HC Deb 17 December 1985 vol 89 cc180-218

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in the course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1986 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Overseas Development Administration) on the official United Kingdom Aid Programme including capital subscriptions, other contributions and payments under guarantees to certain multilateral development banks and other bodies; subscriptions and grants in aid to certain international and regional organisations; bilateral capital aid and technical co-operation; refugee and other relief assistance; the cost of in-house Scientific Units; assistance, including grants in aid, to certain UK based institutions and voluntary agencies; loans to the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and pensions and allowances in respect of overseas service.—[Mr. Raison.]

4·41 pm
Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

We are approaching the festive season and this is a very good opportunity to discuss the wants of others. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee considered the famine in Africa and visited five countries. We were deeply depressed by much of what we saw and impressed by the knowledge that a great deal of the horror and the disaster could have been avoided.

I say that the disaster could have been avoided, but I do not imply that the Governments or people of those countries have been stupid, negligent or idle. We must not understimate the real difficulties that they face while we are in our comfortable society. Many of them have a climate which is not especially favourable to agriculture and they have been plagued with drought for almost 10 years, which has successively eroded the defences of the people who live there. They have lost their land, their beasts, their houses, their possessions and finally their money. They are in no way able to protect themselves from disasters unaided.

Those factors have been made worse by a rapidly rising population which would have had its effect on what is at best marginal agriculture, even if natural disaster had not taken its toll. Political circumstances after the colonial era have always been uncertain. The roll call of successful and unsuccessful coups and rebellions would have been enough to distract any Government from peaceful and progressive purposes. Political reasons have often determined the distribution of such food as they have. It has often been directed to the urban population and close political supporters rather than to the weak and poor rural populations far away from main towns whose interests have been correspondingly neglected.

They all have an administrative apparatus which is far too weak to withstand the difficulties that they have experienced, and it is often far weaker than they themselves suppose. The Select Committee was struck by repeatedly being told in one country that the administration was so widespread and flexible that instructions from the centre could be transmitted instantly to the furthest villages in the land. I do not know how anybody could have harboured such an illusion. The telephones did not work and communications were disrupted by rebellion. Whatever administrative apparatus that had been left behind by the colonial power had been completely eroded. The skills and communications necessary to run a country which needs a great deal of running simply did not exist. Immensely difficult choices have to be made in these weakened circumstances in such matters as exchange valuations, subsidies and resource allocations—choices that any country might find difficult. Above all, we found that agricultural policies discouraged farmers and made it less likely that they would grow the crops on which the rest of the country depends.

Any right hon. or hon. Member could have divined the problems that I have described, but we are entitled to say that more effective policies shall be followed in future. The Select Committee was encouraged by the fact that the countries concerned now recognise, especially in view of the Harare declaration, that different policies regarding agriculture would be in the interests of all of their countries. I hope that such decisions will now be taken, difficult though they may be. I hope that longer-term development can take priority over short-term expedience.

I was glad that, in their observations on our report, the Government recognised fully the greater importance of development as opposed to emergency aid. To what extent has our development aid programme been lamed by emergency aid expenditure on famine? My right hon. Friend the Minister, whose wise conduct of these affairs we all admire, says that development aid has been affected very little or not at all. He said in July last year that the development programme had not been affected by emergency aid. He repeated that statement in October. I find it hard to share his optimism.

We all recognise that there is slippage in the ODA programme. We cannot expect all of its schemes to run exactly on time and it is necessary to budget for a slippage towards the end of the year. If slippage must occur, however, must it amount to £86.5 million? That rather large slip is the estimated United Kingdom expenditure on famine relief in Africa. However, I freely concede that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development could contradict my figures, because they are so difficult to calculate. The figures on which we rely are concocted from different sources and on different dates, so a double estimate or no estimate could cover the same prices.

Nevertheless, it is unreal to say that the £86 million that we have been forced to expend on famine relief will not affect the development aid programme. In the last resort, money for food aid must be deducted from development aid. Certainly part of the money voted to the ODA was originally destined for emergency aid, but not to the extent of £86 million. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs concluded that it would only be fair to the development aid programme if new money were brought in. I am sorry that apparently that has not been possible. I say apparently, because it is difficult to follow how the calculations are made. Perhaps the emergency aid has not harmed the development aid programme to the extent that I have suggested. If I am wrong, it is because I cannot understand how the ODA arrives at its figures. I look forward to my right hon. Friend's reassurances.

There was some new money. It was used by the Royal Air Force in its effective airlift to the difficult areas of Ethiopia, which ended today. That exercise cost £8.25 million, and no doubt has done much good in areas that would otherwise have starved. It is a tribute to the RAF that, as usual, the programme was carried out so efficiently. It is a tribute to the Ministry of Defence, which is not everyone's favourite when it comes to charity, that it provided the money.

The European Community Dublin summit vote of 1.2 million tonnes was a new and welcome move. The United Kingdom has participated fully in the delivery of that grain.

We provide more in famine relief to Africa through the European Community than we do bilaterally. This year bilaterally we gave £42 million worth of food aid and £47 million through the European Community. The Community made a slow start and it was rightly criticised by the Committee and others for that. However, the Community has now got its act together. The various titles of EC committees do not suggest by name that they address themselves specifically to these matters, but undoubtedly the problem has been gripped by the organisation and it appears now that the administration is running smoothly. I am sure that that is welcome.

However, I have criticisms of the European Community. It must realise that famine relief is not a method of supporting European agriculture, principally because of the cost. One year's storage of a tonne of grain costs £25. The cost of shipping that grain to Ethiopia is £250–10 times as much, as hon. Members will readily calculate. To store the grain indefinitely, or even eventually to throw it away, would cost only half as much as it would to give the grain to the starving countries. The European Community's preferred policy of transporting European grain is not in the best interests of the needy countries or of Europe.

The second reason why it is better to buy grain abroad, perhaps from the developing countries, is that the aid arrives more quickly. If the grain is bought nearby, it can be transported quicker than by sending it from Europe. If it is bought from a developing country there is a double benefit, because the country is provided with the foreign exchange that it so badly needs.

According to the recent harvest reports, stocks will be available in Africa this year. I hope that the system of buying those surplus stocks and sending them to needy areas next year will be adopted. I believe that the required food stocks will be available, whether from American, European or local sources. Then the main problem will return. The real reason why people starve to death in Africa and elsewhere is not because they are hungry, although that has something to do with it, but because of poverty. India, which is now an exporter of food, suffers as much from malnutrition, and death from hunger, as it did when it was an importer of food. That is a problem with which it is difficult to cope.

My third criticism of the European Community is that it relies too much upon food aid and attaches too much importance to it. If food aid is supplied instead of foreign exchange, that is indeed as good as foreign exchange and should not be despised. But the Governmmt reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee states: Most food aid from the European Community is given to recipient Governments to sell in urban markets. That activity will continue to create more difficulties for the provision of long-term agriculture development. I am glad that the Governmnt will continue to press for more rigorous appraisal and co-ordination of non-emergency food aid. During the past 18 months, we have learnt many lessons from the crisis that has engulfed parts of Africa. One lesson is that he who gives quickly gives twice. I hope that the ODA's emergency unit, which has earned much praise for its flexible and quick action, will be provided with more funds.

The famine in Africa is a nightmare for the world. It is terrible for Africa and we have a guilty conscience because we believe that we should have seen it coming and that we should have done more. It is a blessing that the famine is now receding, but let us hope that our precautions for the future will ensure that it does not return.

4·49 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) and his Select Committee have done a great service to the House. They have produced two reports, one of which appeared earlier in the year and provided a detailed survey of famine in Africa. Secondly, there is the report which considers the Winter Estimates and casts some light on the dark and difficult area of Government statistics. The House has been well served also by the all-party group on overseas development, which published its own critical document. I hope that its severe criticism of the Government in some respects will not cause the Government to do anything other than benefit from the challenging thoughts and ideas which it contains.

It has been said by a United Nations official: The rains have recovered; Africa has not", and that is currently the position. A number of the countries most severely affected by drought have experienced considerable improvements in weather conditions. Some of them, by a combination of that and food aid, are now in a much better position for the immediate future than they were months ago. Other countries continue to experience climatic difficulties. All still face the fundamental, long-term problem of dealing with what could be recurring famine and recurring hunger if we do not ensure that proper development assistance is given to them.

Aid at the basic level of subsistence farming is the priority which emerges from the Select Committee's report and from the all-party report to which I have referred. It is upon that that we seek to press the Government, and others may do so in their contributions. A restoration of the priority of basic agriculture work and assistance to the farmer to grow his own food must be the key to the solution of the problem that exists in most of the countries about which we are talking. That has implications for the domestic policies of those countries as well as for the aid which we provide.

Unfortunately, aid has suffered in the very areas in which we should be most concerned. Aid to basic development has suffered at the expense of other considerations, such as trade-related assistance of various forms, which has as its priority as much the promotion of our own trade, however desirable that may be, as the interests and basic agriculture of the country concerned.

The all-party group quoted a ministerial comment that it was to become policy to give greater weight in the allocation of our aid to political, industrial and commercial considerations alongside our basic developmental objectives. I submit that we should not be giving greater weight in the allocation of our aid to political, industrial and commercial considerations, however attractive those are in other contexts. If we do — and we must remember that, even if all our ambitions are achieved, our aid budget will remain limited—we shall not best serve the interests of the poor and hungry in the countries that we want to assist. Our industries and exporters can fight their battles and their campaigns for trade, and they can and should be assisted by various governmental activities, such as export credit, that are relevant. However, such considerations should not be a guiding factor, given the absolute priority of assisting long-term development. It is against that background that there have been cuts, which the Government have admitted, in long-term research staff, long-term development staff and in activities that are most relevant to helping basic subsistence farming. The developing trade-related side of aid activities is one area which has inhibited the basic and important work of development aid, and it is one that should be reversed.

The second factor which has played a part in limiting the amount of basic development aid has been, as the hon. Member for Stroud said when he opened the debate, famine relief itself. I do not think that anyone questions the competence with which the Government tackled the task of providing famine relief when they got down to it. Many of us, including the hon. Gentleman, criticised the Government for the time that they took to get the show on the road. However, when the real commitment was made, the work which was done was excellent. Plenty of tribute is due to the Overseas Development Administration and those who work within it for the way in which the work was carried out.

The criticism that emerges again and again is the effect that the diversion of resources will have on the rest of the work of the aid programme, especially basic development work. In the Select Committee's report on the winter Estimates there is a pointer to the difficulty of identifying what the money would otherwise have been spent on if it had not been diverted to aid. It is the Minister's plea that most of the famine relief moneys were found out of existing development programmes and that the development programmes of other areas of the world Ix ere not raided for it. It is claimed that the resources were found from slippage, from money which was not spent on other projects. It is extremely difficult to identify where the moneys would otherwise have been spent. The Select Committee and others who have commented have all said that we must assume that most of the moneys would have been spent on more basic development work of the sort which is so lacking. It is in that area that a greater commitment is required from the Government.

The public are aware of that. They are aware of the general problem and of the specific difficulties which arise. They appreciate the need for basic development work. Voluntary aid organisations have done much to inform the British public of the nature of the problem. Indeed, they are doing more and more all the time. That is another reason why development education work should be supported.

There has been a tremendous out-pouring of public generosity. I have in mind the Live Aid movement and all its associated activities, and the related boost in the work of almost all the voluntary agencies which work in the field. Impressive work has been done by schoolchildren, in many instances of a notably well-informed sort. Associated with studies at school into the conditions of the countries which need assistance, they have undertaken voluntary work to target specific help to particular overseas projects. I find it moving to see how young people and children have become involved in this work and how they have set out to inform themselves and come to understand more about it.

I recall the 20,000 who participated in a lobby of Parliament. That is an example of massive public support and commitment. I can remember—I am sure others can as well—the days when one canvassed during elections and found that it was common to meet someone on a doorstep who asked, "Why is all this money being given to other countries? Shouldn't we concentrate on our problems at home?" I find that that is said less and less and more and more people understand that the fate of the hungry in the world is something about which they should be concerned on moral grounds. They understand also that they have every reason to be concerned about the issue if they care about the future peace and stability of the world.

A genuine transformation in public opinion has taken place. There will always be those who take the narrowest and most nationalistic, short-sighted view, but there has been a major change in public opinion upon which the Government, Foreign Office Ministers and Treasury Ministers should build. The task is easier for them now in justifying the enlargement of their budgets than it has been during certain periods in the past. There is a generosity in the public spirit which they should be seeking to match.

It is an improvement that the Minister, in his November announcement, suggested that there would be level funding for the overseas aid budget in the next few years if his inflation assumptions were accurate. I am not convinced about the accuracy of his assumptions about inflation, but the announcement showed some willingness on his part.

Many of us who take part in this debate will want to see Britain move positively nearer to the United Nations target, from which we have slipped back so disastrously over the past few years. If there are signs that we are to move in the right direction, let us seize on them. However, inflation is always higher than the forecasts of Governments, and I fear that we shall not achieve level funding and that we shall not see positive movement in the direction of the United Nations target.

Whatever is to be the amount of money that we spend, it is crucial that we examine how we spend it. We must assert the priority of basic agricultural development work. I accept that many other things are needed apart from the aid that we can provide. The task of tackling the debt problems of the poorest countries is a high priority for international considerations as well as for Britain's. The hon. Member for Stroud made a telling comment when he said that people die not merely because they are hungry, but because they are poor. There is the problem of poor countries and the problem of poor sections of countries' populations. That is one of the reasons why Socialist and Marxist philosophies often have a certain appeal in the poorest countries. Any Government of any poor country who took a narrow view of what the state should do would probably not be serving the interests of their people. However, it is discovered quickly that when Socialist and Marxist philosophies are implemented in some of the poorest countries, they have a tendency to produce an enlargement of rather top-heavy and bureaucratic state machinery and not equalisation or a reduction of poverty.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

What about China?

Mr. Beith

China is engaged in a remarkable process of reform. It is cleaning out its administrative system. It is a process which many of us admire. Labour Members should not be so quick to become defensive. I have raised a problem which they should recognise. Different political philosophies face different difficulties in the Third world. I contend that those which are heavily Socialist in their emphasis tend to end up producing a top-heavy state machinery and buttressing that by curtailing individual liberty to protect that machinery. Many of them do not reduce poverty.

The result is not usually the eradication of that individual poverty which makes many people hungry. Those countries that forswear the Socialist path, stick to a pure capitalist course and make the assumption that the power of the state should be narrowed tend to make no contribution to the eradication of poverty, or make a contribution limited to the success of those who are able to prosper under a capitalist system. No political philosophy has provided a ready-made solution for the Third world. In all the countries new routes have to be found which embrace a recognition of what the state has to do, with some awareness of its limitations and dangers. It is significant that the simple solutions proffered by both sides of traditional politics have not solved the problems.

There are problems of policy for many of the countries concerned, not just in general political philosophy but in areas such as agriculture. The Harare declaration has been mentioned. That is one sign that there is a realisation in some of the countries that agricultural policies designed mainly to produce cash crops were, in most cases, the wrong avenue to pursue. Different avenues will now have to be taken and there will have to be changed priorities.

Although many of the areas of policy will be relevant to the solution of the problem of famine, it will continue to occur in countries where climatic conditions have dramatic effects unless we cater for those problems by contributing to basic agricultural development in a way that allows people to produce their own food and feed their own families. That must be the priority of overseas aid policy, and I urge it upon the Government.

5·11 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I declare an interest in this subject because I serve as chairman of the British-Somali parliamentary group and of the Horn of Africa Council. Both of those bodies are acutely concerned about the famine in the north-eastern part of the African continent.

In November 1984 I visited the refugee camps along the Ethiopian border with my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and a former Member of the House, Colonel Billy McLean. As a consequence of that visit, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development was able to announce a £1 million emergency programme for the relief of refugees within the eastern part of Sudan within a calendar month.

The visit brought home to me a fact that will be all too deeply embedded in the consciousness of right hon. and hon. Members, that in so many instances famine is as much a consequence of human evil, of internecine bloodshed, of civil war and politics as it is of the accidents of geography, topography, of agriculture and of climate. It is to the political dimension that I shall address my remarks.

When we visited the camps on the eastern frontier of the Sudan there were, at that stage of the emergency, two clear categories of refugees coming across. They were coming across like ships Out of the mist. One saw groups of tattered persons and families, sometimes with animals and sometimes without. The Eritreans had a common story to tell. They had been bombed and napalmed out of their villages and in some instances actually driven out of their villages by the operations of the Ethiopian army. If left to themselves the food problem would have been tolerable but the combination of civil war and an adverse harvest were insupportable and they had to move away into Sudan.

The Tigrean refugees told a somewhat different tale. Most of them were elderly or extremely young. The able-bodied seemed to have been left behind to till the fields but insufficient crops were likely to be grown to support whole families. Within five minutes of our arrival an old man died at our feet. This was the pattern that seemed to be continuing for a long time to come.

Since that visit in November 1984 the political problems within Ethiopia have not improved. It is common knowledge that the Ethiopian Government have been giving assistance to the civil war in the south of Sudan. That civil war, combined with the burden imposed upon the already tottering economy of Sudan, led to the downfall of President Numeiri and the installation of the interim provisional Government in Khartoum. Unfortunately, a political solution has still not been found for the civil war in the south of Sudan in spite of the mediatory efforts made by the new authorities in Khartoum. This is sad and tragic because as a consequence of the continued conflict there are more refugees and there is a continuing relief problem in the south of the country.

In neighbouring Chad the problem is not much better. The climate has taken its toll and the famine has been severe. The news reports from Paris suggest that the Libyan-backed parties in the north are massing their forces again and the Government in N'Djamena are worried lest civil war should break out once more. At the beginning of the refugee movement from Chad into the western part of Sudan a good proportion of the refugees were driven out because of the civil war in Chad.

At the other side of Ethiopia, in the eastern part of the Horn of Africa, there is a continuing difficulty in that self-determination for the Somali people within Ethiopia has not been possible. Some 700,000 Somali refugees were driven out of the Ogaden region. To this day the Ethiopian air force conducts raids across the border and attacks villages in Somalia. That makes it harder to repatriate Ethiopian refugees.

There are serious political problems throughout the whole of the Horn of Africa, which is one of the most impoverished parts of the continent, and I bring those problems to the attention of the House. It is against that troubled and disturbed background that I ask the House to look at Her Majesty's Government's relief efforts and aid programme. It is sad that our gross bilateral aid to Somalia has declined over the past five years. In 1980 total financial aid and technical co-operation was £2.8 million. The figure has moved steadily downwards since that time and is now £2.1 million. There is a similar tale in British gross bilateral aid to Sudan. In 1981 the figure was £32.7 million, rising to a peak of £39.4 million in 1982. The figure for 1984, which is the most recent figure available, is down to £27.4 million. Those two countries, as I explained, have been adversely affected not only by the drought, which has affected the whole of that belt of Africa, but by a huge influx of refugees from Ethiopia.

However, when I look at Her Majesty's Government's aid to Ethiopia it is interesting to note that in 1980 gross bilateral aid to Ethiopia was £1.9 million and rose steadily to £7 million in 1984. I understand that in the exceptional circumstances of the drought Her Majesty's Government have had to take exceptional relief measures, and that is to their credit. Since October 1984 the British Government have disbursed no less than £36.84 million to Sudan. In 1984 they gave £25.84 million and in 1985 £36.34 million for the relief of famine in Ethiopia. That is welcome and good, but we must be realistic.

I am deeply shocked when I read reports in the papers that the Government in Addis Ababa have just banned from Ethiopia the admirable team of French doctors—Médecins Sans Frontières—who have been doing wonderful work not least in the provinces most wracked by civil war, of Eritrea, Tigre and Wollo. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, who knows and has visited Ethiopia, to discuss with his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary whether pressure could be put on the Ethiopian authorities to conduct themselves in a normal, civilised and humane way.

Furthermore, it must be stated loud and clear and unambiguously that the forced transfer of populations, usually by Soviet air force aircraft or, if not, Aeroflot aircraft, from Eritrea and Tigre to the southern provinces of Ethiopia does no good for the relief of famine. Those people are herded on to the aircraft. I have heard it alleged that Royal Air Force crews at one side of an airport will be preparing their relief sorties and relief missions while at the other side of the same airport Soviet personnel arid their Ethiopian brethren are herding hapless farmers and rural populations on to aircraft to be transferred to a strange and alien part of Ethiopia. That is intolerable. The Ethiopian Government have been using famine as a weapon of war against what they regard as the dissident populations of Eritrea and Tigre, who are seeking no more than the process of self-determination for themselves arid a chance for autonomy in their provinces.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

There is a danger that my hon. Friend may unwittingly give an alibi to those who would wish Britain to cut our overseas aid altogether on the basis that if the countries of Africa cannot sort themselves out, why should we assist them? I wish to draw to my hon. Friend's attention a letter sent by the assistant secretary-general, based in Addis Ababa, to the editor of The Times in August this year. He said: There is a complete consensus here among representatives of donor countries and voluntary organisations that the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission is doing its utmost to distribute whatever grain has been consigned to it. The letter said that the United Nations thought that the Ethiopian Government were doing their bit to combat famine and not using it as an instrument of war, although the civil war must be brought to an end. However, it has not been used consciously as an instrument of war.

Mr. Wilkinson

I did not realise that my hon. Friend would read a handout in his intervention. If I had, I would not have let him intervene.

I led the House's delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations in October. During that visit we were briefed by Mr. Bradford Morse, who heads the United Nations development programme and who has also been responsible for the United Nations emergency programme for Africa. That programme's document of 1 September 1985 reports an increase in child malnutrition in southern Tigre and says that there is particular concern for the health of orphans, destitutes and old people remaining in the camps. It lays particular stress on the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ethiopia for the returnees coming back from Sudan and Somalia, and the United Nations reminds us that next year, too, there will still be a major requirement for emergency food aid.

In no part of my speech did I deprecate in any way our efforts to alleviate suffering and help people suffering from famine in Ethiopia and the neighbouring states. I stated that war and the unscrupulous activities of the Ethiopian Government have made the relief operations much harder than they need have been. It is a scandal and a tragedy, but it had to be exposed. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to do SO.

5·26 pm
Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) and members of his Committee on their outstanding report. I agree with his submission today that the famine disaster in Africa could have been avoided. The key question now is whether, jointly, we can contribute to avoiding its recurrence. To understand that and learn the lessons from the famine, we do not need a crystal ball.

Unfortunately, the future is already visible in the trend of food production in Africa. For example, from 1970 to the early 1980s in the industrial countries as a whole, as we would expect, food production per head was positive at 1.6 per cent. a year and for developing countries as a whole it was positive at 0.9 per cent. a year, but for Africa it was negative. In the west African countries as a whole it was -0.8 per cent. and in east Africa it was -2.2 per cent. If we look at the long-term trends, we see that from 1961 to 1970, less than six out of 24 African countries vulnerable to a food crisis registered a negative growth or a fall-back in per capita food production, but from 1971 to 1984 only six out of those 24 countries achieved a positive growth of food production per head.

I might come to the same conclusion as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), from a different perspective, about the extent to which certain Governments seem more content to wage war within their own frontiers than to wage war on drought. None the less, even before the recent famine, and since the last major famine in 1974–75, agricultural output per head in Africa has been declining irrespective of drought or wars. That is the underlying issue to which I should like to address myself.

The hon. Member for Stroud, with good reason, drew attention to the fact that while drought self-evidently relates to climatic factors and causes famine, famine affects the poorest sections of the population. Therefore, if we urge the Government to take those measures in their aid programme which will help to avoid rather than simply remedy the effects of dought, the underlying structural problem of poverty should be addressed.

Much work has been done on that by Professor Amartya Sen who is now at the University of Oxford. I am glad to say that much attention also is now being paid to that, not by the economists in the economic research division of the World Bank, who seem to have seen the market work in south-east Asia and have been converted to market forces, but in the international division of the bank, especially by the head of that division, Shahid Javed Burki. Such stress on underlying structural poverty in the African countries can make a major contribution not only to our debate but to the kinds of policies which we should adopt and which we should urge the Government to adopt.

For example, Shahid Javed Burki has drawn attention to the fact that if the very poor are defined as those who ordinarily do not have enough income to obtain sufficient calories for adequate growth or health, against a worldwide increase of that category of up to an estimated 400 million people in 1985, the share of sub-Saharan Africa in that total has risen from 20 per cent., or 60 million people, in 1970, to nearly 40 per cent., or 150 million people, in 1985. In other words, in 1985 nearly half the population of sub-Saharan Africa belongs to the category of very poor—the people who are exceptionally vulnerable to famine when it occurs.

If the House is to address itself to the recommendations to be made to the Government on their aid programme and spending, we must understand that the consequences of famine will be irreversible unless there are sustained policies for intervention in agricultural production and in regional and rural development.

The first effect of famine was identified by the Royal Commission established on the famines in India earlier this century. It might well be called the shoe horn effect. In other words, it has been found that small farmers leave the land during famine and in that phase they almost certainly liquidate the small assets that they have, certainly their herds.

The second phase is that in which such former farmers seek farm employment hundreds of miles from their former grazing or plot areas. Therefore, they become casual labourers often driven into degradation, and too often the women are driven into prostitution.

The third phase is more critical, when depopulation sets in. Entire villages—whole rural communities—abandon the land in search of food. There is a simple logic about that. It swells the urban population while reducing rural farming. The result is less food for more people off the land and a combined rural and urban crisis.

What is needed to cope with the underlying structural problems of rural migration and urban poverty? First, higher food prices alone—I stress "alone"—are not the answer. For one thing, with depopulation and the reduction of the working population in agriculture—and of the land under cultivation—higher prices alone would simply aggravate inflation and shift the price of food further out of reach of the new urban poor. Even lower prices, such as are now registered in many of the African countries following recent rains—a point stressed in a recent article in the New Scientist—give no long-term incentive to migrants during the recent famine to return to the land. The price mechanism alone is not enough to achieve, and certainly not enough to guarantee, a return to the rural areas of those who have come off the land during famine.

Secondly, as is illustrated in the Harare declaration to which some hon. Members referred, we need policies which make possible a better balance between cash crops for export and food for domestic production. The hazards of cash crops for export have been well known for some time and have been often criticised. We know why local Governments pursue that policy. They need the foreign exchange to finance imports, often not only imports of fuel but also agricultural imports such as seeds, fertilisers and agricultural equipment, including spares.

A third major corollary directly links the need for agricultural development to offset famine and the problem of debt. This has been stressed before in the House but we have not had adequate answers from the Minister. We appreciate that the Minister and the Overseas Development Administration have written off some of the loans to less developed countries and converted them to grants, and we are glad about that. But that still leaves us with the crippling problem with which Sudan was faced last year.

Although the Minister was able to give tens of millions of pounds in grants and assistance to Sudan, its total debt last year was $8,000 million. That resulted in the absurd situation that, when Secretary of State Shultz came to the Sudan to see the crisis and what the US agencies were doing, it is reported with some authority that several Ministers were able to drive to the airport to meet him but their staff had to return by public transport because they could not afford to drive back into town. Many of the British public have seen on television the Geldof convoys from the remarkable Live Aid and Band Aid initiatives overtaking convoys that have been stranded in the Sudan through lack of fuel. That is a crucial factor in the aid programme. Aid alone for agricultural equipment is not enough. Even if we were to see an increase in the aid budget, that would not be enough if the debt problem were not tackled.

In that context we urge the Government—especially with the kind of change in the United States Government's attitude which we see from Mr. Baker and which we welcome in terms of increased proposals for World Bank lending—to get together with the Governments of the United States, Germany and other EC countries to fund the long-term debt, reschedule it, and, where necessary, write off the long-term debt of the least developed countries and certainly the sub-Saharan African countries. The official estimate of their debt at $80 billion is, if anything, likely to be an under-estimate. It has recently been reckoned that it is under-estimated by 50 per cent. Any increase in the aid contribution, even if achieved, has to be seen in that debt context.

Zambia is in a straitjacket of debt. It is 95 per cent. dependent for its export earnings on one commodity—copper. With falling copper prices and the rise in fuel prices it is being crucified by long-term debt. Even with the floating of the kwacha, even seeking market solutions in the foreign exchange market, one cannot find adequate sacks to store the new food and the food surplus which in certain products has become available in recent months in Zambia.

Fourthly, the repopulation of rural areas and a longterm stable price structure means the need for intervention in agriculture and in regional development programmes rather than simply market forces. Those in the World Bank, the IMF and the Government who advocate a fuller flourish of market forces neglect the fact that no developed country has ever subjected its agriculture to the rigours of market forces in this century in the way that the World Bank and certain others are advocating for the African countries. The United States, Britain, with its previous deficiency payment system, and the EEC, with its common agricultural policy, would not dream of letting market forces rip with the consequent decimation of agricultural production in the manner in which certain people are advocating simply a market forces solution for African agriculture.

Of course, the market has an appropriate role to play. Of course, there are key issues of appropriate prices to producers. Certainly no Labour Member would argue that the African countries need a common agricultural policy of the kind that we now find in the EEC with its vast surpluses. But the African countries do need donors to work jointly with them to secure policies for incentives, assistance, grants and technical support for agriculture that go beyond the vagaries of market supply and demand and can assure a long-term future for agriculture.

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept, from those who may know Africa a little better, that if European farmers can produce surpluses from overpriced food, the introduction of prices that the market could fetch would find African fanners producing food just as well?

Mr. Holland

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by those who know Africa a little better. He is not addressing himself to my main point. In the depopulated rural areas in sub-Saharan countries there is an outward migration of population to other countries—for example, Eritrea, Tigré, and Sudan. There is massive urbanisation. The market mechanism alone cannot provide sufficient incentives, from just one of two good annual harvests, to attract population back to the rural areas and to deserted and desolated villages.

I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's point about price support. Of course, price support is an appropriate policy. However, a price mechanism alone will not ensure that those who have come off the land, joined the rural poor and are contributing to the urban population explosion will have the courage to return to the land when they lack capital, basic machinery and credit for further agricultural investment.

Fifthly, in any programme priority must be given to the needs of those who produce the most, but are paid the least. In Africa, that certainly applies to women. In east Africa, women work an average of 40 per cent. more than men, but are paid 60 per cent. less.

The Lomé agreement recommends that we should give credit where credit is due—that is to women and to women's co-operatives—rather than simply increase revenue through higher prices paid to male heads of households. It is clear that certain African Governments are willing to support and encourage that, and I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments. Otherwise, increased revenue from higher prices, or even a price support policy, will not go to those who have a vested interest in reinvesting in agriculture.

Sixthly, the role of technical assistance has two dimensions, and that issue has been raised many times in the House. One dimension is water-based technical assistance, copper dams, pumps, wells and so on. The second dimension is seed-based assistance including both dry soils and tropical seed research. This House should admit that the Government's record is deplorable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has said several times, the Government have cut assistance to the Tropical Development Research Institute in London.

There is no aspect of that six-point agenda for action in sub-Saharan Africa where the Government are taking a lead rather than following the laissez-faire remedies favoured by the United States Administration.

During Question Time last month, the Prime Minister claimed that the United Kingdom aid contribution was in line with the OECD average. I pointed out that in terms of aid per head per OECD donor country, Britain is twelfth on the list. Indeed, our aid as itemised in the Chancellor's autumn statement will not mean an increasein—or even a defence of in real terms—the current spending levels up to 1987. The probable inflation rate is likely to mean a net decrease in aid as a share of United Kingdom GDP by a further 1 per cent. or even 2 per cent. down to 32 per cent. or 31 per cent. of GDP by 1987.

What is happening with rural development assistance? United Kingdom Government aid allocations for rural development have declined from £10 million in 1980 to less than £0.2 million in 1984. That is a derisory 2,000th part of 1 per cent. of the total United Kingdom aid budget. Will the Minister make a dramatic statement today, perhaps saying that he will double, treble, quadruple, or multiply by 10 times the amount spent on the rural development programme? Even were he to multiply it by 10 times, it would still be only 2 per cent. of the total United Kingdom aid budget. If the Minister cannot show that sort of commitment to longer-term rural development, we cannot take seriously the Government's commitment to these issues.

Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), spoke of the reshuffling of the aid budget so that the emergency food aid programme of £90 million to £95 million spent on famine relief came from other items of the budget. The net contribution of up to £9 million for the Hercules had to come from a magnificent effort by the Ministry of Defence rather than from the ODA.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood that many hon. Members heard on the ITN news today about the ending of the RAF's remarkable air lift, which recently has been accompanied by a new aerial assault in Eritrea by the Dergue, who have bombed women and children, hospitals and resettlement camps, and who have waged war on civilian populations—taking lives when the remainder of the world are attempting to save those lives.

The tragedy in Ethiopia is substantially of the Dergue's own making. But for the longer-term tragedy in sub-Saharan Africa, unless the Minister tells us today that despite the opaque nature of the Estimates there will be an increase in the aid budget, a triple indictment must be made—first, that the Government were warned of the coming famine but did not respond soon enough; secondly, that during the famine the Government robbed Peter to aid Paul, rescheduling aid rather than mobilizing new aid resources; and, thirdly, that the Government appear to have learnt next to nothing about the underlying, long-term causes of the famine and have taken no clear steps to help avoid its recurrence.

The Government should have shifted new resources to respond to the famine, rather than reshuffle the aid budget. To recover from the famine, the Government—jointly with other countries—need to reschedule the debt of the sub-Saharan countries, to help restructure rural farming and aid a redistribution of resources towards rural areas. Before the famine, the Government proved themselves deaf to the warnings issued in the House. During the famine they often appeared to be blind to the real issues. Nothing in the current Estimates promises anything better for the future.

5·47 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

Before his peroration, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) had made a useful contribution to the debate. Those of us who follow this subject with considerable interest wholly reject his peroration on the Government's actions.

It is a pleasure to speak yet again on this matter in this Session. I spoke in the debate on the Queen's Speech, when hon. Members pointed out to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the projected figures on aid and said how seriously many Conservative Members were awaiting his autumn statement.

We very much welcome the fact that in the autumn statement the aid programme for 1986–87 and 1987–88 has been increased by £47 million. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister played his part in ensuring that increase. It would be churlish of anyone to refuse to recognise the part that he played.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke about the position on the border between Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. He also referred to the politics of the issue. With the opportunity to travel the world, we can see the politics of the issue. I, like my hon. Friend, have travelled the famine areas and have taken photographic slides. When one is able to show those slides to schoolchildren and constituents and can share one's experience of what it is like to be in a camp in Darfur, the reaction is, "This is not politics; this is a question of the survival of the people".

I am sure that we all recognise that poverty is the real problem in Africa, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) said. I pay tribute to him as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He has led us positively. I am sure that the Committee's work has commended itself to the House.

Things have moved on since the report, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. The hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the article in the New Scientist entitled "Who will buy the surplus?" Some of us moved quickly to get in touch with my right hon. Friend to discuss that policy. It would clearly be disastrous in a climate-led recovery if surpluses depressed farm prices and we were not able to encourage a fragile economy. My right hon. Friend said: The United Kingdom has long argued that food aid should, wherever it is practical and cost effective, be purchased in one developing country which has a food surplus and transported to another which has a food deficit. This both encourages local farmers and provides valuable foreign exchange to the vendor country. We are currently arranging just such a 'triangular' transaction under our bilateral food aid programme, with 14,500 tonnes of grain being purchased in Zimbabwe for use as food aid to Mozambique. The European Community also makes use of triangular transactions as part of its very large food aid programme, and the United Kingdom has urged it to do so more frequently. This shows that, contrary to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Vauxhall, my right hon. Friend the Minister is alert and aware of the changing problems and that he is trying to solve them.

Many of the Select Committee's members were concerned that the warning signals had been evident in the poorer African areas but, when the famine struck, many people were surprised. The United Nations had already warned the developing nations more than 23 times that a famine was developing. The Committee recommended that staff in overseas posts in countries where there was a risk of famine should conduct their own assessments independently of other organisations. My right hon. Friend the Minister wrote to the Committee saying that the arrangements had been made. Officers posted to countries where there is a risk of famine will be briefed on how to interpret the information and guidance notes have been distributed on the assessment of the food situation for the benefit of officers already in those countries. Those are two positive ways in which my right hon. Friend has reacted to the Committee's recommendations.

That makes me all the more sad that my right hon. Friend the Minister has not been able to respond to another point to which attention has been drawn in the Supplementary Estimates the additional funds for famine relief that should have been provided. I am totally unconvinced by the argument that this is slippage and that no long-term development programme has been affected. One need only look at the average of the contingencies fund over the years to defeat that argument. The average has been about £13 million. In 1983 it was £30 million. We spent £80 million in 1984 and £87 million in 1985 on famine relief. If the average contingency reserve is £13 million and we spend the total budget, one cannot sustain the argument that the additional sums have not damaged the long-term development programme.

I am prepared to accept that a specific programme has not been stopped through slippage and that aid for an established programme has not been discontinued. It is obvious that programmes have been delayed and postponed. Had it not been for the famine problems, those programmes would have begun this year or last year. The Government are wrong to sustain that argument. It would be more sensible if they honestly admitted the truth. The Committee said that it was not acceptable that the entire cost of the United Kingdom's response to the crisis should fall on the previously agreed aid budget. We said that the emergency was of such a degree that it had to be regarded as a new situation and that substantial new money had to be provided to help with it. All Committee members stand by that position. It would be better if the Government admitted that that was the case rather than pretended that some strange formulation in the aid budget has produced additional contingency funds without diverting money from projects that would have gone ahead anyway.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the working party on United Kingdom aid to African agriculture of which I was the chairman. The report was a frank analysis of what we have been doing for African agriculture. The working party decided to be as constructive as possible to analyse those areas in which long-term development had, or had not, been operating efficiently and the required changes. I am sure that all hon. Members recognise that the fragile climate-led recovery in many parts of Africa is just a hiccup. The rainfall this year has been much lower than the average in previous decades. It would be a mistake to imagine that this year's rain and production levels mean a new pattern. We have been given a window of opportunity to rethink, restate and refinance our aid programme for assistance to African agriculture.

I would very much welcome my right hon. Friend taking up the Committee's suggestion and, early in the new year, making a new policy statement on the Government's stand on their aid programme and the share that will go to the poorest countries.

The working party stated: We believe that the ODA should maintain a specific long-term development aid programme which is inviolate. It should be equipped with a small provision for emergencies, and when a larger response is needed, this should be funded on the basis of additionality from one Government's contingency reserve and not from departmental funds. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that suggestion and make it part of any future policy statement.

None of us—certainly no one who has been out in a field frequently—pretends that this problem can be easily solved, because we are concerned with the poorest people in poor countries, who are many miles from the population centres, road and rail systems and the means of support that would normally be necessary to sustain life.

It is difficult to maintain schemes in those areas. It is asking a lot of our aid people to spend long periods—frequently longer than six months—in such an environment, especially if they have families, because there is a lack of schools and other facilities. It is difficult also to persuade the nationals of these countries to do so. One might like to think of the bright lights of Khartoum, although I must admit I have yet to find them in my visits. I am sure that the bright lights of Kassala, El Fasser or Nyala are much dimmer. One should not pretend that it is not difficult to establish schemes for the rehabilitation of the peasant farmer and the nomad. Anyone who criticises the aid programme should recognise that. We must work together more positively with proper financing and skilled manpower, whatever its source, to begin schemes. We must recognise that politically the schemes are not popular because they do not produce immediate results.

Having examined carefully the schemes that exist, we found that, instead of looking at three-year or four-year programmes within the lifetime of a Parliament or even a Government, to be successful in areas such as this, one needs to look ahead 15, 20 or even 25 years and to a sustained programme of manpower and support.

All sorts of high-flown ideas are proposed of what is needed to help peasant farmers. We now have examples of what it takes to encourage farmers to produce. For example, in Zimbabwe there has been a remarkable recovery by peasant farmers, and that has come about not by over-elaborate schemes. The farmers there have grown enough to feed the whole population by receiving high-yielding seed, fertilisers at the right time, credit when they needed it and, at the end of the day, a price for their crops that gave them an incentive to grow a surplus and plant for a second year.

I urge the Minister to listen carefully to what is being said in the debate and to note the work that is being achieved by the Foreign Affairs Committee. He can rest assured that we shall return to this subject time and again, and certainly until we are satisfied that Parliament and the Government reflect the opinions of the members of that Committee and Back Benchers who are interested in these issues.

6.2 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) made a thoughtful and powerful speech, especially when dealing with the Government's contingency arrangements—or the lack of them—and I am sure that he spoke for hon. Members in all parts of the House when dealing with that issue.

My main purpose in intervening is to refer to the Grindlays address that was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) on 25 September of this year in Jersey, when he made what I consider to have been a major contribution on subjects which are highly relevant to this debate. In that address my right hon. Friend pointed out that the situation in Africa was an enormous tragedy but not an inevitable one. It was not the result of an inability to feed the world's growing population or to fight disease and poverty. It was, rather, a question of meeting Africa's desperate need for assistance.

The size of the problem that we are debating dwarfs the present level of aid, and without a substantial increase in aid the economic challenges that confront the Third world will be insurmountable. We witness the ludicrous situation of net capital and interest payments flowing from the Third world to the west instead of the other way around. Certain African countries have been forced to adopt export policies which place too much emphasis on industrialisation and producing cash crops for export instead of improving farm practices and growing food for local use.

Before we condemn such policies we should attempt to evaluate why they are occurring. Without the revenue and foreign currency that accrues from such exports, countries cannot afford to purchase fertilisers or fuel for the next crop. Nor can they pay the interest on their indebtedness to other countries.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, during a visit to Tanzania, quoted Julius Nyerere as having said that he had to choose in his country between paying his debts and feeding his people. That, alas, is the choice we place before the leaders of many African countries, leaving little hope for them to be able to improve the lot of their people. My right hon. Friend noted when in Tanzania that that country's debt service obligations amounted to more than its foreign exchange earnings for the whole year.

There are, in all of that, implications for the western world, including Britain, in connection with unemployment and the job potential that we seem to be ignoring. Unemployment in the industrialised west represents stagnant development in the Third world and something for them and us which is far from a separate problem. Significant problems affect us all because of the way in which we approach these matters. Indeed, when I think of the problems of the Third world and of the possibilities of job creation which we ignore, I am reminded of the speech, which my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) will recall, of Mr. Ben Bella at a meeting initiated by the late Frank McElhone in which Ben Bella said: Your unemployed are our dead. That is true, and we should be contributing more to the Third world to avoid such a calamity. It is a scandal, as we view the poverty in those countries, that in Britain men, mills and machinery are standing idle.

These problems are intrinsically linked by an economic relationship from which no nation can completely isolate itself. The industrial nations will not gain if there is an increasing wealth gap between them and the developing countries. Their poverty directly affects our welfare, just as our recession limits their development.

One in 20 industrial jobs in Europe and one in six in the United States depends on exports to the Third world. If the people of the Third world cannot afford to buy what we make, unemployment in the industrial west will grow.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth pointed out in his Grindlays address that by the year 2000 world population was expected to be 6.1 billion, three times higher than it was at the turn of this century. In the western industrialised nations, population growth would be relatively low when compared with Africa, though even in the United States there would probably be 20 per cent. more people than there are now, making it a problem, though not such a great one as that faced by African countries, because Africa's population would almost double, from 476 million in 1980 to 877 million by the year 2000.

My right hon. Friend pointed out that those developments were occurring at a time when access to fertile land was decreasing and poverty was on the increase and more Africans were estimated to be under-nourished than was the case a decade ago, with 20 per cent. less food being produced for every African today than was produced in 1960. If present trends continued, by the year 2000 the continent of Africa would need to import 44 per cent. of all its food requirements, but many of the countries so affected would not be able to afford to do so. That is the nature of the problem that the world must prepare for and attempt to defeat. Without improving on present standards, we shall have to produce 30 per cent. more food by the year 2000 just to meet the demands of growing numbers of people. That can be done only if aid is increased and directed to where it is manifestly required.

Every year, massive amounts of arable land revert to infertile desert, over-grazing and poor irrigation techniques, and the large-scale cutting down of forests contribute to the problems that Africa and other countries face. Short-term relief is not enough. The Government have presided over an 18 per cent. cut in their aid and development budgets since 1979. That includes a cut of £40 million this year and represents 3 per cent. in real terms. I am sure that the public, which has been so generous with its contributions, regards those reductions as being utterly repugnant and unacceptable. It is deplorable that the Government should leave the needs of the African people to the mercies of the market.

This year the United Kingdom has donated a record low amount—0.33 per cent. of gross national product—to overseas aid. The Government have not made the slightest attempt to achieve the 0.7 per cent. United Nations target which many other countries, less fortunate than us, have already reached or exceeded. That tells us everything about the Government's aid objectives. [Interruption.] I agree that the Goverment's policy is nonsense. The 20,000 people who lobbied the House not so long ago showed that they agreed with me. A massive increase in overseas aid positively directed towards meeting human needs and encouraging long-term self-reliance is required. Aid for farmers to reclaim land from the desert and to facilitate the planting of new forests are two possible ways of encouraging the self-reliance that we would welcome for African economies.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth reminded us of how Ernest Bevin seized upon the Marshall plan after the war because he recognised that economic development and human freedom went hand in hand. The process was of benefit not just to the European countries but to the vastly productive economy of the United States. Today, we lack the political will to solve the problem. The price of such folly and the failure to tackle world economic problems in a way that will lead to recovery contribute to falling living standards throughout the world, especially in the poor south.

We should be investigating better ways of bringing recovery and not recession to Africa in particular and the Third world in general. That requires development aid rather than austerity programmes. It is a challenge to us all which has not been answered. We thrive together or decay separately. Bevin and Marshall had the vision to recognise that fact in the 1940s. It is staring us in the face in the 1980s and we ignore it, not so much at our peril but at the peril of millions of starving people whose plight it is possible to avoid.

6·12 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I agree with much of the analysis made by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) of the position in Africa. There is good and bad news. I wish to speak in a balanced way about the aid budget. We must, therefore, consider the positive as well as the negative side.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has done an extremely good job, which is recognised by most nations, in conducting the aid programme in relation to the famine in Africa. Much of that aid programme has gone through the EEC. I have found, as the House will be aware, much difficulty in obtaining information from my right hon. Friend on what was being done by the EEC with over half the money spent on Africa. I was fortunate enough to go to Brussels and find out much of the information for myself.

One of the gratifying things that I discovered is that my right hon. Friend, almost unknown to the country and the House, contributed not just a Hercules in Ethiopia where the RAF has done such sterling work, but chartered a Hercules in a joint programme organised by the EEC delegate in the Sudan. It was used to carry food from the east of Sudan to the west of Darfur. That was referred to eloquently by my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). The rains had come and lorries could no longer pass across the desert where there are no roads. The refugees from Chad and the Sudanese on the western border of Darfur were starving because the European and American aid could not be transported there despite my right hon. Friend's efforts to have the railway rehabilitated. That was the only alternative way of carrying the grain from east to west.

My right hon. Friend contributed a charter Hercules. The Italians, the French, the Dutch and the Germans also contributed an aeroplane. In that way, the EEC transported the grain and food, including American food aid, to the west. That is a programme and achievement of which we should be proud, and we should congratulate my right hon. Friend on it.

I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on his defence of the aid budget. He managed to see that it was not reduced, as the Government had planned. He has always tried to conduct the aid programme to provide effective and efficient economic assistance to the poorest countries.

I must come to the other side of the story to which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe has referred. I wish to reiterate the points in some detail. They relate to how our efforts in Africa have been funded within the aid budget. The members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee have been playing a game of blind man's buff with the Overseas Development Administration. We are sometimes faced with a budget which is 30 per cent. unallocated when presented to Parliament. That raises the important point of whether Parliament has any control over the budget. Most of that sum is included in the bilateral programme. The matter becomes important when the Government try to hide behind verbiage such as: The emergency aid so far provided has not involved cutting"— we must consider carefully the words used any planned development activities in the remainder of the aid programme. That beggars belief, because on the most recent aid statistics published by the Department emergency aid represents £95 million. It is part of the bilateral country programme of £434 million from which much of the aid comes. That means that about 20 per cent. of the budget has been extraordinarily spent without affecting—let me use the words carefully—"any planned development activities."

Before my right hon. Friend says that at least half that sum was spent by the EEC and, therefore, did not come out of the bilateral programme, we will accept that the figure was 10 per cent. Those are huge figures and it is a huge proportion. If that is the case, the House should ask how the aid budget is being planned. What are the long-term development plans which have not been affected? Is it because we are budgeting from month to month that we are not committing the money to the long-term agricultural developments about which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke? Is it that the slippage is so great that we cannot spend it properly on planned long-term developments? We have always spent the complete aid budget, even when there was no emergency or contingency. The aid budget is spent on long-term development objectives when slippage occurs. It is not planned formally because one cannot foresee the events that will take place in a year. The fact that the money is not invested in long-term development is important, and I shall give the House two examples of where it has not been invested.

The money has not been invested in the United Nations development programme. We have cut severely our contribution, which is voluntary and not ratcheted to GDP. The programme undertakes the initial investigation into long-term agricultural projects which may eventually produce an agricultural answer to the famine-struck regions of Africa. Therefore, to argue that we are not affecting long-term development projects by taking money from other projects is a sleight of hand. It is unworthy of my right hon. Friend the Minister to use that argument, and I hope that we shall persuade him to desist from deploying it. It undermines the credibility of his argument.

I conferred with my friends in the Caribbean about cuts in the aid budget. The Minister went to hear their arguments on 1 August at the request of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. They find that the aid budget is rigid, and that they cannot spend it properly on long-term developments because of the way in which it is presented, and they want a discussion on how that can be improved. The unallocated section is defended, with some justification, by my right hon. Friend the Minister and the ODA because they need flexibility within the budget to take account of the difficulties of disbursing that aid. However, they cannot have a flexible approach from Parliament, and administer aid inflexibly into the host countries in such a way that we do not get economic development but receive a minus quantity of good will from them. There must be something wrong with the administration of our aid if that is the net result. That is also an illustration of the way in which the aid budget is being cut by the diversion of money to famine in Africa. Caribbean countries have certainly suffered because they have not had the additional money which would otherwise be available through the bilateral programme.

It is essential for the credibility of the aid programme that at least £100 million—that is not a large sum, considering the whole sum—is put back into the aid budget as additional money to handle this serious crisis. We should also use it to begin to invest in the research, development, management and technical co-operation necessary to find the way to enable the people of the Sudan, Ethiopia and Chad to sustain their population and cattle in those arid areas. They can succeed in that.

The ODA and the EEC have two excellent research projects in the western Sudanese areas devoted to that. Would it not be a magnificent gesture by the Government to give additional money and resources to enable those programmes to ascertain how we can help other people to help themselves and in that way to help us?

6·23 pm
Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

This must be the best informed debate that has ever taken place on foreign affairs in the Chamber, for two reasons. First, never before can such a high proportion of those taking part have visited the countries concerned and, what is more, in the recent past. Therefore, hon. Members are aware of the problems from first hand. Secondly, we have before us two reports and other information.

We have the Select Committee report. Whenever I read a report by the Select Committee I regret that I am no longer a member of it. Perhaps happier days will come, if not before the general election, then after it. We also have the excellent report of the all-party group on the development of African agriculture, which is extremely detailed and well informed. As usual, we have the well-informed mailing from the world development movement, and we have the benefit of a paper prepared by two people—one from Oxfam and the other from Christian Aid— on food aid and cereal surpluses. The paper also deals with the underlying agricultural problems in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, we have the benefit of two further documents. The first is published by the Catholic Institute for International Relations and is entitled "Africa's Development Disaster". The other is a recent lecture given by Robert McNamara, who for a long time was a superb president of the World Bank, entitled The challenges for Sub-Saharan Africa", in which he deals with the problems that we are debating today—the famine in Africa, and what should be done about it.

Everyone, including experts and those who have not travelled in that part for some time, agrees that there are several factors in relation to the famine, and hunger and poverty have already been mentioned. They also include the domestic agricultural policies of the African countries concerned, which range from being merely unfortunate to disastrous in terms of raising agricultural production for local people—I am not referring to cash crops for export. Other factors include the decline in recent years in overseas aid for agricultural projects. We should not criticise only the British Government—we have a right to criticise them because the debate is partly about that—but all the other major aid donors to sub-Saharan Africa. They have been reducing their spending on agriculture as a proportion of their total aid to that area. I do not know why, as the signs have been there for a considerable time.

A further factor contributing to the famine is that there has been no effective development strategy for sub-Saharan Africa. One can to a certain extent justifiably blame the World Bank, and to a lesser extent the International Monetary Fund for that. The World Bank is the major multilateral institution for co-ordinating development plans, and for injecting vast sums through the International Development Association. The World Bank must take some criticism, and I hope that those who have access to it in Washington DC and elsewhere and its various executive vice-presidents will heed our remarks.

There is a problem in increasing food production for the immediate consumption of the population of those parts which is extremely technical. I do not wish to bore the House, as the information is available and need not be put on the record. Various matters have gone wrong, including the pricing structure, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) pointed out, has both disadvantages and advantages. There has been no concentration on rain-fed crops, only on other crops. The role of women in agricultural development has been disregarded. The state marketing organisations are often inefficient and do not encourage farmers to produce. When they do produce, they do not always succeed in marketing their produce correctly, either in their own countries, or in the rest of the world.

These are all factors which, while we can deplore, we have to leave to the African Government concerned to put right. At the same time, our aid policy could be much better directed towards increasing African agricultural production for domestic consumption and feeding the growing population. Those factors have been going wrong in the past 20 years of agricultural development in Africa. The experience of successful schemes funded by development projects such as ours should be used as an example and encouragement to African countries and Governments to get on with the job themselves. I hope that we shall not have to wait too long for African Governments and aid donors to get the agricultural situation right in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are other factors besides agriculture in famine and hunger. One, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), was financial flows to sub-Saharan Africa. Unquestionably, these have been reduced. My hon. Friend pointed out that net capital flows generally to the developing world from the developed world have been falling. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, they have almost got to a negative stage in net repayments on the interest charges on the debts, which are not large by world standards but are by comparison with the GNP of the country. They are an enormous burden on small countries struggling to prosper and do the best that they can for their people. The burden of debt repayment is more than outweighed by the reducing amount of aid going to those countries. They are becoming net contributors to us in the rich countries. I am talking not about the rest of the world, where there are other problems, but about sub-Saharan countries. The capital is not flowing there but outwards. Donors have, for reasons that escape me—none of the publications from which I shall quote has the answer—reduced aid to this part of the world, even those countries with a much better aid record than ours. That is obviously a problem.

Mr. McNamara

in his lecture on 1 August suggested that a massive injection of funds was needed. That is in line with the Brandt reports, and the recent report with which my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall had much to do called "The Global Challenge". It concerned ways of revitalising the global economy in ways that will help the poor countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. Mr. McNamara reckoned that all donors should immediately step up their aid by no less than 30 per cent. That does not sound such a large figure. It would be large if applied to our total aid budget, but we are talking only about aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Lest it be forgotten that Mr. McNamara was president of the World Bank, he also had harsh things to say about that institution. He has suggested that it needs to quadruple its investment and lending under IDA and other windows of World Bank lending to sub-Saharan Africa to cope with the problems.

In his lecture, Mr. McNamara had a whole section on population. I was glad that the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), the Chairman of the Select Committee, mentioned this, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West. We cannot debate the problems of famine in Africa without some passing reference to the population problem. I shall quote from Mr. McNamara's lecture. He said on page 12:

"Sub-Saharan Africa, already the poorest region in the world, now has the highest population growth rate in the world, even exceeding that of the rest of Africa. It is 3.2 per cent. a year. Were that to continue, the population would double in 22 years, quadruple in 44 years, and increase eightfold in 66 years." The year 2025 is not far away and certainly is within the lifetime of all the children in Africa aged up to 12, whom we hope will survive. Mr. McNamara says about that year:

"By the year 2025 … the population of sub-Saharan Africa . . will have risen from 363 million to 1,201 million." That is 1.2 billion people, almost four times the present level.

I was struck by the report "Africa's Development Disasters.' by the Catholic Institute for International Relations. It is no secret that the Catholic Church has fairly strong views about artificial contraception. A number of hon. Members and I recently went to see Cardinal Hume, the senior Catholic prelate, to express our concern about some of the things that the Pope has been saying both in Africa and Latin America recently. Nevertheless, the CIIR, in its excellent report, had some interesting things to say about population. I regard this almost as the turning of the tide. It says:

"For Africa as a whole, though total income has risen, the greater growth of population meant that by 1983 income per head had declined to 4 per cent. below its 1970 level." That is, in 13 years, income per head in sub-Saharan Africa had decreased in one of the poorest parts of the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall quoted the following figure in his interesting speech. The report continues:

"In most countries, food consumption per head is now less than it was in 1970…The 24 African countries classified as most seriously affected by drought and famine in the period 1983–85 registered a reduction in grain production per person of around 2 per cent. a year between 1970 and 1984…With an overall rate of population growth of 3 per cent. per year, Africa will have a population of 1,100 millions by the year 2010. This means that Africa will have to achieve a rate of economic growth of 3 per cent. a year just to stand still. Clearly, if Africa's economic decline continues it is difficult to see how such a population can be sustained."

I welcome those comments from the CIIR, because they show, for the first time in any Catholic publication that I have seen, a recognition of the damage caused by too fast rises in population when food supply is not organised and is deteriorating fast.

One of the lessons of this well-informed debate Is that we have to take account, as I hope that the ODA and the Minister will, of the need not merely to consider increases in total aid, and within that increases in the amount of aid going to proper agricultural projects that will ensure that food is available to the poorest people, but of the ecological conditions. Some of the agricultural projects previously encouraged by the development agencies have been an ecological disaster.

There is much to do in terms not merely of increasing aid to agriculture but of ensuring that when we talk to these Governments we point out to them that one of the ways in which they can help themselves, apart from putting their own house in order both agriculturally and administratively, is to do something positive about tackling their growing population problem.

What worries me more than anything else is that eventually, as famine inexorably follows famine—if not next year but the year after that and the year after that because of population pressures and ecological degradation in this part of Africa—people in the rich countries will wake up and say, "Just a moment; we are being asked to give more and more aid just so that we can save people from starvation. We are not doing anything to increase the prosperity of these countries by improving their rate of economic growth." I am sure that all hon. Members wish that to be avoided. As one of the major donors, with great experience in this part of Africa, there is a great task ahead of Britain to show what can be achieved by the policies that we adopt. I hope that this debate will help to achieve that aim.

6·42 pm
Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) referred to qualifications for speaking in this debate. I base mine on the fact that after leaving university my first two jobs took me to Africa: to the rain forests, about which great appeals are now being made, to the great grasslands of the Cameroons and to the sub-Sahelian near deserts of Chad and northern Nigeria. Therefore, I have a little experience of these areas. The love of my life has been to follow African affairs, but what a sad story it has been for so long.

I concur entirely with the hon. Member for Walthamstow's fears about overpopulation. When I first went to Nigeria the population was estimated in the last census that was taken in 1972—because everything from idiotic administration to fears and jealousies has prevented any other since then—to be 40 million. It is thought that the population is now 90 million, give or take 20 million either way. By the turn of the century it will be 150 million and it is estimated that eventually it will steady at 500 million to 600 million. A more dangerous scenario I cannot paint.

A country of the size and power of Nigeria with that kind of population is likely to be a danger to its neighbours, as on occasion it has already proved to be. I am referring not to colonies but to the mismanaged economies of independent countries. It was in independent, not dependent, Africa that food production fell. There has been corruption on an almost unimaginable and unexampled scale.

If one wants an explanation of why some aid projects have failed, it is because the host countries did not believe in helping the peasantry and in producing food for themselves. They believed in the crackpot idea of industrialisation and urbanisation. They thought that this was the way to create a modern society. They did not believe that one could have a modern, rural society. Many people fail to understand that the United States is one of the biggest primary producers in the world and that it is also the greatest industrial nation. I believe that it was the London School of Economics that encouraged this chaotic idea. It resulted in subsidised food for the urban masses. The subsidies have failed because of failing economies. Consequently, starvation has broken out in the towns too. There have been wars, civil wars and coups. The record is catastrophic.

I do not know how many hon. Members read the article by Professor Michael Beenstock that was published in The Times on 31 October 1985. It is headed "Drought compounded by folly." He said:

Government policies of keeping agricultural prices at artificially low levels have reduced smallholder incentives to produce basic foods. So there have been food valleys rather than mountains and shortages rather than plenty. Sahelian Governments have operated this inverted policy in the hope that it would keep the relatively well-off population happy with cheap food from the countryside. As a result, the farmers have hardly had the capacity to cope with normal weather conditions, let alone drought. At the end of his article Professor Beenstock said:

Charity should begin at home: Sahelian Governments should give agriculture a chance. Aid from Western governments will most probably do little more than support the current official impoverishment of agriculture. Instead of marching on Westminster to demand more aid we should be marching on the Sahelian embassies, calling for the removal of anti-agricultural and pro-industrial biases in their policies. That is the truth of the matter and that is the aspect of African life that the Overseas Development Administration has to face.

That has been recognised by many Africans themselves. There was an excellent article in the magazine West Africa that looked at 25 years of Nigerian independence. It was written by Nnamdi Anyadike. He Said: the 'urban-based' development that characterised Nigerian's investment patterns led to a gradual deterioration in the quality of life in rural areas, forcing the most able-bodied to decamp to the towns. Those who were left, usually the elderly, less educated or those otherwise unable to leave the villages, could hardly keep pace with production to feed the expanding population in the towns. This exodus to the cities became a stampede when oil started to overtake agriculture as the mainstay of the country's economy. All hon. Members know what has happened because of the value of oil during the last few years. Mr. Anyadike gave an instance of what happened to production between 1970 and 1982. He said: Cocoa has declined by 43 per cent., rubber by 29 per cent., cotton by 65 per cent. and ground nuts by 64 per cent. Hon. Members can probably remember the photographs, taken before the first world war, that illustrated our geography books of gentlemen standing in front of mountains of ground nuts in Nigeria. But Nigeria has begun to import ground nuts. As for palm oil, upon which Unilever was based, and also Lord Leverhulme, Mr. Anyadike said: Nigeria moved from being the world's largest exporter to being a net importer, primarily from Malaysia. Malaysia is another Third world country that has got its act together better. There is a moral for Africa if it looks at the far east.

Which countries in west Africa have not been affected in this way? The Ivory Coast contains three times the number of Frenchmen that were there at independence, and it has come to terms with the International Monetary Fund. It does not suffer from starvation. It feeds its people.

The Cameroons was the host to thousands of refugees from the civil war in Chad. Nobody heard very much about that problem because the Cameroons could feed those refugees. That country grew and still grows its own food. In President Ahidjo the Cameroons had a person who came from the countryside and who wanted to promote the welfare of small farmers. Therefore, the small farmers of the Cameroons always received a reasonable price, and they were encouraged thereby. Marketing arrangements were established for small farmers. Roads were built and the farmers were able to produce food for the people of the Cameroons and also for the displaced people of other countries.

Aid must, of course, be continued for cash crops. I remember how welcome it was in the grasslands of the Cameroons when the villagers found that they could grow coffee. They also found that the coffee plants brought in cash with which they could pay for water supplies. They found that by having a cash crop they could help themselves. It is not right to decry cash crops, particularly when they become the mainstay of a country like Ghana which, when it was the Gold Coast, was the greatest producer of cocoa in the world. However, its production has slumped and the Ivory Coast next door, aided by smuggled cocoa from the lower paid Ghanaian farmers, is now the greatest producer of cocoa.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grist

No, not at this stage.

We ought to provide assistance for power stations. We have provided such assistance to the Sudan. The people in those countries deserve electrical power, if only to provide power for their hospitals. If one goes into hospital in Lagos, the power, because of Nigeria's economy, may be turned off.

These people live in modern states. They need roads and vehicles with which to transport food. Ought we to provide aid to transport food around a modern country? Ought not the roads to be in place and the vehicles to be there? Should not the appropriate skills be there, too, so that when vehicles break down they can be repaired? Should not there be money from cash crops, be they cotton or cocoa, to buy the tyres with which to keep vehicles on the road? Is not that the better kind of aid? Is it not better to try to promote skills and to ensure that these countries understand what is needed? They must be helped to understand that they must help their farmers to help themselves and their countries. My hon. Friend the member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) referred to the bright lights of Khartoum. One thinks of the old saying: "How do you keep them down on the farm Now that they've seen Paree?" One has to ensure that the villages provide sufficient attractions to keep people in the countryside. Provided that farmers in rural countries receive a fair price, they will produce food themselves, just as the European Community farmers, or farmers anywhere else in the world, can nose out a profit and go for it.

The Chinese have discovered that moral. Since the Chinese peasants were given a price incentive to aim for, China's food production has rocketed in the past five years. Precisely the same is beginning to happen in Africa. Drought was a terrible disaster, but it was exacerbated ten times by the policies which the African Governments have put into place. Heaven help the African Governments if they have not learnt that, although the West can do much to help them, they must have sensible policies and not those which have led to the creation of urban masses, Mercedes cars and other forms of corruption. Their policies have not helped the Africans, the people that I came to know in the villages and countryside so well and whose welfare I hold deeply at heart.

6·51 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Like the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), I have lived and worked in Africa. Unfortunately, in view of his speech, that is about all I share with him.

It is too easy to assume that all the mistakes that have been made in the African continent are the responsibility of Africans and that the West and the East—the rich world—have no responsibility for Africa.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central was correct when he said that after independence serious mistakes were made. Sometimes these mistakes were made with the full encouragement of the West and some of them were as disastrous as the hon. Gentleman has described. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind—and I am sure that he knows this from his own experience—that we handed over power to one African Government after another but did not hand over the administrative training that was necessary to run the African economies.

I was a teacher in Africa and I remember the speed with which my pupils rocketed to the top of the civil service because they happened to be in just the right generation to do so. My pupils found themselves taking on enormous responsibilities in the civil service, in parastatals and other institutions where they had very little experience of running such enormous organisations or carrying out the required administrative work.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central referred to the attraction of bright lights, but he must know that that attraction was already a serious factor during the colonial period. I recall the mounting problem in the back streets, in the slum areas and the shanty towns on the outside of cities such as Nairobi that arose because of the attraction of urban life.

On previous occasions, I have said that in many ways the West has all too readily given the impression that the answer to Africa's problems was industrialisation and the urban community. The West may not have stated that explicitly at times, but by our actions we have given the impression that that is the case.

The West often blames African Governments for failing to take sufficient notice of their remoter areas. I remember visiting the Ghanaian Ministry of Education and one of the officials asked where I had been. When I told him that I had been to Tamale in northern Ghana, he was amazed. He was even more amazed when I told him that I had actually been as far as Bolgatanga. He said that he had never been to Bolgatanga and he never expected to go there.

It is all very well for the West to be critical of the Africans in that respect. It so happens that I have been neither to Lands End nor John O'Groats. It is, therefore, not surprising to find officials in the civil service in Accra or in any other capital in the world who have not travelled the length and breadth of their countries. It would be relatively easy for me to get to Lands End, John O'Groats or other remoter parts of the United Kingdom, but the areas that we are now discussing are so remote that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to grow cash crops.

Many of the West's aid policies have been aimed at encouraging Africans to develop cash crops which the Africans felt they needed in order to deal with their worsening economic circumstances. The Africans hoped that such aid would help them to produce more and more coffee, tea, cocoa and other crops. The world prices of those commodities often fell and they had to increase production in order to balance their payments and to import machinery and equipment from the industrialised world. In many respects the West has forced those problems on Africa. Much of our aid programme has been successfully directed towards the production of cash crops.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) is not being entirely fair when he blames the colonial powers for not having trained the colonial territories before their departure. I recall hardly any protests from either side of the House about our not staying long enough in the colonial territories. Nor was it suggested that it was not right to leave until adequate training had been given. No one protested about that at the time. It was the fashion to get out, and get out we did.

Mr. Barnett

I do not claim for a moment that we should have remained in the colonial territories longer than we did. The political circumstances were such that we could not. Perhaps we should have foreseen the need for Africanisation of the civil service long before we did. In [Mr. Barnett] India we at least handed over responsibility to a Government where there was a measure of experience in the states and in the government of India itself, but I could quote case after case in African countries where such skills were not present.

Recently the British Council has made possible the training of Kenyan district commissioners in this country. The council is providing the training needed to raise standards of district administration in Kenya.

There is no doubt, however, that we should have foreseen the need for that training and the handing over of responsibility. We should have been more capable of predicting the probable dates of independence. Indeed, the Colonial Office told a colleague of mine shortly after the war ended that the probability was that no African country would become independent until the end of this century. That was the accepted wisdom of the Colonial Office.

There has been an over-concentration on cash crops, often in the areas that are well endowed with good soil, good rainfall and good climate. One exciting aspect to arise from the tragedies in Africa is the realisation that has been expressed over and over again in the debate of the need to concentrate on the remote, semi-arid areas. That need is becoming increasingly apparent both to the African Governments and to the West.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others referred to the great increase in public interest in overseas development. I should like to mention one interesting figure. When the Brent lobby took place in 1981, everyone was astonished that 10,000 people should lobby the House of Commons on behalf of people other than themselves. The lobby that took place in October consisted of twice that number. That is another example of the enormous growth in interest.

I believe unquestionably that the reason for the growth in interest is that people have been affected by the appalling pictures of the famine in Sudan and Ethiopia that they witnessed on their television sets. But there was something more than a quantitative increase in people's interest. For many years people were concerned about the effect of famine, and their natural reaction was, "We must feed that child and that family". But there is now a great realisation among the public of the need for long-term development in the semi-arid areas.

Mention has already been made of the report "UK Aid to African Agriculture". I was a member of that working party, which was chaired by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). I wish to refer to only one part of it, because it is relevant to our debate. We discovered in our researches that the contribution that Britain makes to agriculture in Africa as a proportion of our aid to that continent is far smaller than it should be, and that our contribution to the semi-arid areas is very poor indeed.

Having quoted figures, the report says:

"It emerges from these figures that there has been little movement on UK aid to African agriculture despite the growing crisis of food production in the region."

We are talking of four countries that we visited. It continues:

"The share of UK bilateral aid directly or indirectly to agriculture varied between 26 per cent. and 35 per cent. of UK aid to Africa allocable by sector, or between 23 per cent. and 29 per cent. of total UK bilateral aid to Africa".

The report then goes on:

"The amounts have decreased in real terms."

That is the first point that must be made. The second is that we have concentrated a large percentage of that aid on the more favoured areas and on cash crops, and we have made very little contribution to the kind of rural development projects in the semi-arid areas that could do most to help the people who are most vulnerable to the possibilities of famine in the future.

It has been said that this area of development is perhaps the most difficult. It is an area in which we shall have to make a contribution over many years before we begin to see the result. But if we are really responding to the mood of this country, that is where we expect the Government to make an increase and to ensure that a larger percentage of their aid is devoted to it. That is what the British electorate wants.

Many African Governments are realising the necessity for that, and, despite the difficulties that might be involved, it is important that we develop in those areas so that in future they become less vulnerable to the possibility of famine and the failure of the rains.

7.4 pm

Mr. Robert Harvey (Clwyd, South-West)

The House can draw some relief from the fact that the December rains are now coming to ease the famine situation. It can also draw some relief from the fact that emergency European Community and other aid has in the end more than matched the problem. We should congratulate those voluntary organisations that have also helped. The western world rose to the challenge, and the response was magnificent.

However, three things are to be regretted. First, as the Select Committee report points out, in rising to the challenge, the Government found the necessary funds from within the existing aid budget and did not increase the overall provision. If anything justified a one-off emergency increase in funds, it was surely this. We do ourselves no good by appearing to be begrudging and ungenerous when we are not and by failing to understand the importance of aid in securing respect and influence throughout the world.

Secondly, the House should wholeheartedly deplore the attitude of the eastern countries, which throughout the famine provided their allies with generous quantities of arms but no food.

Thirdly, we should recognise that there is a limit to what can be done in the long term to lessen the effects of a disaster which is part natural and climatic and which is due also to agricultural policies practised in Ethiopia by a Government who place a greater premium on killing their own citizens than on saving them.

Another disaster to which other hon. Members have already alluded affects the development of these countries and their future defences against famine. It is man-made, and western Governments bear a responsibility, even though it is a responsibility of accident rather than the conspiracy theory that is so often suggested by the Opposition. I am referring to the debt crisis which is squeezing the life out of Africa and Latin America.

The dimensions of that crisis cannot be exaggerated. For nearly four years, real incomes in those two continents have fallen sharply after two decades of sustained economic expansion. In the shanty towns of the non-Asian Third world, where once there was hope, there is now an average loss of income of about 20 per cent. Malnutrition, infant mortality and crime are on the increase. Where once income flowed from the richest countries to the poorest, billions are now being shipped the other way. The non-Asian countries are no longer underdeveloped—they are undeveloping.

The reasons for the debt crisis are well documented and go back to the 1979–80 oil price shock which sucked about $600 billion mainly out of developing world economies, but also out of industrialised economies, to swell the coffers of a few oil-producing nations. Those oil producers could not spend the money fast enough and put much of it on short-term deposit with the commercial banks. The commercial banks could not find a home for those funds in the developed world, which was practising very restrictive economic policies, so they sent their loan managers to the Third world to offload money there.

The scale of the in-responsible lending of those days beggars belief. Some of it went on worthwhile projects or to correct balance of payments deficits that were badly interrupted by the oil price shock, but of the $300 billion or so that went into Latin America during that period at least $100 billion went straight out again into foreign bank accounts. In big cities such as Lagos in Nigeria and Santiago in Chile, much of the money went into short-lived property booms. It all came to an end very quickly.

A fair measure of blame must attach to the irresponsibility of the local Governments—most of them unelected—who borrowed the money. But the major western financial institutions that made it all possible also bear a large part of the responsibility, not to mention the western Governments that failed to regulate them. It is at least a consolation that most British banks were so much wiser and more cautious than their American counterparts.

But, setting responsibility to one side, let us consider the way out of this financial holocaust for the Third world. For the West's ill-equipped financial regulatory institutions it has been a holding operation, of sending for the IMF with its prescriptions for putting economies right and of insisting on as many debt and service payments being met as possible. Yet the holding operation may no longer be sustainable and, indeed, may be becoming downright dangerous. The United States may no longer be able to run up the huge trade deficits which have allowed those countries to correct their balance of payments deficit.

The risk of one country engaging in a sudden default or joining other countries in a concerted default have grown. In Peru a president has been elected who has effectively defaulted. For President Alfonsin of Argentina, for the democratic President of Brazil and even for the unelected President of Chile, the instant popularity that may be derived from standing up to the gringo bankers is pretty tempting. Even conservative opinion in those countries now considers that default is preferable to generating larger and larger balance of payments surpluses merely to keep the debt from growing in real terms.

There is a considerable danger that the debt is playing into the hands of extremists in those countries. The debt problem is not easing for those countries in spite of the sacrifices that have been made. After four years of belt tightening the Latin American debt burden has grown from £200 billion to nearly £300 billion.

For Africa, which lacks Latin America's financial muscle, the situation is desperate. Between 1973 and 1983 Africa's debt increased by 22 per cent. per annum which greatly exceeded the growth of output or exports. At the end of 1983 the total debt burden was £58 billion. In addition, £5 billion was owed to the IMF and short-term debt and arrears amounted to £18 billion. This puts the total debt at £81 billion. Unofficial estimates of the debt range from £107 billion to £150 billion. The growth of the debt has not been matched by an increase in Africa's capacity to pay. Over the past decade all the main debt indicators deteriorated sharply. The debt service ratio increased from 9.2 per cent. to 22 per cent. When payment of short-term debts and arrears of payment to the IMF are included, the debt service ratio exceeded 50 per cent. in Africa. For some countries it exceeds 100 per cent.

In Africa, as in Latin America, very little investment or modernisation is taking place. This can only prolong their recessions, diminish their competitiveness and create the conditions which have allowed famine to spread in Africa. In Africa the foreign exchange reserves have fallen to less than the value of one month's imports. Between 1980 and 1983 the level of new commitments to Africa fell by 45 per cent. Authoritative projections suggest that, even if there is a sustained recovery in OECD growth, Africa cannot expect to see any improvements in living standards over the coming decade and can probably expect to see the situation getting much worse.

In the view of many economists, default in Africa and Latin America would clear the air. Today, with the possibility of default hanging over Latin America and Africa, no banker in his right mind is lending anything other than to ensure that his debts will be repaid. Economists argue that once default takes place Latin America and Africa's growth prospects will be improved as those countries will be relieved of their debt service burden. After defaulting once, out of dire necessity, debtor countries will be concerned to re-establish their creditworthiness and a second default can be ruled out in the medium term.

The present bail-out policies have only served to prolong the uncertainty in the world financial markets. That is unhealthy for all. It makes sense to act before default. All kinds of mechanisms have been suggested. Reference has been made to the Baker plan, and that plan is a step in the right direction. The long-term solution is for the American Government and Governments like the British Government whose banks have some exposure in the Third world to step in with a once-and-for-all cash guarantee for those banks that undertake to write off most of their debts. This would be inflationary, but it would be containable at a time when world inflation is under control. This would, at a stroke, end the world debt uncertainty. It would win the West friends throughout the developing world and undermine extremists. It would allow those countries to resume their development which is beneficial to the world economy.

Such a rescue must not be unconditional. The banks need to be penalised to some extent for the profligacy of their lending and should be required to contribute a percentage of their capital to the write-off. Measures should be taken to ensure that no bank is again permitted to expose itself in sovereign risk lending at past levels. The Governments and central banks should urge commercial banks or possibly development banks to resume lending to the developed world on a more modest scale for projects that guarantee profitability. Governments and central banks, while guaranteeing domestic deposit holders, might consider penalising overseas depositors to a degree that the retention of confidence in the banking system allows. This would get at both the exporters of capital from [Mr. Robert Harvey] the Third world and the oil producers whose accumulation of financial surpluses, often at the expense of the developing world, led to the mad spending spree in the first place.

The growing impoverishment of the Third world cannot continue. The poorest third of mankind cannot go on transferring money to the richest in punishment for offences which they should never have been allowed to commit. It has been said that a third of mankind is being crucified on a cross of debt. If the burden proves fatal, the ground will tremble under the feet of the crucifiers. It is time for the western Governments to assume responsibility for the matter, or they risk not just famine but political and economic upheaval which they may not be able to control.

7·16 pm
Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)

It gives me pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey). What the hon. Gentleman and other Members have said requires some response.

I, like others, have raised some of the issues over previous months and years but we have been—I say this bluntly—fobbed off by replies, not necessarily from the Minister. The replies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my questions on the debt question have not been satisfactory.

We have had a kind of holding operation but it cannot hold much longer. There must be some suggestion from the Government as to their policy and their aims in terms of a fundamental restructuring of the debt problem. If there is a restructuring, achieved by the write-off of debts, it needs to be coupled with a restructuring of the financial institutions and their relationship with the countries in Africa and elsewhere that they have funded. I emphasise the word funded. This will be a difficult and long-term problem to resolve.

Time does not permit me to speculate or explore these matters. I wish to discuss one or two other points to which I have listened with great interest and concern this evening and which I have followed elsewhere on previous occasions. The level of aid has been referred to time and again. Even if we were to reach the United Nations target, that would not be good enough. The Labour Government, of which I was a member, did not do enough either, but the present Government have nearly halved the level of aid. We are entitled to a response on that.

What is to be the level of support, under whatever heading, for agricultural development? I have sat through most of the debate and listened with great interest, but there has been hardly any mention of the relationship between the limited resources going on development aid and the obscenely huge resources going on arms trading and arms programmes. Arms trading is no longer a marginal acivity. It is essential to Britain and is becoming increasingly central to the industrial economies of ever more countries.

Unless we recognise that relationship in moral terms —by heaven, that is good enough—and in economic terms, we are hypocritical if we put our hands on our hearts and say that we really want to resolve the problem of hunger. The problem could be resolved. Unless, however, we are prepared to redirect resources away from arms trading, which increases instability and therefore insecurity and the threat of war, we shall achieve nothing. The criticism does not lie just with the Soviet Union in Ethiopia—it extends to Britain and other countries in the middle east, Africa and other parts of the world. Unless we are prepared to take on board that economic, political and moral link, we are hypocritical in saying that we want to end hunger.

That is all that I want to say today. I hope that we shall get a genuine response from the Minister to the issues that I have summarised, having listened to most of the debate.

7·23 pm
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Timothy Raison)

The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) has widened a fairly wide-ranging debate still further and I cannot guarantee to answer all of the points that he has raised. However, I shall try to cover as much ground as possible in what has been, by general consent, an excellent debate. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said that it was the best informed debate on a foreign policy subject that he had heard in the House. I do not think that we ought to congratulate ourselves too much, but it can be said quite fairly that it involved people with a great deal of knowledge.

Debates on aid have increased in quality in the past few years. Perhaps the House is matching the growing interest that is to be found among the British public. I have found it interesting to listen to our debates.

I pay tribute to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and especially to its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw). The Committee has served us well with the care with which it has studied these issues. My hon. Friend asked whether our development programme has been lamed by famine—a vivid phrase. He talked a little about the role of the European Community in famine relief and food aid and of the need for agricultural policies which will encourage food production. That was another of the debate's motifs.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others mentioned resources. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made a passionate plea that commercial considerations should have nothing to do with the aid programme. I could not help noticing that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) popped in a few moments ago. Did he mention the word "Westland"? I wonder whether there is a concerted Liberal party line on these matters.

In paragraphs 12 and 13 of its first report, the Select Committee argues that if the money from slippages had not been spent on famine relief in Africa it would have been spent on development projects and that it is not possible to establish how the ODA's expectation, as opposed to firm plans for the disbursement of the ODA programme, has been altered to allow for this provision of £27.75 million of famine relief in this financial year. It says that much of what we have spent on famine relief would otherwise have been spent on development activities. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud seemed to imply that it would all have been spent on development activities, and talked of £85 million—the spending rate this year—if it had not been for the emergency famine relief operation.

I do not claim that none of the money spent on famine relief might in other circumstances have been spent on longer-term development. I have never claimed that and did not do so in our response to the Select Committee. I said:

Most of our relief aid to famine-affected countries in Africa during the last twelve months has come from allocations already agreed for food aid, for disaster relief and for emergency action under the European Development Fund. None of our long-term development assistance programme has been cut to make room for emergency assistance; there has been unavoidable slippage of expenditure which has enabled some funds to be switched to emergency use. It might be helpful if I were to say what was available in 1984–85 when we spent £95 million on famine-related operations in Africa. It is easier to take that financial year because it is over and the figures are available. We provided £17 million from the in-year contingency reserve in the aid programme, £15 million from our annual bilateral food aid allocations—we have repeatedly said that emergency food aid should have first call on food aid budgets — £47 million for food aid and famine relief contributed through the EC, £10 million, not £86 million, allocated as a result of unavoidable slippage in other activities in the aid programme and £6 million of additional money from the Ministry of Defence last year towards the cost of the Ethiopian airlift.

It is clear that the great bulk of that money would not have been spent on development if there had been no famine. No bilateral or multilateral programme has been reduced in 1984–85 or this year to make way for emergency assistance. Cuts in planned activities seriously disrupt any attempt to run a long-term development programme and we are anxious to avoid them. By flexible management of the funds available, however, we have succeeded in avoiding cuts and concentrating on greatest needs. In 1984–85, only £10 million of the slippage money could have been expected to go to development work, although not necessarily. Some of the contingency reserve might also have been directed to that area. The essential purpose of the contingency reserve is to deal with emergencies and the unexpected, not with long-term development that clearly requires planning.

Although I acknowledge that some of the money could have gone to development, from the facts it is clear that we have not knocked a huge sum of money off the development programme to provide for famine relief. We have used our resources to best effect. I repeat that the Community is now increasingly, although belatedly, targeting its food aid programme to areas where there is real hunger rather than pursuing the indiscriminate and untargeted food aid policy for which it has been criticised for a long time. We are now making progress.

Mr. Stuart Holland

The Minister is seeking to excuse slippage because it is small, but the House is worried that the aid budget is too small and is concerned about cuts.

Mr. Raison

That is a different point which is open to debate. The Select Committee's charge is that there has been a substantial diversion of funds. I believe that the facts that I have given to the House dispel that accusation.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Will my right hon. Friend explain whether the £47 million worth of food aid through the EC would have been expended in a year in which there was no famine?

Mr. Raison

Almost all of the sum would have been expended. I shall write to my hon. Friend on the details of that if he wishes. That amount is our share of Community action, of which we pay just under one fifth.

I shall say a few words about the areas of Africa where famine poses the greatest threat. For understood reasons, Britain has concentrated on Ethiopia and the Sudan. That does not imply that other countries do not face and continue to face serious problems, but multilateral institutions and the French, because of their relationship with francophone Africa, have concentrated their efforts in those areas. Britain has contributed an enormous amount to Ethiopia. As the House would wish, I must refer to the marvellous effort, which is ending this week, of the RAF Hercules team in Ethiopia. It returns amid the plaudits of everyone.

Of the 1.3 million tonnes of food aid pledged, more than I million tonnes has been delivered to Ethiopia. The shortage of road transport vehicles that was very bad earlier is now much relieved by the establishment of a new truck fleet under the auspices of the world food programme. Sufficient money has been pledged to cover the operating costs of the new fleet. There has been considerable improvement.

The prospects for 1986 look brighter, but it cannot be said that the famine is over, and further assistance will be needed. The recent Food and Agricultural Organisation's crop assessment mission's first rough estimate of the harvest recently collected is that the total food crop will be about 6.3 million tonnes. That is about 13 per cent. below the normal level in the early 1980s of 7.3 mil lion tonnes. On those estimates, 5.8 million people will continue to face food shortages and about 950,000 tonnes of food aid will still be required for Ethiopia. I cannot give the House details, but the signs are that the required amount will be met by pledges, which have not yet been delivered, from the United States, the European Community and Britain. We must ensure that that happens. The international community is committed to ensuring that that is the case.

It is not possible for us to turn our attention away front the basic food aid programme, but we can consider the next phase of rehabilitation. As I told the House recently, we are providing £2 million for agricultural rehabilitation and £1 million to improve the water supply in Wollo. The EC is also setting up a rehabilitation programme.

There have been and still are great problems in the Sudan. I intend to visit the Sudan shortly after Christmas to see the circumstances myself. I shall not give the House details, but the essence is that there has been a good harvest. However, there will be a problem getting the food from where it is grown to other parts of the country that are in desperate need. I do not need to remind the House of the terrible difficulties that have been experienced in transporting food in the Sudan during the past year, but there are signs of improvement. I assure the House that we are deeply concerned about what happens in that country and we shall do all that we can to help.

The longer-term problem of assistance to basic agriculture has marked the debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the importance of population policies, which are interwoven with the problem. It is vital to help basic subsistence and peasant agriculture. I have heard some wise words about cash crops. The mania about cash crops that occasionally arises is nonsensical. Cash crops have an important place, but it [Mr. Raison] is essential to ensure that the basic agriculture of developing countries is helped. That is a major part of our aid programme. I should like to couple that view with what has been said about debt. I cannot go into much detail, but I shall give a topical instance of the way in which we are doing our best, through the aid programme, to deal with those major problems.

Zambia has had enormous economic difficulties because of its dependence on the copper industry, which is in serious decline. Zambia is faced with severe debt problems but it has great agricultural potential, which is not being fulfilled. A meeting is taking place today in Paris, organised by the World Bank, to tackle Zambia's specific problem. At the meeting, our representatives have undertaken to provide a further £13 million worth of aid for Zambia's requirements during 1986. That sum consists of £8 million from our regular funds and £5 million in association with the World Bank's special facility. Those amounts are grants and we recognise that Zambia is not in a position to undertake new loan obligations. We propose to provide a special grant of £1–5 million to permit the clearance of arrears of payment on aid loans made some time ago, which the Government of Zambia owe the British Government, up to the end of this month. We have pledged almost £30 million to Zambia in six months. I hope that other donors will respond in the same spirit. I believe that other donors will respond in the same spirit. I believe that that shows that the Government can mount a well directed substantial aid programme that will be widely appreciated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) mentioned the problem of debt. In effect, my hon. Friend and the hon. Member called for the writing off of Africa's debt.

Mr. Stuart Holland

My request concerned at least a major share of the debt of the lesser and least developed sub-Saharan African countries.

Mr. Raison

I accept that. No doubt my hon. Friend would have made a similar qualification. The Government do not believe that that sort of global approach to debt is the right solution. We do not believe that writing off debt in a massive way lays the foundation for a lasting solution to Africa's problems. It could have a dramatic short-term effect, but in our view it would not meet the fundamental needs of Africa. We believe that the debt must be tackled in the light of each country's circumstances and in the context of basic policy reform and adjustment measures. We believe that this can normally be achieved best in conjunction with support from the IMF and the World Bank.

Debt rescheduling is being faced by the Paris club arrangements. As the record shows, they have proved responsive to the needs of individual countries and seem to be the right approach. We do not believe that the answer lies in global solutions, which inevitably will undermine the confidence of the banking community as a whole. It is no good saying, "What does that matter?", because it is that community which produces the money. It is no good going for a massive global panacea. We must have a realistic policy, and that is what we are pursuing. It must be coupled with the policy reforms which are being recognised increasingly as the essence of what has to be done in Africa.

The House knows that there is a great measure of agreement between the principal donors, both institutional and national, about policy needs, such as pricing policy for agriculture and realistic currency valuation. That is all to the good. Particularly encouraging are the increasing signs of acceptance in African countries that what I have described is that which needs to be done.

Mention has been made of the Harare declaration. I add to that, perhaps to my own surprise, that the communique at the end of the OAU summit meeting in July included some remarks about the development of agriculture in Africa. I do not wish to be patronising, but that seemed to show very good sense. The remarks of the OAU are much in line with the policies that we are advancing. I accept fully the argument of those who say that the problems that must be faced are of enormous size. No one can doubt that, but there is emerging gradually a form of coherent strategy. It is a painful process, but a strategy is emerging. If we have the guts to pursue it and if we can persuade the African Governments to pursue it, there is hope that we shall get somewhere. The Baker plan at Seoul was in line with that, and we have studied it with great care and sympathy.

I believe that the debate has been of real value to the House, especially to myself. I am grateful to all those who have participated in it. I hope that the House will accept that the policies that we are pursuing are those that stand the best chance of working to deal with the grave problem of which we are all aware.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Question was deferred pursuant to paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 19 (Consideration of Estimates) and to the resolution [12 December].