HC Deb 17 January 1977 vol 924 cc25-7
36. Mr. Luce

asked the Minister for Overseas Development whether he is satisfied that a sufficient proportion of the United Kingdom overseas aid is used for rural development in the poorest countries.

Mr. Judd

There is never room for complacency. Progress has certainly been made but we must make more. In 1976–77, 65 per cent. of our bilateral aid has been allocated to countries which in 1972 had a GNP per capita below $200; their share of the total population of developing countries is only about 58 per cent. I hope that the share of our bilateral project aid designed to benefit wholly the rural poor, which increased from 28 per cent. in 1974 to 38 per cent. in 1975, will show a further increase in 1976.

Mr, Luce

In the light of his reply, does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of strengthening Third World trade with the West, and particularly with this country, is by encouraging economic development in rural areas? Since the Select Committee on Overseas Development recently made recommendations, will the Minister announce the Government's reaction to those recommendations as soon as possible?

Mr. Judd

The hon. Member has a great deal of personal experience in these matters. One of the principal objectives in concentrating the aid programme on the poorest countries is to increase productivity and investment and to affect a wider cross-section of people in the poor countries. We can assist the developing world by increasing productive investment, and we stand to benefit from doing so.

Mr. James Johnson

Can the Minister say why, despite all our efforts, the gap in living standards between the Western world and the Third World is becoming wider? Since the EEC subsidises our food bills to the extent of £4½ million, will the Minister approach his colleagues in the EEC about more help for the people of the Third World?

Mr. Judd

Unfortunately, it is true that the gap is growing. All of us ought to consider that, while we are in the grips of our own difficulties as a nation, our political colleagues who carry responsibilities in the Third World have more acute problems. Of course we take every opportunity to consult our EEC colleagues about a joint approach, and I am glad to see that the aid programme is beginning to develop in a sound and productive way

Mr. Tapsell

Can the Minister tell us more about the extent to which he plans future aid to be moved from bilateral to multilateral aid and from grants to loans as a result of the proposed cuts?

Mr. Judd

I am sure the hon. Member realises that it is premature to give absolute answers while we are in the middle of serious analysis. There is a high priority for pushing forward with the multilateral commitment because it would be better to secure a situation in which the problem was tackled by the international community as a whole than for us to go it alone.