HC Deb 09 December 1996 vol 287 cc16-7
24. Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the effects of the Budget on the Government's plans to reach the UN target for aid expenditure as a proportion of gross national product. [6522]

Dr. Liam Fox

Our position on that target is unchanged. We have agreed to move towards it, but not to a timetable for doing so. Levels of development assistance will continue to depend on our economic circumstances and other demands on public expenditure.

Dr. Jones

Does not the Budget represent the latest in a series of cuts in the overseas aid budget, so that it is now expected to be only about 0.25 per cent. of gross domestic product—even less than the Irish aid budget? I remind the Minister of the explicit acceptance in the Conservative party manifesto for the 1992 general election of the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP. Does that not represent the latest in a series of Government failures to honour their manifesto commitments?

Dr. Fox

I find that breathtaking, since the Labour party has not come forward with a timetable for reaching 0.7 per cent., unless the deafening silence from Opposition Front Benchers is about to change. This country has more than met the other UN target—to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) did not refer—for combined private and official flows; we are at 1.38 per cent. [Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers scoff, but it makes no difference to those who receive aid whether the aid comes from the public purse or private flows. What matters is that they get the money for development. The unreformed left of the Labour party that I face this afternoon hates private money and would rather see those who receive aid doing without the money than getting private money. Only the Netherlands exceeds the United Kingdom in the ability to provide private and public flows of money, and that is a record of which this Government are proud. The only appetites fed by soundbites are those of the media, not the hungry.

Mr. Nicholls

The Government are paying out substantial sums of money and many of my constituents will think it rather odd that such sums, which might be spent in Teignbridge, are nevertheless derided by Opposition Members. A pledge has apparently just been made to increase the amount of money that a Labour Administration would pay; can my hon. Friend say how much that pledge might amount to?

Dr. Fox

I am not that sure that, given my previous answer, that is something my hon. Friend wants to go into, because both parties are committed to moving towards 0.7 per cent., as has been pointed out already. The Opposition deride private money for some reason, yet it is private money that has been the motor for expansion of the developing economics. That is something we understand.

Ms Short

In Africa.

Dr. Fox

The hon. Lady says, "In Africa." That is exactly why we have targeted money, through our bilateral budget, on Africa and Asia. We know those countries are the poorest and that is why we have protected them in this year's Budget settlement. That is what the Opposition cannot stand.