The Government have always made it clear that, while we accept the 0·7 per cent. target in principle, we cannot set a date by which we shall reach it. Our progress towards it must be determined by the pace of our own economic recovery and by the other calls on our resources.
In view of the commitment in the Labour Party manifesto, is the right hon. Gentleman not rather ashamed of the rather poor progress so far on official aid? In view of the rather pious statements in the recent White Paper on overseas development, would it not be better if more aid rather than less was going to rural development and projects for rural advancement?
I agree that more priority should be given to rural development. That was one of the cardinal points of the White Paper published a few months ago. I am disappointed with the progress made on the volume of aid under both Governments over the last 12 years. The percentage of the gross national product devoted to aid has declined from 0·52 per cent. to 0·38 per cent. On the other hand, the House should recognise and acknowledge that, against the background of having to make very severe cuts in public expenditure, the overseas aid programme was practically the only programme not affected by those cuts.
Since it is very unlikely that any Western nation, still less the United Kingdom, will fulfil its target of 0·7 per cent. of the gross national product, why did not my right hon. Friend show enthusiasm for the suggestion made earlier in the supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan)? Is it not the case that, with the failure to hit this target, the only other means of helping the Third World is by an international commodity bank of the nature that, I understand, Dr. Kissinger is to suggest in Nairobi in a few days' time?
The only reason for my caution in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) was, as I explained at the time, that in a negotiating conference it is difficult to be positive before the conference has opened. I think that we should not regard a better deal on commodities as an alternative solution to a greater flow of development aid. The developing world needs more of both.