HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc17-8
72. Mr. Fisher

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of public expenditure was devoted to overseas aid in 1979 and in 1986.

Mr. Chris Patten

In 1979, 1.1 per cent. of public expenditure was devoted to overseas aid. In 1986 the figure was 0.83 per cent.

Mr. Fisher

Does not that decline underline the point that our aid budget is now below the OECD average of 0.36 per cent. and that it has been cut more than any other area of public expenditure apart from housing? Is not that underinvestment in aid morally wrong and economically nonsensical?

Mr. Patten

It is not entirely clear to me which public expenditure programmes the hon. Gentleman thinks should fall as a proportion of public expenditure overall. I am sure that he must have been as delighted by the real terms increase in the aid programme as he was by the real increase in the arts budget.

Mr. Yeo

Does my hon. Friend agree that not only is it welcome that the size of our aid programme is now increasing in real terms and that its effectiveness has been improved in recent years, but that there is a role for this country to play in influencing the policies of other countries? In that context, will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the initiative take by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in adopting a fresh approach to the debt problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa?

Mr. Patten

Thanks to this country's economic strength we have been able to take the initiative in trying to help the most debt-distressed countries in Africa. As my hon. Friend will know, the Chancellor's initiative was endorsed by the Commonwealth Finance Ministers and the Commonwealth Heads of Government.

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