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Overseas Aid And Gnp

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1986

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what percentage of the United Kingdom's GNP is transferred through official and private channels to developing countries.

My Lords, in 1984 combined net official and private flows represented 0.89 per cent of GNP. This fall below the 1 per cent UN target reflects the difficulties facing the international capital markets. For 1985 the figure for private flows is not yet available. The provisional figure for the proportion of GNP spent on official development assistance in 1985 is 0.33 per cent.—the same as for 1984.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness quite sure of her figures? According to the Prime Minister last October, the answer to a similar question tabled by my honourable friend the Member for Monklands West in another place was:

"Taking the official and private flows together, the United Kingdom figure is 1.25 per cent. of GNP".—[Official Report, Commons, 29/10/85; col 822.]
That was in October. How has the figure changed since then?

My Lords, I would of course have to look at the Question to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, refers to make sure that the two Questions are precisely the same. As he will be aware these figures can be presented in different ways, but I should like to assure him that what I have told him is, to the best of my knowledge, correct.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that while the figures are very important some of us are very much concerned about what happens to the aid when it gets to the countries that need it? Can she give us some assurance that the alleged corruption, the alleged bad distribution, the alleged discrimination against those really in need is now being dealt with and that those for whom the aid is intended actually get it?

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a good question. One of the most important steps we take is to ensure that the aid we provide is effective. The noble Lord will of course be pleased to know as well that our overseas aid is planned to increase by £57 million in 1986–87, £100 million in 1987–88, and £140 million in 1988–89 compared with the 1985–86 figures.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government announced additional funds for the United Nations Development Fund for Women just this February? Will she also confirm that the Prime Minister is herself the honorary president of the British committee set up to raise funds for development for women?

My Lords, I am delighted to confirm to my noble friend that both those statements are correct.

My Lords, has the noble Baroness any rough estimate of the percentage of the funds passing through official and private channels which do not go into corrupt pockets of recipient governments, and can she say whether among the developing and benefiting countries there is a single one in which the already enormous gap between the rich and poor is not increasing year by year?

My Lords, as I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, we take a great deal of trouble to make sure that the aid is used effectively. This is important. As the noble Lord, Lord Paget, will I am sure recall, in the numerous aid debates that we have had in your Lordship's House I have given—and so have a number of your Lordships—many examples of the good use to which our aid money has been put.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that in regard to any aid programme one of the greatest problems facing the third world is a population explosion? Will she assure this House that in any aid programme from this country there is a built-in percentage for family planning?

My Lords, I could not give the assurance that in any aid programme that is the case, but some of the money goes to the purposes that the noble Baroness has described.

My Lords, as one who earlier had some responsibility for the aid programme may I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for assuring my two noble friends on my left—or right—that the Overseas Development Administration in my day, and I am glad to hear in her day, has a very good record in ensuring that the aid that is provided is well spent and well monitored? But is not this a reason why we should now make rapid progress towards fulfilling our undertaking regarding the United Nations 1 per cent. target?

Yes, my Lords, we remain committed to the UN target for aid, but we have not yet set a date for achieving it. Progress towards the UN target depends on developments in the economy and other claims on our resources. It is worth remembering that in absolute terms in 1984 we had the sixth largest aid programme and within the European Community the third largest.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us whether the total amount of aid equals the total amount of loss to the development countries through the fall in commodity prices?

My Lords, the noble Baroness did not answer the second part of my question. Is there a single one of the developing nations to which we give aid in which the gap between the rich and the poor is not increasing rather than decreasing?

My Lords, again, that is a not a question that I can answer without notice.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm to the House that the alleged misuse of funds and goods that go to these developing countries is minuscule compared with the gigantic frauds that take place within EC finances?

My Lords, I think we are using very emotive terms to describe these matters. The fact is that the use to which aid money is put is a real point and that is why a great deal of care is taken to make quite sure that its use is as described to Parliament and that it is monitored. There are some very good results. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will know quite well, the question of European finance is fully reported to Parliament.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness please tell me whether our aid is sometimes pointed towards self-help and the agricultural ability of the developing countries to grow for themselves what they need rather than always providing the end product?

Yes, my Lords, a great deal of aid goes into helping countries to develop their own agriculture. As the noble Lord may perhaps be aware, through our programmes we made a major contribution to India's ability to feed itself through British aid and the great support of the Indian Government themselves.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for confirming the official figures of 0.89 per cent. which were published last July and which apparently the Prime Minister did not know in October. Will the noble Baroness also confirm that whereas the Prime Minister tried to make out in October that the 1.25 per cent. she quoted was above the United Nation's target of 1 per cent., in fact last year we fell below the United Nations' target of 1 per cent. for the first time for many years?

My Lords, I answered the noble Lord's original Question in what I said. As he will know, one of what I think are the more encouraging factors about the figures is the very high level of private donations that there has been. Those should be added to the figures I have given him for 1985 because the private flows are not yet available. If one looks at the tragedies in the world today one sees that there has been remarkable private response.