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Africa (Agriculture)

Volume 86: debated on Monday 11 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received from the all-party group on overseas aid concerning United Kingdom assistance to agriculture in Africa.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on aid to Africa in the light of the report of the all-party group on overseas development on that subject, a copy of which has been sent to him.

The group has sent me a copy of its report, which I am examining. Between 1979 and 1983, the proportion of all British bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa used for agriculture and related activities increased from 27 to 33 per cent. We are looking at ways to give more support to agriculture in Africa, with an emphasis on manpower assistance, training and research, and on the necessary policy reforms in African countries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way that we shall avert famine in Africa is to help African farmers better to feed the people of that continent? Does not the all-party report on assisting agriculture in Africa demonstrate that there is a need to allocate further resources to agriculture there, and would not one way of doing this be to transfer part of the aid and trade budget, which supports British exporters, to the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry?

No, Sir, because the aid and trade budget is based, among other things, on developmental criteria. Therefore, it should be part of the aid programme. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to develop agriculture in Africa. We are always open to proposals from African countries to assist their agricultural activities.

Does the Minister agree that the aid and trade provision, which gives capital-intensive money to developments such as power stations in Khartoum, is light years away from the real need, which the report rightly highlights as being the need to give basic indigenous agriculture a chance to prosper?

No, Sir. I accept that agricultural aid is of the greatest importance, but it is also important to help the economies of developing countries in other ways and not confine our aid solely to agriculture. The aid and trade provision is valuable in doing that.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for the help that he gave to the all-party group in producing its report, may I ask him whether he accepts that now is the key time to work with African Governments to improve their agricultural position, since many of them have changed their policy initiatives? Can he reassure us that this has been taken into consideration in the ODA budget, which will be revealed in tomorrow's statement by the Chancellor?

All those factors are taken into consideration when forming the public expenditure projections. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a good time to discuss agricultural policy. I invariably make a point of discussing matters such as pricing policy, which is extremely important, when I meet my opposite numbers in the developing countries.

If the Minister is so concerned about agricultural policy, especially in Africa, why did the Queen's Speech refer only to the relief of famine and not to its prevention? Will the Minister now affirm that the Government intend to direct their policies towards the prevention of famine as well as to its relief?

I am happy to make that affirmation. I am only sorry that the Opposition Front Bench has not been represented in our discussions today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In 35 minutes we reached only nine transport questions out of 59. If you have any influence over this, may I beg you to see whether we cannot get on a little faster in future?

I can, of course, have an influence by calling fewer Back Benchers. Frequently, the trouble with Question Time is that long supplementary questions lead to long answers.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) asked a question about an accident that occurred in my constituency, on which I am awaiting a statement and on which I have strong views——

I am very sorry, but I cannot help the hon. Lady. With the best will in the world, I cannot call every hon. Member who wishes to speak on every subject.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Another hon. Member was called, yet I am the hon. Member concerned. I believe that I had a right to be called.

I am very sorry. I will try to do better for the hon. Lady in the future.