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Bilateral Aid Programme

Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what priority his Department gives to renewable natural resources and other agriculture-related sectors in the bilateral aid programme.

I continue to attach much importance to these sectors. Within the bilateral programmes we support a substantial number of renewable natural resources and related activities. There are also activities in other economic sectors, such as transport, of which one major objective is to bring benefits to agricultural areas.

If the Minister regards this part of the bilateral programme as so important, why has he cut it by almost £40 million, from 28 to 19 per cent.? Where has the money gone?

I do not believe that the sector has declined as a share of our bilateral aid over the past few years. I attach great importance to these sectors. It must be remembered that, in making decisions about the sectors in which money is spent, we must have regard to the requests of recipient countries as well as to our own desires.

Will the Minister consider the problem of the agrarian subsistence areas which he assists, within the terms of the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett)? In view of the need to have self-help co-operatives and resource centres, will he consider reinstituting a committee of his Department which was wound up by the previous Labour Government? I refer to the Co-operative Overseas Aid Committee, which, I am glad to say, continues to support the work of overseas students at the co-operative college at Loughborough?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We continue to receive advice about co-operatives, but there are considerable difficulties about co-operative farming ventures in many parts of the world.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important factor releates to the policies that are adopted by many of the Governments in the countries that come within the programme, and that bilateral aid, despite the suggestion of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), is not the only issue? A great deal of progress would have been made if it had been possible for the Governments concerned to adopt policies to encourage agricultural development instead of encouraging a drift to the towns.

My hon. Friend is right. The House has to be reminded from time to time that we are heavily dependent on the policies that are adopted by the recipient countries. In many of them, alas, the policies of their Governments run counter to effective agricultural development.