HL Deb 08 March 1983 vol 440 cc80-3

2.42 p.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 what expenditure is proposed for overseas aid in 1983–84, what percentage this represents of Britain's gross national product and how these figures compare with those of 1978–79.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the net aid programme for 1983–84, as published in the recent White Paper on the Government's expenditure plans (Cmnd. 8789), is £1,057 million. The percentage this represents of Britain's 1983–84 GNP will depend on the performance of the economy for that year. For 1978–79 net aid was £723 million, representing 0.42 per cent. of GNP.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that on 30th November last, when I asked a similar Question, I was also then given what are now called the cash figures as distinct from the cost figures? Is he aware that he has again, in his comparison between last year and 1978–79, given the cash figures, not the cost figures? Is it not a fact that the cost figures bear out the assertion that I made on 30th November, that this Government have reduced overseas aid by something in the region of 15 per cent?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is, yes, I have, so far as the figures are concerned, given cash and not cost. As regards the noble Lord's second question, if one takes an index setting out the real value of our aid as compared with 1981–82, the figure which the noble Lord has given to the House is not far out, although I do not have the exact figure. But the fact of the matter is that aid has been reduced in real terms between 1978–79 and the current year because it could not be immune from the necessity to make public expenditure cuts.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how much of this amount is in food aid? Can he give the Government's view on the expert opinion which is beginning to be widely held that in many cases food aid has been harmful in destroying local agriculture and, indeed, local culture?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not have the figure for food aid but I will certainly write to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The Government would not go that far down the road which the noble Lord presents, but I think we would be very hesitant in feeling that the distribution of food aid is an answer compared with the improvement of the agricultural structure of countries. To that extent the Government would certainly agree with the noble Lord.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether his figures include the amount of aid, both financial and in food, that is given by voluntary organisations from this country?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am giving the figures from the public expenditure White Paper. I am sorry that I must again admit to my noble friend that I am not sure whether they include the figure for voluntary organisations—a figure which, incidentally, I remember my noble friend Lady Trumpington pointing out to the House a few weeks ago as one of which we should be proud. I am sorry, therefore, that I do not have the exact figure with me.

Lord Oram

My Lords, may I first thank the Minister for having set out in a Written Answer a few weeks ago, at my request, the aid totals over a period of 10 years? May I ask whether he himself had a chance to study those figures? If so, did he notice that in every year when Labour were in office there was an increase over the previous year and in every year when a Conservative Government were in office there was a decrease over the previous year?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord may feel that that represents the case, but, as I have pointed out on more than one occasion to your Lordships' House, when we get into the next financial year, in less than a month's time, the expenditure on the aid programme will increase, both in cost terms and in cash terms.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister two questions? First, how far is capital investment included in the figures for aid? Secondly, while aid is deeply necessary for the poorest countries, are the Government giving their mind to proposals for a new world economic order as indicated yesterday in the splendid speech by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to the nonaligned nations?

Lord Belstead

Yes, my Lords; capital investment, so far as it attracts aid, is included in the figures that I have given. I am not aware that we are thinking of a new economic order.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I normally ask questions in order to obtain information from the Government. Perhaps I should reverse the roles and ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the answer to the question of the noble Baroness sitting behind him is that the voluntary organisations provide about £50 million a year for overseas territories but that that is not included in the figures that I have asked for this afternoon, because I asked for the official figures.

May I probe the Minister one stage further on the first answer that he gave me, when he repeated the suggestion that aid had to be cut because of the cuts in public expenditure—due, presumably, to the depression? I have asked this question of him before. At the end of the period of office of the Labour Government in 1979 the Minister was able to say that overseas aid from this country produced 40,000 jobs inside Britain. If the Ministry was able give those figures in 1979, is it now possible for the Overseas Development Administration to give similar figures? Have they been cut by the 15 per cent. which the noble Lord admits has been the cut in overseas aid?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have replied to that question on previous occasions in the House; that is, that I am not aware that what the noble Lord asserts in asking that question represents the truth. What I mean by that is that I do not think either the noble Lord or I can be certain of the fact of the matter as the noble Lord puts it to the House. However, I would add that the importance which the Government attach to the giving of overseas aid is reflected by the fact that only the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, France and Japan are bigger OECD aid givers than the United Kingdom. If I may go back to the noble Lord's original Question, our aid as a percentage of our gross national product is above the level of the OECD countries.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is it not the case that that percentage is lower than the percentage in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark?