HC Deb 24 June 1986 vol 100 cc191-237

4.8 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place a duty on the Overseas Development Administration to publish an annual Report to Parliament on famine relief in Africa to include individual reports on each project in Africa financed directly or indirectly from public funds; to establish a timetable during which overall official United Nations aid targets for overseas aid may be reached; to establish a timetable during which the proportion of aid spent on development of subsistence agriculture in the poorest countries would constitute 50 per cent. of the total aid budget; to encourage long term development of African agriculture; and for connected purposes. Hon. Members will have noticed that only today the United Nations has again renewed its warnings about the drought in six African countries. Of course, droughts are endemic to Africa. They are predictable events that build up over a period of time. They continue, and they will almost certainly get worse in future. That represents only one of many contributory factors to the difficulties experienced in Africa today.

The stark fact is that Africa's ability to feed itself has been steadily diminishing for more than 20 years. Food self-sufficiency decreased by about 12 per cent. from 1960 to 1980. Food imports increased by about 9 per cent. over the same period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Conservative Members, from a sedentary position, are asking, sotto voce, "Why?". One of the reasons is the destruction of the environment which has led to increased incidence of drought and desertification. There has been a change from food production to cash crop production. The cash crops are purchased on the world commodity market, sometimes at extremely low and unpredictable rates.

There has been an appropriation of the best agricultural land by settlers, plantation owners and multinational companies. I submit that one of the other main reasons is the incidence—it is an uncomfortable fact—of war and civil strife which has destroyed crops and disrupted agriculture. Currently, some 40 per cent. of Government resources in Africa are spent on arms. Against that background, it is true to say that fund raising is dealing only with symptoms. The real causes of the problems are political in nature, and political action is required to deal with them.

My Bill requests the Overseas Development Administration to produce an annual review and to include in that review an individual project report. That provision is important, because the impact of the deployment of British taxpayers' money must, in my view, be directed primarily to the alleviation of poverty. Hon. Members will have noted that the World Bank report "Poverty and Hunger", published in March this year, found that the basic cause of hunger or food insecurity was poverty or lack of purchasing power. I quote two sentences of the report: Hunger persists even in countries that have reached self-sufficiency in food. Food insecurity cannot be eliminated without alleviating the poverty of countries and people. It is not always clear how effective the United Kingdom's contribution is in combating that poverty and famine directly at source. An annual review and project report would make it more apparent to the press, the public, the charities and agencies involved, and everyone outside the Overseas Development Administration.

The Bill contains an important provision that a timetable be set during which overall UN aid targets for overseas aid may be reached. Hon. Members will know that most countries in the West have made steady progress towards the official UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product devoted to aid. Scandinavia and the Netherlands have passed that target. Successive Governments have accepted the target without having set a timetable for its achievement. In 1979, the Labour Administration reached a figure of 0.52 per cent. of GNP. That figure has subsequently fallen to a disgraceful 0.33 per cent., making the present Government's so-called commitment somewhat suspect.

I submit—I am sure that this view is held across the Floor of the House— that it must be possible to reach the UN target. Even if it takes up to four years to do so, we should set out in that direction forthwith.

If one looks at the way the three broad measures used to record United Kingdom aid have been changing, one sees that all have fallen in real terms since 1979. Using figures compiled for the years 1979 to 1984, public expenditure on aid has fallen by 19 per cent. The aid programme that is technically administered by the ODA has fallen by 21 per cent. Official development assistance, which excludes floors and market terms—what is known as concessional aid—has fallen by some 33 per cent.

The Bill also sets a timetable during which the proportion of aid spent in the development of subsistence agriculture in the poorest countries constitutes some 50 per cent. of the total aid budget. It is notable that, in 1984, only 15 per cent. of United Kingdom bilateral aid was allocated to agriculture and related economic sectors—renewable natural resources. By comparison, mining and energy took some 55 per cent. of United Kingdom bilateral aid.

Infrastructure is obviously important, especially in health, education and communications. By and large, the infrastructure developed by United Kingdom aid at the moment does not primarily assist the work of people producing food on the land.

There have been changes and reductions in aid for research and development in United Kingdom institutes and in the renewable natural resources sector. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of the aid budget devoted to aid and trade. I submit that funds under that heading should be more appropriately found from the trade and industry budget.

Last year, the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled "Famine in Africa" argued that to help in the prevention of recurrence of the present crisis, assistance by the donor community is required in various ways for the food producing sector"— which the Committee defines as principally smallholder, agricultural and horticultural production". Last year, the all-party parliamentary group on overseas development showed that there was a considerable mismatch between the robust policy statements in favour of aiding the renewable natural resources sector in Africa and the relatively modest level of financial allocations made available.

On 1 June this year, the United Nations special session on Africa completed a review of the initiative of African countries. The British Foreign Secretary, speaking for the United Kingdom in the plenary session, said that, important as Sports Aid had been, it was now the turn of Governments to act. The House knows that the Organisation of African Unity has adopted a far-reaching and fundamental programme called Africa's priority programme for economic recovery. The organisation adopted that in 1985 and set out a financial target of $128 billion which it needed in the four years from 1986 to 1990. Sixty four per cent. of the funding for that programme is to be found from within African domestic budgets. The rest is to be found from external resources. The United Nations special session did not formally endorse or adopt the OAU report, but it reaffirmed a commitment to provide resources to support and complement the efforts of the African countries.

It is now the season when Government Departments are preparing bids to the Treasury for expenditure targets to be announced in the autumn statements. If the House permits me to introduce the Bill — the Bill has all-party support—it will be a strong signal that we all accept that long-term development in African agriculture must be afforded a higher budgetary priority if we are to have any real and long-term hope of banishing poverty and famine and its horrendous cost in human life and misery.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. Jim Lester, Mr. Mark Fisher, Mr. John Cartwright, Mr. Donald Stewart, Mr. David Alton, Mr. A. J. Beith and Mr. Geraint Howells.

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