HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1015-7
36. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what progress is being made with her suggestion for a Commonwealth Conference on Rural Development; and if she will make a statement.

38. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she will meet Commonwealth Ministers responsible for development to discuss food production.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. John Grant)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend, who is unwell, I have been asked to reply.

Following the suggestion my right hon. Friend made to her Commonwealth colleagues at the World Food Conference last November, she confirmed to the Commonwealth Secretary-General in December the Government's willingness to host a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers in London from 4th to 12th March this year. The Secretary-General issued invitations a few days before Christmas and an outline agenda and tentative programme have been circulated.

Mr. Hooley

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is an extremely welcome initiative as the provision of food is now the major problem facing many developing countries? Will he say whether in general the reappraisal of our aid programme is being made in the light of the world food crisis?

Mr. Grant

The conference itself will bear heavily on that matter. As my hon. Friend has mentioned, the initiative arises from the World Food Conference. We are not reappraising our aid programme on food but we are in general seeking to pursue a policy which will ensure that our aid programme is directed in particular towards the poorer developing nations. We hope that the Commonwealth conference will further that aim.

Mr. Goodhart

In view of the critical shortage of fertilisers in many countries following the increase in oil prices, will the Minister say what has happened to the proposal that there should be a Commonwealth scheme for increasing and sharing fertiliser production?

Mr. Grant

The Government have done a good deal on fertiliser projects. We are a net importer of fertilisers. The details are matters for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This is precisely the kind of question that we would expect to be raised at the Commonwealth Ministers conference.

Mr. Spearing

Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain's response to the world food crisis is a matter not only for our right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development and our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but for many other Ministers and Departments? Has a comprehensive statement been made by the Government concerning all policies in all Departments, or has it still to be issued?

Mr. Grant

I think that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Sir Bernard Braine

The Commonwealth conference may help food-deficit countries in the long run, but is there not an appalling short-run problem? It is a fact that this year millions of people will die of starvation. Does the Minister think that 25,000 tons of fertiliser for the United Nations emergency programme—that is scarcely one ship load—is an adequate contribution? Will he give an assurance that this matter will be considered again?

Mr. Grant

The 25,000 tons has already been supplemented. As I have said, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend considers further what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Michael Marshall

If the conference takes place, will the Minister ensure that at least a part of it is devoted to the topic of supplying spare parts for essential equipment used in rural development? Further, will he ensure that our own house is put in order by supplying essential spares for grounded helicopters in Bangladesh?

Mr. Grant

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not believed all he has read or seen on the television screen in that respect. If he was among the Members who wrote to my right hon. Friend or myself, he will know that there is another side to the story.