34. Mr. William O'Brien
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what changes have occurred in the criteria governing the distribution of overseas aid in the last year; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Hanley
There have been no changes in the criteria governing the allocation of bilateral aid; those remain the same as in my answer of 25 March, Official Report, 25 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 416. They are the needs of the country concerned and the effectiveness with which aid can be used. A number of other factors, including good government, the commitment of recipients to political and economic reform and traditional ties with Britain, are also taken into account. There are also our obligations to the multilateral organisations of which we are a member.
I appreciate the Minister's response. Agencies and people in receiving countries are concerned that the Government appear to be making changes, for example in some of the approaches being made to help countries in need. When agencies have worries, will the Minister try to erase any concerns that they express?
§ Mr. Hanley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put his question. Obviously, aid cannot be ossified—either the level of aid or the recipients at any one time. One has to look to the needs of countries as they change. We maintain a substantial aid budget. It was more than £2 billion in 1996–97 and we were the sixth largest donor in the 1995 calendar year. We concentrate on the poorest countries, particularly those in Africa and Asia. They need aid, and it is therefore crucial that our bilateral programme concentrates on them.