HL Deb 15 February 1989 vol 504 cc176-9

3 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to increase or decrease overseas aid in real terms in 1989–90.

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

My Lords, compared with the original budget of £1,335 million for the current financial year, the aid programme in 1989–90 represents an increase of 1.9 per cent. in real terms.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is it correct that according to the official estimates of public expenditure published two weeks ago, the aid programme will be cut by I per cent. in 1989–90 compared with 1987–88? Does this not again also lower the percentage of GNP which this country is paying in overseas aid?

May I ask the noble Lord a question which I have asked him before and which he has never answered? Those of us who have been raising this question over the years have been told by the Government that the reduction in overseas aid, and in percentage of overseas aid, is due to the economic stringency in this country. Now that the Government have been professing for three years that we have a prosperous economy, why have the amount and percentage of overseas aid not been increased?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not sure of the basis for the noble Lord's figure of a 1 per cent. decline. I suspect that it might have been from a quotation of figures that I saw in the Guardian. They included the superannuation vote, which is not part of the aid programme and is therefore not relevant to the comparison that the noble Lord seeks to make. I should remind him that the aid programme is now growing in real terms and, perhaps even more importantly, the quality of that programme is extremely high.

The Government accept the United Nations target in principle but, like previous administrations and many other major donors, are not able to set a date for achieving it. As the noble Lord will appreciate, progress towards the target must depend upon developments in the economy and other claims on our resources.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in considering the quality of the aid programme to which my noble friend referred, do the Government take into account the fact that in certain countries the aid provided at the cost of the British taxpayer is wasted, notably in Ethiopia?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is extremely important, as my noble friend suggests, to ensure that the aid we provide is adequately and properly spent at the point of receipt. That is not always easy to achieve, but I can assure him that in every case we do our best to achieve it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Government consider additional aid to countries that are increasing or attempting to increase their family planning programmes in view of the close connection between dramatic increases in population and environmental issues?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is a very important point and one that is taken into account as we plan aid for the years ahead.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, following the question put by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, what note has been taken of the sensible and practical speech made by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal on the need to make certain that the aid, whatever its level, is properly used? What note has been made of the action that could be taken following that most informative and practical speech?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, great note is taken of those points, and indeed of the expertise which Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal shows in this field. The important factor is to try to ensure that the very high quality of aid which is available and which we provide is adequately looked after when it reaches the point of receipt. My noble friend will be aware that it is not always possible to achieve the aim in the way we should like, but we always strive to do precisely that.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, what percentage of aid is channelled through nongovernmental agencies, as it is generally accepted that that aid goes to the right people?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise figure without notice. However, I shall certainly consider the matter and let her know.

Lord Oram

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the figure of increase that he gave in his original Answer is totally misleading because it goes back to a base line which is no longer relevant? Does he agree that in answer to my noble friend's Question, the comparison that must be made is between what is being disbursed in this current financial year and what the Government plan to disburse in the forthcoming year? If he looks at those figures in the public expenditure White Paper, he will find that the increase is only £43 million. That figure is far short of the amount which is needed to cope with the inflation of last year and very far from enough to meet the 7 per cent. inflation rate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a few days ago.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, no. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. It is misleading to try to compare outturn with planning figures, which is what he suggests that I do. It is not a valid comparison. Indeed the aid programme has increased by £50 million this year, and it could be accurately compared in the way that the noble Lord suggests only if we had not added that extra £50 million.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, in view of the appalling natural tragedies that have struck several parts of Africa, India and other parts of what may be termed the poorer world, notwithstanding the immediate aid that the Government have dispatched to these stricken areas, in order that they may rebuild themselves ought not the Government to increase aid now to those parts of the world and encourage the wealthier nations to do the same?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, certainly encouragement to other countries is an important factor. However, the tragedies are primarily a matter for humanitarian aid. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have an extremely good record on that.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, will i he Minister confirm—if it is indeed a fact—that the level of British aid to sub—Saharan Africa in 1987 was 26 per cent. lower than that achieved in 1979 and that this brought a cumulative loss in real terms of as much as £600 million? In the light of the crippling debt burdens faced by most countries in this area, is he able to present new proposals for substantial new money to be invested in the part of the world where the people are suffering very great crises indeed?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness chapter and verse on sub-Saharan Africa. On debt burdens, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced a debt initiative. It was a three point plan: first, the conversion of aid loans to grants; secondly, the extension of repayment and grace periods; and thirdly, lower interest rates on official debt rescheduled through the Paris club. Those are very positive developments and go a long way towards meeting the concern that the noble Baroness expressed.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Lord—

Lord Denham

My Lords, we have been—

Lord Hatch of Lusby

It is my Question.

Lord Denham

My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way for just a moment, he has no absolute right to ask the last question. If he wishes to ask another supplementary, perhaps I may humbly suggest that he should have done so a little earlier. I shall give way so that he may ask his question. When my noble friend has replied, perhaps then I may make my Business Statement.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I appreciate the courtesy of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. Is the Minister aware that last year 43 billion dollars were transferred from the third world to the developed world? When he speaks of progress towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP in overseas aid, is he aware that many countries such as the Netherlands and Scandinavia have exceeded this figure, whereas under this Government the figure has steadily declined from 0.53 per cent. 10 years ago to the latest available figure of 0.28 per cent.? It is probably even lower this year.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I dispute the figure to which the noble Lord has just referred. I would go further and say that it is perhaps not too wise to become fixed upon the GNP target, important though it may be, which would be easier to meet if we were prepared to mismanage the economy and reduce GNP.

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