HC Deb 27 February 1984 vol 55 cc17-20
47. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government intend to increase the quantity of the United Kingdom's overseas aid to the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product.

Mr. Raison

We remain committed to the United Nations target, but we have made it clear that we are not committed to a timetable for its achievement. Future progress towards the 0.7 per cent. target depends on a number of factors, including the future performance of the British economy.

Mr. Alton

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is grotesque that the Government can find £10 billion for the independent nuclear weapon Trident and £8 billion for our commitment to the Falklands over the next few years, and yet can find only one tenth of what we will spend on Trident for the entire overseas aid and development budget? Does he agree that we should be stepping up famine relief, because 40,000 people are dying every day? Will he also say something about what can be done in the Upper Volta?

Mr. Raison

When the Government fought and won the election in the summer, they laid great stress on the proper defence of this country. The electorate endorsed that, and it remains our policy. However, we also conduct an effective aid programme of which we can be proud. As for the pressing problems of Africa, we have already done a great deal in that respect and are considering what more we might do.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of the aid from the United Kingdom is given in the form of private investment in the Third world and that it is substantial by any standards?

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend is right. We have a good record of private investment in Third world countries. It is worth pointing out that private investment is of great value to Third world countries because they do nor have to repay it until there are profits to be returned and such investment does not, therefore, have the drawbacks of loans and indebtedness.

Mr. Deakins

Do the Government intend to work towards the 0.7 per cent. target year by year, or will it be a matter of luck whether the aid programme, as a percentage of GDP, goes up or down?

Mr. Raison

The figures always fluctuate and a number of factors contribute to them. The 0.7 per cent. figure remains our target, but we shall have to build up the British economy considerably before we are likely to get near that target.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend consider angling as much aid as possible to nongovernmental organisations, as they get it to the people on the ground and the aid is not filtered away through corruption and grandiose projects?

Mr. Raison

Non-governmental organisations have a valuable part to play and we already give them very good support.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House will be greatly disappointed that the Government have not set a timetable for attaining the 0.7 per cent. target? Does he agree that, if the Government achieve their objectives in inflation, it will be largely because of falls in commodity prices, which have not been helpful to the Third world?

Mr. Raison

Commodity prices are a problem in the Third world. Happily, there are signs of improvements in those prices. As for our overall aid performance, I reiterate that I believe that our programme is a very good one which is widely appreciated.

Mr. Marland

Will my right hon. Friend consider using some future overseas aid to liquidate pipeline debts that are owed by many overseas countries to business men in this country and are causing enormous difficulties to many businesses?

Mr. Raison

I am always reluctant to contemplate using our overseas aid programme for the liquidation or repayment of debts. It can set an awkward precedent and I should prefer our aid money to be spent on its proper purpose of development.

Mr. Barnett

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that if we think of soft loans as aid they should not be repayable to the Treasury, but should be put in a fund that could be recycled for the benefit of the Third world and, therefore, could properly be regarded as aid?

Mr. Raison

It is worth making the point that our aid programme to the poorest countries is overwhelmingly, if not entirely, in the form of grants rather than soft loans. However, I am willing to look into the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and write to him.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend seek an early meeting with Princess Anne to congratulate her on the splendid way in which she has drawn attention to the desperate plight of the people of the Third world?

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the outstanding work that Princess Anne has done on behalf of the Save the Children Fund, and I shall certainly consider what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Anderson

Against that ministerial complacency, at a time when demand in the Third world is increasing because of natural disasters and recession, may I ask what is the purpose of a target if the Government make no effort to reach it?

Mr. Raison

I completely reject the accusation of complacency. I believe that we are working hard to operate an effective programme, as I have already said. Nevertheless, it is not possible to pay out money until one has created the wealth with which to do that.