HL Deb 28 October 1992 vol 539 cc1113-5

3 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made on the implementation of Agenda 21, agreed at the Rio Summit, and what additional funds have been made available through the British overseas aid programme towards the costs involved.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Sustainable Development Commission will be established by the United Nations General Assembly this autumn. It will have a central role in securing the effective implementation of Agenda 21. Sustainable development is already the central aim of our aid programme. We will ensure that our overseas aid activities and resources are increasingly focused on Agenda 21 priorities.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that significant reply. However, does she agree that when the Prime Minister claimed such success at Rio, that success was dependent on generating additional funds for all the new action endorsed by him as part of Agenda 21? Does she also agree that at no point was it then suggested, as her Answer implies, that that should be at the expense of ongoing work in the battle against world poverty? At a time of unprecedented need in Africa, the Gulf, Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, will she now explain to the House precisely what will be cut in the battle against need in the world in order to finance the promises made at Rio?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in a way the premise of the noble Lord is rather silly because he knows that I cannot anticipate the outcome of the public expenditure survey which will be announced as usual in the Autumn Statement. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are firmly committed to maintaining a substantial and effective aid programme.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is deep anxiety among those non-governmental organisations which followed the Rio Conference and which are anxious about its follow up as to what the Government will do to fulfil the fine pledges made by the Prime Minister? I refer in particular to the earth increment, the UN global environmental facility, and bilateral aid. All three are essential to fulfil the objectives of Agenda 21. Will the noble Baroness give the House and other organisations some assurance that the Government have not in any way reneged on the commitments made by the Prime Minister in Rio?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Government value very highly the contribution made by NGOs to Britain's overall aid effort. ODA channelled over £100 million-worth of aid through NGOs in 1991–92. I cannot prejudice the outcome of the current PES round. However, I repeat—I shall repeat it again if necessary—that the Government are firmly committed to maintaining a substantial and effective aid programme.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the real contribution made to NGOs will not be decreased owing to devaluation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, everything I say boils down to the same thing. I repeat that the Government remain committed to maintaining a significant aid programme, to playing a full part in the international effort to promote sustainable development, which has always been part of our aid programme, and to improving the global environment.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, forgetting the boiling down, will the Minister answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Ennals? Is the Prime Minister, and are the Government, committed to the assurances which he gave at Rio or are they going to renege on them?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have already answered that question. In my original Answer I said that we were committed to ensuring that our overseas aid activities are increasingly focused on Agenda 21 priorities and that we are fully involved, as the Prime Minister said, in securing the effective implementation of Agenda 21.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House exactly how much—I hope that the figures are in the brief—has been paid out by this country in overseas aid?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in 1991–92 we spent a total of £1,786 million in aid to developing countries. That was 3 per cent. more in real terms than in 1990–91. The aid programme has risen in real terms since 1987–88 by 8 per cent. and in 1991 we had the fifth largest aid programme in the world.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the first priority of this Government is to develop the economy of this country and not to impose further costs on our economy which might make our industry less competitive in world markets?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe that the Government hold strongly the view that we should continue to support the programme which the Prime Minister has already endorsed.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not consider it strange and odd that we should be spending £1,700 million per year in helping the poor nations of the world while we are spending £2,600 million per year in contributions to the EC in order to subsidise the rich countries of the world?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord by outlining what the EC has done in following up the Rio Summit. The EC broadly endorsed the Prime Minister's eight-point plan at Lisbon. At Rio the EC and member states announced a commitment of 3 billion ecu, including new and additional resources, for projects in key Agenda 21 sectors. We shall contribute our share.

Lord Judd

My Lords, in paying tribute to the voluntary agencies, will the Minister accept that the magnificent spontaneous public response to recent appeals closed the gap between need and the Government's contribution and that it would be regarded as the ultimate in cynicism after such a spontaneous public response if the Government were to cut their aid programme?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I repeat that I can in no way anticipate or speculate. Next year the Government will host an international conference bringing together about 500 participants in order to enable voluntary bodies, local government, business and industry to exchange views on the practical implementation of sustainable development. A consultation note will be issued in the next few weeks setting out the proposed objectives and outputs. I suggest that that will be a forum for discussion of some of the points raised by the noble Lord.