HC Deb 30 January 2002 vol 379 cc279-80
5. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

What steps she is taking in the Council of Ministers to ensure that more EU aid is spent on helping poor people in the poorest countries. [29128]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

Poor countries should be given priority in the allocation of European Community development funds. In November 2000, my right hon. Friend helped to secure the first ever commitment by the EC to poverty reduction as the central objective of its programmes. However, that commitment has yet to be put into practice. As my right hon. Friend has just told the House, the percentage of EC aid being spent in poor countries remains low. We also continue to press for a far more effective EC aid programme.

Hugh Bayley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective aid is that spent on helping poor people in poor countries whose Governments are committed to pro-poor development? Does he recognise that the proportion of EU aid going to low-income countries is not only low but declining, having decreased from 70 per cent. in 1989 to 51 per cent. in 1999? Will he reassure the House that our Government are voicing the strongest possible arguments in the Council of Ministers and in bilateral relationships with other EU member states to increase the proportion spent for poor people?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is entirely right about the declining proportion of the EU's aid budget that goes to poor countries, which is precisely why all of us have a responsibility to ensure that that changes. As he will be aware from his visit, along with other members of the Select Committee, to Brussels last week, that has been going on for a very long time, and it is to my right hon. Friend's credit that we have told the EC that that needs to begin to change, but it will be a long haul if we are to make progress, and we need to work together.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

I applaud the efforts to ensure that the poorest people in the poorest countries get all the aid that can be made available to them, but does the Minister agree that in Zimbabwe, which should be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, there are extremely poor people? Does he also accept that a new poor is being created, consisting of those who have been forced to flee from the brutality of the Mugabe regime? Could not our Government give further consideration to assisting those British citizens who have been displaced and forced to return to the United Kingdom?

Hilary Benn

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the very difficult situation in Zimbabwe and the effect that it has had on the people whom he mentioned. We are giving humanitarian support, including food aid, which is a measure of how bad the situation currently is.