HL Deb 20 March 1985 vol 461 cc544-6

2.46 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their present policy towards the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the Government support the International Fund for Agricultural Development. We shall contribute to the new replenishment of its funds if, as we hope, it can be agreed.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord the Minister both for that Answer and for writing to me following my raising of the same question in a recent debate. Can he tell us what Her Majesty's Government contributed last year to the international fund and what they contributed when the fund was established, I believe under a Labour Government? Can he say, further, what is the kind of figure that they have it in mind to contribute this year to the fund, after its agreement has been delayed for over 12 months?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the sum which we contributed to the initial funding of this organisation was £18 million. The sum which we contributed to the first replenishment was £12.9 million. That latter sum constituted about 5 per cent. of the total of the OECD countries' share to the funding of the organisation, and I imagine that our contribution to the second replenishment will be of the same order.

Lord Bauer

My Lords, is it not the case that this fund is one of three rival multinational organisations in Rome, with very similar objectives, the others being FAO and the World Food Programme? Have not their activities been much criticised by aid supporters as wasteful, ineffective, even corrupt, because of lack of control by the donors and lack of independent budgetary control? If OPEC withdraws from support of this fund should we not follow their example? Should we not in any case concentrate on direct bilateral aid which we can monitor more effectively?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid I do not share the jaundiced view of my noble friend about this organisation. A recent evaluation of some of its programmes suggests that it generally achieves worthwhile results.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is not the main lesson we should draw from the current famine in Africa that we should do all that we can to help the African countries develop their own agriculture in order to prevent famine in the future? That being so, is not IFAD, in contrast to what the noble Lord, Lord Bauer, has said, one of the most cost-effective organisations for achieving just that purpose? Will the Minister accept our commendation of his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bauer?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that this organisation is the most cost-effective of the organisations working in this field. However, as I said just now in answer to my noble friend, it does a worthwhile job and we shall continue to support it within the framework of the agreements to which I have referred.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is it not the fact that the most effective method of using the fund is to train and to support training in ancillary devices in agriculture, such as irrigation, because by following such a course far more will be achieved in the long term than by any form of food aid? Of course, I am not talking about famine aid.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is right. We want to cure the disease rather than just treat the symptoms. Indeed, that is why we so strongly support the task that this organisation is carrying out.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that we ought not to take the supposed perfectness of these organisations for granted, because they do need monitoring? If we think back as far as 1955 and to the problems that arose in the FAO when all kinds of things were happening which caused great disquiet, it is perhaps as well to remember that these organisations do need watching.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we need to be sure—and need to continue to assure ourselves—that the funds that we make available are properly spent.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, arising from the question put from the Opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord's answer, I should like to ask whether it is recognised that agricultural development in the Continent of Africa is absolutely necessary, particularly as a contribution to ending the appalling famine that is taking place there. In view of those facts, will the Government increase their contribution and provide technical assistance to African governments to develop their own agriculture?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I ought to make it clear that the Government are not necessarily in a position to do precisely as the noble Lord requests. We are not actually in the driving seat so far as this organisation is concerned. Contributions are agreed among all the donors. As the noble Lord will no doubt be aware, there are three baskets of donors and we go along with the general consensus.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Lord be kind enough to say what is holding up the second replenishment, and when do the Government hope to be able to make an announcement about it?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I cannot be precise as to when an announcement will be made, but a large number of nations are involved, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware. The two principal groupings are OPEC and the OECD and it is necessary for those two groupings to agree (and, indeed, for the groupings themselves to do so) before an agreement can be reached.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, while I thank and applaud the noble Lord for his commendation of this organisation on its cost-effectiveness—I understand that its administrative costs are no more than 5 per cent.—may I ask whether it is not to be regretted that the British contribution to the fund has apparently, according to his figures, fallen by one-third since it was initiated? Is it not also the case that this year the total funds available to the international fund will be roughly half those of its previous budget?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course the last matter to which the noble Lord referred has yet to be decided. However, the percentage of the OECD funds which we contribute has remained about constant throughout the time that we have been making contributions to this organisation, and I imagine that that will continue.