HL Deb 16 June 1992 vol 538 cc112-5

2.48 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Governmant:

Whether, in view of the link between poverty and environmental degradation in the developing world, highlighted by the Rio summit, they will increase the United Kingdom's overseas aid programme as a matter of urgency.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we already have a substantial aid programme which is planned to grow in real terms to £1,975 million by 1994–95. Our aid will increasingly address key issues for sustainable development.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. It is good to have her back to answer questions on overseas development. Effective action to protect the environment and to promote and sustain economic development will require greater financial commitment from the richer industrialised nations. Our aid programme has fallen in real terms in the past 10 years. Will the Minister indicate when Her Majesty's Government will take definite steps towards achieving the UN target of 0.7 per cent.? Alternatively, will they give some indication of steps that could be taken on the way? Could we reach a higher percentage by a certain year? We should then have some factors on which to judge what the Government are doing.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the aid programme has grown 8 per cent. in real terms since 1987–88. We are now receiving from it better value for money than we ever have before. We are averaging 0.3 per cent. over the past five years. As I announced in Rio, the figure for 1991, which is shortly to be published by DAC, is about 0.32 per cent. or perhaps more. We have to make sure that with an aid programme that grows in real terms—though it may not be growing as fast as the noble Baroness would like—we receive the very best value from it. With other partners, that is exactly what we are concentrating on. One cannot solve those problems simply by spending more money. The receiving government must also have the ability to utilise that money properly so that none is wasted.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the most useful direction in which that aid can be pointed is towards enabling the third world to check the growth in population?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right. For that reason I have during the past two years increased by 50 per cent. the grant to the United Nations FPA for population planning.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, while accepting that the quality of the aid programme is good, the Question asked when the Government intend to reach the accepted target of 0.7 per cent. Can the Minister answer that Question? Is it not right that the developing countries, which look to Britain for a lead, should know when the Government will reach a figure that is half that promised by a previous British Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for the part that he played in Rio in leading the non-governmental organisations as part of the British delegation. I am most grateful to him. We have not and shall not set the timetable as other nations have, simply because it is not realistic to do so. We cannot see beyond the next three years as regards public expenditure planning, as the noble Lord knows only too well. Members of your Lordships' House and everyone involved in the field have my assurance that we shall work in the right direction. That is why the language, which we negotiated in partnership with many other nations and on which we achieved a consensus on Saturday in Rio, is working towards the target but without set dates.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the important subjects discussed at Rio was biodiversity? Can she tell the House what proposals the Government have in that respect?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right and we are spending some £10.9 million on 42 different biodiversity projects. That is the way in which the money has gone towards what we term the Agenda 21 items. It is an important part of the shift away from major infrastructure to people- and locally-orientated projects.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government have committed themselves to Agenda 21? The target of 0.7 per cent. GNP is not separate but it is the bill for Agenda 21. Surely if we will the ends we must will the means. Will the Minister assure the House that, when Britain takes on the presidency of the EC, it will lead a move in Europe to ensure that the bill is met for the programme to which we are now committed?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, knows full well that Agenda 21, which is an 800-page document of immense complexity, is literally an agenda for the 21st century. The issue of resources for Agenda 21 items was long discussed. The wording in the final communique stated that we as nations agreed to augment our aid programmes in order to reach the target as soon as possible and to ensure a prompt and effective implementation of Agenda 21. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place yesterday, and as my noble friend the Leader of the House repeated in this House, Britain will play its full part in the implementation of Agenda 21 items and in the European context too. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that I shall be leading the charge in the coming six months.

Lord Prentice

My Lords, my noble friend has spoken against timetabling the target and has reminded us that we cannot sensibly look more than three years ahead. However, in the context of the three-year spending programme which she will be discussing with colleagues during the next three months, will she point out to her Treasury colleagues that this year as a result of Rio and the developments in Africa, including the severe drought, the provision for her programme will receive much more public attention than usual and is of particular sensitivity?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, no one could be more aware than I of the sensitivity of my programme's future spending. The £100 million additional money which when at Rio the Prime Minister announced we shall be spending towards the global environment facility replenishment and the other commitments that we have made. In particular, to lead the thinking and initiatives which are necessary to implement Agenda 21 will help people to understand the critical importance of the outcome of Rio not only for the next two or three generations but for ever.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is any of the additional money being earmarked for the improved education of women in developing countries? I know that the Minister agrees that that is a proven method of achieving voluntary control over excess population.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. We must ensure that the resources in Agenda 21 are targeted in particular to that area. I spent a great deal of yesterday in New York with UNICEF discussing how women can be enabled to play a greater part in their development and in planning to have their children when they want them. We have also made progress on that matter in other areas and I shall be telling the noble Baroness about that à deux.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I was in Brazil during the Rio conference and was somewhat depressed by the attitudes adopted there. Does the Minister accept that in making more generous aid available her task would be easier if that generosity were recognised and not regarded as the discharge of some debt from the industrialised world to the developing world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. However, during the whole of the Rio conference I was interested to note the gratitude expressed to me for the targeting and the better value for money of the British aid programme in particular. We do not throw money at countries to spend on their needs. We work with them in partnership to try to improve their abilities; in other words, to help them to help themselves. I am sure that that is the right way to go and I know that some of those countries are most grateful.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us admire greatly her efforts in this field and wish her luck in her struggle with her more conservative colleagues in the Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind comment. I merely tell him that I am perfectly able to fight my corner, as I believe he already knows.