HL Deb 17 July 1981 vol 422 cc1487-8

11.9 a.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

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 consider overseas aid as an investment in Britain's economic recovery and how many British jobs have been lost by the Government's cuts in such aid.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, our statement on the review of aid policy in February 1980 acknowledged that commercial and industrial benefits can flow from our aid programme. But our economic recovery depends on the application of the more general set of policies which we are pursuing—the clear objective of which is to bring inflation under control, to keep within our means and thus form a sound base for economic growth. We have made no official estimate of the relationship between aid spending and employment.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware, and would he accept, that the purpose of this Question, which it has taken me three attempts to ask, is to give the Government the opportunity to deal with a very serious issue of economic philosophy and economic practice; and would he agree that the overseas aid given by this and other countries is of great benefit to both the industry of the donor country and the employment of the donor country? Would he either agree or deny the figure that was given in another place some months ago, that the cuts in overseas aid so far perpetrated by this Government have cost 15,000 British jobs—that is, jobs in this country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I have said, the calculation that is necessary to arrive at the sort of figures that the noble Lord has suggested is a very complex one, and we do not think the result would necessarily justify the high level of expenditure that would be entailed. It is of course true that every aspect of public expenditure leads to some form of employment, directly or indirectly; but, as I have said, it is not possible to make a precise calculation without a great deal of difficulty and expenditure.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the attention of the noble Lord been drawn this morning to the result of the Warrington by-election and the spectacular support for Mr. Jenkins, who supports an expanded programme of overseas aid, and is this not a reflection of public opinion on this matter?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not think I would accept that the result of the Warrington by-election was determined only by our aid policy.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I press the Minister one stage further? Do the Government accept that overseas aid is a part of their strategy for British economic recovery, and will he deny the widespread belief, which is shared by many of his noble friends behind him, at least, that overseas aid is some form of charity or hand-out, but is rather an investment in the recovery of the economy of this country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord seems to forget that we actually spend about £1,000 million a year on the programme which he describes.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, will the Minister agree, as a matter of economic philosophy, that some aid may be regarded as an investment and some not?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, certainly we examine each and every aid disbursement in a critical way, and endeavour to minimise those from which the least benefit flows.