rising share in the aid programme of Italy, under a Socialist Prime Minister, especially to Sudan and Ethiopia.

Not only are we behind in the overall aid stakes—not only have there been cuts in the overall aid programme — but it has been authoritatively reported that the British Government have been foremost in the Council of Ministers, in the Budget Council of the EEC, in recommending cuts in food aid spending for 1985– from the figure proposed by the Commission, of 65 million ecu to 26 million ecu. That is a difference of over £22 million in what the Commission wanted to spend next year and what the British Government recommended should be spent, even though those sums were scheduled simply to maintain the real value of food aid in the 1985–86 period.

It is double standards, therefore, for the Government to claim that they are seriously concerned to defend, far less to extend, the aid budget. In reality, they have not only been cutting it, but cutting it in the European Community.

The Government also say that they are concerned about the quality of aid. Clearly, aid quality is vital in projects such as in the Indian Orissa family welfare project and the fertiliser education project covering six eastern states. It is clear that good models of official aid can help the poorer 50 per cent. of the population.

However, this type of poverty-focused aid represents a small percentage of ODA funds. In particular, only about one third of United Kingdom bilateral aid to Africa goes directly or indirectly to agriculture and related sectors, and only a small proportion of that goes to peasant agriculture and especially towards helping to improve traditional crops such as sorghum and millet.

Perhaps the Government now share a relative distate for large scale prestige projects. But even, for example, expenditure of perhaps £10 million on an individual dam could provide extensive supplementary irrigation to about 300,000 acres, benefiting up to 100,000 families, without doing damage to the environment in the way in which big projects have done. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister is prepared to make a statement today about that type of project.

Further, on the double standards of the Government, when in a recent television interview relating to the film "African Calvary" the Prime Minister was asked what the United Kingdom could do to help famine victims, she listed among her three priorities one which was designed to help to develop improved varieties of drought-resistant crops. In reality, the Government have taken steps which have resulted in funds being withdrawn from precisely that kind of project.

For example, Oxfam is now funding the arid land seed research project at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, after the Government discontinued funding for it. Oxfam's field director in Ethiopia has pointed out the sad anomaly that the excellent Addis-based international livestock centre for Africa, which works mostly in connection with the problems of poor farmers, now contributes more to the United Kingdom in the form of goods and services purchased here than it receives in EEC aid.

Then there is the issue of the replenishment of IFAD —the International Fund for Agricultural Development — which is one of the most effective organisations in helping to improve peasant farming and which is funded both by Governments of the Western world and OPEC. The OPEC countries have seen a substantial loss in their real revenues with the weakening of the world price of oil, and it is understandable that OPEC feels that it cannot continue to fund IFAD in the way in which it has in the past. The result of the cuts in IFAD's budget will be terrible. As opposed to an injection of $1 billion to last for three years, the agreed three-year replenishment is likely to be only $600 million.

If the hon. Gentleman intends simply to read out the Oxfam brief, I can perhaps help him by saying that most hon. Members, at any rate on the Conservative Benches, already have copies of it. We should, however, be interested to know how the Labour party would deal with the crisis of famine and debt if they were in government, rather than have the hon. Gentleman tell us what Oxfam proposes, because we know that.

The Labour party is committed on aid to achieving 0.7 of 1 per cent. of GNP within the lifetime of a Government. It is also committed to aiming towards 1 per cent. What we are urging on the Government—it is well publicised by Oxfam; I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that — is that precisely for those reasons the Government have no excuse either for continuing their cuts in the aid programme or for claiming that their hands are tied and that they are doing the best that they can.

The Minister—for example, in the case of food aid distribution in the Horn of Africa—has paid lip service to the difficulties caused by the civil war in Eritrea and Tigre, and he has made minor resources available through some of the agencies which may reach either Eritrea or Tigre from Port Sudan. But those resources are minuscule. Eritrea and Tigre need about 20,000 tonnes of food aid per month, whereas only 2,500 tonnes is reaching them. The Government's claim to recognise the problem is not matched by anything like a sufficient scale of food aid allocation for the voluntary agencies at Port Sudan.

Further, the exodus of refugees from Eritrea and Tigre underlines the current crisis in the Sudan. One of the relief centres, Wad Kowli, is now the third largest city in the Sudan. Senior Sudanese officials made it plain earlier this year that they were disappointed with the Minister's visit in January and with his failure to realise that transport and fuel would be needed by the end of April if there was to be any way effectively of distributing food aid to the areas where it is most needed, especially on the borders with Eritrea and Tigre and in west Sudan. It is clear that the Government have relied almost entirely in west Sudan on American agencies taking responsibility for food aid distribution. But now there is a major tragedy in that area.

On 22 March and 5 June the Minister referred to transportation. On 5 June, he claimed that "large numbers of trucks are already available in Sudan, which has a strong private enterprise trucking agency." — [Official Report, 5 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 306.]

In reality, because of its debt problem of between $8 billion and $9 billion, Sudan has not been able to buy the fuel needed to ensure that the private trucking sector is available for food aid distribution.

In December 1984, the Sudanese Government asked for tenders to renew railway rolling stock and equipment in west Sudan. British firms responded magnificently to that request, and some went out there within three or four days. On their return, they immediately submitted tenders— that was by mid-January—but it was only last week that the Minister was able to tell the House that approval for the £6 million project had finally been given by the EEC.

It is quite wrong for there to be such a delay in ensuring that the railway is in working order. Only one fifth of the food that is needed in west Sudan is getting through via the railway. The rains have come. They may not be sufficient to sustain a future crop, but they certainly will wash roads away. Road transport cannot possibly cover the whole of the Sudan. It can be used only on a limited basis in food distribution — for example, around Darfur. Because of the delay in approving the railway project, 1.5 million people in west Sudan are now at risk.

The Minister has repeatedly said to the House, "What can I do? My hands are tied. It takes time for the multilateral aid agencies to operate. Very difficult decisions must be made." In reality, if the EEC would not approve that project, why did the Minister not do what the Germans did? It appears that the German project for refurbishing the railway was not an integrated part of the EEC programme. There is no reason why the British firms which were ready to meet the orders for repair of the railway should not have been able to do so.

Fuel is a similar issue. On 22 March, I put it to the Minister that there was a desperate shortage of fuel in Sudan. Again, he told us that his hands were tied by the EEC. He said that the EEC was examining the issue and that he was foremost in the EEC in arguing the case. I said to him, "Britain is a shipping and oil-producing nation. Why do you not commission a tanker, fill it with fuel, send it to the Sudan and then send the bill to the EEC Commission?" Had that tanker gone to Sudan and had the fuel arrived in April, the food aid distribution problem would have been very different.

In contrast to what the Minister told the House last week, nearly half a million tonnes of food intended for famine victims is said to have piled up in ports in Ethiopia and Sudan because of the lack of transport. Some of that food has been spoilt. A United States official, Mr. Peter McPherson, who is the administrator for the agency for international development, has blamed Ethiopia and Sudan for the hold-up. He has said that neither of those Governments has given transport the priority that it deserves. In Ethiopia's case, the lamentable tragedy of the civil war and the Ethiopian Government's failure to ensure the safe passage of food aid or to allocate sufficient vehicles for food aid distribution are much to be deplored. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House deplore this. The Government in Sudan should not, however, be blamed. In January, that Government gave the message clearly to the international community and to the Minister. The Minister failed to react.

The cyclone in Bangladesh has directly affected almost 3 million people—more than 1 million seriously—and caused substantial damage to livestock, homes and crops. The Government of Bangladesh have appealed for $50 million to cover the immediate—not long-term—need for food, medicine, shelter, and so on. So far, the United Kingdom has pledged £750,000 from its aid budget. That is probably less than the VAT that the Government have managed to collect from the £8 million raised by the Band Aid project. It shows the lack of priority that the Government are giving to the problem.

Conditional aid and the political refusal to grant aid are also of concern. It is transparently obvious that the so-called technical reasons which the Minister claimed for not granting aid to Nicaragua through the Inter-American Development Bank or the World Bank are entirely without foundation. The Nicaraguans showed me the projects that they have submitted for aid. It is clear that the proposals have been admirably vetted and are technically excellent. There are no essentially technical reasons for blocking aid to Nicaragua; the reasons are political. They reflect the fact that the British Government are prepared to coat-tail the United States rather than concern themselves with a basic needs programme of the type that Nicaragua has already shown it can pioneer—in health, education and food production—and, with resources, deliver.

Mr. Geoff Dennis, a junior civil servant in the ODA, has been suspended without pay and may face charges following allegations that he was involved in the release to hon. Members of information which showed that the technical reasons for denying aid to Nicaragua were implausible. I am sure that I speak for both sides of the House in saying that few of us believe that civil servants should release material to hon. Members in any circumstances, but this case is directly comparable with the Ponting case, where a Minister misled the House. The jury expressed its views on that matter by dismissing the charges brought against Mr. Ponting by the Government under the Official Secrets Act.

We understand that, while Mr. Dennis has been suspended without pay, he is still technically employed by ODA and therefore cannot sign on for unemployment benefit. The Government have already penalised him by his loss of earnings. We suggest to the Government that no charges should be pressed and that Mr. Dennis's salary should be post-dated and paid from now until he is reinstated, or dismissed, by the ODA. We shall carefully watch the Government to ascertain how they choose to handle the matter.

The third part of the motion concerns debt. The scale of the financial crisis is recognised internationally as overwhelming. Mr. Tom Clausen, the head of the World Bank, warned that the future would bring "more Ethiopias" unless action is taken now. It appears, however, that that view is not shared by the Chancellor, who told an IMF meeting that world economic conditions are the best they have been in six years.

Yet between 1980-82 and 1985-87, annual average national capital flows to sub-Saharan Africa fell from $11 million to $5 million. That represents a drying up of private capital aid flows. Official international development funds from the West and the East are stagnant at S9 billion. Many of those loans will have to be repaid shortly. An extra $2 billion is needed to keep the official aid flows to sub-Saharan Africa at the 1980-82 level. That is why the World Bank, in its project for Africa, recommended a $2 billion target. It appears to be clear, unless the Minister says otherwise, that this target will in no way be met. In fact, it is probable that between only a quarter and a half of that sum will be allocated. Further, the sub-Saharan countries are suffering from crippling debt servicing. Their debt service bill alone in 1981 was $4.1 billion. That is projected to increase on average from 1985 to 1987 to $11.7 billion, in other words, there has been an almost threefold increase in debt servicing in sub-Saharan Africa.

The interest rates are extremely high. While 4.5 per cent. may well not be considered high for official interest rates, they are 12.5 per cent. for private loans. When the United States Administration are recommending more market forces within the African sub-continent, and when they are recommending that the forces of supply and demand should make a contribution to development, what is the development difference between interest rates of 4.5 per cent. and 12.5 per cent? It is not merely 8 per cent; it is the difference between viability and financial bankruptcy. That is what is now facing the sub-Saharan countries.

In the sub-Saharan countries, overall debt service is now rising to about 27 per cent. of total export earnings. That is twice the ratio of 1977. Therefore, even if there had been no drought, there would be a development crisis in Africa today. The measures that the international community is taking in relation to the crisis vary substantially. There is the obduracy of the United States and the unwillingness of our Government to pioneer and press for increases rather than cuts in EEC programmes, so the position is getting worse.

It is relevant to make a comparison with the cost of intervention storage and export subsidies of the food programme in the CAP. It now amounts to about $10 billion in a total EEC budget of $16 billion. Against that, the Government were pressing that the spending on the food aid programme for next year should be reduced by £22 million.

In reality, who are the real debtors? The biggest debtor in the world at the moment is the United States. The biggest creditor in the world at the moment—although it may shortly be Japan—is the United Kingdom. We are lending all right—the Government do not have a bias against lending—but we are lending to the rich and to the most developed countries. We are not lending on a sufficient scale to the lesser or least developed countries.

There are other issues that the House has addressed on other occasions concerning the deteriorating terms of trade of Third world countries, the practice of IMF conditionality, and other matters, but in reality the three main parts of the motion are crucial.

Have the Government any target whatever for increasing official development assistance over the lifetime of this Parliament? Will they undertake substantial new measures to remedy drought in sub-Saharan Africa, rather than the minuscule measures which are a fraction of the debt needs and development needs of those countries? What action will the Government take internationally either to reschedule or to write off the debts of the poorest countries? I am not talking here about the conversion of loan into grant, because we appreciate that the Overseas Development Administration has a record for doing that with the least developed countries. It is the overall financial debt that is crippling those countries.

The Government have acted too late. They have failed to respond to warnings. They are, with other EEC Governments, directly culpable for the fact that a railway in the Sudan is not now functioning, and that another 1.5 million people are now suffering in addition to the 10 million migrants and the 100 million other people affected by the drought. The Government must learn the lessons of the famine and act urgently along the lines recommended in the motion. It is for that reason that I commend it to the House.

4.24 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to adti instead thereof:

'welcomes the effectiveness of the Government's action in tackling the famine in Africa; endorses its policies to promote long term development in Africa; supports the present approach of the Government and the international financial institutions to the severe debt problems of the day; and recognises that Britain's aid policy confers real benefits not only on the developing countries but also on British industry and employment.'.
The Opposition motion focuses on a number of topics, but especially on sub-Saharan Africa, and that is as it should be. It is there, after all, that the famine has been so devastating. It is there that the long-term development problems seem most formidable. It is also there that we have special responsibilities.

We cannot do everything across the world; we have to concentrate to some extent. Quite rightly, we do a great deal in the Indian subcontinent. We are active in other areas of Asia, such as Indonesia. We have important programmes in the Caribbean and the south Pacific. We have to sustain and develop our own dependencies. There are other useful things that we do across the world, not least in English language training and technical co-operation in many countries. But Africa presents the greatest challenge to us. We are heavily involved there and we are contributing heavily.

As we all know, the famine has highlighted in the most terrible way a profound and long-term problem. I shall look first at the immediate crisis and then at the long-term crisis.

Many people have said—rather glibly—that nothing was done until the television cameras aimed on Ethiopia and then the Sudan. That, of course, is false. As it happens, Ethiopia was the biggest recipient of aid under the Lome 2 convention and the biggest African recipient of food aid from Britain over the three years before last autumn.

Sudan has not, in the past, been so big a recipient of food aid. Although we provided 45,000 tonnes of wheat in 1983 and 1984 to help the UN refugee programme there, the Sudanese themselves have not normally needed or asked for food aid. But Sudan has one of the biggest British bilateral development programmes, and we have been involved there for many years. Sudan was also, like Ethiopia, one of the largest recipients of European Community aid under Lome 2. So it is far from the case that we or other donors have been doing nothing. Nevertheless, the famine has come with a dreadful impact, and no one can possibly be complacent about what happened or say that enough had been done by the world as a whole.

The motion alleges that we have not provided an effective response to the drought crisis.

I should like to put a question to the Minister before he leaves the problems of the Sudan. I am not quarrelling with him, but in the statement last week he was a bit dismissive of my question about trucks. Yesterday, Mr. Prattley and other senior officials of the United Nations said that trucks and fleets of lorries were needed, above all else. The Minister knows my interest in relation to trucks at Bathgate and I do not press that too strongly. It has been widely said in my constituency, "We have all these trucks lying around. Why cannot some of them go to the Sudan?" What is the answer to that question?

I have not left the problems of the Sudan, and I am about to say something about trucks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stay and listen to what I have to say. I am sure that he will.

I want to tell the House what we have been doing in Ethiopia and the Sudan, two countries to which we have specifically directed our relief efforts. Of course, I recognise that other countries are badly affected, but our help to them is mainly carried out through the European Community and other multilateral organisations.

In Ethiopia, since October 1984 we have provided over £40 million—£28 million bilaterally and more than £12 million through our share of Community actions. We have provided a wide range of assistance, including food aid. As I said yesterday, I am ready to offer more when we are satisfied about proper arrangements for its transport and distribution. We have provided transport itself, including lorries, Land Rovers, semi-trailers and mobile workshops and spare parts. We have provided medical equipment, tents and blankets, seeds and tools.

The RAF and Army detachments have done a marvellous job since last November. They have flown 10 hours a day every day since then, including over 300 airdrop missions. To date, they have successfully delivered over 4,500 tonnes of grain and other supplies. I must also mention that we have provided two men for the world food programme team monitoring the distribution of food supplies. They have been working in Eritrea and Wollo.

The overall position is now broadly as follows. The recent widespread rains have favoured the secondary belg crop to be harvested shortly and land preparation for the main crop, which is scheduled for planting in the next few weeks. However, those rains have also impeded the distribution of supplies in some remote areas. The main rains, which we hope will come during the next three months, will make road transport more difficult.

Of the 1.1 million tonnes of food aid pledged, some 60 per cent., that is 680,000 tonnes, has been shipped. About 185,000 tonnes are now in the three ports and 135,000 tonnes are in store or being distributed. The main problem now in Ethiopia is the shortage of transport, which is seriously hampering distribution. The Ethiopian authorities have recently provided 350 lorries to increase the daily offtake at Port Assab to 3,000 tonnes, but they need to do more. Yesterday I announced the further assistance that we shall be providing — £750,000 for land transport, the extension of the airlift to the end of September, and 10,000 tonnes of grain to be used when it is needed and can be used effectively.

Finally, although the position is desperate in many respects, one redeeming feature has been the effective co-ordination between the donors — typified perhaps by West and East co-operating on the airdrops — and the Ethiopian authorities. Great credit for that goes to Mr. Kurt Jansson, the United Nations' co-ordinator, who is doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances.

The Minister will be as aware as anyone that air transport is expensive. We are not saying that the Hercules aircraft should not be there. Indeed, we would even say that at this stage there should be more of them. Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself to why the railway is not working, and why there was a six-month delay in approving the project, which means that the bulk of the food aid cannot get through?

The hon. Gentleman is confusing Ethiopia and the Sudan. I have just been talking about Ethiopia, where the Royal Air Force has been operating. I now come to the Sudan.

Our efforts in the Sudan have also been considerable. We have provided a total of £17 million for famine relief since last October. That is all additional to our normal substantial development aid programme in Sudan. Our contribution includes the cost of 62,000 tonnes of food aid, all of which has now been delivered to Port Sudan. When I was there earlier this year, I formed the strong view that we must get our food aid there before the rainy season. I said that on my return, and we have succeeded in that objective.

We have also provided more than £5 million to the voluntary agencies, including assistance to Save the Children Fund for overland distribution and an airlift to western Sudan. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Winston Prattley as the United Nations' Secretary General's representative to do a similar job in the Sudan to that done by Mr. Jansson in Ethiopia.

Food is now arriving in significant quantities in Port Sudan. More than 700,000 tonnes have been delivered, and pledges now cover the estimated requirement of 1.4 million tonnes to October. Distribution is a critical problem, especially, as the hon. Gentleman fairly said, in Darfur in the west. It is right that attention is focused there at present. The monthly cereal requirement there is more than 30,000 tonnes. The airlifting of medicines and supplementary foods will be invaluable, but airlifts cannot cope with these tonnages of cereals.

Overland trucking is difficult in desert conditions. It has been averaging 100 tonnes a day. Efforts are being made to mobilise more lorries, but the key is the railway. Its performance has been weak, and has averaged 200 to 300 tonnes a day. Our expert advice is that that could be at least doubled through a system of so-called block trains devoted exlusively to transporting food and relief supplies. We have provided technical help for that from British Rail, and I have pressed the Community into funding the emergency rehabilitation of locomotives. It is hoped that the system will begin operation between Kosti on the Nile and Nyala within the next week, although it is primarily in the hands of the Sudanese authorities. However, we shall continue to do everything that we can to support efforts to improve this vital rail link.

The problems will not be over when the grain reaches Nyala. Rains will undoubtedly make distribution even more difficult. However, we have already provided considerable support for the Save the Children Fund logistics effort in Darfur.

Today I can announce further assistance. We are providing a grant of £1.2 million to Save the Children Fund to purchase 60 Leyland trucks and to hire an additional 50 lorries in Sudan. The trucks will be used to move food supplies from Kosti and Omdurman to Nyala in western Sudan. Leyland Trucks has offered to loan Save the Children Fund free of charge an engineer to service the new trucks for a period of 12 months.

I am also providing a grant of £150,000 to the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development to buy 12 four-wheel-drive vehicles and spares, which will be used by the Church organisation, Sudan Aid, to distribute food to more than 100,000 families in western Sudan and the greater Khartoum area.

I have also approved a further grant of £1 million to the 1985 Africa appeal of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a donation of £250,000 to the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation appeal to enable cereals to be distributed to villages affected by drought in Niger.

We also continue to respond generously to refugee appeals. I have now agreed to provide £3 million in response to three 1985 appeals from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. We shall contribute £1.5 million to the Africa emergency appeal, £1 million for Sudan and £500,000 for Somalia. Our contributions to the Africa emergency and Sudan appeals will help with UNHCR programmes for the 700,000 refugees in Sudan both for short-term needs and longer-term settlement schemes.

Our £500,000 for the Somalia programme will help with the UNHCR provision of food, medical and water supplies, transport and education. Since 1 April we have committed £5.85 million in response to various refugee appeals for Africa.

The money comes from our aid budget. I shall come back to that subject in a moment.

Throughout, I have taken the view that it is not merely gestures that are wanted, but effective action specifically targeted at priority needs. That is why so much of our effort has gone on transport and distribution, and why both in Addis Ababa and Khartoum our embassies have worked so actively and effectively to that end. There is absolutely no doubt of the value of our contribution in the countries concerned, and I am proud of what is being done in the name of Britain in these desperate circumstances.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) asked about our attitude to European Community food aid. On 7 May I wrote to him about that and explained that in the April Budget Council we had supported a Presidency which increased by 25 million ecu, or £14.5 million, the level of food aid appropriations over those in previous draft budgets. On 22 May my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury accepted further increases worth a total of £52.8 million above the original figure.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that it is wrong to equate the level of EC food and the size of the famine relief effort. The two largest recipients of food aid are India and Egypt, and this year some food aid has gone to Malta. Most food aid is sold by recipient Governments, which is perfectly legitimate in terms of their agreement with the Community. Only a comparatively small but growing proportion of the budget is spent on sending food to famine victims.

During the past months my whole object in the EC has been to get the Community to focus its food aid primarily on those areas where the need is greatest. We have had considerable achievements in that respect. The House knows very well that indiscriminate food aid does not do any good, but is a way of using up surpluses. The effect can often be detrimental to the proper indigenous agriculture in the countries concerned.

In relation to the 25 million ecu, will the Minister confirm or deny that the Commission's proposal was for 65 million ecu? The difference in today's prices is £22 million. Did the Commission propose the higher figure or not?

There were proposals for higher figures, but I repeat that our objective, which has been successful, is to get food aid in the Community focused much more on areas of actual need. The hon. Member for Vauxhall knows that at the Dublin summit the Prime Minister took the lead in ensuring that the Community would retarget its food aid on areas where famine relief was most desperately needed. We were successful in that and we have been successful in continuing the campaign to get food aid properly targeted. The hon. Gentleman is talking about an indiscriminate increase in food aid, which he knows would not be helpful developmentally in many instances.

The hon. Gentleman referred to fuel supplies in the Sudan. After I went there earlier in the year I, too, was concerned. However, it appears that the situation appears to have eased. The United States and Saudi Arabia have guaranteed the financing of fuel imports for four months from April. The world food programme and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees have set up their own fuel and storage arrangements. Britain contributed $272,000 for the distribution of our most recent consignment of food aid, which arrived at Port Sudan on 17 May. I do not deny that there have been apprehensions about the supply of fuel, especially diesel, but, as I found, the situation has not been as desperate as was feared.

Questions have been raised about the source of the resources that we have put into famine relief. There has been some added money on top of the aid programme. The Ministry of Defence has provided the greater part of the cost of the Hercules operation in Ethiopia. That will amount to an extra £10.5 million by the end of September. As we know, the public have responded with great generosity. If people feel that more should be spent, this is an area where they can do exactly what they feel, through our admirable voluntary agencies. For our part, we have consistently worked closely with the agencies, often placing our aid through them.

What about the Government's own response? I fully accept that we have had to operate within the limits of our overall aid budget. We are committed as a Government to the firm control of public expenditure. Nevertheless, we have provided very substantial resources towards dealing with famine in both short-term relief and long-term development.

In the last financial year, which ran to the end of March 1985, we spent, directly and indirectly, about £95 million on famine-related operations in Africa. To achieve this we drew on the contingency reserve, because that is what the reserve is for. We drew also on our bilateral food aid. We contributed through the European Community and we utilised some funds which became free as a result of slippages elsewhere in our programme. No country or multilateral programme suffered enforced reduction to achieve this. By flexible management we have succeeded in concentrating on the greatest needs. As for this financial year, I have announced that we expect to spend £60 million bilaterally and multilaterally as a minimum planning figure. If we have to find more, we shall.

These are very considerable amounts, but it is not only the quantity of our response that is significant. The quality and effectiveness of the response is similarly significant, as is our lead in stepping up and accelerating the Community's response at Dublin, in the Foreign Affairs and Development Council and in Coreper in Brussels.

My intervention is directed to the way in which development aid is funded. The contingency reserve and the other sources to which my right hon. Friend has referred are all very well in most years for short-term emergencies, but the scale of what is happening in Africa and the likelihood that the problems will continue for some years are factors which present a new dimension and require that something should be added to the figures which would otherwise be available in the next few years. Will the Minister ask his colleagues to take that on board in the context of the next public expenditure review?

I respect my right hon. Friend's views, and I am aware that he has the courage of his convictions because of his past actions. I hope that what I have said already and what I am about to say about long-term development will show that we are able under our present aid budget to mount an effective programme in the short term and the longer term.

I shall address myself to the longer term. Confronting the short-term disaster must not distract us from tackling the challenge of longer-term development. If we had to cut short our plans for this to provide relief, we should be sacrificing the future to the present. It is important to press on, especially with aid which will help our African friends to put their own house in order, and to reshape their development plans in the light of the lessons learnt during the present crisis. This means searching for ways to make our aid both speedier and more effective.

Within all our memories, the large and poor countries of south Asia faced similar difficulties in feeding their rapidly growing populations. There were terrible famines in India. Pakistan was a major food importer. Malnutrition was widespread in Bangladesh, especially after floods or cyclones. The plight of these countries was widely regarded as desperate and likely to remain so—fragile economies balanced on the knife edge of the Asian climate.

Less than a generation later the picture is transformed. All these countries now have the capacity to feed themselves. Food grain production is at record levels. Even in Bangladesh, and even in a year of floods and cyclones, the grain stored in earlier years is finding its way through the food distribution system to those in need. And India is emerging as a food aid donor in its own right: it has already given 10 times as much to Ethiopia in the past six months as the Russians have given.

These countries are still dependent on good weather, and they still need development assistance, but they show what can be achieved. They have had Government policies, which have encouraged food production. They have harnessed the technology of the green revolution. They have had support from the donor community in the early years and in the bad years. And they provide an encouragement to all of us who are concerned about today's desperate famine in Africa.

No. I must press on. Mr. Deputy Speaker has asked us to show restraint.

In 1984 we spent £234 million on direct bilateral development aid to sub-Saharan Africa. We have changed the emphasis of what we do to meet the changing needs. First, importance is given whenever possible to manpower aids of all kinds. All too often, poor management has led to poor maintenance, inefficient operation and the decay of expensive and important investments. In particular, we have to give help not only in the field but to administrations.

Secondly, we have gone over to supplying much more fast-spending programme aid. This is to keep existing assets going and to provide spares and other items which so many countries can no longer afford to buy for themselves. Last year, I agreed major allocations for nearly £39 million of this kind of aid for seven countries, chiefly to back up sectoral or macro-economic reform programmes. The bulk of this aid went directly or indirectly to support agriculture and other natural resources. In the same spirit, we have set aside £75 million over the next five years as untied grants for commitment alongside the World Bank's new African special facility.

The third element in our aid is to look much more closely at what can be done to revitalise peasant agriculture. Together with this, we have to work out ways of more directly reinforcing attempts to reduce population growth and to protect the environment, and especially bush and forest cover. These things cannot really be separated. To the farmer himself, or herself, they are all aspects of the struggle for existence. On the agricultural side, one major task is to rebuild national research systems in a way which actually seeks to answer the farmer's own problems, and to find ways of encouraging agro-forestry and the growth of woodlots which people can see as being of early and immediate advantage to them.

Indeed, the longer-term answer to famine and drought lies not in food aid and emergency relief aid but in lasting answers to the underlying problems. Research and development work, especially in the renewable natural resources sector, will therefore continue to have a high priority within the aid programme. I wish that I had time to describe all the different things that we are supporting in this sector, because the quality of the scientific work that we are backing both here and overseas is recognised as being of outstanding excellence.

These various facets of our aid reflect common perceptions among many donors and, I am glad to say, increasingly among African Governments. They also lead naturally to greater importance for the so-called policy dialogue, which is the fourth strand in our thinking. If we are to provide fast-spending, fast-consumed aid, or manpower aid, it can be most effective only within a policy framework discussed collectively with the donors. This will ensure proper, co-ordinated use. It is particularly encouraging that many African Governments are making real efforts to change their agricultural policies, and systems so as to give the enterprise of the farmer room to flourish. The best recent example is the astonishing performance of peasant fanners in Zimbabwe. Thanks to good incentives and good marketing, despite last year's drought, they produced two fifths of the country's marketed grain — and did so from generally less productive land.

All in all, a new strategic approach to development in Africa is emerging. It is an approach which will stress, on the one hand, good research and ecology and effective population policies, and, on the other, not only effective co-ordination and dialogue, but the need for proper incentives to farmers—including adequate food prices, realistic exchange rates, a determined drive to escape from deadening and incompetent parastatals and bureaucracies, effective control of public expenditure, and real scope for the private sector. In the development of this strategy, the World Bank has played a leading part—so, on the more short-term side, has the IMF. It is our general policy to work alongside them towards the same objectives.

Let me move now to the problem of debt. The motion asks us
"to promote joint international action to re-schedule and, where possible, write-off the debts of the poorest countries".
The problems of many countries are severe and long term, and the level of indebtedness and the debt service requirements will remain heavy. Recovery so far has been uneven and the need for further widespread efforts of adjustment remain. None the less, some progress has been made. For instance, the combined current account deficit of the indebted developing countries, excluding middle east oil exporters, in 1984 was only one third of the level in the peak year of 1981. In addition, there has been an overall improvement in growth rates, but this conceals wide discrepancies between countries.

Nevertheless, as the Bonn summit communique noted, the problems of indebtedness
"though far from solved, are being flexibly and effectively addressed".
The number of reschedulings has risen rapidly from less than four a year in 1970 to 1980 to some 31 in each of the last two years. Official debts and guaranteed export credits are rescheduled through the Paris club, where a standard approach has evolved. Central to this approach is consideration of the problem of each country case by case, rather than by the blanket method favoured by the Opposition. In this way, a programme of adjustment to tackle the fundamental economic problems, and to secure a return to sustainable long-term growth, can be worked out, supported by co-ordinated financing arrangements. For this reason a conditional IMF programme has been a precondition for Paris club rescheduling.

Terms have become easier, maturities and grace periods are generally longer and re-scheduling fees have declined. In addition, we remain willing to consider multi-year rescheduling arrangements where programmes of adjustment are being implemented successfully — as recently in Ecuador. ECGD is now allowed greater flexibility so that cover may be restored where appropriate at an earlier stage after the rescheduling of officially guaranteed debts. Of course, all debt rescheduling involves costs for the creditors. It has to be set against the Government's public expenditure plans or, for aid debts, against competing claims on limited aid resources.

We do not believe that wholesale writing-off of debts is the right answer. However, all the poorest countries are eligible to be considered for retrospective terms adjustment. We have a good record here. We have already cancelled the official aid debts of 12 African countries, amounting to some £211 million, most recently to Mozambique, Ethiopia and Ghana. In total, some £987 million has either been written off, or, in the case of India, local cost aid is provided up to the level of official aid repayments due each year. Largely as a result of this policy, 44 of the 50 poorest countries have no official aid debts to the United Kingdom.

We remain ready to consider applying the same measures to any other eligible countries which so request. Overwhelmingly, our aid to the poorest countries is given, not lent. It does nothing therefore to generate debts—a sharp contrast to Communist bloc practice.

Will the Minister say more about the Government's attitude to Bangladesh? I am sure he will be aware that there is considerable concern in many parts of the country — not least in Bradford and London, where there are large Bangladeshi communities—about the scale of our response to the disaster. Can the Minister say anything more about what contribution we shall give and what will be the main emphasis of our longer-term aid programme to Bangladesh?

That is a vast and important subject, and I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest. We have recently provided an immediate and substantial response, but, more important than that, Bangladesh is one of the two or three biggest aid recipients in the world. We continue to give Bangladesh large resources, and we focus them on dealing with such real problems as those exposed by the recent cyclone. Bangladesh appreciates our aid efforts.

I hope that in what I have said I have shown that Britain is making a very effective contribution to the problem of famine and agriculture, above all in Africa. We are bringing skill, determination and resources to bear, and these problems can be tackled. After all, in Asia we have seen in countries like India — and perhaps even Bangladesh—the threat of famine recede as production and skills develop. Aid plays an important part in this process.

I believe that our approach to debt is sound. We have to work constructively in the world that exists—not in some kind of drearnland El Dorado. At the same time, of course, we are concerned with British interests. We want to develop good relations and see stability increase and potential markets grow. We do not apologise for the fact that a high proportion of our bilateral aid is tied—that 73 per cent. of it returns to Britain in the form of goods and services. The aid trade provision enables us to respond flexibly to commercial opportunities and to counter the mixed credit practices of our competitors. Over the last few years some £350 million of aid trade provision has resulted in British firms winning contracts overseas valued at more than £1,400 million. Those who say that we are idle in this regard should take notice of those facts. We want to help our people too. Nor do I apologise for our stress on effectiveness and policy dialogue. Too much aid has been wasted in the past, and a 10 per cent. increase in effectiveness is as good as a 10 per cent. increase in resources.

Our commitment remains clear. We are not out to promote bad commercial ventures, any more than we are out to prop up bad bureaucracies. We want to see real development—in our own interests, certainly, but above all so that we can see an end to the terrible suffering which, with the aid of television, has so drawn the sympathy of ordinary people.

The motion is sheer Opposition rhetoric. I ask the House to reject it and to support our amendment.

4.58 pm

I have one small question for the Minister, on which I should appreciate an answer at the end of the debate. As he will know, yesterday I tabled a question to him about aid for Nicaragua. I tabled a previous question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on the same subject. I tabled the questions because I understand that the European Community is requesting that all EEC members double their aid to Nicaragua. What response will the British Government make to that? The issue may not arise until the next Development Council. Has the Commission made its proposals, and, if not, when is it likely to make them? What do we propose to do to respond, and how far does it look as though we shall turn in the direction of the EEC's more generous and more politically realistic policies towards Nicaragua than those of the United States? I should be most grateful for some information on that matter, as I have failed to elicit anything through my parliamentary questions.

I note what the Minister said. Most people, who have been extremely generous, understand well that there has been no extra money from the Government to meet the crisis in Africa. We should be foolish not to welcome what the Government have done. They have done a good deal, but the expenditure which the Minister mentioned came out of the 1984–85 programme and the Minister's contingency reserve. The concept of a contingency reserve is slightly new to me—for at least a couple of years, we did not have an underspend on the aid programme.

The contingency reserve is not a description of underspending, but simply a sum which is set aside to deal with emergencies and special needs as they crop up. I should be extremely surprised if the right hon. Lady did not have one when in office.

I am well aware of that. We somehow found ourselves able to provide whenever we were asked for additional help, without having to set aside money and thus depriving the bilateral aid programme.

Last week, the Minister was good enough to receive a deputation from the social and economic affairs committee of the United Nations Association led by my noble Friend, Lord Ennals, and me. He told us, as I am sure he would be ready to tell the House, that this year, with the crisis in mind, he has increased the contingency reserve from £45 million to £60 million. In a programme which is not increasing, that represents a cut of £15 million in bilateral or multilateral programmes.

It is scandalous that the aid programme is not increasing to take account of these needs and that money has not been taken from the Government's contingency reserve. When the pop concert with Bob Geldorf, which is hoping to raise £10 million, takes place, I hope that those who attend decide to write to the Prime Minister asking for £ 10 million to £100 million more on the aid programme to match what those individuals are putting in.

I am glad to hear about the special assistance being given for trucks and other vehicles in Ethiopia and Sudan. I recognise the political problems that are wrapped up in these matters. However, like the Minister, I know that Mali, Niger, Chad and Mozambique, for example, are suffering. The crisis affects a high proportion of Africa.

I should like to consider the inadequacy of the present capacity to respond. The Minister talked about the longer term. The civil servants who provided his brief are knowledgable about the best means of promoting agricultural development. Local peasant farmers need money, but none will be forthcoming from the present aid programme, at least not on the proper scale. Sources of water, roads, fuel costs and the planting of trees require direct development assistance and no amount of getting together with other donor countries and working out what is best is a substitute for them.

The Minister has set his heart on bilateral aid as far as possible. He does not want to join the World Bank multilateral programme, but would far rather provide British help which links in with it. Programmes are being worked out by the World Food Council and we have the United Nations development programme. There must be more development aid expenditure if we are to achieve anything for sub-Saharan Africa in the longer term.

Spending on up-country roads, tree planting and water points, whether for hydro-electricity or tube wells, does not fit the Government's criteria for commercial and political spin-offs. I doubt whether there will be much political spin-off from assisting in the longer-term development of sub-Saharan Africa. Those countries do not carry a tremendous amount of weight in the world arena. I doubt whether there will be more than a fractional commercial spin-off because such spending does not yield large orders for British firms. It involves a high element of local cost and does not involve enormous inputs of machinery.

Long-term development aid to avoid crisis is not compatible with the philosophy of the Government's aid programme. The Minister will have to face that and tell us where he stands. Which will win—the philosophy of the Cabinet Office or the philosophy of development assistance necessary to help the poor in sub-Saharan Africa? He cannot have it both ways. He will have to tell us, because we shall continue to probe him about which way he is going.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation warned the world for about four years about the crisis which was made apparent in the autumn, but nobody listened. The Government, the EEC and the donors of food aid did not listen, but those who knew had given a warning. They continue to give warnings and they are now telling us that matters are likely to get a good deal worse in the next few years. This is not a sporadic 1984-85 crisis which can soon be forgotten. It will go on because of what has happened to the ecology of sub-Saharan Africa.

There is no easy solution. I agree that the green revolution has resulted in massively increased food production in India and Bangladesh, but it can occur only when the new technologies in food production are applied to the right climatic conditions. The right climatic conditions do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa. There might be a considerable population movement from areas incapable of supporting people. Some communities might be saved by the right injection of assistance, but the prospects are not good.

Year by year, for the next five, six or 10 years, will we have the saga of money and food being found a little too late, taking a long time to get there, and incapable of being delivered because of the shortage of transport, trucks and so on? Are we not capable of devising a better approach to meeting what clearly will be a deep need in sub-Saharan Africa for some little time to come? That period will stretch over the next couple of years.

We have available to us the following. There are forecasts and intelligence reports, not just the global or African predictions of FAO, but a highly sophisticated method by which it is possible to forecast a few months ahead when a food crisis will hit a particular area because of what happens on the market, what people are selling and what they are doing with the food that they take to the market. All that is well known. Forecasting is possible. We can know three to six months in advance exactly in which area a food crisis will arise. Therefore, we have the intelligence.

We have the organisations. There is the office of the United Nations disaster relief co-ordinator. There is our own disaster unit here in Britain. I do not have such a terribly high regard for the EEC's capacity to integrate its various departments, so I do not know whether the European Commission has devised a similar disaster unit that brings together transport, money and food. I very much doubt it. If not, it could have such a unit.

I do not know how far it is possible to link forecasting and planning with the effective provision of what will be needed, near the points where it will be needed. I suppose that we all read the leader inThe Times yesterday. It is not often these days that I am able to quote with any approval a leader from The Times on anything to do with the Third world, but this leader was probably an agricultural correspondent leader rather than a Bauer-dominated aid leader. The Minister quoted some of the things that it said about the increase in world food production. It also stated:
"the debate nevertheless will take place in a world which is awash with food surpluses. Since 1964 world-wide production of wheat and food grains has doubled and kept ahead of population growth … While the Commons debates these matters … EEC agriculture ministers are also meeting.
" So is the world food conference.
"If the world is awash with grain, it is also awash with words about grain."
Again in The Times there is a report about the world food conference that is taking place now. It states:
"Algeria, now to be 'bombed' with a million tonnes of very cut price American surplus wheat, is only the first target of the US Department of Agriculture in its new $2 billion offensives against what it says are 'unfair trade practices' — notably the EEC's Common Agricultural Policy."
The EEC agriculture commissioner
"made it clear the EEC meant to defend itself."
In my view, there is something totally obscene about a world that has more than enough food supplies to feed everybody, in which such a dialogue is going on between two of the surplus producers, and in which there is no concrete co-ordinated effort to plan for the future.

I do not mind under which auspices it is, but a strengthened UNDRO linked up with FAO and the EEC might be the right thing—it does not really matter who. Why can there not be a massively strengthened international disaster organisation which not only has the capacity to co-ordinate, which is all that UNDRO does at the moment — it initiates and co-ordinates national responses—but has the money to organise and pay in advance for the surpluses that are likely to be needed, and has the storage and depots, which are not hundreds of miles away, so that months go by while things are being shipped to the countries that need them? The depots, storage and staff should be near the places that are likely to experience crisis.

I do not want to suggest the detail of the countries with which one negotiates a United Nations building for storage, staff, transport—trucks and vehicles of all sorts —medical supplies, tents and all the things which, at the moment, are being shipped or transported. The Minister is spending £10 million on flying such things over by Hercules. How much more sensible it would be if those things were near at hand to the Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali, Chad and Niger. That is more likely to be saving money than spending money.

I see no reason why that could not be done. It will need an initiative. It can be an initiative that links up with the voluntary agencies. They too can use the storage facilities and organise their vehicles and staff from such centres. However, an initiative will be needed, and I am very much afraid that it is the sort of initiative that can come only from the Minister. I am also very much afraid that the Minister's attitude is just a little too complacent to permit him to take such an initiative.

5.17 pm

I think that we would all agree with the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) about the obscenity of the glut of food in some parts of the world and the famine that is prevailing in large parts of Africa. However, I think that we can all recognise, although we often criticise the European common agricultural policy, that it is thanks to that policy that we have an abundant surplus and can make a great deal of grain available at present. Before that policy was introduced, we might have been hard put to do so.

The right hon. Lady recognised—I think that we all do—that Africa is dying—not just the people, but the land. The crisis ahead is serious. Some of the causes can be attributed to what, without blasphemy, one could call an act of God—the drought. However, there is another aspect, which is man-made, and I should like to concentrate on it.

The drought is a major cause, but it is not the only one. War is almost as important. Two horsemen of the Apocalypse are famine and war, followed closely by pestilence. When people are weakened by famine and the consequences of war, they can no longer fight back against the natural disasters that confront them. Therefore, the four horsemen are having it pretty good in the sub-Sahara.

We need to focus on the man-made aspects, because we can make a greater contribution there than we can make to solving the problem of drought. Perhaps we could do more. Let us take Ethiopia for a start. A civil war is being waged by the central Government against Eritrea and Tigre. When I was in the Sudan some months ago, I went to some of the refugee camps in the east, near Kassala. Part of the refugee population was escaping from the famine but an even larger part was escaping from the bombing and the excursions of the Ethiopian army. The people came bringing such wealth as they had — their livestock—half of which had perished on the way. Even if the weather had been better in Ethiopia, there could be no agricultural reconstruction in Eritrea and Tigre while the civil war went on.

There is not the same degree of famine in the Ogaden, but about 1 million Somalis have left that region to pour into Somalia because of the incursions of the Ethiopian Government. The southern Sudan is in insurrection against Khartoum. I shall not go into the rights or wrongs of that, but the dissident action is actively supported by the Ethiopian Government. According to the latest report that I have, famine is now occurring in what should be a naturally rich region of Sudan.

There is a problem there upon which we should focus a little. The chances of lifting Sudan out of its historical poverty were the discoveries of oil in the south and the development of the Jonglei canal. All that has been stopped by the civil war in the south. Until that civil war is ended, in whichever way, it seems that famine will continue there, and the chances of Sudan recovering and establishing itself and developing its economy will be greatly retarded.

In the Darfur region of the Sudan, which has been mentioned, there is a growing element of local famine. It is nourished additionally by the influx of refugees from Chad. I am no expert on the position in Chad, but I cannot believe that those refugees are migrating to the Sudan exclusively because of the drought. I cannot help thinking that the war in Chad is a major element in pushing them out.

There is the political factor of civil war or war encouraged in southern Sudan by Ethiopia or in Chad by Libya. The effects of war are plain enough. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development told us yesterday that shortage of transport is the main problem in Darfur. I believe that he said that the Ethiopians have 4,000 trucks and had made about 1,500 available so far. Of course the Ethiopians cannot make more available when they are fighting a war. Those of us who have been involved in military operations know how much transport that requires.

We are reaching a point where, given the extent of the aid that we provide, we should be insisting on a ceasefire in all those wars. It is not fair that our people, through taxation or voluntary donations, should be contributing to the relief of the famine which the Ethiopian Government — it may be other Governments as well — are exacerbating, not by neglect or inefficiency—we could accept that in an African country — but by their deliberate prosecution of military measures.

I shall be asked what leverage we have and what we can do about that. We plainly cannot cut off aid from people who are dying or from the starving, even for political reasons; but long-term aid is another matter. If I am right —my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong— we do not have any bilateral long-term aid arrangements with Ethiopia, but we contribute substantially to European aid to Ethiopia through the Lome convention. I believe that that is the biggest aid package that Ethiopia receives.

I understand that it is a principle of the European Community that political strings are not attached to the aid that we provide as a Community. It is time that we reconsidered that. This country is a major donor through the European Community and we have a strong voice within the European Community. It is high time that we insisted that there should be a change in the political attitude of Ethiopia to its regions and towards southern Sudan if further long-term aid is to be given. I am not talking about short-term aid to save the dying.

Normally, one does not want to interfere with the internal affairs of a sovereign state, but this is not a normal situation. As it seems to depend upon Europe and the United States for the aid that it receives, we are in a strong position to talk to Ethiopia about future long-term aid.

If that approach does not succeed, we should seriously consider whether we should concentrate our aid in the future on those countries whose Governments are more or less co-operative, such as Sudan and Somalia.

I should like to say a word before concluding on the subject of foreign debt. It is a different subject and one which is much less emotive. It is dry as dust. We have learned to live with the problem, but it will not go away. It is a time bomb under the international financial system. The heavy debts incurred by Third world countries are dangerous for them. So long as they are in debt and cannot meet their obligations, they will find it difficult to obtain new loans on any investment from the industrialised West. Their development will therefore be hampered. The debts are also dangerous for the creditors.

The American banks have a curious regulation which I shall not seek to justify. They show their loans as an asset in their balance sheets. Everyone is aware that many of the Latin American debts are non-performing, but they are still shown as assets in the balance sheets of American banks. If there were a major default or a cartel of defaulting debtors, many of the banks might have to close their doors. I am not worried about the banks, but I am worried about the international repercussions.

In 1929, at the time of the Wall street crash, the dollar retained its value because it was tied to gold. The dollar is now tied to nothing. It has become the only source of wealth which is recognised by all the central banks. What is the answer to the problem? The International Monetary Fund, of course, has come up with the correct and logical answer — debtor countries must pursue policies of deflation, tighten their belts and so on. That is all right up to a point, but if they do that too far there could be dangerous political repercussions. Is there any other way? I shall take an analogy from Marshall aid. When Marshall aid was given, most of the recipient countries realised that they could never repay their obligations to the United States. They therefore set aside what were called counterpart funds. It was their local currency guarantee against inflation. The money was available for investment or for the purchase of local assets by western countries on terms to be agreed by the Government of the country involved. Could we do something of the kind again?

Could the debtor countries make available in their own currency — guaranteed, as I say, against inflation — a proportion of their debt which could be taken up by the United States, Great Britain, Japan or other interests to open banks or insurance agencies or to buy a stake in the country involved? If that is put, as I have put it, to Latin American debtor countries, they say that they cannot part with the national patrimony. They talk about "patrimonia nacional" with great emotion. They see a colonialist threat in parting with their assets. Yet the Chinese People's Republic — Communist China — seems prepared to do just that, despite its experience of foreign investment under imperial China. I would have thought that that was a less painful operation than the one which the IMF is otherwise bound to recommend. If it were carried out, it would give confidence to western investors generally to invest in those countries, and it would also give confidence to the banks to lend again.

I am glad to say that we are not as much involved as the United States, but we are sufficiently involved to make it worthwhile for our Government, in their discussions with the Americans, the IMF and the World Bank, to raise this question more seriously than it has been raised so far.

5.30 pm

As this is an extremely short debate, I shall be brief. However, it gives us an important opportunity to look at the Government's response to the present famine crisis. Although the Minister diagnosed the problems which the suffering parts of Africa are now facing and spoke of the long-term need for a new strategy, he gave very little evidence of how he saw the present British Government contributing to the solution of those problems.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to speak of the need to bring about the effective rescheduling of debt, but there was no recognition in what he said of the considerable difficulties that face us in bringing about that effective rescheduling. In particular, there was no recognition of the probability that the position will get worse rather than better if the United States, as seems likely, goes into recession over the next two years.

In fact, the Minister's attitude was somewhat complacent. It was defensive, and intellectually honest enough to diagnose the problem, but it was cribbed and confined by the Government's mistaken policy — for which the right hon. Gentleman has only a limited responsibility—for curbing public expenditure.

If the British Government, as part of the European Community, encourage their European partners to continue to proceed with this restrictive policy, we shall fail to tackle the problems of the less-developed world. Indeed, we can only expect that those problems will get worse, and it is not just a question of the level of overseas aid, even though that is important.

I wish to consider not merely the effectiveness of what the Government have done in the short term to come to the relief of those countries whose plight has so forcefully been brought to the attention of our citizens, whose generous private response has enabled the voluntary aid agencies to make a quite unusual contribution aimed at stemming the worst consequences of this immediate disaster.

It is important to emphasise that the crisis in Africa is not a short-term weather failure. The Minister spoke of a problem that had got worse, and the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) said that the problem had been recognised for four years by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. In reality, food production in Africa has been declining for at least 10 years, and there has been a process of desertification and deforestation which has progressively undercut Africa's agricultural base.

It is to that question that the British public are increasingly directing their attention. They recognise that although the short-term assistance that we are able to give to improve the distribution of food that we ship in is necessary, it is not enough, and that we should address ourselves to the transformation of Africa's rural economy.

What has gone wrong in this great continent? First, we must recognise that farming methods have contributed to the problem, and in particular have undermined prospects for the small farmer. The Governments of many of the African countries affected have foolishly but understandably invested less in agricultural development than in urban development. Indeed, that urban development has all too often taken place on the back of the small peasant, who is responsible for the greater part of Africa's potential wealth.

A part of the blame must also be shared by external countries, in that our international aid programmes have not ensured that our long-term aid has gone to those who need it most—the rural poor. That is why I wish to stress the importance of a proposal that has been made by the independent commission on international humanitarian issues — that we should focus more directly on the provision of assistance to the rural poor through the provision of credit in amounts that will assist those who are unaffected by the larger programmes.

This has already been done with striking success in some countries on the initiative of some of their banking institutions. I particularly cite the example of the Grameen bank—the rural bank—in Bangladesh. Since 1976 that bank has provided a substantial amount of money—$6.2 million—to 58,300 people, almost half of whom are women. That is important in an African context, where the bulk of agricultural activity has traditionally been carried on by women.

Under the Grameen scheme the beneficiaries are the poorest of the poor. There is a cut-off point, so that a person who possesses more than 0.2 hectares is not eligible for assistance. Similar schemes exist in Nepal and Pakistan. The most striking feature of these schemes which should commend them to the Government is the repayment rates, which have been as high as 98 per cent. Only the building societies in this country can boast of such a level of success.

The scheme depends on the provision of credit to a small group of individuals, not members of the same family, who are seeking help in the form of sums from as little as £20 to £200. Collateral is not provided, but each member of the group undertakes to bring pressure to bear on the others to repay. The remarkable success of such schemes has led the independent commission to recommend that financial institutions should examine this example and the lessons which it may have, particularly for the continent of Africa.

Africa has a growing population and the problem of feeding that population with a declining productive capacity is stark and cannot be tackled with present forms of relief. Mr. Edgard Pisani has said that the help that we need to provide for Africa is not to build cathedrals in the desert, but to help with low-cost credit, and I urge the Government to take that course. That is a specific and important contribution which could be made by this country, with its financial expertise and its partnership with other European countries. Such action could bring about a remarkable change in agricultural practices, building up the capacity of the poorest of the poor to adapt to the needs of the situation. The Government shojuld do this in conjunction with, rather than in substitution for, the present aid programme, the restrictions of which have understandably been the main focus of today's debate.

I condemn the Government's action on the level of overseas aid. The Government have simply recycled an amount which is limited by their budgetary policy. It is unacceptable that we should rob some of the world's least well-off countries whose predicament has been less highlighted but is no less real. The Minister claims that his hands are tied, but he must recognise that the specific proposals that I have described for credit aid to small agricultural developments are consistent with the kind of policy which the Government ought to be able to espouse.

5.42 pm

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to the enormous public interest in this vital issue, and the House owes the Opposition a debt of gratitude for enabling us to discuss it today. I am especially grateful in view of my interest, which I should declare at this point, as chairman of an organisation which, among other things, endeavours to provide food aid for the victims of Soviet policy in Afghanistan; a policy which is purely directed at trying to subjugate that unhappy country by starving its population and destroying its crops and cattle. I therefore have almost daily contact at long distance, and sometimes at closer quarters, with those tragic events.

I am perhaps a little less grateful for the terms of the Opposition motion. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) has been notorious in the past for his somewhat dismissive attitude to the United States Government and to Americans in general, and some may feel that he almost delights in scoring easy runs off them, so I hope that he will not be insulted when I say that in some of his comments today he reminded me of the type of American who believes that difficulties can be solved merely by throwing megabucks at them.

Despite a few nods in the other direction, that seemed to be the approach of the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members today. I am the last to decry the importance of resources, but in the sphere in which I have experience I would rather see £50,000 well spent than £500,000 ill spent, however much the provision of a greater sum might increase the outrage and rhetoric in which the Opposition take such delight.

As those of us who have had the misfortune of seeing it know, famine can strike with enormous speed. Very often, those who study these matters can predict the threat of famine, but once it has occurred it is extremely difficult to put it right. The help that we provide, however great, very often proves inadequate, because of the nature of the beast, and it also tends to be extraordinarily expensive. How much better it would be—I am delighted to have heard this several times from both sides of the House today —if we could concentrate on the long term, on trying to prevent famine; an approach which is not only cheaper but more effective.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) observed with some justice that we cannot do anything about the weather. As a rather better historian than I am, he may care to reflect that the granary of the Roman empire was destroyed largely by the irruption of Semitic peoples bringing huge flocks of sheep and goats in their wake, thus destroying the vegetation which once enabled what is now a desert to feed the greatest empire of the ancient world. So perhaps the weather is not entirely an act of God, but has been brought about by mankind over the course of many centuries.

I am delighted that there seems to be a consensus in the House about the need to consider the long term, but if we are to do that we must pay particular attention to the quality of our aid and the influence that we can bring to bear on that quality by eliminating the human causes of some of the disasters that we see with such horror on television and which some of us have been unfortunate enough to see on the ground with even more effect, dare I say it, than on the little screens in our living rooms.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion said, the human factor is all too often very largely to blame. I have already referred to the extraordinary events of the past five years in Afghanistan. I do not know whether any Opposition Members have seen a Russian MI24 helicopter gunship. It is an enormous and frightening machine and it can be seen any day of the week in the valleys of Afghanistan. Let us imagine one of those machines wheeling over a valley in which large herds of cattle, sheep and goats are guarded by a young boy. Near the flocks are fields of corn. The gunship comes down over the valley, which is undefended by anti-aircraft weapons. Its first act is to shoot the boy. Its subsequent act is to shoot the sheep, the goats and the cattle. It goes round to make sure that none of them is moving. After that fairly long process, it devotes attention to setting fire to the crops.

It is hardly surprising that there were indicators of famine in Afghanistan. To a lesser degree, the same has occurred in parts of Africa. The nations of the West and public opinion in the Western world can expose what is happening and shame the perpetrators of those ghastly acts into desisting.

Many hon. Members could itemise other factors that are part of the human cause of famine. The list is long, but three items are especially worthy of consideration. During the past few weeks, The Economist has addressed itself, with admirable pithiness and understanding, to the way in which so many developing countries produce policies which encourage a drift to the towns. Many inhabitants of those countries already feel that they would like to follow that drift. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister consider the possibility of trying to encourage the recipients of British aid to reverse those policies so that we can encourage the growth of a rural rather than an urban economy?

The Minister knows that that is not always an easy task. Many dictators find it attractive to encourage an urban population rather than a rural one because it tends to be easier to control and easier to bribe. My right hon. Friend is already well seized of the problems in making sure that financial aid is directed where it can be of most use. In the past, far too much money has found its way into the Swiss, and perhaps even the British, bank accounts of Government officials who had no right to it in the first place.

I wonder whether the right hon. and hon. Members who have referred to the human factor this afternoon have got their priorities right. Above all, we should consider the small farmer as an individual, not as part of a collective or a traditional tribal society. Those of us who have seen the dust bowls of Africa, as I have done during the past 20 years, know that a tribal society can lead to too many crops and cattle, the destruction of the soil and the appalling erosion that follows. Equally, we know of the dangers of collective farming and the adhesion to ideologies which may be attractive in theory but which lead to under-production in practice.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity and privilege of taking part in the debate. I congratulate the Minister on what he said this afternoon, and I hope that he will ensure that the human factor, over which we have some control, is not far from his mind when he formulates the important policies to which he referred, and that he will not be swayed by fear or fashion from considering the realities of life.

5.54 pm

The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) mentioned Afghanistan twice in his speech. He may be interested to know that, before the Russian involvement in Afghanistan, that country was about the lowest recipient of aid in the Third world. We may learn some interesting lessons from that.

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has left the Chamber, mentioned the effect of war in Ethiopia, and I can only agree with him about the damaging effect of war and civil war in the Third world. I believe it is correct to say that more than 140 wars have taken place there since 1945. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me about the need for peace and development programmes under the authority of the United Nations as a solution, on a regional basis, to some of the problems that he raised.

I shall confine my remarks to a few general observations, having considered with great interest the recent Select Committee report on famine in Africa. I am sorry that it has not yet been mentioned in the debate. I begin by committing myself to the statement that the tragedy of human suffering and death which occurred in Africa should never have happened. It is a bitter reflection on the world community that it did happen. No one, least of all no one who followed the growing crisis in Africa during preceding years, should have been in any doubt that we were heading for a major disaster, and this Government, with others, must accept their share of responsibility for that. It is not as though we were not warned.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) said, the FAO-OAU publication in 1982 went by almost unnoticed. In April 1983, just before the general election, we debated famine, and again in the autumn of the same year. The matter received attention in countless conferences. I recall taking part in a very valuable conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Nairobi in October 1983. People were concerned then with malnutrition—the sapping of the will to live effects of malnutrition which have inhabited the Third world for so long. I said at that conference that the trouble was that starvation is news while malnutrition is not.

We must use this debate and the evidence that has been gleaned in the Select Committee's report to learn lessons. The Select Committee rightly pointed out that the cause of the famine was not just the drought. There were short-term causes, but I believe that there were deep-seated and long-term causes for what has occurred.

The fact is that the rains failed in Africa. They have done so since time immemorial. Pre-colonial societies knew that, and many of them knew the necessity of maintaining buffer stocks against the possibility of drought in the next season. The hon. Member for Dorset, South played down the importance of the wisdom of tribal societies, but I hope that he will take the fact into account. I hope that he will also realise that those tribal societies, because they had to do it for their very survival, recognised the prime importance of growing enough food to meet the needs of their people.

We are inclined to underestimate the explosive revolutionary impact of the European incursion into Africa which came with colonialism. African people, many of whom did not even have the use of the wheel a century or more ago, were understandably overwhelmed by the technology of the West. The people of the West have encouraged Africans to believe that they knew better and that the West possesed a technological solution to every social, environmental and political problem. The expert has often been treated, therefore, as though he were infallible. He feels, perhaps too easily, that he has nothing to learn and that therefore he has no need to listen, even if he understands the language of his potential informant in Africa. When his chosen project fails, he holds up his hands and exclaims, "Africa wins again."

In fact, Africa has lost heavily because our all too frequent failure to take into account the experience and wisdom of centuries has had the effect of devaluing it. If one wants to know why agriculture and husbandry are held in low regard in Africa—thought of as primitive, almost as degrading for the person who engages in it — I suggest that one should examine the impact of white people during the past 100 years as well as the industrial-based technology that they brought with them.

I said at the outset that the African tragedy ought never to have happened. The pain, misery and deaths which have afflicted hundreds of thousands of people and which will continue to do so were preventable if action had been taken in time. The cost has been colossal, not just in terms of loss of human life and suffering. Famines are disruptive. The resultant distress migrations mean the uprooting of families and whole communities who often travel miles on foot in search of distribution centres. The question arises: how will the people who survive be successfully resettled and enabled to become productive again?

As we have been reminded this afternoon, famine relief is hugely expensive. Famine almost invariably occurs in remote areas where there is an appalling lack of infrastructure development, so the cost of getting food into the mouths of those who need it and medical and other supplies to where they are required is prohibitive.

It is extraordinary that the cost of all this effort should be set against the aid budget. Millions of ordinary folk, both in this country and elsewhere, have dug deep in then-pockets and are still doing so, many of them making enormous sacrifices. But not so, apparently, the taxpayer. For one thing, as Oxfam points out in its brief, the proportion of total Government expenditure going to aid has fallen from 1.01 per cent. in 1979-80 to 0.87 per cent, which is the estimate for the current year. Even so, the taxpayer's contribution is unchanged by this massive human disaster.

Can the Minister say that, as a consequence, people who might have received technical assistance will not now be denied it, or that countries which might have received project or sectoral aid will not now get as much as they might otherwise have received? The fact is that under this Government so far the taxpayer has not been required to make any sacrifice. Our aid programme in percentage terms compares poorly with that of most other Western countries. If we cannot persuade the Government to raise the figure, the House must persuade them to restore the principle of aid to the poorest.

The majority of people expect our aid programme to concentrate upon that, not upon the matters which the Minister for Overseas Development mentioned at the end of his speech — commmercial self-interest and other similar objectives. That means a larger and more relevant contribution to the needs of the peasant farmer and the rural community, restoring the funding that has been taken away from the scientific units, which can make an enormous contribution, and making a larger contribution to the International Fund for Agricultural Development. These, and other changes of direction, are urgent. I hope that the Government will at last recognise the need for change.

The subject of this motion should be debated more frequently. It is a matter of great concern to every section of our community. I do not believe that the Government have reflected that concern in the resources that they devote to the aid programme.

6.5 pm

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the Sudan and Ethiopia with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), whose contribution, insight and participation were greatly appreciated by me and the all-party parliamentary group on overseas development under whose auspices we went to those countries.

I was glad to hear the comments of the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) on the report which appeared yesterday in The Times, upon which I, too, have reflected. I hope that she will agree with one or two of my reflections.

Britain stopped guaranteeing its farmers the highest possible prices about 30 years after the Napoleonic wars. At that time, everybody forecast gloom and doom. In practice, Victorian prosperity took over. Britain was not ruined. A similar challenge now faces the Western world. By fixing food prices artificially high in developed countries and artificially low in poor countries, food output swamps Japan's paddy fields, Europe's grain mountains and North America's rich prairies, at the expense of poorer countries, where babies grow faster than crops. These prophetic words of The Economist are no less true today than when they were written over a year ago.

The result is that 2 per cent. of the world's farmers —the 24 million in the rich countries, where fewer than one tenth of the people work on farms—are providing nearly a quarter of all the world's food and nearly three quarters of its food exports. The other 98 per cent, of farmers—the 1.2 billion in the poor countries, where up to two thirds of the people work on the land — grow three quarters of the world's food but still do not have enough to eat.

The average farmer in rich countries, including hobby farmers, produces $8,000 worth of food a year. The average full-time farmer in poor countries produces $650 worth of food a year. The rich land farmer is paid far more than the $8,000 worth that he produces, while the poor land farmer is often paid far less than the $650 worth that he digs out.

If politicians want to help, if politicians can help, there is not one hon. Member whose time could be better spent than in protracted argument for a comprehensive reform of the common agricultural policy, for a comprehensive reform of farm policies worldwide and for a move away from the policies which have been pushing up farm output in countries where obesity is the main medical problem, and pushing it down in countries where malnutrition is the main problem.

The story of World Bank lending to Ethiopia is interesting for many reasons. The bank's lending programme to Ethiopia was doubled after the 1974 revaluation, despite the political concerns of the United States and European Governments. This doubling was justified by the Government's programme of land reform, which had always been considered by the bank as essential both to growth and equity objectives in Ethiopia. Attempts at land reform before 1974 had failed. Post-revolutionary Ethiopia has managed what Stanley Please recognised as
"a fairly sound record of macro—and development—oriented economic management, particularly by sub-Saharan African standards."
But the domestic economy continues to weaken in Ethiopia.

Compensation arrangements for nationalised foreign investors were not adequately forthcoming. Foreign investors have become objects of suspicion by the radical Government in Addis Ababa, exemplified by scepticism towards the international values of financial and Western democratic behaviour, which now dents the confidence of Western donors. Meanwhile, calls for a policy dialogue are snubbed by new joint venture codes without guarantees for withdrawal or guarantees to repatriate profits.

The horrible inevitability of disaster, the hallmark of so much of Ethiopia's history, unleashed itself in the famine. Western donors now tread precariously in Addis Ababa, but once again food production must take the pole position. Peasant farmers produce 94 percent. of the food. The state farms and co-operatives produce 6 per cent. of the food, yet 80 per cent. of the output comes from state farms, 12 per cent. from the producer co-operatives and 8 per cent. from the peasant sector.

With millions of peasant farmers malnourished and starving, the cry from Western donors has been that it is wrong to go for big agricultural schemes, that Lomé 3 should concentrate on the peasant sector, that there should be a policy dialogue, that the agricultural marketing organisations should be reformed and that there should be collective conditionally of the donors, land tenure and a free market. But in reality the enthusiasm dies and can often be insensitively handled. Even the peasant agricultural development programme of the IDA is withdrawn. The Ethiopian Government refuse to accept a World Bank adviser to examine pricing policy.

Not surprisingly, and regrettably, Marxism has no love for policy dialogue, which even now evaporates and is transformed into policy monologue. It is an ideology where people serve policies, instead of the policies serving the people, where the starving villagers come to the refugee workers over the Sudanese border, not the refugee workers to the villagers; where Soviet planes decant thousands of Eritrean and Tigre refugees on to the tarmac of Addis Ababa airport, to be bussed on to resettlement camps in the south-west; where Ethiopian officials take off the dying and dead from the overcrowded, unpressurised holds; where the fire engines wash out the contaminated remains which trickle down the camber of the airfield towards the RAF Lyneham teams, glancing nervously as the water approaches their supplies, hopefully, this time, free from 001, the code word for the unmentionable, cholera.

It is a relentless, merciless world for the relief workers from all countries, who cannot switch over, as we television viewers can, to the other channel. They deserve our respect and admiration.

Meanwhile, by complete contrast, the Sudan — geographically the area of the whole of Western Europe —consistently accepts refugees across its borders from war-stricken Ethiopia in the east, 250,000 refugees from Uganda in the south, 5,000 from neighbouring Zaire and hundreds of thousands recently from Chad into Darfur in the west.

To do that on a humanitarian basis, and to attempt to assist in settling them away from the borders, deserves the admiration of the Western world. Relief workers go where they are needed and the refugees have equal access to whatever social services are available. Moreover, Government policy favours settling refugees in organised settlements to maximise the provision of the available services.

This is all happening at a time when the Sudan is experiencing its second major drought in 15 years. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Clydesdale referred to forecasting and planning, because there is strong evidence that drought, apparently persistent and endemic to Africa, is linked to long-term changes in Africa's climate.

The process of desertification—caused by a number of factors — must be considered carefully. We must examine such factors as livestock over-grazing, over-cutting for fuel wood purposes and the uncontrolled expansion of human settlements. The latter in its own right may be one of the causes of climatic change, in that it reduces the soil's capacity to store water.

Five of the Sudan's eight administrative regions are affected by the drought, yet the Sudan continues to maintain its open-door policy to refugees. Regional Governments estimate that 4.5 million people are affected in the Sudan, having lost crops or livestock, or both, and as a consequence are unable to provide for themselves adequately without external support. Yet the Sudan continues to maintain its open-door policy.

Among the immediate manifestations of the drought have been food riots as convoys of lorries carry grain through hungry villages to border camps for foreign refugees. A fourfold to fivefold increase in the market price of the main food staple, dura and sorghum, and a sixfold to eightfold drop in the price for livestock in affected regional markets inflame domestic resentment,

In western Sudan, the news of drought in Darfur was known long before this week's radio broadcasts. The Darfur region was declared a disaster zone as long ago as July 1984. A national relief committee was established to combat the effects of drought in that region and in Kordofan. The committee has since evolved into a national high commission for drought and desertification, and it is chaired by the first vice-president. Entire villages in Darfur have been virtually deserted, while others have been left to women, children and the elderly as the men have set forth seeking pastures and employment.

In terms of scale, only the east of the country is worse. Only a month ago, Wad Kowli, a camp which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and I visited, was the main refugee camp in the Sudan. It was the final resting place for Ethiopian refugees, many of whom had walked hundreds of miles through war-stricken zones to reach the refugee workers, the unsung heroes who run the camp and minister to the children.

I welcome the news given by the Minister today of increased funding for the Save the Children Fund. Wad Kowli is the fastest growing African city — a city of humble, gentle and dignified people. Compared with having fewer than 20,000 people at Christmas, Wad Kowli sheltered 91,000 on 10 February.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and I were privileged to be the first Western politicians to meet the new Sudanese leader, who was remarkably frank in his approach to the problems that he faces. He made it clear that the solution to political problems to which reference has been made, with John Garang and the rebel forces in the south, were vital so as to open up the Jonglei canal and get oil flowing once again — action which can only benefit the economic crisis in relation to the $9 billion external debt.

The Sudanese leader said that the Sudan faced a 30 per cent. deficit of food aid and famine relief, and a 60 per cent. deficit of essential seeds for sowing. If these shortages are not made up, the famine crisis will worsen dramatically, in the way that has been visible in recent weeks. In addition, $11 million is needed to ensure water supplies, and new water boreholes are essential to the medium and long-term solution of the problems that we are discussing.

We must reject as nonsense and lamentable ignorance the calls that have been made recently for camp closures. When the rains come, the journey home with limited provisions and the likelihood of heavy mud, swollen rivers and war-stricken zones will prove well nigh impossible for many. Equally, we must fight against "aid fatigue"—the "Why bother, we have done our bit?" attitude in a Western world anaesthetised by television.

We must, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) rightly said—I have long supported this stance and will continue to do so—work towards the 0.7 per cent. United Nations target for aid. Above all, we must work for agricultural reform and conditionality between donors and recipients, based on trust and understanding and not imposed insensitively.

I am grateful, in the brief time available for the debate, to have had the opportunity to talk on this subject.

6.16 pm

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) will forgive me if I do not discuss the points that he raised. I wish to be brief, in the knowledge, which I find encouraging, that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

The Minister speaks for a Government who were launched, in the words of the Prime Minister, by a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi. In reflecting on the hon. Gentleman's speech today, we must recall that St. Francis sought to encourage people to understand as much as to be understood. I hope that the Minister will understand, despite the assurances that he offered the House, that we have grave misgivings about Government policy on this whole issue.

Grave reservations exist about the Government's commitment to try to seek a solution to the problem of world poverty. Few of us can be satisfied with the figures that are available. The Minister spoke of £95 million, which is an 18 per cent. cut in real terms in the aid programme since the Conservatives assumed office.

In view of the information that is available and the pictures that we see on our television screens, it is clear that the great anguish in Africa, Asia and the Third world represents a scene that we would be negligent to ignore. It is a picture to which the British people want us to respond. The case for increasing aid is, therefore, already made.

We are entitled to be worried about the quality of aid. Of the £200 million given to Africa, a mere £27 million went to agricultural development. If we are concerned about prestigious projects such as the £74 million spent in Khartoum on a massive building which could have waited for some years, it is clear that we must be concerned about priorities.

Apart from asking Third world countries to deal with the problems of the debt crisis to which the motion refers — to deal with increasing interest charges at a time when commodity prices are going down and to cope with international inflation, which applies as much to them as to us, remembering that it greatly concerns the world recession — we must remember that we have given a commitment to spend amounts on armaments which, I suggest, are unreasonable in the light of the problems that the countries of the Third world are facing. How can we defend an aid budget of £95 million when last year alone we exported £1.8 billion of armaments? The people ask for bread and we send them tanks; they demand water and we send them an arms race. Our priorities are indefensible.

I hope that the Minister understands the anguish of 500 million people—one eighth of humanity—who, every day, experience poverty, misery and deprivation. I hope that, despite the Minister's wish to defend this Government's record, he will accept that the House must give a considered response to the anguish of those people. I hope, too, that, when those people think of the problems that they face, they will forgive us for our collective indifference. I believe that history will find it difficult to do so.

6.20 pm

When the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and I stood in refugee camps in Korem and Mekele, one thought more than any other that gripped my mind was that one should not become numb to the reality of what one sees and that the world should not, as famine disasters are seen ever more frequently on television screens, become deadened to reality.

I hope that the House, Britain and the international community will unite in a determination to eradicate hunger, at least by the year 2000. As the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said, we live in a world where cohesion is threatened not by the missile gap but by the gap between the rich nations of the North and the poor nations of the South.

There is nothing inevitable about what I, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) and others have seen in Africa. Some 20 years ago, famine gripped parts of India. Today, to all intents and purposes, India is self-reliant in food. There is nothing inevitable about saying that we must live with hunger for ever. Nor do we have to accept that the nations of the developed world will always have to feed the nations of Africa. There is nothing inevitable about the feeling that Hercules aircraft will for ever have to fly around Ethiopia.

We should have a simple objective — to make the countries of sub-Saharan Africa food self-reliant, able to feed themselves and to buy on the open market food that they cannot produce themselves. Despite our best will and intentions, until the international community gives the same priority to tackling hunger as it gives to the arms talks in Geneva, we will be unlikely to make progress.

Our main concern is with focus. There is a danger in seeking to give as much aid as possible to Africa while the Soviet Union uses Africa to establish its influence, as, in part, does the United States. The international community must take the responsibility. We must ask ourselves how, as a community, we can best tackle this problem. It is not acceptable for part of the international community to seek to give food aid while another part seeks simply to give arms and to help prosecute a civil war and strife that is undoing much of the work promoted by the other part of the international community. Only when the United Nations has the determination to eliminate hunger will there be any hope of ensuring that sub-Saharan Africa is not still starving in the year 2000.

Britain is in a unique position to take a lead, because it does not seek to carve out spheres of influence in northern Africa. We do not seek, by the sale of arms, to promote our influence throughout the world. We have a unique position in the European Community and in our relationship with the United States.

I hope that hon. Members will stop seeking to divide the House by making cheap political points about whether our aid contribution is 0.35 per cent. or 0.7 per cent. of GNP. Of course resources are important, but it is more important for the House and Britain generally to be determined to eliminate hunger from the world as soon as possible. I hope that we shall achieve that aim within our lifetime. If we do not, the House and Britain will have failed.

6.25 pm

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) expressed the sentiments of most hon. Members. It is right to emphasise the Minister's statement about the image of suffering that created a response by the British people. That response has gone much further than many of us hoped—£60 million or more has been given by the British public to alleviate famine in Africa.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in paragraph 127 of its report on famine in Africa, stated:
"The generosity of the British people has not been matched by the British Government."
We need to repeat that point and follow the Select Committee's recommendations. In paragraph 128 it stated:
"We consider that it is not acceptable that almost the entire costs of the UK response to the crisis should fall on the previously agreed ODA budget."
The Select Committee said that an additional provision should be made.

The Select Committee and many hon. Members have stressed the need to develop improved agriculture policies and programmes, to provide assistance for those programmes, and to prevent a recurrence of the present crisis. The Select Committee referred to assistance by the donor communities in various ways for the food producing sector, principally smallholder agricultural and horticul-tural production. The Minister referred to the successful pioneering scheme developed in Zimbabwe to increase agricultural production.

We need to examine our attitudes towards aid by noting the relationship between the present crisis and the longer-term crisis of agricultural production in Africa because of the obscene agricultural policies that are pursued by Northern and Western countries in the common agricultural policy. By relating the South's agricultural needs to the overdevelopment of the North—especially in the use of large areas of Southern countries to produce cash crops for export to Northern and Western countries — and by concentrating on the real needs of the Southern countries, we shall understand the structural changes that are required, not only in production techniques in Southern countries but in the international balance of trade in agriculture. Northern and Western countries must accept responsibility for the debt crisis and the man-made famine caused by our overconsumption and our commercial systems.

We need to look at only one indicator—indebted-ness. In 1973, the ratio of external debts to GDP in non-oil developing countries was 22.4:1; it is now 35:1. To pay off the debts that are often caused by the militarism of the East-West conflict, which also engulfs the South, the developing countries have to expand their cash crops and raw materials for export. That often results in the forcing of self-sufficient farmers off the land, destruction of the environment, and over-intensive development of agri-business methods—all of them Northern inspired.

We need to look again at the ways in which we in Britain, as a member of the European Community, can lend our support to fundamental changes in our own agricultural policy. We need to look at the proposals that have been made by the French for a new Bretton Woods. We need to look in particular at the ways in which domestic reflation within the Northern countries is a contribution to international change as well as to our own obnoxious levels of unemployment.

We need, in particular, to take seriously what the French organisation, Frères des Hommes, said a couple of years ago:
"A Normandy pig or cow, or a Parisian cat or dog, has a greater purchasing power than landless peasants in the Third World."
As long as we accept that kind of situation and fail to relate the famine and the plight of the Southern countries to our economic system—in particular, to the way in which capitalism has over-exploited Southern countries — we shall not in reality tackle the hunger that faces those Southern countries.

We must take particularly seriously proposals that would gradually reduce the buying of agricultural produce from Southern countries, reduce the development of international sales of that kind, and emphasise the development of food rather than cash crops in those countries.

Rather than introduce aid ourselves, we should as a European Community purchase the produce of those countries, but not for our own use. We should not take delivery of that produce. It should be sent to agreed depots in the producing countries. We should negotiate with the Governments of such countries a method of collection and distribution to ensure that the local people benefit not only from a guaranteed price but from the produce. It is that kind of radical approach to aid that we need if we are to eradicate famine.

6.32 pm

The debate has been all too short. It has drawn on the experience of many right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom have seen famine at first hand in the Sudan and Ethiopia. The themes have been, among others, our own human responsibility for much of the famine which now faces us, and the civil wars in the Sudan and Ethiopia, the population explosion, the deforestation and — a topic well developed by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas)—our own agricultural policies in the West, which exacerbate the attempts of the developing countries to have their own proper agricultural infrastructure and feed their own people.

The Minister gave a valuable diagnosis of the extent of our aid—the targeting, the speed of response, the need for co-ordinating and the need for a new strategic approach. I should be interested to hear his response to the valuable points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) about storage facilities and a rapid aid deployment force to meet those famine crises which are likely to face us with increasing regularity unless the world community as a whole comes together to meet its human responsibility in relation to those crises.

The Minister failed to put the Government's response in the context of a shrinking aid budget. The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) said, in a rather lofty way, that money is not all, but money can help. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) spoke of his commitment to the aid figure of 0.7 per cent. and the need to work towards it. He must realise now that we are moving away from that figure. Last year the United Kingdom's figure was 0.35 per cent. Indeed, it is now down to 0.33 per cent. When the Labour Government left office, the figure was in excess of 5 per cent., and rising.

The aid budget has been consistently cut by the Government since 1979. Comparing the 1985-86 figure with that for 1984-85, one sees that there is a clear cut of at least 3 per cent. in real terms. There has been a cut of no less than 18 per cent. since 1979. In spite of the brave words of the Minister about the importance of science research, the budget of the science unit has been cut, and cut again.

There is a falling percentage of central Government spending on aid, and comparatively our performance, in relation to that of the Development Assistance Committee countries, is very poor. The average development assistance of all non-US DAC countries is 0.45 per cent. of gross national product. Our own figure is now 0.33 per cent. In spite of our colonial traditions and the human relationships within the Commonwealth, which should certainly have put us on a par with France, with a figure in excess of 0.7 per cent., our figure is rather less than three-quarters of the non-US DAC average, and that percentage is falling. That is the reality.

The Minister, as he says, is seeking to obtain greater co-ordination and a more coherent aid strategy. That attempt takes place within a public expenditure programme which, since 1979, has allowed an increase in defence spending of 30 per cent., an increase in the law and order Vote of almost 40 per cent., and an 18 per cent. cut in the aid budget. However skilful the Minister is in redirecting, he is doing it from a much smaller base.

In spite of the brave words of the Government at the Bonn summit and elsewhere, cuts have been made. They are certainly out of tune with public opinion in Britain. The Oxfam public opinion survey at the end of last year showed that only 18 per cent. of those polled were in favour of a lower aid budget. The Government's attitude also has to be contrasted with the magnificent response of our people to the famine in Africa. That point was made eloquently in the Select Committee report on famine in Africa, which has not been touched on as much as it should have been during the debate.

It is clear that the Government's response to the famine in Africa has been based solely on switching funds within a decreasing aid budget, and the Minister cannot resile from that starting point. Apart from the Hercules operation in Ethopia, the money to respond to the unprecedented food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa has come from the existing aid budget. Indeed, from the beginning of February this year, half of the Hercules cost has fallen on the ODA.

The Foreign Affairs Committee contrasted the generosity of the British people with the stony response of the Government and called for substantial new money in the face of the continuing crisis. It is not good enough to say, as the Minister traditionally does, that the money comes from the contingency reserve designed specifically for the purpose, because no contingency reserve within the ODA was_designed to meet the scale of human catastrophe that we have seen in sub-Saharan Africa in the past year.

A further fact about the shrinking aid budget is that the debts of the relevant countries have increased because of the background, which is the on-lending of Western banks —that was true of oil money in Latin America in the 1970s—the vast increase in interest rates, and the fall in commodity prices. That means that countries in sub-Saharan Africa have debts in excess of $80 billion. Their debt service is both crippling and leads to distortions within their agricultural economy, as they are encouraged to produce agriculture for servicing those debt requirements rather than to help the poorer farmers in the poorer areas. That has been a consistent theme of many hon. Members. Partly as a result of servicing those debts, there have been the distortions to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and others referred.

The Government have honoured the debt cancellation commitments, but they were inherited from the Labour Government, and from the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale of directing aid to the poorest people in the poorest countries. We accept what the Minister said about rescheduling and writing off debts in some of those areas. However, we should like the Government to lean on the Americans and West Germans, and to follow the example of the retroactive terms adjustment of the old UNCTAD agreement.

Further relevant developments on debt have been the Government's acquiescence in September 1983 to the International Monetary Fund's change of practice on the compensatory financing facility, the food surplus policy of the European Community and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) said in relation to the EC, the fact that the Government took the lead in making cuts in EC food aid. Therefore, there have been cuts, the debt crisis has increased, the need has never been greater, and the general nature of the Government's response has been unfavourable.

Further famines in Africa can be prevented only if there is a decline in the African population or an increase in Africa's per capita food production. Too little of our aid has been directed to the agricultural sector. The Minister knows that the ODA figure for 1983 was only £27 million for project aid for agriculture, £15 million for technical assistance for the same sectors, and £23 million for rural roads, water and electricity, from a total budget of £224 million.

The Government's aid has been increasingly inflexible in terms of the reduction in support for local costs. The Minister will know that between 1980 and 1983 the Government's local costs contribution decreased by 25 per cent. in cash terms, and by more in real terms. I challenge the Minister to deny that figure. There has also been a reduction in programme aid and balance of payments support. Again I challenge the Minister to deny that, because it comes from his Department's figures. The reduction in programme aid since 1979 has been 55 per cent.

The Minister will be aware of the DAC checklist, which was formulated at the end of last year, for concerted action in sub-Saharan Africa. It was meant to be a guidance list for donors. I understand that progress on the checklist, which includes priority for agriculture, has been blocked by the reservations of certain donors. I should like the Minister to confirm that that is the case and that the British Government are not among those who are blocking its implementation.

Essentially, our response has been niggardly. We saw that from the World Bank specialist facility for sub-Saharan Africa, when no extra funds were committed. I hope that the Minister will say something about the Government's response to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which now seeks replenishment. As the main meeting of IFAD has ended in disarray, will the Government contribute to the proposed special fund for sub-Saharan Africa, which is seeking at least $300 million over four years? Will we make a voluntary contribution in that area, which is the subject matter of our debate?

Clearly, there is a crisis in Africa. Our response has essentially been that of a reactive Government. There have been no initiatives and no moves overall towards the United Nations target of 07 per cent. of gross national product. Indeed, our contribution has fallen to 0.3 per cent., and continues to fall. Our contribution to alleviating the famine in Africa, however better targeted, can be seen properly only in the context of a much reduced aid budget.

6.46 pm

The House will agree that we have had a good debate this afternoon. I congratulate the Opposition on choosing this subject, if not on the terms of their motion. It has been useful to have a chance to consider what is unquestionably the terrible crisis in Africa. All hon. Members have spoken in the shadow of that crisis.

Some hon. Members spoke with peculiarly close experience, as they have been out to see what is happening on the ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) described his experiences of visiting the crisis area. I echo one of his points—that while we rightly pay tribute to the work of our voluntary agencies and the people they send out, we should remember that in the camps of Sudan and Ethiopia there are Sudanese and Ethiopians who are working as dedicatedly, hard and skilfully as those from abroad. That is one of my clearest memories of my visit there.

There has been a good deal of agreement on many aspects of the debate, in particular on the enormous importance of doing all we can to help the small farmers in African countries and other parts of the world which face great difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), in his brief intervention, rightly pointed out that we have a simple objective—to make sub-Saharan Africa self-reliant in food, able to grow its own crops and to do the bulk of the work in that respect. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) also spoke about the importance of the small farmer. I share his view that the small fanners of Africa have been derided too much. A growing wisdom recognises that many of the things that small farmers have been doing over the years have been based on experience and a great deal of good sense. Anyone who goes to Africa and thinks that he can simply lecture the small farmer on what he should do without regard to that experience is making a great mistake. Sadly, in many African countries the wisdom of the small farmers has been undermined by absurd ideological policies. However. I believe that wisdom is reasserting itself, and that a greater sense of reality is coming to the countries which have been most committed to the more counter-productive forms of African Socialism, for example. That is of great importance.

The rural development and commercial philosophy argument has been advanced in the debate. The hon. Member for Greenwich alluded to it when he talked about the importance of aid going to the poorest rather than being given on commercial grounds. I suggest that one day he has a quiet word with his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who as an Opposition trade spokesman seems to have espoused the cause of commercial projects at all costs without making too much of the development value of those projects.

My position is clear. As I have said, it is right that we should look to British interests, and it is right that the bulk of our bilateral aid should be tied. On the other hand, it is essential that, when we use aid funds to support industrial projects, we have proper regard to the developmental significance of those projects. That is the Government's position.

A significant proportion of our aid to Africa is already related to agriculture. That aid is mainly for smallholder development. As the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) said, aid for agricultural development means financing the local costs of projects as well as providing goods from Britain. We have the capacity within our aid programme to provide local costs, where appropriate. That capacity has long existed and it still exists. There is no going back on that. In India, for example, there is a substantial local cost element in our programme. When dealing with imports, we operate on the basis of tied aid, but we provide substantial local costs through the ODA.

The right hon. Member for Clydesdale suggested that there might be a new organisation to bring together the United Nations, the World Bank and major donors, including the European Community, to deal not only with the sudden and desperate famine problems in Africa but with disaster operations generally. I think that the right hon. Lady will know that international machinery—

The Minister has not described exactly what I have suggested. He had better read Hansard tomorrow.

As I understand it, the right hon. lady addressed herself to the need, as she sees it, of a new mechanism for dealing with disasters.

Very well; I am sorry. However, the right hon. Lady will know that the international machinery has been enlarged and greatly improved since the famine in the early 1970s. The United Nations Disaster Relief Office was set up to act as a clearing house. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation provide regular and detailed information on food aid pledges and shipments and on port and inland transport conditions. We receive a six-page telex from the World Food Programme every week and many documents on food availability from the FAO every month. In dealing with the African crisis we have seen the appointment of Mr. Brad Morse by the United Nations Secretary-General to cope with the emergency operations.

In the Community there is a new ad hoc committee meeting regularly and co-ordinating our bilateral and Community responses. There is also a new emergency unit in the aid directorate of the Community, which was set up last December. All these developments are helping to produce a more effective response. I do not think that they are the totality of the answer, but the mechanisms have improved.

Experience has shown recently that it is possible to get hold of food, thanks to the famous mountains, the surpluses, and their equivalents. We have been able to acquire food quickly. The securing of food has not been one of our problems. I think that the right hon. Member for Clydesdale must recognise that the provision of permanent stocks in every conceivable risk area would be enormously expensive and difficult to maintain. There is ample evidence that the storage of food is far from being an easy matter. There must be some storage facilities and supplies where they are most needed, but more important is an effective mechanism for ensuring that we can get food relatively easily to where it is needed. That is something that we have developed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that in dealing with these problems we must take account of the follies of man as well as of climates. He referred to Eritrea and Tigre and said that we should insist on ceasefires in all the wars that are taking place in Africa. My right hon. Friend is right, but we must remember that we cannot intervene in ways that we would like in countries that are independent. We have supported Mr. Jansson's efforts to arrange a safe passage in Ethiopia. I acknowledge that they have not met with success, but we have pressed hard the importance of treating the starving and the famine-ridden and attaching to that the greatest priority.

It has been suggested that the Community aid programme could be used rather more rigorously to achieve our policy objectives. The new Lome convention allows greater policy dialogue and gives a greater change to achieve policy changes, which is all to the good. The Community has made it clear that in the last resort it will suspend aid where there is gross abuse of human rights. However, we are operating on behalf of the people of independent countries. We cannot walk in, tell them what to do and resume the colonial burden.

The essence of what we are about is to give effective aid. It is important to remember that we are giving aid in Africa and in other areas where there are desperate problems, such as Afghanistan, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) referred. As my hon. Friend knows, we have provided substantial aid for Afghanistan. I have allocated a further £4 million to help the refugees in that area who are suffering so tragically.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) talked about the credit scheme operated by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is an important job. The work is promising and we support the scheme through our membership of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. We are fully prepared to take part in the next replenishment of IFAD, and we regret the fact that the negotiations have been stalled. We hope that they will be resumed as soon as possible. We hope also that the Americans will find their way to coming in on terms which can be agreed among us all. When I go to Washington in the next day or so I shall be prepared to convey that message. It will be sensible to achieve the replenishment and then to consider what to do next about any further activities.

We have heard a good deal during the debate about targets and resources. We operate under public expenditure constraints, and we can hardly counsel sound finance to the developing countries if we do not practise it ourselves. However, we have a substantial programme that is running at roughly the overall average of OECD countries. More important than that, perhaps, is the scope and direction of our aid programme. It is too easy to think that aid is a matter of throwing in resources. Some of the parrot cries that we hear do no good to anybody. If there is one lesson on aid, it is that the policies of aid programmes must be right. Above all, that is true in Africa, where the problems are most severe.

It is fair to say that Africa has not lacked aid over the post-war years and that it does not lack it now. However, I firmly believe that there must be a workable strategy. That strategy is not to be found in Socialism. African Socialism is one of the burdens that has afflicted that continent. A workable strategy must be found in realistic policies that tackle the great needs of Africa. There must be co-ordination between donors and sensible economic policies. Incentives must be given to key producers, notably the farmers. There must be research into the best ways of growing food and rearing livestock, and the results of that research must be disseminated. There is a need for appropriate technology. There is a need to get to grips with enfeebling bureaucracy. There must be a recognition that development will not come without scope for private investment, the operation of markets and resistance to protectionism.

We are now seeing policies emerge—this is true of the major institutions such as the World Bank and our bilateral partners as well as ourselves — which are designed to cope effectively with the fundamental and long-term problems which so afflict Africa.

Therefore, I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion and to support the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 182, Noes 277.

Division No. 235][7.00 pm
AYES
Abse, LeoDixon, Donald
Alton, DavidDobson, Frank
Anderson, DonaldDormand, Jack
Ashdown, PaddyDouglas, Dick
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDuffy, A. E P.
Ashton, JoeDunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Atkinson, N (Tottenham) Eastham, Ken
Bagier, Gordon A. TEdwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Ellis, Raymond
Barnett, GuyEvans, John (St. Helens N)
Barron, KevinEwing, Harry
Beckett, Mrs MargaretFaulds, Andrew
Berth, A. JFields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Benn, TonyFisher, Mark
Bennett, A (Dent'n & Red sh) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bermingham, GeraldForrester, John
Bidwell, SydneyFoster, Derek
Blair, AnthonyFoulkes, George
Boothroyd, Miss BettyFraser, J. (Norwood)
Boyes, RolandFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bray, Dr JeremyFreud, Clement
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mlme E) Garrett, W. E.
Brown, Hugh D (Provan) George, Bruce
Brown, N (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, R (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Golding, John
Brown, Ron (E burgh, Leith) Gould, Bryan
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Gourlay, Harry
Campbell-Savours, DaleHamilton, James (M'well N)
Canavan, DennisHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Carhle, Alexander `(Montg'y)Hancock, Mr. Michael
Cartwright, JohnHardy, Peter
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Harman, Ms Harriet
Clarke, ThomasHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Clay, RobertHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHaynes, Frank
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Heffer, Eric S.
Coleman, DonaldHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Concannon, Rt Hon J D. Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Conlan, BernardHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Howells, Geraint
Corbett, RobinHoyle, Douglas
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Cowans, HarryHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Craigen, J. M. Janner, Hon Greville
Crowther, StanJohn, Brynmor
Cunningham, Dr JohnJohnston, Russell
Dalyell, TarnKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Kmnock, Rt Hon Neil
Deakins, EricKirkwood, Archy
Dewar, DonaldLambie, David

Leadbitter, TedRadice, Giles
Leighton, RonaldRedmond, M.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Richardson, Ms Jo
Litherland, RobertRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)

Lofthouse, GeoffreyRobertson, George
Loyden, EdwardRogers, Allan
McCartney, HughRooker, J. W.
McGuire, MichaelRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorRowlands, Ted
Maclennan, RobertSedgemore, Brian
McNamara, KevinSheerman, Barry
McTaggart, RobertSheldon, Rt Hon R.
McWilliam, JohnShore, Rt Hon Peter
Madden, MaxSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Marek, DrJohnSkinner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Snape, Peter
Mason, Rt Hon RoySpearing, Nigel
Maxton, JohnSteel, Rt Hon David
Maynard, Miss JoanStott, Roger
Meacher, MichaelThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Meadowcroft, MichaelThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Mikardo, IanThompson, J. (Wansbeok)
Millan, Rt Hon BruceThorne, Stan (Preston)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Torney, Tom
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Wainwright, R.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wallace, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Warden, Gareth(Gower)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWeetch, Ken
O'Neill, MartinWelsh, Michael
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWhite, James
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWilson, Gordon
Park, GeorgeWinnick, David
Parry, RobertWoodall, Alec
Patchett, TerryWrigglesworth, Ian
Pavitt, LaurieYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Pendry, Tom
Penhaligon, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Pike, PeterMr. Alan McKay and Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Prescott, John

NOES
Adley, RobertBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Aitken, JonathanBruinvels, Peter
Alexander, RichardBryan, Sir Paul
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBudgen, Nick
Amess, DavidBurt, Alistair
Ancram, MichaelButcher, John
Arnold, TomButler, Hon Adam
Aspinwall, JackCarttiss, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Cash, William
Atkins, Robert (South RibbleChalker, Mrs Lynda
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Chapman, Sydney
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Churchill, W. S.
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Baldry, TonyClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Batiste, SpencerClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCockeram, Eric
Bellingham, HenryColvin, Michael
Bendall, VivianConway, Derek
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir FredericCoombs, Simon
Benyon, WilliamCope, John
Best, KeithvCormack, Patrick
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCorrie, John
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnCouchman, James
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCranborne, Viscount
Boscawen, Hon RobertCritchley, Julian
Bottomley, PeterCrouch, David
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dicks, Terryv
Boyson, Dr RhodesDorrell, Stephen
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Brandon-Bravo, MartinDover, Den
Bright, GrahamDunn, Robert
Brinton, TimDurant, Tony
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonDykes, Hugh

Emery, Sir PeterLeigh, Edward insbor'gh)
Evennett, DavidLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eyre, Sir ReginaldLester, Jim
Farr, Sir JohnLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Favell, AnthonyLightbown, David
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Fletcher, AlexanderLord, Michael
Fookes, Miss JanetLyell, Nicholas
Forman, NigelMcCrindle, Robert
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McCurley, Mrs Anna
Forth, EricMaclean, David John
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Franks, CecilMadel, David
Fraser, Peter(Angus East) Major, John
Freeman, RogerMalins, Humfrey
Gale, RogerMalone, Gerald
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Marland, Paul
Garel-Jones, TristanMarlow, Antony
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Glyn, Dr AlanMates, Michael
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMather, Carol
Gorst, JohnMaude, Hon Francis
Gower, Sir RaymondMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grant, Sir AnthonyMayhew, Sir Patrick
Greenway, HarryMellor, David
Gregory, ConalMerchant, Piers
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Mills, lain (Meriden)
Grist, IanMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Ground, PatrickMiscampbell, Norman
Grylls, MichaeMitchell, David (NW Hants)
Gummer, John SelwynMoate, Roger
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Monro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hampson, Dr KeithMorris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hanley, JeremyMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Harvey, RobertMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Haselhurst, AlanMoynihan, Hon C.
Hayhoe, BarneyNeale, Gerrard
Hayward, RobertNeedham, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelNelson, Anthony
Hickmet, RichardNeubert, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Nicholls, Patrick
Hill, JamesNorris, Steven
Hind, KennethOnslow, Cranley
Hirst, MichaelOppenheim, Phillip
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Holt, RichardOsborn, Sir John
Hordern, PeterPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Howard, MichaelParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Parris, Matthew
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Irving, CharlesPawsey, James
Jackson, RobertPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jessel, TobyPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Pollock, Alexander
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Porter, Barry
King, Rt Hon TomPortillo, Michael
Knight, Gregory Derby N) Powley, John
Knox, DavidPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Lang, Ianvrior, Rt Hon James
Lawler, GeoffreyProctor, K. Harvey
Lawrence, IvanRaison, Rt Hon Timothy

Rathbone, TimThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Renton, TimThompson, Donald lder V)
Rhodes James, RobertThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonThorne, Neil (llford S)
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasThornton, Malcolm
Ridsdale, Sir JulianThurnham, Peter
Rifkind, MalcolmTownend, John (Bndlington)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Townsend, Cyril D (B'heath)
Robinson, Mark(N'port W) Tracey, Richard
Rost, PeterTrippier, David
Rowe, AndrewTrotter, Neville
Rumbold, Mrs Angelavan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NViggers, Peter
Sayeed, JonathanWaddington, David
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Waldegrave, Hon William
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb1) Walden, George
Shelton, William (Streatham) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldndge) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Shersby, MichaelWall, Sir Patrick
Sims, RogerWaller, Gary
Skeet, T. H. H. Walters, Dennis
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Ward, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wardle, C. (Bexhtll)
Soames, Hon NicholasWarren, Kenneth
Speed, KeithWatson, John
Speller, TonyWatts, John
Spencer, DerekWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Spicer, Michael(S Worcs) Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Squire, RobinWheeler, John
Stanbrook, IvorWhitney, Raymond
Steen, AnthonyWiggin, Jerry
Stevens, Lewis(Nuneaton) Wilkinson, John
Stevens, Martin (Fulham) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Winterton, Nicholas
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wolfson, Mark
Stokes, JohnWood, Timothy
Stradling Thomas, JYeo, Tim
Sumberg, David
Taylor, John (Sohhull) Tellers for the Noes:
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Mr. Tim Samsbury and Mr Peter Lloyd
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Terlezki, Stefan

Question accordingly negatived.,

Question, That the proposed words be there added,put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER, forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the effectiveness of the Government's action in tackling the famine in Africa; endorses its policies to promote long term development in Africa; supports the present approach of the Government and the international financial institutions to the severe debt problems of the day; and recognises that Britain's aid policy confers real benefits not only on the developing countries but also on British industry and employment.

Young People

7.13 pm

I beg to move,

That this House, mindful of the fact that 1985 is the International Year of Youth, believes that Her Majesty's Government has failed to foster conditions for opportunity, choice and participation for young people and has contributed to the desperate plight of youth by failing to operate the policies necessary to assist young people in securing work, housing, income and social security; and believes that all young people, regardless of sex and social background, have a right to effective education and training in order to give them wide and continuing opportunities to secure fulfilling employment and the consequent economic and social rewards.

It is sad, but hardly surprising, that the organisers of the International Year of Youth should criticise the Government for their miserable support of the year. They have provided a measly £250,000 for the whole year's efforts. That figure should be compared with the Canadian Government's provision of £8 million and the Greater London council's provision of £160,000. That is exactly the type of helpful and progressive use of resources which has led the Government to pursue its abolition. We all know that having to watch an alternative in action upsets the Prime Minister even more than hearing about it.

The Government regard youth as an embarrassment and a liability. Faced with the crisis of youth unemployment, which is substantially of their own making, Ministers have rained blows and blame on young people. Youth should be an exciting and fulfilling time of life. Throughout the ages, poets have celebrated and revered youth.
"Youth's the season made for joys"
wrote John Gay. Byron also dwelt on the sweetness of youth:

"Oh, talk not to me of a name great in story;
The days of our youth are the days of our glory;
And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty;
Are worth all your laurels, though ever so plenty."
[Interruption.] It is not surprising that the Government Front Bench cannot understand why poetry should be quoted in a debate on young people.

Politicians also have known the value of youth. It was Disraeli who proclaimed that almost everything that is great has been done by youth and who described the youth of the nation as the trustees of its posterity. He might have added the word "prosperity" if he lived now. How unlike the poets and politicians,of an earlier age are the present Government. They have no vision of youth. What policy they have is merely a combination of saving money and political expediency, screened by a veneer of callous and insincere celebration of Victorian family values.

We all know that the most important step in becoming an adult and taking on the responsibilities of life is having a job. Being in work gives young people independence and a new status. It gives them the money to make their own choices and introduces them to new relationships with friends at work. It enables them to move away from independence on their families. For most young people, a job is their most important possession. However, too few young people have jobs or have been able to build the right foundations for work.

The old passes to an adult place in society no longer exist. Hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, understand that. The new ones such as the youth training scheme too often lead back to the dole queue. Unless society can create jobs for young people and help them to prepare for jobs through high quality education and training, it is denying opportunities to a whole generation. All right hon. and hon. Members have had such opportunities aplenty.

I shall return to jobs, and I do not apologise for that. Unless the Government are willing to sort out the problem of jobs, there will be no end to the miseries that youth endures. The bottom line is that, if the fundamental problems facing young people are to be put right, the economy must be put right. Our shrinking manufacturing sector cannot provide sufficient jobs for unemployed youth directly or in service occupations. If manufacturing continues to shrink, as John Harvey-Jones said, what on earth will they service? Our economy needs the skills and energies of youth to help make it successful.

It has been estimated that putting the under-25s back to work would produce a saving of between £5 billion and £7 billion a year in public expenditure. That is one public expenditure cut that we would favour. An even greater sum would be saved by the additional output of those employed young people. Treated as a liability, youth has become one. Youth is an asset, but the Government have been unwilling to capitalise on it.

I shall consider the desperate plight of young people under the four major headings of jobs, education and training, income and housing.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain precisely how he arrived at the figure of £5 billion to £7 billion?