To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of gross national product is currently spent on overseas aid; and if he has any plans to raise this to meet the United Nations target for such spending.
As I informed my hon. Friend the member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on 15 June, the United Kingdom's ODA/GNP ratio in 1989 is provisionally estimated at 0·31 per cent.The Government continue to accept in principle the UN target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP to be allocated to official development assistance. Our prime concern is to ensure that our aid programme is planned to continue to increase in real terms, and is used to maximum effect. Levels of aid spending will continue to depend on economic circumstances and on other claims on public resources.
Will the Minister explain why we are giving such a miserly amount of overseas aid when the French, the Swedes and the Danes can all give more than the United Nations recommendation of 0·7 per cent? Is it that our economy is in such a mess that we cannot afford it, or do we just not care?
We care very much. It is interesting to note that of the 18 western donors only five achieved the target in 1988, and of those only France had a larger aid programme than the United Kingdom. There are two other important UN targets: the 1 per cent. of GNP for total flows and the 0·15 per cent. of GNP for the least developed countries. We meet those targets. The most important point is that between 1985 and 1988 British direct investment in the developing countries was more than half the combined EC total and the United Kingdom exceeded the 1 per cent. target six times in the 1980s.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although official aid is only one element of our overseas aid programme, it is extremely important and meets life-supporting and life-saving needs that cannot be met by commercial sources? Will she continue to do her utmost to ensure that that percentage is increased?
Indeed. I intend to ensure that our aid programme continues to grow. It was 0·31 per cent. in 1986, but since then the GNP has grown by 11 per cent. in real terms. It is better than it was, but I intend to make it better still.
Will the Minister admit that if the Government had maintained Labour's 1979 level of overseas aid the third world would be better off by £8 billion? Does she recognise that just one fifth of that sum would prevent 7·5 million children from dying each year from diarrhoea and other preventable infectious diseases? The Minister, who once had a reputation as a Conservative wet, must be thoroughly ashamed to have presided over a cut in overseas aid of 24 per cent. since 1979.
As I took on this job last July, I hardly think that the hon. Lady's latter comment is relevant. The funds being spent on children, particularly to prevent infectious and tropical diseases, are increasing and we intend them to increase further. It would do the developing world no good if we continued the economic policies that prevailed in 1979 because the third world would simply not benefit. If we have had to curtail our aid while we put our house in order it has been to spend better on sound economics, as we intend to do in the future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would he better to get away from this extraordinary United Nations figure and to concentrate on doing what we do well—delivering a high quality of aid? That is what matters.
My hon. Friend is right. The development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that the quality of the United Kingdom's aid programme is better than others. We deliver, pound for pound, more help through our aid and we intend to continue doing so. The quality of aid is paramount and we intend to ensure that it continues to be targeted on the poorest. In 1988, 70 per cent. of our aid was given to the poorest 50 countries.