HL Deb 22 June 1993 vol 547 cc225-8

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to meet the call of the UN development programme, in its latest report, for new forms of international co-operation to focus overseas aid on the needs of people rather than on the preferences of governments.

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

My Lords, we welcome the emphasis in the UNDP's human development report on the needs of poor people. Many of the approaches to development in the report are already a part of our aid policy.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that over-centralisation of aid is not effective in development terms and that NGOs have a vital role to play in reaching the people concerned? Has she been able to study the success of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, for example, which has demonstrated that credit for the landless poor not only creates business and jobs but can yield a loan repayment of 95 per cent? What priority is the Minister able to give to supporting NGOs in the developing world as well as British NGOs?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that supplementary question. I fully agree that over-centralisation of aid control and development in recipient countries is not the most effective way of helping in certain circumstances. There are very many projects which should be developed, as I would term it, from the bottom up —from the village upwards. The noble Lord mentioned the Grameen Bank, which is probably one of the most successful of any savings and financing organisations that we have found anywhere in the world. We hope that the Grameen Bank will extend its work further afield. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Professor Yunuf and discussing these detailed matters with him. We shall continue to increase our help fir the NGOs as it has been increased over each of the past five years. That applies not just to British NGOs, but also to NGOs in the countries concerned.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that she is aware that the ODA funds many NGOs? I speak as chairman of Plan International UK, and I intend to go to see the project in Indonesia. Will she confirm that that is just one of many NGO projects funded through the ODA in the poorest parts of the third world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, l am very glad to welcome the work of my noble friend's NGO, Plan International UK. It is one of more than 150 British NGOs working overseas. The amount of money that we spend through the British NGOs has more than doubled since 1989-90. I am glad to say that the increase this year on last year through our joint funding scheme, which gives such good value for money, is 26 per cent. I am delighted that the volunteer-sending agencies are also increasing their work and that, with that, we are able to increase our funding of them.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while over-centralisation in these matters should be avoided, co-ordination is often an essential element, and that in those cases where co-ordination is necessary it is best done by the government of the country in question, and should that not be possible, by an NGO rather than by, say, the European Community?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there needs to be co-ordination, but the way to get best value for money is to co-ordinate British NGOs, which are often partnered with local NGOs in developing countries, with someone in the government of the country concerned and with the other donors working on the project. That is why I always encourage our British high commissioners and ambassadors to co-ordinate project work—and not only NGO project work—so that there is no overlap and so that the recipients, as well as the British taxpayers, get the best possible value for money.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, can my noble friend please tell us what "NGO" stands for?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships. It stands for "nongovernmental organisation".

Lord Ennals

My Lords. may I ask the Minister two linked questions about Bangladesh? First, what immediate assistance is her department giving to help with the very drastic flood problems in Bangladesh at the moment? Secondly, what are the Government doing in relation to the long-term flood control project which has been under discussion for several years?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we received a report from the department of humanitarian affairs at the UN in Geneva only yesterday about the floods in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh have not requested outside help, but we have already offered. My aid management office in Dhaka, together with the local NGOs, is investigating what might be done. At present, the people in Sylhet are coping remarkably well. Sadly, because Bangladesh has so many disasters, it has the capacity for coping in such periods. We are fully ready to help and we shall do so if we can best fit in with the government's plans. As far as the Bangladesh flood action plan is concerned, together with other multilateral donors, the British Government have contributed to a number of studies and we shall continue to help. But the problem of the Ganges delta will not be solved even inside 10 years. We all have to go on working at it.

Lord Prentice

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that for many years we have been conforming to one of the most important principles of the United Nations development programme by the extent to which our bilateral aid has been concentrated on the poorest countries, as defined by the UN, and, as far as we can ensure it, on the poorest groups within those countries?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for what he said. Over 80 per cent. of our bilateral aid is spent in the poorest countries. We have received special praise for the poverty focus and effectiveness of our aid programme within those poor countries. What is most important of all is that we have now persuaded many other donor partners that they should also concentrate their development aid on poverty reduction, and make it poverty reduction which is people oriented; that is to say, to ensure that there are better safety nets for those who are really in trouble and also good opportunities for growth and development among those groups which, even in poor countries, can begin to manufacture and trade for themselves.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am greatly heartened by the Minister's commitment to NGOs in this country and overseas. However, does she agree that the 7.2 billion US dollars in grants channelled through NGOs worldwide represent only 13 per cent. of official aid and 2.5 per cent. of total resource flows to developing countries? What will she, and her colleagues in the EC and elsewhere, be able to do significantly to increase that proportion?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as the noble Lord well knows, we have an overall plan of action of which poverty reduction and assistance to help the poor get out of their poverty is a key priority. With the UN agencies and other multilateral donors, most particularly within the EC, we have sought to get others similarly to focus, because, whereas we may spend 80 per cent. of our bilateral aid on the poorest countries, others have not done as well as that. For whatever reasons, they have decided to spend their aid in other ways. It was during the UK presidency of the EC that I persuaded my colleagues that we should have a declaration on development policy and co-operation in the run up to the year 2000. At our meeting last May, we expressed our intention of adopting the operational conclusions for a coordinated strategy on poverty reduction; that means all working in the same direction.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what is the Government's policy towards incompetent governments who spend their money on armaments rather than on food for their people?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is right to draw attention to that point. We have repeatedly told governments who do not spend their own resources on health and education but on unnecessary military equipment that that policy should not be pursued, but there are many reasons why a country wishes to defend itself. We cannot deny a sovereign government the right to self defence. What we can do is point out to them where their military expenditure is, in the eyes of all donors, excessive, and where they can so adapt their budget to look after their people. That is what we seek to do through institution building with many of the countries to which we are donors.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, perhaps I may join others in congratulating my noble friend on her major contribution to the developing world and the way that the aid programme is organised from this country. What co-operation is she receiving from other governments, as in the case of Bangladesh, where I believe it has been proved several times that the cause of the delta silting up is the chopping down of vast forest lands in Tibet and Northern China? However much money is poured into that area—I accept that it is needed for emergencies—until China's co-operation in solving the problem is gained, the Bangladesh situation will not be cured.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her first comment. Through our global environmental work, we are seeking to persuade all countries to look further than at their own forests and to consider the effects of their forest cutting.

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