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Overseas Aid

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 16 May 1996

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What plans they have in hand to publish a White Paper setting out their strategy for the future of overseas aid and development.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we have no plans to publish a White Paper. Our development assistance strategy was considered fully in the context of the Government's response to the ODA's fundamental expenditure review and has been explained recently to both Houses. It was also discussed yesterday when the ODA's Permanent Secretary appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee.

My Lords, does the Minister not accept that while we have certainly had speeches, fundamental expenditure reviews, reports, statements and press releases, what is desperately needed is a strategic statement of the Government's overseas aid and development policy? What is the Government's response to the recent report from the Development Association Committee of OECD which sets out targets for the next 10 years? Is this not exactly the time at which the Government should make clear their own policy in meeting those targets, not least the reduction by 50 per cent. of the number of people living in absolute poverty in the world?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, believes that there is not a strategic policy because it suits him to do so. I assure the noble Lord that if he looks at the ODA's mission statement and if he goes through the aims—the briefing is freely available—he will find that a strategy is clearly there. It also appears in the departmental report.

The noble Lord refers to the DAC report published on 6th and 7th May when the meeting was held in Paris. There is some very good material in that report, much of which we accept. In fact, I gave the report to leaders of NGOs only this morning to ensure that it is more widely read. I am certain that before very long I shall be able to answer all the questions posed by the recommendations. I cannot do so this afternoon; there is too short a time in which to give the noble Lord the full and considered reply which I know he would want.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that she has done as much as anyone can be expected to do in drawing attention to the difficulty caused by over-population in some territories, in particular as it is a cause of poverty? In the further plans which are being made for overseas aid and development, will she continue with that splendid task?

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. The department as a whole has done its best to increase the amount of advice and service availability to families so that they can decide how many children they wish to have and when they wish to have them. I underline again that our policy is totally non-coercive. It supports fully the view that it is for the families to decide when and how many children they wish to have.

My noble friend is absolutely right. Where the number of children in a family is very high and the income is very low, there is bound to be greatly increased poverty. That is why education and in particular adult education for women who are illiterate is an essential part of reducing poverty. It is not just a question of giving out more and more resources. It is a question of managing those resources far better. Education and family planning are an essential part of that.

My Lords, would it not be wise for the Government to consider issuing a list of priorities which we could examine when discussing the difficulties which the noble Baroness and fellow Ministers face?

My Lords, I shall let the noble Lord have a copy of the mission statement, although I believe that there are copies available in the Library. The statement makes clear that our four aims are choosing those very priorities. The first is to encourage sound development policies, efficient markets and good government; the second is better education, health, and widening opportunities, particularly for women. I could go through the others but it is probably better that the noble Lord read the statement and think about it. He may then wish to speak to me about it.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is wrong for the Government to take a one-sided view of overseas aid? Does she not agree that the third world countries need trade and not aid? Does she not further agree that private enterprise and private industry in this country place massive investment in third world countries which must increase their economic viability and the prosperity of the people?

My Lords, in one sense my noble friend is right. Development aid should always be used to enable a country to be in a position to trade. One of the difficulties for many countries is that they do not have the basis to create the trade. They need investment from richer nations, investment from their governments, and also, as my noble friend said, private capital. It is extremely good that the United Kingdom is the third-largest source of private capital to the developing world. A Member of your Lordships' House, the chairman of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, is right to the fore in encouraging private investment and in encouraging countries to stand on their own feet. But they need our help to develop proper, accountable systems of government. That cannot be done by the private sector.

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Government do not intend to publish a White Paper, has the Minister had an opportunity to study the Official Opposition's proposal to reverse the decline in the ODA's budget in their first years of government if they form the next government?

My Lords, I have not yet had that opportunity; I look forward to it very much. But I am rather against wasting time, because I am reliably informed that reversing the so-called decline is not yet supported by the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unless the Opposition have a financial plan by which to do that as well as carrying out any other great ideas they may have, I cannot see that it would be worth spending my time on the matter. I prefer to spend it helping developing countries.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether she is satisfied with the amount of co-operation which exists now in the United Nations on this major subject and in the European Union? How many meetings are held by the Minister or her representatives with other representatives in those two major organisations? The successful way forward is through co-operation between the three of us.

My Lords, I have been far too long in this game ever to say to your Lordships' House that I am satisfied with anything. I am always seeking improvements. There is great co-operation. Meetings take place probably daily at one level or another in UN agencies, in the UN itself, and in the various working groups of the European Union. The reason is exactly that enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. It is in order to achieve better co-operation, better use of resources and increased benefit to the developing world to enable them to stand on their own feet and so become traders with us.

My Lords, is it the Government's intention to increase the proportion of aid, particularly bilateral aid, which goes to investment in human capital; that is, health, education and other resources which develop the capacity of a nation's people? How far have we progressed, for instance, towards the 20–20 Concept agreed at the Copenhagen social summit?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that nearly three-quarters of our bilateral aid goes to the poorest developing countries. That is well above the average for other aid donors. Because they are the poorest countries they are most in need of education, health, family planning and the human resource development referred to by the noble Lord. We are already concentrating on the issue but aid is only one of the ways in which we help those countries. We are trying also in the poorest countries to encourage small business development which will provide an income for the people so that they may benefit from some growth.

A substantial proportion of our bilateral aid already goes to the 20–20 Concept but we are investigating how much more we can do in specific countries which have unique problems so that by better targeting, not only of our own resources but also those of the UN, we can turn the 20–20 Concept into a reality. We need the governments of those countries to work similarly and to spend their resources on their own health and education and not on armaments.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the protectionist policy of the European common agricultural policy is imposing needless distress on many of the developing countries?

My Lords, any protectionist policy harms the development of countries south of the Sahara. Not only do countries within the European Union have protectionist policies; other countries throughout the world are just as clever at cutting out third-world imports. We hope that there will be a much better free trade attitude not only by the European Union countries indicted by the noble Lord but also by the others which prevent trade.