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Overseas Development

Volume 86: debated on Monday 11 November 1985

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Africa (Emergency Aid)

69.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his latest estimate of likely United Kingdom official emergency aid to countries in Africa in the current financial year.

The Government expect to spend about £80 million on emergency aid for Africa in the current financial year through bilateral and European Community channels.

In view of the scale and speed of the Government's response to the emergencies in many African countries, which unfortunately has not been emulated by many other countries, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's response has in no way jeopardised the long-term and continuing development aid programmes from the Government to other countries?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I confirm that we have not had to cut country allocations to achieve the substantial amounts of emergency aid that we have achieved.

Has not the effect of the diversion of funds into the emergency programme been to the detriment of specific long-term aid projects within individual countries' programmes, particularly help to agriculture, without which there will be many more claims for emergency aid in future?

As I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), we have not had to cut country allocations to achieve that emergency relief.

Will my right hon. Friend see what more he can do to use the resources of the Royal Air Force in distributing aid?

I am grateful for what the RAF has done in Ethiopia. If similar occasions arise, I have no doubt that the RAF will respond with its customary generosity.

70.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's contribution to Third world famine via chapter 9 of the European Community budget and the Lomé convention.

The European Community has made very substantial contributions towards famine relief in Africa in food aid and other emergency measures over last year and this. The British share over the past financial year and this one is likely to be around £77 million.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the United Kingdom, as a significant contributor to the Community budget, through the European instruments, gives infinitely more in famine relief to the Third world than many of its critics would acknowledge?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The European Community is a large giver of food aid. We play a full share in what it gives.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the recent conference of the Lomé convention in the north of Scotland, which, if I am not mistaken, he addressed, great emphasis was placed on development in addition to immediate food aid? Does he accept the urgency of a long-term development policy, which means that people are not eating their own seed corn?

The conference at Inverness was judged by everybody who attended it to be a great success. We are grateful to the people of Scotland, especially Inverness, for their welcome. The hon. Gentleman is right. There appears to be nobody on the Opposition Front Bench to make the point today; there is no Opposition spokesman here. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the need for long-term development aid.

Contingency Fund (Aid Budget)

71.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the amount outstanding in the Contingency Fund for the aid budget at the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.

As is normal at this stage in the financial year, a relatively small amount remains unallocated.

Given the immense demands that have rightly been made on the Contingency Fund this year, by how much does the Minister expect to be able to top up the fund before the end of the year?

The Contingency Fund and our other resources will be sufficient to deal with all the needs that arise in this financial year.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he has done everything possible to ensure that tomorrow's statement from the Chancellor brings satisfactory news on the Contingency Fund and the main fund?

I advise my hon. Friend to await tomorrow afternoon's autumn statement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Ethiopia

72.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy concerning aid and relief in Ethiopia in the light of the enforced mass resettlement of distressed people.

We are continuing to provide relief aid to Ethiopia for humanitarian reasons, but we do not support or assist the Ethiopian Government's policy on resettlement.

Is it not intolerable that, when so many have been so generous and the Government have been so helpful, the Ethiopian dictatorship should callously worsen the suffering of the people of Ethiopia? What action is proposed?

The question of aid to Ethiopia is extremely difficult. We have concentrated on meeting the humanitarian needs in Ethiopia, which are great. However, there is no doubt that the political context in Ethiopia makes the provision of long-term development aid extremely difficult.

Does the Minister realise that it is difficult for many people inside and outside the House to reconcile his remarks about development or food aid with the Government's recent decision to press the European Community—unfortunately with success—to cut the food aid budget? Much though we may wish to help development projects, we also want to see food aid sensibly used.

The key matter is the sensible use of food aid. We believe that there is enough food aid available in the Community's aid programme to provide conventional food aid and the emergency reserves that are needed for famine relief.

Africa (Agriculture)

73.

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.

75.

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.