HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc16-7
70. Miss Lestor

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to reach the United Nations target for aid of 0.7 per cent. of GNP.

73. Mrs. Margaret Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has yet set any target date for increasing United Kingdom overseas aid to match United Nations guidelines as a percentage of gross domestic product.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten)

The Government accept the United Nations target in principle. As with previous Administrations, they have not set a timetable for achieving it, but aid is now planned to grow in real terms.

Miss Lestor

Does the Minister agree that, despite the small increase that was announced last week, the amount of GNP now allocated is still well below what many of our major EEC partners give and well below the amount achieved by the previous Labour Government when they left office in 1979? Would it not be an encouragement to all those working in aid and development if he were able to state categorically that the increase will be maintained and that it will reach the United Nations target within the next year or two?

Mr. Patten

I believe that it should be an encouragement to the sort of people to whom the hon. Lady has referred that, on the figures for this year, the aid budget will be increased by £70 million next year, by £140 million the following year and by a further £185 million the year after that.

Mrs. Ewing

Has the Minister looked at early-day motion 257, which points out that the aid budget has fallen by 15 per cent. since 1979? Why are the Government so loth to set a target? What is the difficulty in naming the date?

Mr. Patten

We take very much the same view as our predecessors about this. I repeat that the aid budget did fall between 1979 and 1982, but since then it has been maintained in real terms, and this year I was extremely pleased that we were able to announce an increase in real terms.

Mr. Soames

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the increases that he has achieved in the aid programme. Does he agree that what matters is not targets but the effectiveness of the aid that is delivered? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the great burden of the aid that we give will go towards enabling people of the poorer countries to become more self-sufficient and more reliant on their own resources?

Mr. Patten

I agree with my hon. Friend about the quality of our aid programme. I am delighted that, not long ago, the OECD complimented us on the quality of our aid programme and pointed out that 75 per cent. of our aid goes to poor countries, as against an average of about 60 per cent. for other OECD donors. I believe that we should continue to concentrate on the quality and effectiveness of what we are doing.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) has just said, it is not so much the volume of the aid as the effectiveness with which it is used that is crucial for development? Does my hon. Friend also agree that it is often much easier for charities and voluntary bodies, which do not have to work through local host Governments and become entangled to the same extent with local bureaucracy, to provide the most effective contribution to development?

Mr. Patten

I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend said. That is why I am pleased that recently we were able to announce a 50 per cent. increase for next year for the joint funding scheme, which assists non-governmental organisations, and why I am also pleased that we have been able to announce an 18 per cent. increase in the amount of money available to help British volunteers to go overseas.

Sir Russell Johnston

While we welcome the increases, we must not forget that they are increases on decreases. Is it not a matter of profound regret that in 1979, when the Government came to power, we gave more in overseas aid than France, Germany, Italy and Canada, and now all of them give more than we do? Is the Minister saying that that means that the quality of their aid has declined?

Mr. Patten

We still have the sixth largest aid programme in the world. It is extremely effective. In 1979 we were undergoing a structural adjustment programme with the support of the International Monetary Fund. Now we are able to go to the IMF and help other countries to go through structural adjustment programmes.

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