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Overseas Development

Volume 114: debated on Monday 6 April 1987

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Aid (Environmental Factors)

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on what account is taken of environmental factors in planning the overseas aid programme.

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the methods by which he takes into account, in project appraisal procedures, environmental considerations such as impact on soil erosion, deforestation and pollution in developing countries in receipt of United Kingdom aid.

Environmental concerns are at the forefront of our thinking. Our approach is set out in the booklet "The Environment and the British Air Programme", published to mark the European Year of the Environment. Copies are in the Library and have been widely circulated among Members.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I admire the publication that he mentioned. I am pleased that the Government are taking the environment issue so seriously. However, as 40 per cent. of our aid goes through multilateral agencies, will my hon. Friend ensure that those agencies consider environmental issues with the same seriousness?

I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that this issue will be discussed at the spring meeting of the development committee of the World Bank this week. I also intend to raise it at the European Community Development Council meeting in May, if not otherwise engaged.

Absolutely. I draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman to what we say in the booklet that I mentioned on that subject, and in particular to our programme on the Korup forest.

Given the Minister's declared commitment to environmental programmes and policies and the fact that this is the European Year of the Environment, why was his Department's environmental unit abolished some years ago and merged into the natural resources section? Will he undertake to reconsider that this year, so that environmental matters can have the precedence in his Department that his statements imply they should have?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have 23 professional natural resources advisers, backed up by 320 scientists and experts in our scientific units. We have two social development advisers, and we have recently appointed an environment adviser. We have quite enough professional advice, and more than many others.

Does my hon. Friend agree that more scientific research is needed into forestry, so that reafforestation can take place more quickly and effectively?

There is a strong argument for that. I am pleased that our aid to forestry has increased by 80 per cent. over the past four or five years, and also that our research programme related to environmental issues has increased.

When the Minister attends the EEC meeting in May, will he ensure that no EEC funds or, if it is in his power to do so, no World Bank funds, are used to finance development projects in the Amazon rain forest that result in the destruction of the environment of the indigenous Indian community and cause serious soil pollution through deforestation?

As I said earlier, if I am able to attend the Development Council meeting in May I shall raise the sort of matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, because I wish environmental issues to be discussed at such meetings.

Rotary International (Polio Campaign)

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plans to assist with Rotary International's Polio Plus Campaign overseas.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the Government's support for the splendid voluntary initiatives of Rotarians in this country and abroad. What steps are the Government taking elsewhere to eliminate childhood diseases in Africa and in primary health care generally?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this is an excellent campaign. The Rotarians are to be congratulated on their initiative, and I am sure that all hon. Members will want to give the campaign maximum support in their constituencies.

In addition to the support that we are giving to the campaign, I announced recently an increased contribution of £5 million to UNICEF, much of which will be used to help immunisation programmes in China, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Third World Debt

55.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he intends to take any new initiatives with regard to the debt problems of Third-world countries.

We are already considering new initiatives and the next opportunity to take these further will be later this week at the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.

Will the Minister make the best possible use of that opportunity to stress the urgency of the situation, which is illustrated by what is happening in Brazil, and the need for international action? Will he also note the all-party overseas development group's report on international debt, which will be published shortly after Easter?

I regret Brazil's recent decision to suspend the payment of interest on commercial debt. It is a matter for the Brazilians to discuss directly with the banks, and I hope that negotiations will begin soon.

On the more general issue of debt, particularly the debt owed by Africa's poorest countries, Britain has played a leading role in discussions about exceptional measures to deal with that problem. We expect further discussions at meetings of the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development this week, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will attend. If there are further developments, no doubt he will inform the House. The details of any new measures will take some time to resolve.

If additional money is made available to the African countries to which my hon. Friend referred, will it be in addition to the current budget, or will it come out of that budget and, therefore, deprive development projects and other schemes of necessary money?

The details have not yet been resolved, but I assure my hon. Friend that new measures would not be at the expense of the existing aid programme.

The Minister will be aware that it is indeed debt, rather than drought, deprivation or disease, that is affecting the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. May we be sure that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer addresses these issues on Friday we shall not have a merely cosmetic response, but that the right hon. Gentleman will address the fact that we need to reschedule the debt of developing countries, to cap interest rate ceilings, especially for sub-Saharan African countries, and to fix their debt repayments as a given percentage of their export earnings? For sub-Saharan Africa we need, in particular, a write-down, if not a write-off, of a major share of that debt. May we have an assurance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will address those issues rather than talk, talk and talk again about the problem?

As ever, the Chancellor's response will be profound rather than superficial.

Will my hon. Friend reread the Pentateuch with regard to years of jubilee and debt remission and see whether it has any application to our present problems with the Third world?

That point has already been made to me by the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, though I am not sure that it would read the Pentateuch in exactly the same way as would my hon. Friend.

Multilateral Organisations

56.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proportion of United Kingdom aid goes through multilateral organisations other than the European Economic Community.

In 1985–86, 23 per cent.—that is £279 million— of the gross aid programme went to multilateral organisations other than the European Community.

Is the Minister aware that many Opposition Members would like to see that proportion increased, since it is very much in the interests of developing countries that, as far as possible, aid should be without the sort of strings that generally accompany it when it is provided on a national or multilateral basis through the EEC? Can he assure us that he is actively seeking to change that percentage in the right way?

I find that for about 50 per cent. of the time I am criticised for our multilateral contributions going up too much, and the other 50 per cent. of the time I am criticised on the other flank with regard to our bilateral contributions. I believe that we have the balance about right. I was particularly pleased recently that we were able to make a contribution of £524 million to the replenishment of the International Development Association. The hon. Gentleman will also know about our contributions to the International Fund for Agricultural Development special programme for Africa and to the UNICEF global immunisation programme, which I mentioned earlier.

Africa

57. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action has been taken by the British Government to follow up the programme of action agreed at the United Nations special session on Africa last May.

Since the special session we have made new pledges of over £180 million in bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa, excluding emergency assistance. We have also supported the larger than expected replenishment of the International Development Association, up to half of which will go to Africa. I have also agreed to contribute to the IFAD special programme for sub-Saharan African countries.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that African Governments are coming to their senses over the management of their economies? Has he discussed that with any African Governments recently?

Yes, I am very pleased about the extent to which many aid recipients in Africa are embarking on structural adjustments and policy reform programmes. I was in Tanzania recently, where I pledged £25 million in support of policy reform, making a total of £50 million pledged in the past year.