HC Deb 22 July 1974 vol 877 cc1036-9
46. Mr. Molloy

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what steps she is taking to give special assistance to developing countries severely affected by the increase in oil prices.

Mrs. Hart

My hon. Friend will be aware that we hope to make our main response to the emergency needs of the oil-poor developing countries through the EEC contribution of 500 million dollars to the special programme of the United Nations. This, however, is conditional on other responses. I told the Council of Development Ministers in Brussels last week that if the EEC contribution has not begun to flow by the early autumn, we shall wish to ensure that our own does so, in the light of the extreme urgency of the needs which are arising.

Mr. Molloy

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that we can make efforts on our own without being tied to any part of the EEC? Bearing in mind that, to a degree, many of the oil-producing countries are, or have been, developing countries, we, as a generous nation in the past, have the right to point out to them on a unilateral basis—as Great Britain speaking to them—that they ought to make special concessions to the developing countries, which can be hit very hard by increases in oil prices.

Mrs. Hart

May I take separately the two points which my hon. Friend has raised? First, on the question of the Arab contribution, there is certainly a lack of clarity about the present Arab position. On the one hand, we have the United Nations Special Programme and, on the other, a number of bilateral responses which the Arab nations have been making. Indeed, it is imperative that by the September meeting of the EEC Development Council we have a very clear understanding of the relative contributions made in various forums, from the Arab nations and others. I have asked that that should be done, and I think it will be done in September.

Secondly, it is true that we have a tremendous bilateral responsibility. Indeed, among the countries which are suffering more severely, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are traditionally those with a close association with us—we have already done a certain amount to help them bilaterally—but I emphasise that apart from the pro- and anti-Common Market arguments which rage here, it would be better if we could get this contribution through the EEC, because that is likely to produce better results from other countries which might otherwise be a little reluctant.

Mr. Wood

Will the right hon. Lady say whether she herself has made any specific approaches to the Arab countries and, if so, what has been the response?

Mrs. Hart

No, I have not, although I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have contemplated doing so in the last month or so. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there have been a number of almost fortnightly meetings of various international bodies, in some of which the Arabs were involved. There was, for example, a meeting a week ago in New York at which the Arabs were present, when it was hoped that a clear position would emerge. But between the World Bank, the Developing Assistance Committee and the United Nations, there have been so many opportune moments to get the matter clearer that I have hesitated to make any direct initiatives, although I do not rule them out.

Mr. James Johnson

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the happenings at the last Organisation of African Unity conference in Mogadishu and say whether this is one of the chief causes of the dissension about the appointment of the Secretary-General? The Arab States have not pulled their weight here. Will my right hon. Friend—as she was asked a few moments ago—in some way intercede with the Arab States, with which we have some influence, to do something in this field for the developing nations of the Third World, namely, the black States?

Mrs. Hart

I think that I should mention the other aspect of this matter—the Witteveen proposal for the recycling of money, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been extremely involved. At this moment it is a very delicate decision as to how much one should take bilateral initiatives and how far one should rest on the United Nations and the other procedures which are continuing. I certainly do not rule out independent approaches, and there are one or two other donor countries which feel as I do.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

The right hon. Lady will be aware that a Select Committee of the House is considering this matter. Will she undertake that when she receives that Committee's report she will respond to it more quickly than she has been able to respond to the earlier report of the Select Committee considering overseas development, in the light of Britain's membership of the Community? Furthermore, will she say whether her Department has considered whether there is a rôle for private capital and private investment in assisting the developing countries most badly hit by the oil crisis to reach higher standards of development?

Mrs. Hart

On the last point, I hope to be able to make my own position clear before too long.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I hope to respond to the Select Committee's report very quickly indeed, although it is an ever-changing situation and it is likely to be so for the next two or three months.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's first question, which asked why I had not responded more quickly to the report of the previous Select Committee, of which I was a member, I should have thought that my response would have been seen in action rather than in words.

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