HC Deb 01 February 1982 vol 17 cc15-7
42. Mr. Welsh

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policies on increasing the level of aid given to countries in the Third world.

51. Mr. Hardy

asked the Lord Privy Seal what increase in United Kingdom support for overseas development has been arranged since the international meeting at Cancun.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Neil Marten)

No specific commitments of any kind were asked for or given at Cancun. I announced in the House on 14 December 1981 the level of resources available for aid in 1982–83 and our decision to allow the Commonwealth Development Corporation to borrow funds abroad during the next three years. Plans for aid levels in subsequent years will be published in March.

Mr. Welsh

Does the Minister appreciate that the spirit of the Cancun agreement was to give aid to the Third world? In accordance with that spirit, and taking into account the Government's expenditure plans for 1981–84, is the Minister aware that during 1981–82 there will be a reduction of £62 million and in 1982–83 a reduction of £61 million, making a total reduction of over £123 million over two years in overseas aid? If that is so—that is what the expenditure plan says—does the Minister accept that he should ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to conform with the spirit of the Cancun agreement and give further aid in his forthcoming Budget in March?

Mr. Marten

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that was not exactly the spirit of Cancun. At Cancun there was a meeting of minds, and also an understanding of one another's problems. One of the problems, which was understood by the great number of developing countries that were there, was the need for growth in the industrialised world so that it could import more from them, for their own betterment. It was in that context—to get growth going here—that there was a 2 per cent. cut in the aid programme over that which was announced last year.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister agree that the apparent shift in the Government's attitude to the proposals from cool to at least lukewarm, the Government's subscription to the words that were used in the communiqué last October following the Commonwealth Conference, and the Government's public comments about the Mexican summit, were all welcomed and approved by individuals and organisations concerned with international morality and justice? However, does he accept that the Government's words, although they were quite noble, have not been matched by either deed or proposal? When will that sordid anomaly be rectified?

Mr. Marten

As soon as the economy is strong enough.

Mr. Butcher

Has my right hon. Friend seen the results of the recent ODA report, showing that about 90 per cent. of British companies feel that they receive very little, if any, benefit from our overseas programme? Will he therefore seek to shift the balance of these programmes away from multilateral agencies back to bilateral agencies, so that such aid may result in British jobs for British workers?

Mr. Marten

Yes, we would like to shift from multilateral to bilateral aid, but on the multilateral side we are following commitments that were made quite a long time ago and from which we cannot escape. Where we can, we are trying to shift the balance back to bilateral aid. There is also the aid-trade provision, which has helped our industries and kept a lot of jobs going in this country.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Now that the Minister and his colleagues believe that the recession has bottomed out, when can we look forward to the Government increasing the proportion of GNP that is devoted to overseas development assistance, in accordance with our promise to the United Nations?

Mr. Marten

When the economy is strong enough. It is as simple as that.

Mr. McElhone

Does the Minister accept that his answer, and that of the Prime Minister last Thursday, is somewhat misleading? Will he at least be honest and confirm that the Government will cut aid in this financial year and next by at least 14 per cent? Does not that make a mockery of the pledges that were given by the Prime Minister at Ottowa, Melbourne and Cancun? Is the Minister further aware that, contrary to what he says about the Cancun pledges, Mrs. Ghandi is calling a conference of 34 nations this month in Delhi to pick up the debris of Cancun, and that Britain is not invited?

Mr. Marten

When one talks about cutting the aid programme, it depends which figure one is looking at for the cut. The 2 per cent. Cut is to be made from the figure that was announced last year. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the meeting that Mrs. Ghandi is calling is not a North-South meeting, but a South-South meeting. Yugoslavia is there, for example, but she is a member of the group of 77, which is the South group. It is a meeting of the South group, and we are not invited because we are not a member of that group.

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