HL Deb 19 January 1982 vol 426 cc517-9
Lord Brockway

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 what were the conclusions of the Rome conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation on means to end world hunger and to encourage rural development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the 21st Conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in November met primarily to determine FAO's policy and to approve its budget for 1982 and 1983. The conference also supported FAO's plan of action to strengthen world food security, reaffirmed the importance of the new international development strategy, and recommended that the target for pledges to the world food programme for the two years 1983 and 1984 should be $1,200 million. It expressed satisfaction with the progress achieved in directing FAO's policies and programmes towards the objectives set up by the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development. I will place a copy of the official report in the Library as soon as it is available.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full reply. In view of the cost of this programme, may I ask the Minister what are the prospects of our own Government, and other nations in the United Nations, making a contribution towards it?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall have to consider that in due time, but, speaking specifically about the core budget of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which was the principal matter under consideration at the conference, the United Kingdom will be contributing 5.45 per cent.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that so long as the world population goes on growing faster than the world food supply we shall be living with this problem for the rest of time? Might it not be well to point out, especially to the Russian Government, that if they could only increase their food production it would help the overall position throughout the world?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is certainly right about that. Matters might also be helped if the Soviet Union would contribute to and participate in the affairs of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Lord Oram

My Lords, can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government support the conclusions concerning rural development that were reached at Rome? If, as I hope, the answer to that question is, yes, how can that support of policies for rural development be reconciled with the decision to put as much as one-sixth of the annual aid programme into one massive industrial project in India which seems to give no promise of help for the rural poor?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, each bilateral programme has to be considered on its merits. There were a very great many industrial implications, including benefits to the Indian community itself, with regard to the project to which the noble Lord refers. It is, however, the case that we should prefer to contain the growth of our contributions to multilateral agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation so that the important contributions that we make to bilateral programmes can be maintained.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this is not just a question of Governments finding money? There is the question of expertise in agricultural circles, for which over the years we have shown a great aptitude. Are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that we export this kind of expertise to help under-developed countries with this very important matter?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly share the views of my noble friend in that direction. The provision of agricultural expertise, as my noble friend described it, is a very important part of our bilateral aid programme.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Lord in his supplementary, is the Minister aware that the recent Japanese newsletter indicates that that very thing is being done? The Japanese are now co-operating with the Chinese in an area near Peking with a population of 3 million. The Japanese are sending agricultural experts there to teach methods of agriculture which will be worth while for the peasant.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have not seen the Japanese publication to which the noble Lord refers, but, from the sound of it, I agree with it.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will stress the importance of this matter—as, indeed, he has. The Food and Agriculture Organisation is probably one of the most successful of all the international organisations. I think of Lord Boyd-Orr and many others who played their part in international conferences and helped to build up what is a very important organisation. So there must be no let-down of any programmes that they were prepared to go for.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that the original concepts which led to the foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the very distinguished initial leadership of the late Lord Boyd-Orr are much to be admired. But we have considerable reservations about the growth in recent years in the administrative activities of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. That is what gave rise to the misgivings which we had over the recent budget.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister two questions? First, in view of the fact that the ex-chairman of the Royal Bank has stated that 80 million people in the world are on the verge of starvation, will the Government take more initiative in seeking to aid the starving population of the world, whose situation is intolerable in view of our comfort? Secondly, I wish to ask whether, in view of the need for rural development in these territories, he will find a means of direct aid to them rather than the present method which is so often involved in corruption by Governments?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have to agree that some of our aid to some of the multilateral agencies working in this field is sometimes less effective than we would wish. Thus it is that we seek to direct our bilateral aid programme to the poorest countries in particular, because clearly they are those in the greatest need.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to say what is the policy of the European Economic Community on this issue, give the significant surpluses of various products which arise from time to time and are sold to the Soviet Union?—certainly some of the surplus is sold to the Soviet Union. Can he say whether the United Kingdom and her partners in the Community have been pressing in Rome for the disposal of these surpluses at nominal prices to countries where starvation is considerable?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can say for example that, of the contributions to the world food programme to which I referred in my earlier Answer, the United Kingdom will be contributing bilaterally 117,000 tonnes of cereal while the European Community itself will be providing a further 927,000 tonnes.

Back to