HC Deb 26 June 1995 vol 262 cc564-6
37. Mrs. Roche

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the criteria for the award of overseas aid. [28773]

Mr. Baldry

We give aid where it will be most effective in promoting sustainable economic and social development, focused on the poorest countries, particularly in the Commonwealth.

Mr. Roche

As this is the 50th anniversary of the granting of the United Nations charter, does the Minister agree that it is about time that Britain switched its aid focus to countries that really are the poorest and which need basic health care and education? Instead of that, the Minister and the Government consistently give aid to rich countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bermuda.

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Lady's question contains a number of misconceptions. First, nine out of 10 of the biggest recipients of our bilateral aid are among the poorest countries in Africa and Asia. Secondly, we have just had a question on South Africa, but if one followed the definition of "poorest", one would not give South Africa a penny of aid because it does not qualify as one of the poorest countries. We are about to have a question on renewable energy, but if we followed the hon. Lady's definitions of poverty, health care and education, we would not give a penny of aid to that. One must look at these matters sensibly. Our aid budget is focused on the poorest and on ensuring that they have sustainable economic development.

Mr. Lester

Anyone who had the good fortune to attend the ceremony in Westminster Hall this morning would know that Britain's convincing commitment to the United Nations has been steady from the moment that it started until now. Equally, my hon. Friend knows that those of us who travel the world and who have seen the working of the British aid programme know that the most substantial part of it goes to the poorest countries and the people within them, and that it wholly supports the Government's policy on aid.

Mr. Baldry

As my hon. Friend will know, a recent Opposition Supply day debate on overseas development was thinly attended by Opposition Members. I think that only about four or five bothered to turn up. I do not think that any hon. Member challenged a single Overseas Development Administration project as not being worth while. As hon. Members travel the world and see the ODA's work, they recognise that the projects bring real value to poor countries, helping them to achieve sustainable economic development.

Miss Lestor

I should like to follow up the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and the Minister's answer. Last week the Prime Minister received a letter from representatives of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states, who represent 70 of the world's poorest countries. The letter urged Britain to reconsider plans to slash its contribution to the EDF by 30 per cent. As the Foreign Secretary has praised the EDF as an effective and efficient channel for European Union aid, will the Government at the Cannes summit this week, and even as I speak, reverse their policy and respond positively to the ACP request?

Mr. Baldry

We have been over this territory before many times. As the hon. Lady knows, we are seeking to strike an appropriate balance between multilateral and bilateral aid. She may have seen press reports today stating that leading UK aid organisations such as Action Aid are already expressing concern leading up to the Cannes summit that far too much of our budget will be spent on multilateral rather than on bilateral aid. As I have said, we must strike an appropriate balance. We have a substantial aid programme of £2.2 billion, and we will strike that balance with the EDF programme.

Sir David Steel

Does the Minister welcome the decision of the G7 leaders in Halifax last week that future trends in military and other unproductive spending should be taken into account by international institutions in their granting of aid? Will that become part of the Government's policy?

Mr. Baldry

It always has been. Good government has always been one of the criteria that we look at when determining aid programmes. We also look to see whether countries are engaging in excessive military spending when we are determining bilateral country programmes. That will continue to be the case.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

One of the advantages of bilateral aid is that we can properly target it. Other than for emergencies, is not the advantage of bilateral aid the fact that we can target it on projects that help people in third world countries to develop their own way of making a living? Surely British technology, particularly in agriculture, is invaluable for that purpose.

Mr. Baldry

Yes, and our bilateral aid programme has been widely praised. The 1994 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review of the United Kingdom's aid programme recognised its concessionality and the way in which it focused on the poor. Britain has the fifth largest aid budget in the world and, apart from the four leading aid donors, no other country devotes so much of its budget to the poor and the poorest countries. That is why we need to ensure that we retain a substantial bilateral aid programme.