HL Deb 19 December 1979 vol 403 cc1660-2

2.34 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will provide information regarding the latest distribution of cuts in the overseas aid programme to individual territories.


My Lords, planning figures for aid disbursements are based on intentions and assumptions which may not be realised: aid commit- ments generally spread over several years and expenditure against such commitments fluctuates from one year to the next. The effect of the £50 million reduction in aid expenditure this year on individual countries varies according to the rate of disbursement of aid on different types of project. It would be misleading to try to break down the £50 million between individual countries.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, and while appreciating that the Government cannot give an exact or precise breakdown of the projects affected by the cuts, may I ask whether an indication can be given of the countries most likely to be affected? Will the Government give an assurance in regard to future years that grants in respect of aid are maintained at the highest level?


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot give an indication of the countries upon which these cuts may fall. As I said in my original Answer, such an indication would be full of ambiguity and would be misleading.


My Lords, may I ask whether due consideration has been given to the probable extra needs in Rhodesia? If, as we all hope, things go well on the security and constitutional front, is it not highly desirable that generous aid should be provided in proper circumstances in order to maintain political stability there? Does not this mean that extra money will need to be provided in the aid programme?


My Lords, we are certainly considering what we can do for Rhodesia in these new circumstances. However, it is exactly that type of reason which makes it so difficult to plan ahead accurately and give reliable forecasts of the amount of money that we are going to spend for individual countries when sudden and unforeseen demands upon our resources arise.


May I ask whether the noble Lord will confirm that the sum of £27 million which he mentioned in the Statement yesterday refers exclusively to the costs of organising the pre-independence arrangements; that further sums will be allotted to the reconstruction of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia after independence; and that of course your Lordships' House will have every opportunity of discussing the amount and the purpose of that future sum? Secondly, would he—I am sure he will—confirm that in looking at the problems and possibilities in the future for Rhodesia under independence Her Majesty's Government will also pay close attention to the urgent needs of Zambia and indeed other neighbouring countries?


My Lords, I can certainly give the assurance that we will give urgent attention to the needs of Zambia and the neighbouring countries. With regard to the item of £27 million which was contained in the Statement which I repeated yesterday, I can confirm that that sum is specifically for expenditure incurred during the transitional period and is primarily the cost of the monitoring forces.


My Lords, I find it a great pleasure to be able to support the noble Lord opposite in the tone of his Question. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, this question: in view of the fact that there are many countries that are allocating aid at a much higher percentage of their gross national product, irrespective of the question of economic status, is it not time that the Government of this country recognised that this is a priority need in the world in which we live? Will they reverse the policy that they have so far taken of cutting overseas aid, despite the low position that we hold in the league table of percentage of GNP?


My Lords, I do not think that we do too badly with our aid programme. We are planning to spend in the current year something like £790 million on our total aid programme, which I do not think is too bad. As the noble Lord reminds me, that is about 0.3 per cent. of our gross national product, which is a lot of money all the same when one actually has to write the cheque for it. We are absolutely determined to keep our aid programme, and all our other expenditure programmes, within our resources.