HC Deb 12 May 1980 vol 984 cc831-2
38. Mr. McElhone

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of the Brandt report, he will review his decision to make substantial cuts in the aid programme.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Neil Marten)

No, Sir.

Mr. McElhone

Is it not somewhat hypocritical for Ministers to pay tribute to the Brandt report while at the same time sabotaging its chances of success by making a 14 per cent. cut in real terms in the aid programme for the next four years? Is it not hypocritical for the Lord Chancellor, at the Scottish Tory Party conference on Saturday, to question the morality of trade unionists when the Government are guilty of immorality in cutting the aid programme in order to give tax hand-outs to rich taxpayers? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Does the Minister accept that the Government can do something to restore their tattered image in the Third world by using a small percentage of the £4,000 million they will receive this year from North Sea oil to save the lives of some of the 8 million people who are living and dying in poverty?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Those who were here at the beginning of Question Time will know that I asked hon. Members to ask one supplementary question and not to try to argue a case, because that prevents other questions from being called.

Mr. Marten

The Government have already paid tribute to the Brandt report. They are considering the proposals, but consideration is not yet complete. The Government hope to publish their views before the Venice summit on 22 June. If I might answer a second supplementary question—the cuts are due to the appalling economic state which the Government inherited.

Mr. Onslow

Apart from the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), how many people does my hon. Friend know who want to pay more in tax so that the money can be given to the underdeveloped countries to produce goods which threaten the jobs of British workers? Does it not make more sense to use overseas aid money to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of British industry?

Mr. Marten

As my hon. Friend excluded the Opposition, the answer is "None."

Mr. Armstrong

In relation to the Lord Chancellor's pontification about morality, is the Minister aware of the growing concern, particularly in the British Council of Churches, at the fact that the Government have turned their backs on the obligation and responsibility that we have for the Third world? Does he agree, not only that money spent on overseas aid is a moral obligation, but that it is in our interests to spend in that way instead of pursuing the costly arms race?

Mr. Marten

With great respect, that is absolute nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman could inform the Churches of that, I should be grateful.

Mr. Dorrell

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Brandt report said that two of the greatest contributions that Britain can make to Third world development are the promotion of overseas investment and the expansion of manufactured imports—policies which are rigorously opposed by the Opposition?

Mr. Marten

That is correct. They would be of great help to developing countries. The specific recommendations of the Brandt report must be balanced against the economic realities facing the country. Proposals for increasing aid or accelerating the transfer of resources raise obvious difficulties.