HC Deb 12 May 1975 vol 892 cc21-4
36. Mr. Ashley

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will specify the changes to be made in the programme of assistance to overseas countries in view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal to reduce overseas aid by £20 million.

The Minister of Overseas Development (Mrs. Judith Hart)

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) on 25th April, the reduction will affect only the still unallocated element in the aid programme. The programme as a whole is increasing this year by more than £100 million in cash terms. No existing programmes or commitments will be affected and a number of them will be increased.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is misleading to speak in cash terms at this time of hyper-inflation and that by using the word "only" she gives the impression of trying to play down this £20 million cut? Is that true or false? Has she seen the motion signed by more than 100 hon. Members who have pledged their word that they cannot support this £20 million cut when it comes to the vote? Will she draw the attention of the Chief Whip and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that pledge by 100 hon. Members?

Mrs. Hart

My hon. Friend will wish to know that there is still an increase in real terms, allowing for inflation, in the aid programme. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip will be taking due note of what is said in the House this afternoon, but I should like to stress that there is still an increase in real terms.

What I think has to some extent happened is that the House did not fully perceive the extent of the increase in the aid programme determined last December, on the basis of which this is now a reduction. Naturally, I very much sympathise with the motion which so many of my hon. Friends and others have signed.

Sir Bernard Braine

The right hon. Lady will recall saying publicly earlier this month that greater priority was to be given to agricultural production in developing countries, which must mean an even greater outward flow of resources in the future. Can she say quite specifically this afternoon, in development of the question which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has put very clearly, whether the cut in planned growth expenditure will hinder the kind of development which she has in mind and about which she has been talking in detail?

Mrs. Hart

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, this cut means that there will be £20 million less to spend on things on which I should have liked to spend money. However, it is important to appreciate that there is still an increase in real terms and that we still have an unallocated large amount of cash this year, which means that no existing programmes are affected. Indeed, I shall still be able to do quite a lot of new things in the rural development field, but about £10 million less this year than I should have hoped for.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we are increasing the amount in real terms, when we bear in mind that two-thirds of humanity are living in want this is a small amount? Should not the Government get their priorities right? We are spending £3,000 million on defence. Could we not get back a bit more of that and divert more to overseas aid, because if we gave aid to overseas countries it would make a greater contribution to the peace of the world and the prosperity of the people in those countries?

Mrs. Hart

I am sure that the whole Government will wish to take note of that point. I cannot add to what I have already said.

Mr. Wood

Since the time when the present Government, unlike their predecessors, committed themselves to the 0.7 per cent. target, has the right hon. Lady made an estimate of when that target might be reached? In present circumstances, what does she feel is the likely date when we could reach that target?

Mrs. Hart

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he is as expert on the question of targetry, as I am, the problem is that targets relate on the one hand to aid expenditure and on the other hand to gross national product. Until one knows what GNP is, one cannot estimate the percentage of aid expenditure. This has always been the great problem—[Laughter.] This is a serious point, if hon. Members will accept it. There is a serious problem in that the United Nations targetry is not perhaps as well devised as it should be, because in my view it does not necessarily express the efforts of a country in the sense that the GNP comes into the equation.

37. Mr. Bryan Davies

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she has carried out a reappraisal of the British overseas aid programme in the light of the Lomé Convention.

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

The formulation and appraisal of the British aid programme is a continuing process, which takes account of all relevant factors, including our membership of the EEC. Allowance has accordingly been made for our contribution to the cost of the European Development Fund set up under the Lomé Convention.

Mr. Davies

While appreciating the sophistication of that answer, may I impress upon my hon. Friend the fact that bearing in mind that the Lomé Convention offers very little to the substantial part of the Commonwealth represented by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which is most in need, a thorough-going reappraisal of the British aid programme should be carried out to ensure that those countries benefit?

Mr. Grant

I agree with my hon. Friend about the sophistication of my answer. Our bilateral aid to the Asian Commonwealth countries which he mentioned in particular will be sustained as planned over the coming years and, I would expect, be increased. We shall certainly continue to press for this to be supplemented by the EEC.

Mr. Tugendhat

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we withdraw from the EEC a terrible reassessment and reappraisal of our aid will be required, because the Lomé Convention will collapse and those countries which have benefited from it will be the main losers?

Mr. Grant

It is ridiculous to suggest that the convention would necessarily collapse simply because Britain withdrew. But the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that our commitment through the Community in these matters is a fairly small percentage of our overall British aid programme. We shall continue our British bilateral efforts whether we are within or outside the Community.

Mr. Spearing

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Lomé Convention applies to only about 14 per cent. of the developing population of the world, excluding China?

Mr. Grant

Yes, that is correct. As I have said, however, we continue to press for the EEC to do far more for the non-associates.