Hunger in the World

– in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 9th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury 3:39 pm, 9th May 1983

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4658/83 containing the Commission proposal for a Council Regulation on the implementation of the Special Programme to Combat Hunger in the World; and welcomes the Government's efforts to secure improvements to the proposal. The motion before the House concerns the European Commission's proposal for a Council regulation on the implementation of the special programme to combat hunger in the world. The relevant document 4658/83 was deposited in the House on 10 February and an explanatory memorandum submitted on 25 February.

The Council of Ministers has yet to discuss the proposal contained in document 4658/83. It is expected to be on the agenda for the next development council, which I understand is to meet on 9 June. I therefore particularly welcome this opportunity to explain to the House the Government's attitude to the Commission's proposal.

The essential purpose of the proposal is that the Council should adopt the legal basis necessary for the administration of the 50 million European currency units —equivalent to about £31 million—of appropriations entered in the 1983 Community budget under a new heading, article 958: Special programme to combat hunger in the world". Hon. Members may wonder how it is that an item may appear on the approved budget when there is no legal basis for the expenditure. The explanation lies in the origin of the new budget item and the effect of a new procedure adopted by the Community on 30 June 1982.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to explain that all Community aid, with the important exception of the European development fund, is financed from the Community budget. This includes food aid, aid for the Mediterranean, the non-associates and emergency aid.

The Community budget process is complex. First, the Commission presents a preliminary draft to the Council. The Council, acting by qualified majority, adapts the Commission's proposals to establish the draft budget for submission to the Parliament. The Parliament can amend the draft and ultimately the Council and Parliament have to resolve their differences and establish the final budget.

The draft budget for 1983 as established by the Council included no provision for the item which we are now debating. However, the European Parliament proposed at its first reading of the 1983 budget that a new article, 958, on hunger in the world — be created with the expenditure, as I have said, of 58 million ecus. The Council decided not to include this article in the draft budget as amended and modified.

On its second reading of the draft budget, as amended and modified, the European Parliament proposed a second set of amendments. These included the reinstatement of article 958, but with 50 million ecus of expenditure. After further consideration on 17 December, the Council informed the Parliament that it could accept the Parliament's amendments in full. The budgetary procedure was thus completed and the 1983 budget was declared adopted on 21 December.

The Council, including the United Kingdom, was concerned that there should not be yet another dispute over the status of an EC budget. However, the budget is not self-executing; that is, provision for expenditure is not enough. Before actual expenditure can be made, a basic regulation is needed to give the expenditure a legal base. This view, supported by the United Kingdom and several other member states, was maintained in the joint declaration signed by the presidents of the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament on 30 June 1982.

As our explanatory memorandum indicated, the Council of the European Parliament, whose opinion must be sought, must undertake to use its best endeavours to act on the proposal for implementing regulation by 31 May of this year, approval of which requires a unanimous decision by the Council. I cannot now predict whether it will succeed in doing so. If it does not, it is our understanding that the Commission is required to propose an alternative use for the funds.

As I have explained, therefore, the immediate purpose of the Commission proposal is to secure from the Council a legal basis on which the Commission can implement a new programme in the 1983 budget.

As for the new programme and our attitude towards it, the amount of money involved is comparatively small, 50 million ecus, or about £31 million, compared with a total aid provison of about 900 million ecus, or about £560 million, in 1983. As the proposal stands, it would enable the Community to grant aid to all developing countries to support national food strategies and structural measures to protect national resources and to improve their utilisation, together with training in these fields.

I quote from the document to set the matter out more fully: The Community operations would fall into two main categories:

  1. (1) support for beneficiary countries' food strategies or policies; such operations, aimed at increasing these countries' self-sufficiency in food, would provide assistance in the rural sector and in particular with the production, marketing, storage and transportation of food;
  2. (2) operations with a specific 'theme', i.e. structural projects designed to protect natural resources in the developing countries and improve the way they are utilized. They would pave the way for work in areas of general interest such as the efficient use of fuelwood, reafforestation, control of desertification, village water supplies and improvement of the domestic and wild livestock population."
Training operations could be financed in those fields and, as for the geographical spread, the least developed countries would have a priority claim to improve the food position.

On the face of it, it may appear to many hon. Members to represent proposals which the Government could endorse. However, in the Government's view the title of the draft regulation is somewhat misleading, suggesting a more comprehensive and closely targeted scheme than is envisaged. We have serious reservations about several aspects of the proposal and in the absence of what we would regard as substantial improvements would find it difficult to give it our support in the Council.

Our first difficulty is in seeing how the rather general measures envisaged would add significantly or effectively to the Community's existing efforts to alleviate world hunger, a priority objective to which the Government attach much importance. The proposal merely duplicates —in a less satisfactory way—the various aid facilities already available to the Community.

Many of the articles of the draft regulation would require considerable refinement and clarification to ensure that these aid resources were concentrated effectively on those countries and programmes most needing and justifying selective extra support. We would not be content to leave the existing proposals to be elaborated subsequently by the Commission. It would not be unfair to suggest that the proposal illustrates well the difficulty into which the Community may get itself when it first makes a sum of money available and then has to define a policy on which to spend it.

Our second reservation concerns the rather wide geographical scope of the proposal. Hon. Members will have noticed that it is to be directed to all developing countries, especially the least developed". That would, in effect, mean that countries which are signatories of contractual aid arrangements with the Community stretching over several years would also become eligible for extra aid outside the fund from the Community budget. Those are the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, which benefit from the European development fund under the Lomé convention. Hitherto there has been a clear dividing line between aid negotiated on a long-term contractual basis, such as the Lomé convention or the financial protocols with the Mediterranean developing countries, and the annually established aid from the Community budget for the non-associated developing countries.

It has been an important United Kingdom aim to see that Community aid is properly balanced geographically and that the interests of poorer developing countries in Asia, whose needs are great and with which we have close links, are treated equitably. We do not agree, therefore, that countries that are already well favoured under the Lomé convention should also benefit from additional appropriations from the budget.

Before giving our support for the expenditure we would therefore wish to see the new item directed towards non-associated developing countries. It is these countries which, at the moment, do not derive so much benefit from the European Community and where there is clearly a good case for trying to provide greater assistance.

Although at this stage the funds involved are relatively modest, we believe that in another important respect an undesirable precedent would be established were the Commission's proposal to proceed as it stands. Hon. Members will be aware that we have sought to strengthen financial planning and control of the Community's aid effort. Financial aid provided under contractual arrangements, such as the Lomé convention, is one area in which such planning and control have operated relatively successfully. Were the precedent to be set of providing supplementary aid from the Community budget to countries already covered by negotiated multi-annual agreements, such as the Lomé convention, financial control would be correspondingly weakened and indeed such negotiation would to a large extent become meaningless.

I have, of course, a particular interest in this issue because of the impact of Community aid expenditure on the British aid programme. As most hon. Members know, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs frankly explained in his speech in December at the Royal Commonwealth Society, the effect of extra Community expenditure is further to put pressure on the resources available for bilateral programmes. There is agreement between the two sides of the House that our bilateral programmes have always had a high reputation of which we are rightly proud and which we wish to maintain.

It will be clear from what I have said that, for several reasons, the Government do not consider the Commission's proposal one that they can support as it stands. I should like to make it equally clear, however, that although we have reservations about this particular proposal, we want to see a strengthening of the Community's efforts to combat hunger in the world.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stevenage

Will my hon. Friend explain this a little more clearly? Does the proposal for additional expenditure by the Community against poverty mean that that money would have to come out of the United Kingdom aid budget and, therefore, be voted by Parliament before it could be used by the European Community?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

Broadly, yes. The ways in which money is voted by Parliament are rather complicated, but, as my hon. Friend knows, we have a British aid budget that covers expenditure on aid of virtually every kind. Money spent on aid through the European Community is attributed to that budget. A consequence of providing additional forms of aid resources — the Community spending more on aid—is that a notional equivalent related to our share of the Community budget is attributed to the British aid programme. Additional Community spending on aid has an adverse effect on the size of the British bilateral programme.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I am rather puzzled. My impression was that the money came from what is called the Community's own resources. If that is so, how can it additionally be a charge on our aid programme?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

The way in which the system works is that the appropriate proportion of Community spending is regarded as spending under the British aid programme, although it goes through the Community mechanism.

Two thirds of the Community's aid programme is food aid; that is to say more than ten times the amount in the current proposal. The United Kingdom is urging the Community to use these massive resources more effectively in the fight against hunger. We have urged that food aid funds should be made available more directly to help agricultural production; and, in particular, that the Commission should bring forward a draft regulation to implement article 929 of the budget, which permits appropriations for food aid, to be used instead for other more cost-effective agricultural inputs. This would be a more valuable and effective facility to combat hunger in the world than the proposed regulation to implement article 958.

A large volume of food is, in fact, already provided as aid. In 1982 about £260 million was spent on EC food aid —of which we meet a share of the cost. Additionally, in the financial year 1982–83, about £10 million was spent on food aid provided direct by the United Kingdom and about £1 million on our contributions to the World Food Programme. Apart from famine relief in genuine emergencies, food aid is not the best way of countering the problem of world hunger. There are times when famine relief is essential, but food aid can have disincentive effects on indigenous agricultural production; it is difficult to administer; and it is perhaps more open than most forms of aid to misappropriation or corruption. The best way to deal with world hunger is to increase agricultural production in the developing countries to enable them to attain food self-reliance. As I shall explain in a few moments, a significant element of our aid programme is devoted to helping developing countries attain that objective.

We have suggested that the successor to the current Lomé convention, for which negotiations will soon begin, should include a specific chapter on food to promote self-reliance in food and better co-ordinate the various facilities available to achieve this. It is not that a new facility is required by the Community to cope with a new problem, far from it. The problem is rather of using an abundance of existing facilities, including food aid, the European development fund and the Community research programme, more effectively. We would, indeed, find it easier to support the proposed expenditure if it were used to supplement existing non-contractual aid programmes, unambiguously concentrated on those immense poverty stricken areas of the world that most need it. This indeed reflects the approach of successive British Governments, who have accepted the importance of developing countries of rural development and food production in particular. I should be surprised if the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) were to have a different view in the light of his experience.

So that there should be no doubt of the importance attached to the agricultural sector in British aid policy, I should like briefly to outline the principal ways in which we are helping increase food production and distribution in developing countries. Aid to the agricultural sector remains a high priority, because agriculture is the basis of the economy in nearly all developing countries. Following the Cancun summit meeting, the Prime Minister reported to the House that the main priority must be for developing countries to grow more food for their own people. This means giving farmers the right incentives and technical support. Aid should be designed to reinforce these objectives". — [Official Report, 26 October 1981; Vol. 10, c. 557.] In November 1981 my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), my distinguished predecessor, told the FAO conference that the United Kingdom gives special support to rural development concentrating a high proportion on the poorest developing countries … we are trying to increase our total aid co-operation investment in food and agriculture both directly and indirectly". In formulating aid policy to the agricultural sector we take into account the specific needs of different countries, but of course what we do is subject to requests from developing countries. In Asia the high priority areas are irrigation, land resource conservation and assessment, oil seeds, crop protection, forestry and agricultural research. In Africa priority is attached to agricultural policy and planning, crop protection, agricultural research —including farming systems — marketing and credit, agricultural management, livestock, forestry extension and training. Inputs are needed in many countries in post-harvest activities such as processing, storage and marketing.

While the experience of the mid-1970s demonstrated some difficulties in channelling aid resources productively into the agricultural sector, it has also shown some of the constraints which need to be tackled for development of the sector and which can be relieved by effective aid. For example, there is a particular need in Africa for inputs of skilled technical manpower to enable capital aid to be absorbed effectively. We have found that programmes need longer periods of active donor involvement than in the past.

A World Bank report "Focus on Poverty" draws attention to four particular problems relating to project aid. I spent last week in New York and Washington having valuable discussions with the leaders of both United Nations organisations concerned in this area, particularly with the World Bank. Like most people who have contact with the World Bank, I was impressed by its approach and the energy with which it carried out an important job.

The report refers to four problems. First, technical constraints—for example techniques of water management in major irrigation systems, together with inadequate or corrupt water delivery practices—often deny water to both poor and downstream farmers. Second, projects often provide inadequate gains for the very poorest. They provide few direct benefits for the landless and tenants and poor farmers who find it hard to borrow and take risks. Third is pricing and post-harvest policies— inadequate price incentives can jeopardise small farm projects. Fourth is limited agricultural knowledge—success in poverty-oriented projects depends on sociological, cultural and political factors. For example, where projects have ignored the role of women in the production process, techniques and cropping systems may change in ways that adversely affect their income-earning capacity.

In seeking to meet their varied needs, we have built up and sustained in Britain a unique capability to co-operate with developing countries. Our expertise is wide ranging in scope and disciplines and is distributed over many institutions, including private firms, consultancy and contractor companies, Government-supported research stations and universities.

The agricultural sector, for example, accounts for about half of the total research and development programme commissioned by the Overseas Development Administration. Increased crop production needs new crop varieties with high yield potential and farming systems to reduce energy needs and minimise plant protection against pests, and improve plant nutrition. Such developments need basic and strategic research in institutions having very specialised expertise and facilities for the work. These largely exist in developed countries.

Relatively small investments in contracted research bring the sophisticated resources of British science to bear upon those problems. The results are simple products and techniques that can be easily understood and adopted by small-scale farmers. An input such as improved seed can be self-extending and make a major impact even in the absence of a strong extension organisation. In drawing upon our large pool of British expertise we are helped by the readiness with which expertise can be transferred from temperate to tropical situations. But, in any event, university and other research institutes in the United Kingdom already have wide experience of tropical problems. I have visited our institutes and admired the work that is being done there.

Our help to the agricultural sector as a whole under the aid programme falls into two main categories —multilateral and bilateral. On the multilateral front, we are playing an important part through our contributions to the international institutions such as the World Bank, European development fund and the Food and Agricultural Organisation. The World Bank's lending for agricultural and research and development projects increased dramatically from $US 2·2 billion in 1970 to 1973 to more than $US 13·2 billion in 1978 to 1981. That was an increase from 19 to 31 per cent. of total World Bank and IDA lending. A rising share of this total supported the poorest countries and there has been greater emphasis on crops most likely to be grown or eaten by the poor. Although 1982 saw a drop in the proportion of spending to 25 per cent., that resulted mainly from a decrease in the availability of IDA funds.

The United Kingdom is a founder member of the consultative group on international agricultural research and gives full and regular support to the crucial work of its international centres in helping to build up agricultural production in developing countries. We have recently supported further Community contributions to CGIAR. There is close collaboration in agricultural research. Parts of the effort are carried out most effectively in Britain, other parts in the international centres and final adaptation in individual tropical countries. The increased yields from improved varieties produced by the centres were by 1980 feeding some 300 million people, while in the case of high-yielding rice the annual economic rate of return on the investment in the International Rice Research Institute has been estimated at about 80 per cent. Our contributions to the centres in 1983 are £4 million, bringing our total contribution to their core budgets to over £25 million since 1971, and we are proud of their achievements, in many of which British members of their staffs have played a significant part.

On the bilateral front, our aid to the agricultural sector remains a high priority. Agricultural projects involving capital aid are often associated with technical co-operation inputs such as personnel, training and consultancies. Experience shows that agricultural projects need particularly careful preparation and need to involve a wide range of expertise.

This expertise is available to us from the professional staff of the Overseas Development Administration, and from consultants in the private sector, universities and other research organisations. With changing needs and growing capacity elsewhere we have judged it possible to reduce the size of the Land Resources Development Centre and to merge the former Tropical Products Institute and Centre for Overseas Pest Research into the newly-created Tropical Development and Research Institute. We regard these organisations, with their high international reputations, as a valuable part of our aid programme and believe that these changes will make them more cost-effective. Faced with the problems of world hunger and the urgent need for practical assistance, we think it vital to ensure that we obtain the greatest possible benefits from the aid moneys that we spend.

Two examples will illustrate what we can do under our bilateral aid programme. One project about to start in the agricultural sector is for deep tubewells in Bangladesh. We are contributing £17·36 million towards this $142 million World Bank project. The main aim is to increase food production by installing 4,000 deep tubewells in areas identified as largely unsuitable for other types of tubewells. The wells will irrigate 300,000 acres and enable crops to be grown during the dry season. The project will also assist farmer co-operatives as well as providing for groundwater studies and experiments to test different water distribution systems and alternative deep tubewell designs. It will be supported by British consultants.

Our aid programme to Zambia provides examples of two approaches to boosting agricultural production. To assist smallholders we have allocated £3 million plus a team of technical co-operation officers to three food-deficit districts as part of the Zambian integrated rural development programme. Under the project, oxen are being trained and sold to farmers, roads and bridges built to open up agricultural areas, local marketing organisations improved through the provision of stores and scales, and health units and village wells constructed. The project, together with economic farmgate prices—a vital element for sound agricultural development—has produced a 50 per cent. increase in maize production. To help meet the growing demand for bread in urban areas we are providing £500,000 for irrigation equipment for wheat production. This will be sold to large-scale commercial farmers. At present Zambia imports 90 per cent. of its wheat requirements.

Following a new initiative announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury in September 1981 we are providing £1·5 million to strengthen national agricultural research systems in selected African countries. The objective is to establish strong, viable national systems which are able to make full use of research done by international centres and by developed country institutions, and of information fed back from farm studies and national extension services, to generate technology that is truly relevant to local farming communities.

I think that I have shown, I hope conclusively, that we are doing much under the aid programme to help increase food production in the Third world. We very much recognise the need for the Third world to develop its agricultural sector. We will be looking to increase the proportion of our aid going in this direction, particularly in areas where we can contribute from our special experience and capacity. However, our resources are not unlimited, and we must ensure that the funds available are directed to sensible and effective ends. It is against this background—as a donor with both a long-established commitment to alleviating hunger in the world and a concern that aid funds should be concentrated on well-devised programmes — that we have examined the European Commission's proposal for a new regulation.

We have concluded that we should therefore seek either to see very substantial improvement in the Commission's draft regulation, which is the subject of the motion before the House, or to suggest some alternative and demonstrably more effective use of the 50 million European currency units appropriated in the 1983 budget.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich 4:11 pm, 9th May 1983

The House will be grateful to the Minister for Overseas Development for his clear exposition of the Government's attitude to this proposal for a Council regulation. There can be no doubt about the importance of the subject of the proposal— the implementation of the Special Programme to Combat Hunger in the World. As the right hon. Gentleman agreed, the proposal before the House hardly measures up to that rather grandiose title. Apparently, it would provide a mere £31 million to combat world hunger. Anyone with any knowledge of the problem must be aware of the inadequacy of such a sum.

Not only does poverty in the Third world remain a vast problem, but the situation is constantly deteriorating. Despite all the fine rhetoric attached to all aid programmes, it is said that the rate of pauperisation is increasing. What is needed more than anything else, perhaps, is a coherent programme to deal with the problem. No hon. Member would doubt the good faith of Mr. Pisani, who is personally deeply concerned about the problems with which the proposal deals. But—the right hon. Gentleman alluded to this point—the proposal that we are now considering will, if anything, make the administrative problems worse.

Anyone who visits a Third world country will discover that the recipient Government is often overwhelmed by the variety of offers made to it and the variety of aid donors arriving with proposals for the assistance of the recipient country. In consequence, a considerable administrative burden is placed upon the Governments of those countries. I am therefore suspicious of a proposal which—as I understand it—lies outside the bilateral programmes of the EC countries and even outside the framework of the European development fund. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that those who have championed the idea that the EC should make a significant contribution to solving the problems of world hunger are well motivated. However, for reasons that the right hon. Gentleman has explained to the House, this proposal is open to severe criticism.

First, the sum of money suggested is inadequate even to cope with the problems of a relatively small number of countries. Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman again correctly pointed out, some of the most severe problems of hunger occur in the non-associated countries rather than in those that are members of the Lomé agreement. It is in those countries, perhaps, that the principal contribution needs to be made. Again, one would wish that the EC's policies towards the Third world were properly coordinated. As I have said to the House many times, whatever contribution the EC as an institution may make to the Third world, that contribution is often vitiated by programmes that emanate from the common agricultural policy.

As the right hon. Gentleman has correctly said, food aid is often highly damaging. I say that as someone who has been involved in distributing famine relief, and has seen some of the adverse consequences that can arise from the distribution of famine relief. The arguments against food aid were well rehearsed by the right hon. Gentleman but I stress that the consequences of the indiscriminate dumping of food surpluses on world markets can be absolutely opposite to the purposes that are supposed to be served by this proposal. For instance, the food war now going on between the United States and the EC can have only the most damaging consequences for Third world countries, and particularly for farmers in those countries.

One of the most serious criticisms of food aid is not merely that it can be damaging in some respects to the markets of those who are trying to obtain proper rewards for their products, but that the temperate products produced in Europe can often alter habits of consumption in Third world countries. For instance, we may introduce into some Third world countries a liking for wheat rather than maize, although wheat is expensive to produce in such countries. Some Third world countries may learn to prefer rice to maize, although it may be difficult if not impossible to produce rice in the countries concerned. The House will also be aware of the damaging consequences of the use of milk powder in the Third world.

When there is a discussion of the future of the EDF and the contribution of the EC to the Third world, I hope that there will be a proper appreciation of the damaging consequences of dumping surpluses on world markets and the damaging consequences that can arise from indiscriminate food aid. I do not deny that food aid has its value and its use. I know that a good deal of thought has already been given in various quarters to the issue of food aid, but I hope that the problem will receive even more consideration. It has a role in development but so often, through bitter experience, we have learnt the consequence of ill-thought-out programmes for the distribution of food aid.

We share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the way in which it is possible for the European development fund almost, as it were, to raid his aid Vote. Although on this occasion we are talking about a relatively small sum of money, it seems to be difficult for any British Government to plan their aid programme in coming years when they know, as this Government know, that year by year the increase in the subvention that goes to the EDF from this country can have a damaging effect on our own bilateral programme. I very much echo what the right hon. Gentleman said in praise of our own bilateral programme, particularly in the agriculture sector. Although he justifiably spoke highly of the contribution that we have been able to make in the past and of the expertise that we possess, there are reasons for anxiety.

I am not happy about the decision that the Government appear to have made to cut the size of the scientific units. The Overseas Development Administration enjoys a high reputation throughout the world for the expertise of those scientific units. I know that others, both in the House and outside, share my great anxiety. Of course, our universities make an important contribution. Only last week I paid an interesting visit to the department of development studies at the university of East Anglia, and I hope shortly to pay a visit to the institute of development studies at Sussex university. That contribution is often based on visits that are made on behalf of the World Bank by members of the staff of those institutions to Third world countries to undertake specific research. As a result, those staff are well up to date and are very much in touch with the situation in the field. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that either universities or the use of private consultants by themselves can make up for deficiencies that may arise as a consequence of a cut in the size of the scientific units.

I echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the value of private consultants. When talking about the problems of water and hydrology generally, he might have mentioned the important contribution from employees of the National Water Council. The Opposition would like to discover more ways in which both public corporations and private firms can make the kind of contribution of which they are capable on the basis of expertise that they possess and which is relevant to the needs of Third world countries. That is so for water and agriculture development, transport and many other matters.

In general, we echo the right hon. Gentleman's reservations about the proposal and its likely consequences. We also believe that, so far as possible, there ought to be the maximum co-ordination between donor countries with regard to the contribution that they make in Third world countries. I have reason to believe that the intention of Mr. Pisani — although I do not know what has become of it now—was that, so far as possible, the proposal was designed to be some kind of European co-ordination of the effort that Europe as a whole made in Third world countries. If it was his objective so far as possible to achieve a measure of cooperation between the countries of Europe, we have no objection to that, but so often the trouble has been that one country has tried to compete with the objectives and programmes of another. We should welcome any attempt to co-ordinate aid in a much more sensible fashion.

From the proposal before us, it does not seem that that is the likely consequence. I am therefore glad that the right hon. Gentleman made the speech that he did and entered the reservations that he did. I very much hope that, as a consequence, the proposal will be reconsidered and that some of our objections will alter the form of regulation that eventually emerges.

Photo of Mr Percy Grieve Mr Percy Grieve , Solihull 4:26 pm, 9th May 1983

I am grateful for the opportunity of making a brief contribution. This may well be the last speech that I make in the House of Commons, because, in view of the Prime Minister's announcement today, not many debating days are left. By saying that, I hope that I shall not be excluded from catching Mr. Speaker's or Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye if the occasion arises, but I must be realistic and say that this may well be the last time that I shall speak.

I am grateful for the fact that I am able to participate in a debate on matters which, throughout my 19 years in the House, I have had very much at heart — our membership of the European Community, for which I fought very hard and supported with all my heart, and our duties to the Third world. We are one world and, whether unilaterally as a country with a great colonial and imperial past and great experience, or multilaterally as part of the European Community, we have a great role to play in helping the Third world to help itself. That was the theme of the speeches of my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett).

Aid to the Third world, particularly to those who are in want and starving, must take two forms, dependent on the nature of the operation in which one is engaged. We all know that in the Third world great crises such as starvation and drought arise, which call for immediate aid, such as we have seen in central Africa, Ethiopia and, alas, in many other parts of the world. They call for unilateral aid by us and multilateral aid by the Community, and demand that we do all we can to help our fellow humans who are suffering. That calls for food aid, sometime on a great scale.

I am given cause for hope for the world by the way in which society, not merely Parliaments or Governments, responds to the call of those who suffer when these great crises arise, especially as we have never been found wanting, nor have or our partners in the European Community or the richer countries. As to the long-term problem of helping poorer countries, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that the mere export of food is far from enough. We must help people in those countries to help themselves by sharing our expertise, technological and agricultural knowledge and giving them advice about crops that are suitable for their areas. I share my right hon. Friend's reservations about the Commission's proposals because they concentrate too much on exporting food and not enough on other much more constructive ways of helping.

I should like to pay tribute not only to official channels of help but to unofficial ones such as Voluntary Aid Overseas which has brought out the best in many young people in Britain, other European countries and the free world. Britain has an enormous part to play as we have long experience of the Third world. Although it is unfashionable to do so, I speak with pride of a remote colonial and imperial past which gave a great deal to the world. We built up enormous experience of tropical and sub-tropical countries, so we know how to help them. We should continue to use that experience to help those countries as my right hon. Friend suggested.

I do not resent the intrusion on our own aid budget of our having to contribute to the EC aid fund. There is room for both. One of the great virtues of belonging to the Community is that we can act as one on many issues such as foreign and economic policy and in regard to attitudes to the Third world whether it be for defence or aid. We should not begrudge that contribution but approach the matter constructively. In doing so, we should criticise and help as my right hon. Friend suggested. That is why I support the motion. I hope that we shall bring constructive criticism to bear and that the Community's final proposals will be the better for our suggestions.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North 4:33 pm, 9th May 1983

Almost everyone believes that overseas aid and aid to the Third world are a good thing, but one of the ironies of British politics is that whereas the volume of support for the idea is substantial the amount of money that is spent on it is pitifully small. I regret that the Government have not said that they will put up more money.

It is especially regrettable that, as I understand what the Minister said, not only will there not be more money as a result of this initiative, but the proposal amounts merely to the EC saying that it wants to decide how some of cur aid will be spent rather than our being able to decide. Although I regret that we do not spend more, on the whole, British overseas aid has been spent well. Our programme has been fairly well thought out and targeted at the right areas. We have more expertise and are more efficient than is evident in the programme that is being advanced in this directive. I hope that we shall resist the proposal that others should spend the money, and insist that we continue to control our aid programme.

I hope that the Minister can assure us that the tube wells that will be built in Bangladesh as a result of British aid have been carefully thought out. I understand that earlier aid programmes to build wells in the delta region of Bangladesh resulted in a lowering of the water table. There was great rejoicing where one well was sunk but a village not far away found that its water was no longer pure and became increasingly saline because the lowering of the water table meant that the well drew in water from the Indian ocean. That is one of the sad aspects of aid programmes for sinking wells. The community that has the new well enjoys the benefits but another's water supply is spoilt. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the new scheme guarantees to increase the water supply rather than to reallocate it.

I should like to press the Minister about how much the Government are able to help Ethiopia and test our aid programme to that country during the past 10 years. We are all aware that there was a disastrous famine in Ethiopia in the early 1970s. Although Britain tried hard, and with some success, to provide emergency food, vast numbers of people died. Many hon. Members said that that should never happen again and that it was important not simply to feed people when they were starving but to give them the resources to be able to grow enough food. We should assist them with irrigation programmes so that the problem would not recur. We also should help with communications so that if there was a surplus of food in one part of the country it could be moved to another.

I understand that, nearly 10 years later, Ethiopia faces exactly the same problems. I hope that they are not on the same scale. Reports conflict. It is sad that aid from Europe and other advanced countries does not seem to have improved matters. Once again, there is a desperate need for immediate food aid. Can the Minister tell us what has happened in the past 10 years?

I am aware that the first problem in Ethiopia is to establish peace. It is sad that the benefit of aid is partially destroyed because of civil war in the northern part of the country. It is unfortunate that the Government, the EC or the United Nations have not been able to persuade the Ethiopians that their problems can be settled peacefully and that they have a common problem to fight—hunger and malnutrition. Can the Minister tell us the quantity of emergency food aid that is going to Ethiopia and how effectively it is being distributed?

To what extent in the next 12 months shall we be able to offer Ethiopia long-term schemes to help solve the water and drought problem? Many countries in the central belt of Africa and near the Sahara have a major problem with the irregularity of rainfall. It might be possible to grow sufficient crops one year but then, because of a small difference in rainfall, there is an utterly inadequate harvest the following year and a major food shortage. The terrain in Ethiopia is extremely rugged and uneven which, unfortunately, leads to food surpluses in some parts, and food transportation difficulties to the areas most in need.

Will the Minister tell the House whether the document is relevant to the real problems of the inhabitants of Ethiopia, who are starving now as they were 10 years ago, and whether it can guarantee that the next time the rain fails in such a country those people will not starve again?

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stevenage 4:41 pm, 9th May 1983

One reason why I supported Britain's joining the European Community was that, properly organised, the Community could lend greater assistance to the poorer countries than could Britain alone, and that therefore our membership of the Community would strengthen our ability to help the poorest nations. The document falls little short of a tragedy in achieving that end. It is fruitless for the EC to remove from its members, especially Britain, the control of their own aid budgets. The Minister's answer to my comment in an intervention, that that would involve a reduction in the money available for bilateral programmes, means just that. I support the criticism made by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett).

If our aim is co-ordination, for which there is a well-recognised need in the Third world which Mr. Pisani embraced, we should co-ordinate national aid programmes to poor countries as suggested by the component parts of the Community. We must make certain, for example, that the economic policies adopted by a developing country and the projects that it accepts from donor countries do not compete with each other but add to the sum of wealth and possible development of that country. All hon. Members can name countries in which competition between aid organisations has led to the efforts of one country offsetting the efforts of another, with the result that economic, development and hunger problems become worse. I should have expected Mr. Pisani and others in the Commission to aim for co-ordination, but the document does nothing towards that end.

It is unfortunate that the document is aimed solely at food aid. Although famine relief is part of food aid in a general sense, it does not seek to generate food production in the host country, and therefore I shall put it on one side. Food for famine relief and emergency supply must be properly co-ordinated and controlled. The hon. Member for Greenwich made a telling point when he said that he had witnessed the distribution of emergency food aid. Frequently, food does not reach those who need it; it arrives in the wrong form and there is much corruption in its distribution. All hon. Members can tell horror stories about food aid. However, I shall not discuss that defect because the document seeks to stimulate food production. One way in which the European Community could and should help is to reduce its production of surplus products, such as sugar.

Sugar is produced in the developing countries, but it is already in over-supply in the world. During the past 10 years the EC has increased its production of sugar and flooded the world market, thus reducing the market price and making it impossible for many countries to help themselves by selling their sugar at a price at least above their costs of production. Many developing countries must now sell their surplus sugar at prices below the cost of production, which substantially reduces their wealth and their ability to help themselves. In that sense, the £31 million proposed in the order is laughable. It replaces billions of pounds with a mere gesture, and I wonder why the Community has put it forward. Beneficial and sympathetic trade policies will assist the developing world far more than aid given indiscriminately.

We all have horror stories about food aid. I especially remember a United Nations agency programme among the Amerindians in Guyana in South America. After a study by a nutritionist of the diet of the Amerindian population, a report was published showing that it suffered serious deficiencies in some foodstuffs. Oxfam's reaction to the report was understandably sympathetic. It wished to help and, through the United Nations agency, it arranged for food to be shipped up the long rivers in Guyana, and portered across the rapids, to feed the Amerindian population. The Indians' reaction was to give up their food production altogether, except for the production of cassavu, which is a basic ingredient of their impure alcoholic drink. The food aid simply increased the consumption of alcohol and the inebriation in the Amerindian villages, which probably added to their enjoyment but also added to disease because the impure alcohol induced sterility and blindness. That is one example of good intentions going awry when giving food to unsophisticated areas.

The United Nations agency decided that the programme was not assisting the development of the Amerindians, and it cut off the food supply without warning. The vessels ceased to sail up the rivers, and starvation began. Many people died in those communities. If we must provide food aid, it should be coupled with additional food production in those countries.

I was interested in my right hon. Friend's description of the way in which we are assisting food production in Zambia, which is seriously short of food although it should not be. However, the growing of food and hybrid seeds, the development of new agricultural and horticultural practices, and the training of unsophisticated farmers in the use of fertilisers alone will not increase the total production of food from the soil. Marketing and transportation are also important. At present, the highlands of Tanzania are producing a surplus of good quality wheat, rice and sorghum, thanks to another excellent effort under Britain's bilateral aid programme through the Commonwealth Development Corporation. However, if the food cannot be transported to where it is needed, especially in Dar es Salaam on the coast, where there is much starvation, that production is entirely lost. That is happening in Tanzania today.

Food production has become a problem in Ghana, which used to be a rich country that could produce its own food. Because of the economic situation, and the political chaos that has unfortunately been the hallmark of Ghana over the past 20 years, Ghanaians are now not exporting their cocoa through the normal channels, and are thereby impoverishing the nation and its agricultural methods. As a result, they are reducing their ability to produce food for themselves. Any aid aimed at Ghana should not be aimed through the EC in this way, but should be aimed at administration and marketing of food and the improving of the financial and economic climate in which the farmers are trying to grow these products.

Food aid as such is suspect and needs special techniques and attention. It has had that, remarkably, through the World Bank programme in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. As a result of the efforts of the World Bank there will be a breakthrough, and soon India will not only be self-sufficient in rice production but will export rice to other needy countries. This is a result of the increased production methods introduced by the World Bank and helped by the hybrid seeds that have been developed, the change in agricultural methods and the increase in storage facilities—another thing that is often forgotten in food production — as well as the improvement in the transportation communication methods to distribute that food in a proper and profitable way, both to those who consume and those who produce it. We need to follow such examples.

That brings me back to the craziness of trying to add yet another way to send food assistance to these that already exist in the Community. There are already the bilateral programmes, the European Investment Bank, which acts as an agent of the European development fund, the European development fund itself, and now there will be yet another method to try to direct such aid to developing countries. This is bound to lead to further lack of co-ordination and further misuse of limited technical and financial resources.

We should refuse to have anything to do with this document until the EC puts its house in order. The House of Lords has produced a good report on the EC's food and aid programmes, which was critical of the European development fund achievements during this period. Those criticisms are justified, but nobody in the EC has taken them up and begun to answer them. Mr. Pisani has produced no answer for the co-ordination of our efforts in aid in the EC, and nor has he been to see us to discuss ways in which we can assist the simplification of this process and the reduction of administrative delay which characterise much of the EC efforts in this direction. Not until the EC addresses these matters closely can we consider any further assistance to the European development fund or to any other of its proposals.

As we approach the Lomé convention renegotiations that are to take place within the next 18 months, it is absurd to introduce a new administrative arrangement for focusing European aid assistance without consulting the countries that are to receive the aid. The Lomé negotiations will provide just such a forum. For the European countries alone, without any consultation—there is no evidence of consultation with the respective recipient countries of the aid — to produce the programme in the form we have is ill considered and insensitive.

Any negotiation of European development work should be discussed with those who are to receive it so that we can get their ideas on how Europe could provide the best possible framework of which they could take advantage. No effort has been made to consult anybody outside Europe. We should also be consulting the United Nations agencies and others who work in this sphere to make certain that what we are proposing in Europe co-ordinates and works together with other agencies throughout the world so that we go along in parallel, aiming at producing proper development in those countries.

I beg the Minister, when he attends the Council meeting —which I hope will come up while he is still in office and before the calling of the general election because I know that he can make a major contribution—to tell our European partners that they must produce a coherent policy that is administratively sensible. The European Development Bank, which is an agency of the European development fund, has not been effective in focusing aid where it is needed. The bank was set up not as an agency for development in Third world countries but to organise aid to countries within Europe. I have grave doubts as to whether its methods or knowledge are sufficient to effect proper aid development in the Third world.

Our consultants can put a feather in their cap for the degree to which the European Development Bank relies on British consultants to make certain that aid goes to the countries in a way that is useful and can be properly controlled. It shows that the European Development Bank itself does not have the resources to do that work. We need to reform the bank and the fund. We must reform the trade practices of the European Community so that they are consistent with our aid and development ideas. To run a surplus in sugar, dairy products and grain as we do, and to export it to the world, thus depressing world prices, is absurd, and we must find our way out. We must tell our European partners that the money should come not from national aid budgets but from the money now put into the CAP in Europe. It will thus be directed at the proper objectives that we should be trying to seek, and the money coming out of the European subsidies programme to stimulate the development in the Third world, which will enable those countries to purchase more products from Europe, will make a more healthy and faster expanding world trade and prosperity both in Europe and in the developing countries concerned.

Those should be the objectives that are combined with trade and aid and our national programmes so that all Europe, in a determined fashion, can say to the Third world "Yes, we shall assist you, but we shall do so in all aspects and not selfishly look after our own interests all the time."

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central 4:58 pm, 9th May 1983

It is nearly 13 years since I made my maiden speech in the House, and it may be that this is my last speech, although not because of the efforts of the Conservative party. I hope that that is not the case because I should like to continue to serve Hackney in the House, but it may not be up to me. However, I shall leave those personally poignant observations.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells), who speaks with great clarity, sincerity and knowledge of the topics to which he has alluded in his speech.

It is nearly three years since I led a small delegation of the British branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to Guyana. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage was a valued member of the team and I learned a great deal from him because of his intimate knowledge of Guyana, where he had worked for a considerable number of years. On that occasion we worked very closely together. I was not permitted to speak my mind completely as to what I had seen. Had I done so it would, I gather, have brought the whole of the CPA tumbling down into ruins. However, what I saw there lends great credence to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the way in which aid is administered or, on occasions, maladministered.

I should like to refer to one or two other points in the hon. Gentleman's compelling speech. Perhaps at this juncture in the nation's political development I should not pay the hon. Gentleman so many compliments. However, I am not sure that the issues raised by the debate will figure very largely in his election campaign; I only wish that it were so. He rightly observed that the prime duty of Britain and the European Community is to assist developing countries so that they may themselves be able to create additional ways of producing food. I am sure that that is absolutely right, because it is one, at least, of the ways to mitigate any corrupting influences that might be at work, and it is obviously the most beneficial way in which Third world countries can develop what they particularly require —and not, as the hon. Gentleman said, develop at the behest of the developed nations and the European Community in particular.

The objective cannot be achieved unless there is the maximum degree of co-operation and consultation with people who have an expertise on the ground and who know what is required. Many such people have given a dedicated lifetime of service to the cause of Third world countries. I share the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the lack of consultation that has taken place with agencies and individuals who would be able to make a positive and significant contribution.

I am a little troubled about the way in which the Government go about their task of providing aid for the Third world. I shall not refer now to the arguments about the percentage of gross national product that Britain should be providing in that respect, because it widens the argument too much for the purposes of this speech. I can best exemplify my anxiety by referring to Nicaragua, which I visited recently when I went to Central America.

I cannot help feeling that a great deal of the information that the Government derive about Central America is not gained first-hand. For example, our ambassador to Nicaragua is based in Costa Rica. He visits Nicaragua on about 40 days a year. That is grotesquely inadequate for a country that has now assumed, rightly or wrongly, a very important role in Central America, although I do not believe that this is the wish of Nicaragua.

It is part of the United States' strategy, regrettably, to pay overdue attention to Central America, and inadequate attention to the problems of Latin America as a whole. It has the effect of distorting American policies. It is unjustifiably putting Nicaragua beyond the pale, and it is, I believe, a policy of sheer self-destruction from the American point of view.

Some time ago I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office why the British Government had obstructed a European Community aid programme to Nicaragua. I apprehended that the central reason for it was that the British Government did not wish to give offence to the United States, and that our trading interests in Nicaragua were minimal. I think that we have a balance of trade advantage of £1 million. We export about £2 million worth of goods and materials to Nicaragua, and Nicaragua exports about £1 million worth of goods to us. Therefore, the word "minimal" is about the right description for what is occurring. I also believe that the Government have been making assumptions about Nicaragua that are derived from American opinions, which are themselves based upon ideological considerations.

The British Government alone obstructed the provision of aid to Nicaragua—aid that other EC nations wanted to provide. The grounds that the Government advanced for that attitude were, among others, that there were higher priorities in the area, although those remained rather mysterious; that the Nicaraguans were guilty of breaches of human rights on a substantial scale, although that is a simple reflection of United States propaganda of. and information, to which I shall refer in a moment; and that they pay inadequate regard to social justice and land reform.

I have never heard such inadequate or untrue reasons advanced for obstructing an aid programme. I do not know of the higher priorities in Central America to which the Government are applying themselves. As the Minister knows, I shall have to be elsewhere when he replies to the debate, so I shall read his remarks with interest. I should like to know what are the higher priorities in Central America.

With regard to breaches of human rights, I visited the area to which the Meskito Indians had been moved from the frontier areas between Nicaragua and Honduras. I was with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and Lord Chitnis. We were not obstructed in any way when we visited a village of about 2,500 people. We were able to speak to the people there through our own interpreter, free of any encumbrance from the Government. The people spoke their minds to us. They did not much like living in an area quite as large as that and did not like being moved from their homes, but they recognised that there was no alternative in view of the fighting that had been taking place on the borders. There were no barbed wire fences around the village. People were able to come and go as they wished, and they did so. Yet, when I went to the American embassy in Tegusigalpa in Honduras, I was told that the area I had visited was in a state of uprising. That was patently untrue.

I do not say for a moment that the Nicaraguan Government's response to the problems of an indigenous people has been in every respect a great advertisement for that Government. I think that the contrary is the case. The Government have sought to promote the advantages of the revolution in a way that was not appreciated by an indigenous people, but I think that the Government tried to do their best. The provision of decent housing, with electricity supplies and with piped water—and pure water at that—was an immensely important advantage.

The American Government take a different view, based not on clear and direct knowledge of the position but on what they wish to imagine is the position. Unhappily, the British Government assist them in that respect and deny an aid programme to Nicaragua on that ground.

When they speak of inadequate regard for social justice, and criticise the position in Nicaragua, compared with that existing in other Central American countries, leaving aside Costa Rica, it is quite laughable. The promotion of social justice has been one of the most important elements in the Nicaraguan Government's campaign to improve living standards.

Conservative, Liberal and Labour Members of Parliament—I am not an extremist nor an apologist for the Nicaraguan Government—will find many faults in the political system of that country. However, that Government have demonstrably tried to improve the social conditions of people by embarking upon a viable programme of land reform and ensuring that refugees from El Salvador are given a fresh start in life on land provided by the Government. For the British Government to advance those reasons as a ground for refusing aid to Nicaragua is a grotesque perversion of the truth.

I have no doubt that Nicaragua desperately needs technological assistance, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage advocated, to provide additional methods of producing food for its people. Oxfam, Christian Aid and another voluntary agency sought help from the Government for the provision of £150,000 a year to develop schemes that are of immeasurable benefit—as we saw for ourselves, in agriculture—in the open prison that I visited and in a variety of other ways. The Government's reply was that aid funds were under considerable pressure and there were no available resources. That perfectly reasonable request was rejected. I suggest that it was rejected because the Government were examining the problems of Nicaragua partly on ideological grounds. Furthermore, I suggest that that decision was reached because the Government did not wish to cause offence to the United States, because that is how the provision of such aid would be construed. That decision has caused immense harm to building up what should be a firm, friendly and critical relationship between Britain and Nicaragua. I deeply regret the reasons that stood in the way of providing that assistance.

I beg the Government not to adopt an ideological stance about this issue. Nicaragua is not beyond the pale. Countries such as Nicaragua need technological help to do precisely what the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage urged. I urge the Government not to turn aside the pleas of Oxfam, Christian Aid and others. Those organisations have people working hard with great dedication, day in and day out, in the service of poor and deprived peasant people. They appreciate the dangers to those people and are striving to avert them. The Government should play their part. If we do not hear the voices of the hungry, and it does not matter whether they come from Left or Right-wing countries, others most certainly will and they will take advantage of the position. I beg the Government to re-examine their posture on this matter.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest 5:15 pm, 9th May 1983

It may be tactless to refer to the attendance at this important debate, but the nation will understand why the Benches are sparsely populated even though Opposition right hon. and hon. Members have been so critical of the Government's overseas aid policy and now have an opportunity to express those objections. The dissolution of Parliament is imminent, after which I trust a Conservative Administration will be returned to further the recovery of Britain. That will enable this country to be more effective in restoring the world's economy as a whole and in giving assistance to less fortunate people.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) for not having heard everything that he said. My remarks will be somewhat reminiscent, as were the remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis). I felt a little sad when the hon. Gentleman said that his speech was possibly a swan song in the House of Commons. I hope not. It would not be to the credit of the party system if the next Parliament were deprived of the hon. Gentleman's attendance. The hon. Gentleman is a moderate. His speeches in the House have been of a high quality and he has been listened to with great respect. Those hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be returned to the House will, I trust, have the opportunity to hear him again.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Christain Aid and to Nicaragua. I echo his appeal that starvation should not be treated ideologically. The Government should not decide whether to help people who are hungry because of the character of the regime under which they have to live, perhaps unwillingly. Such a problem has arisen in connection with Ethiopia. Worry has been expressed, not so much because of the charactor of the Ethiopian Government, but because of reports that some of the aid for famine relief was misdirected. There have been reassuring reports on that score. If those reports are true, I do not object in any way to the Ethiopian people being helped in their distress. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, Central that the Government should not adopt an ideological stance. However, Christian Aid does adopt an ideological stance on occasions. It produces a journal that is highly ideological and often hostile to the principles and policy of Her Majesty's Governmentt. As a result, I find difficulty in supporting that organisation.

I saw the Bengal famine when I was a young officer in the war zones of east Bengal and Arakan in 1942. I remember searching for hoarded grain and forcing it out of rich men's houses and barns almost at bayonet point. Then I realised that that famine was not caused by shortage of money or shortage of grain, but was man-made to a large extent. The problem was one not of money, but of administration and human greed.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of listening to people on the ground. I was one of the people on the ground at that time and, although I do not suppose Sir Richard Attenborough would believe it, I think that some of us presented an acceptable face of imperialism.

It is not always a question of money, and much money is already going out from this country in food aid —about £70 million, and that is in addition to United Kingdom national actions costing £20 million and food aid from the EC, which constitutes about two fifths of its aid programme.

In many Third world countries where there is hunger and starvation, the ideological actions deprecated by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central have, as in eastern Europe, resulted in efficient food producers being expropriated or liquidated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage said that Zambia, a country about which I know a little, having visited it several times, ought to be an exporter of grain, but actually imports grain and depends to a great extent on supplies from a country to the south of which the Zambian Government thoroughly disapprove.

A disproportionate amount of food production in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe comes from those producers who are allowed to be independent, and the same is true in the countries of central Africa and elsewhere, which, for their own ideological reasons, have followed the example of eastern Europe.

Food aid should be directed towards its own abolition. That is not only my opinion; it is the opinion of Mr. Pisani. All aid should be directed to making aid unnecessary.

When I was last in southern Africa there was a story current about the visit to Zimbabwe by President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. He is supposed to have said to President Robert Mugabe, "There is something you can do for me." Mr Mugabe asked, "What's that?" President Nyerere replied, "You can send us a few hundred of your white farmers."

A large proportion of the food production in Zambia and Zimbabwe comes from a small private sector of agriculture and anything that is done, for ideological or other reasons, to discourage white farmers from remaining in those countries is likely to increase food scarcity.

There is a moral for the rest of the aid programme. Labour Members may object to a mention of the value of market forces, but it is worth noting that the Third world countries that have paid some regard to market forces and have made it possible for private enterprise to flourish, experience less scarcity and poverty and have made more progress.

Through Commonwealth agencies, EC agencies and others, everything should be done within our resources to encourage production, what is called intermediate technology and to give people the help and advice that they need to enable them to do without any more help and advice. That is the general tenor of the policy that we should pursue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage referred to the remarkable transformation of Indian agriculture. The green revolution in India is perhaps one of the most revolutionary events of modern times. We should be keen, not to throw money about, but to help producers to help themselves and Governments to pursue policies that make sense.

Photo of Mr Peter Griffiths Mr Peter Griffiths , Portsmouth North 5:25 pm, 9th May 1983

I have considerable pleasure in taking part in the debate. It does not divide us on party lines, because, although we may have our own ideas about the most effective way of directing aid to those in need, there is unanimity in the House that there is a clear, direct and immediate responsibility upon the wealthier countries to help alleviate the suffering in less fortunate countries, that we cannot shuffle off that responsibility and that the Government have not sought to avoid it.

I realise that many who advocate more generous overseas aid are dissatisfied with the efforts of any Government and, over the years, successive Governments have been criticised for their actions in the light of the economic circumstances of the time.

However, in the last full year for which records are available, this country's achievement in providing a proportion of its gross national product which was almost 25 per cent. above the average of other OECD countries, which, on the whole, are rather better off than us on a per capita basis, is no mean feat. It is an effort that we should hold up as an example of what can be done and will continue to be done as our national resources increase with the restoration of prosperity that I trust we shall see in the years to come.

I hesitate to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) in his absence, although, as he will be subjected to much more criticism over the next few weeks, as will the rest of us, perhaps he will not take it amiss if I express a modest disagreement with what he said. He was less than generous in describing the European Community's initiative and he gave the impression that it was simply a sop and that providing food was not solving the problems of the poorest countries. There was also an implied suggestion that the EC was producing unnecessary food surpluses and was simply seeking more acceptable ways of disposing of them.

I have discussed these matters on many occasions with constituents who are particularly concerned about overseas aid. I pay tribute to the members of the world development movement who have kept me up to scratch on these issues since 1979 and who will, I trust, feel it necessary to do so for some time to come. They take an absolutely disinterested and non-partisan view, and they regularly press me to make it clear that the main priority is that of providing food for the hungry. Of course, we all want the infrastructure of underdeveloped countries to be improved, as well as improvements in transport, education and health services, but it is essential to create and maintain food supplies if the people in less developed countries are to play their part in the development of the economic infrastructure of their countries.

I therefore welcome the initiative that has been taken by the European Community. Perhaps I might mention some of the details. In fact, it is not a programme for handing out food, although those of us who have seen the pictures of starving men, women and children, in central and east Africa and elsewhere, would not take exception to the idea of simply handing out food to people who are in such great need.

Article 2 clearly establishes that the aid shall be directed towards developing countries, "especially the least developed". It is surely in those countries that the development of adequate and reliable food supplies must be a priority. With food to give them health and strength, the people of the underdeveloped countries and their friends overseas can co-operate in the further developments that may take them out of the category of "least developed".

It is clearly stated in article 3 that Community aid shall be directed towards those programmes which the beneficiary countries have decided to undertake". This is not something that is imposed from outside, or something in which the wealthy or relatively wealthy and relatively successful countries simply tell others how to proceed. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), who said that we should not direct our aid either to those countries that we find politically attractive or away from those that we find politically unattractive. Our aid should go where the need is greatest, as long as there is a guarantee that the aid will go to those who require the aid most.

In paragraph 2 of article 3, I note that the measures are to support the production, marketing, storage and transportation of agricultural products. So it is not just the original production, but the further stages of the development of agriculture from production through to the market place. That is essential in many countries, not only the poorest, on the basis of per capita income. We are sometimes misled by per capita income figures. Some countries appear to have relatively comfortable levels of average income, but they include pockets of the most gross and abysmal poverty. We should remember those areas, as well as the countries that have the lowest income per capita.

I draw particular attention to paragraph 3 of article 3 about reafforestation and prevention of the extension of desert". There is evidence, which no doubt we have all studied over the past few years, that there are climatic changes in areas on each side of the Equator which are leading to changes in the natural ground cover and directly affecting agricultural activities, particularly to the north of the Equator and on the southern reaches of what was traditionally the Sahara. I suggest that in past, at least, human activity has encouraged the encroachment of the desert. The overgrazing of the land, the ploughing of marginal land, and the cutting down of timber for fencing, housing and fuel have reduced the ability of the land to regenerate itself from year to year, and have allowed the encroachment of the desert.

Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I know the Sahara region quite well, and I endorse what my hon. Friend says, particularly about overgrazing. I believe that donkeys and goats do far more to advance the spread of the desert than climatic changes.

Photo of Mr Peter Griffiths Mr Peter Griffiths , Portsmouth North

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was going to say that in my own speciality, the study of the United States, I have examined in detail the problems of the middle-west states in the 1920s and 1930s — the so-called "dust bowl" in Oklahoma and Arkansas, for example. There, problems were caused in areas that traditionally had been grasslands as a result of overploughing and the removal of afforestation. I therefore welcome this as a way in which it may be possible to arrest the encroachment of the desert on land that previously was suitable for either grazing or cultivation.

A key to all this will be the education and training programme that is mentioned in paragraph 4 of article 3. It is difficult to explain to people that larger numbers of cattle or other animals, which have often been the traditional form of wealth, are not advantageous in themselves, and that fewer, more selectively bred animals may be far more wealth-producing for the future, and may cause far less damage to the surrounding soil.

I mentioned my constituency earlier, as I am sure many of us will do over the coming weeks. I simply want to jog the Minister's memory, 'while he is captive on the Front Bench, about the proposal that arose in Portsmouth from a retired lecturer at the Portsmouth polytechnic. He has spent many years in service overseas on the development of food programmes. He has developed a design for a machine which places a thin layer of asphalt underneath the porous topsoil in areas where rainfall is deficient. The effect is that, whereas normally the rain drains away and water may be available at a considerable depth, by placing a non-porous layer beneath the topsoil the water is kept at such a depth that it does not immediately evaporate and is available for the production of crops. No doubt my right hon. Friend will recall that he has already arranged for one of his technical officers to examine the project. The scheme would probably have high capital costs but it would bring enormous benefits in the long run. This may be the type of project for the European Community to espouse in helping to develop countries north of the Equator and south of the Sahara.

Finally, I welcome the fact that this initiative has been taken by the European Community. I have been critical of that organisation on many occasions, and I am certainly not uncritical of it now, but following what was said by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central about the problems of political orientation, it seems to me that aid should be made available by groups of countries instead of by individual national Governments. That way it may be more acceptable to the recipient countries. Countries that are poor are grateful for aid, but they often have their pride and feel that they may be pawns in a world political struggle in which they are drawn on to the side that offers them aid. The EC is a firm and staunch part of the Western world but its aid does not carry the same political implication as that from a national Government. The EC contains within its boundaries Governments of varied complexions. Therefore, it is able to offer overseas aid without the recipient feeling that it is coming from a country with one particular political programme as its guide.

We are discussing a special programme to combat hunger in the world. Over the next few weeks, I fear that there will be much sound and fury and that we shall find much on which to disagree. Perhaps here this afternoon we can all find full agreement in discussing a programme to combat world hunger.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham 5:40 pm, 9th May 1983

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), who has considerable knowledge of and has shown much thoughtfulness about some of the problems that the developing countries face. In particular, he highlighted many of the problems that are faced by African countries and I find myself in close agreement with much of what he had to say.

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister for not hearing all his speech, but, if it is any comfort to him, I found myself in complete accord with that which I did hear. I share some of his reservations about the proposal, which, in broad terms, is excellent. I welcome the fact that, due to events this week, we have a fortuitous chance to discuss what, after all, if we think about it deeply, is of great importance, not just to the developing world, but to ourselves. If the developing world can succeed in tackling some of its grave agriculture problems with the help of the European Community, we can trade more with them, thus benefiting Britain's trade, standard of living and job opportunities. The issue is singularly important.

I want to make a small contribution to this debate, having been, for the first three years of this Government, a Minister with particular responsibility for African affairs, but also for the Caribbean and Latin America. I hope that it will be of some value to the debate. The more I travelled round Africa and the Caribbean, the more strongly I felt that the key to the prospects of the developing countries in the last part of this century centred on their ability to be more self-sufficient in agriculture. One reason why the African continent is suffering grave economic setbacks, which in turn cause acute political problems, is that so many African countries have become less and less self-sufficient in agriculture, which has created greater unemployment and structural unemployment as well, and greater political instability.

Let us take the first example that comes to mind. We have recently seen in west Africa the serious exodus of illegal immigrants from Nigeria. When I say serious, I am not criticising the Nigerian Government for deciding that illegal immigrants must go. One must ask why, not just thousands of people, but, according to the estimates, at least 1 million—principally from Ghana—were recently asked to leave Nigeria so quickly. Ghana had and has great economic and agricultural potential. It is close to the United Kingdom in historic terms and in its trade and agricultural ties. Yet its agricultural production has not succeeded. In fact, it has had increasingly serious difficulties. The result was a declining standard of living and much poverty, and therefore its people flocked to other countries, principally Nigeria, the nearest country to offer the prospect of jobs and a higher standard of living. Had Ghana succeeded in recent years in increasing its agricultural production, that serious problem would not have arisen.

Last week the Foreign Minister of the state of Benin paid an official visit to Britain. I am glad that he did so, because it is important that we get to know some of the leaders of the Francophone states in Africa. During his visit he brought home not only the seriousness of the crisis which the exodus of so many people from Nigeria had created for his country, but some evidence, which he said was now becoming increasingly available, that more and more of those who went from Nigeria to Ghana were now flowing back into Nigeria because they found conditions in their villages in Ghana so serious.

It all comes back to the problem which we are now discussing, which is of such great importance to the people of the developing world and consequently to the Western world. I feel strongly that the emphasis must move away from simply emergency food aid to how we can help our friends in the developing world to produce more food for themselves, with a view to avoiding, wherever they can, the kind of acute emergency that arises more and more frequently in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

It is essential that we in the Western world should be quick to respond to an immediate crisis—a drought or whatever it may be — by providing immediate emergency supplies. Britain's response to the crisis in Karamoja in northern Uganda several years ago was magnificent. I seem to remember that £5 million or £6 million was raised voluntarily and sent through voluntary bodies to help those people. I went out soon after the emergency had started and witnessed the work of voluntary bodies such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Save the Children Fund, as well as the work that was carried out with straight Government aid.

What is more important in the long term is the way in which we in the West can help developing countries to cultivate even harsh desert regions so that they can be cushioned against some of the worst effects of natural disasters. Such countries can therefore be given greater prospects of survival and an improved standard of living. We must be ready to respond to these emergencies when they arise, but we must seek ways in which we can make it easier to prevent them arising in the first place.

During the weekend I attended a conference at Ditchley park on the international problems of refugees, which was chaired by the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). There is often an exodus of refugees when a country has not been able to cope with its agricultural production problems.

The Williamsburg conference will be of supreme importance to us all—I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attaches the highest importance to it. I hope that the Western world and developing countries will find ways in which they can reach a greater understanding and a greater measure of co-operation, especially on agricultural production. I hope also that they will consider ways in which encouragement can be given to stimulate a greater degree of agricultural production. If some concrete understandings can be reached at Williamsburg, that will be of great benefit to the developing as well as to the developed countries.

I was struck by the World Bank's 1982 report on the African continent's economic problems, which was a hard-headed and realistic analysis of the continent's problems. It is clear that there is no hope of seeing an improvement in the standard of living of African countries through better agricultural production unless the majority of them pursue policies that will create that sort of environment. That was what my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) was saying earlier.

Market forces have a crucial part to play. When I visited the Cameroons about 18 months ago, I was impressed by their success in agricultural production. Some of the neighbouring Francophone countries are, similarly, being successful. Why is this so? It is principally because these countries have taken the bold measure of ensuring that farmers who take the risk of producing receive a reasonable return for their produce. Unless that is so, there will not be an increase in agricultural production. Indeed, in the absence of that return there will be a need for more and more food to be imported. That is what we are seeing throughout the African continent and in many other parts of the world. If that continues, there will be increasing economic devastation.

The World Bank report was right to stress that developing countries' leaders must take the lead. Against that background, the Western world can offer active cooperation and help. There is much that we already offer in our aid programmes—for example, crop protection, agricultural management, produce research and personnel training. These various forms of assistance are of great importance, but they are only complementary and supplementary to the policies of the recipient countries. If they do not pursue policies that actively create the right environment for the expansion of agricultural production, all the assistance that the Western world gives, whether through the Community or nationally, will be wasted.

I hope that note will be taken at Williamsburg, at Community conferences and at any gathering where these issues are discussed of the report by the World Bank. We should seek to persuade our friends in the Community and at Commonwealth level that they should note the report and do more to create an environment that will lead to the expansion of agricultural production. We need leadership from the Community, and I think that the proposal before us will play its part. We need leadership at Williamsburg, and we certainly need leadership within the Commonwealth. Equally, we need statesmanship and leadership from the developing countries' Heads of State.

This is very much a two-way business. If that is realised, we might make some progress. I hope that we shall not lose sight of the importance and need for those of great knowledge of agriculture in the Western world to play a more prominent part in positions of responsibility in the developing countries, provided that those countries ask for them and are prepared to put them in those positions.

There has been a sharp distinction between what the Francophone countries have done in co-operation with the French and what we have done. However, there is a case for thinking in terms of a Community corps of experts and advisers as well as a Commonwealth corps, which could more readily be encouraged to assist developing countries in dealing with important issues such as agricultural production.

If we in the West, within the Community and at Willaimsburg set the lead and demonstrate with a strong appeal to our friends in the developing countries—in the Commonwealth and elsewhere—that we are willing to create the right climate and the right environment for increased agricultural production, I am sure that the initiative will be met with a ready response. If that is achieved, we shall be making some progress to our mutual advantage.

6 pm

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I hope I shall be forgiven for being absent during the earlier part of the debate, but this has been a somewhat confusing day, for reasons that go wider than the subject under discussion. I hope that because we are in the last week of this Parliament our debate has a symbolic implication for the future. We should discuss hunger in the world more often. When we do—for example, in the debates on the second Brandt report—both here and in another place, I fear that the same parliamentarians speak to each other in a sort of charmed circle. Those of us who have been committed to this subject for a long time have failed to create a sufficient sense of priority among our fellows, both inside and outside Parliament, and I hope that in the next Parliament there will be more time for debate, and a greater sense of urgency about these issues.

I speak as a former Minister for Overseas Development. I had the task on two occasions of leading the British delegation to the FAO annual conference and I attended the Council of Ministers of the Community when food aid was being discussed. This is a subject on which priorities are argued by the inner circle, so to speak, and I fear that much of what I have heard today has been a repetition of earlier debates.

I heard my right hon. Friend on the radio this morning and I thought that, as a Minister, he talked sense. I agree that, whereas we need to do more for the hungry people of the world, the latest ideas to come from the Community are not necessarily the most helpful way of approaching the task. We already have too much machinery —national, European, United Nations, the machinery of United Nations agencies and much else besides. We need to increase the resources available to the institutions we have, perhaps making them more efficient and cost-effective. We shall not do that by setting up new institutions or by creating initiatives that simply produce masses of paper but no tangible results for the hungry people of the world.

If the proposal we are discussing, or any proposals, were to lead to more resources being made available from Britain and our partners in the Community, that would be welcome because we could say that more was being tone, but from my understanding of what is happening we are simply allocating resources to the ODA from another part of the overall programme, and that is not helpful.

I recall the difficulty we had when I was Minister in working out the aid framework every year, having to decide what resources should be allocated to the vast number of claimants for bilateral and multilateral aid. I recall the difficulty involved in making adjustments, and I appreciate that my right hon. Friend must be experiencing similar difficulties now. His task is not helped by the creation of new machinery, unless a strong case is presented to us for its establishment, and that, has not occurred.

In general, food aid is not the most effective way to fight the problems of hunger, malnutrition and poverty. It has an important part to play, especially in times of emergency. One thinks of earthquakes and droughts. The terrible situation in Ethopia immediately comes to mind. On such occasions there is urgent need for the world community to help with relief supplies—food, medical and other items — but that is a relief rather than a development operation and it is no substitute for the ongoing and much larger solutions that are required. Jonathan Swift wrote of the importance of making two blades of grass grow where one grew before.

I remember a visit I paid in the autumn of 1968 to the Punjab, that region of India where the green revolution —to use the jargon of the time—had been much more successful than it had been in most other parts of India or the developing world. New strains of seeds had been introduced, developed mainly by the state agricultural university there as part of an aid programme in which that university was helped to a great degree by the university of Ohio. Trying to persuade the local farmers to use the new seeds was the first difficulty to overcome. Farmers the world over are conservative and suspicious of intellectual advice. However, once the new seeds had been shown to work well, the farmers were anxious to obtain them. When I visited the area the farmers were walking hundreds of miles to the university to obtain the new strains of seeds.

It is not just a question of new seeds, of course. Irrigation, fertilisers, pesticides and so on are all factors to be taken into account, and it is especially in those spheres that we must help the developing countries. I wish the British people were more aware of the achievements, for example, of the Tropical Products Institute and the help that is given by British scientific institutions as part of our aid programme. There is also the work of British exporters in the developing world. For many years they have been helping to tackle coffee berry disease in India and many other problems throughout the world. We can do much by providing technical assistance to help them to increase their food production.

I have been horrified to see some figures about the food situation in Africa. A recent report by the United Nations world food council pointed out that per capita food production in Africa declined by 7 per cent. in the 1960s and by 15 per cent. in the 1970s. After a small improvement in 1980, it had fallen again in 1981. The director-general of the FAO said recently: At present, 20 to 30 per cent. of their population"— the poorest African countries— is hungry and malnourished during the greater part of the year". That shows that we are not talking about temporary crises arising from, say, drought, but that we are faced with an ongoing situation of human misery on a vast scale.

We must do more to help through existing channels rather than setting up new machinery. I welcomed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) when he spoke of the Williamsburg summit. I hope that the Prime Minister still intends to attend it. I recently wrote to her, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Overseas Development. My plea—it was not original; it has been made on many occasions by hon. Members—was to the effect that the Williamsburg summit was an occasion for the leading Western nations to commit themselves on a much bigger scale to the global fight against poverty and hunger, and to do so because it is morally right and because of the overwhelming need for interdependence, a word used strongly in the second Brandt report.

At Williamsburg, world statesmen should be looking for a way of stimulating the world economy and promoting economic growth without starting a world inflationary spiral all over again. I believe that there is overwhelming evidence that the best way to promote growth without the danger of inflation is to concentrate immediate efforts on the poorest parts of the world and to promote successful development programmes in those regions. The rural sector must have priority in development programmes.

If one looks at the problems of many countries in Africa and southern Asia and the plight of their cities, one sees that that plight is aggravated year by year by the poverty of the countryside. Despite all the terrible problems of Calcutta, people still go there from the rural areas, consequently increasing the overcrowding, unemployment and urban squalor. I have heard it said that for every new job created in Calcutta — they are created in the industrial sector—unemployment is increased because, on average, three people go into the city in search of every one new job. The only answer to that dilemma is successful development of the countryside, of which food production is the most important, though not necessarily the only, element. If farmers become more prosperous they will want other goods and there will be a spin-off in other parts of the economy.

I hope that these issues will not be forgotten during the general election campaign. I hope that the pressure groups —the World Development Movement, Christian Aid, the United Nations Association, the churches and many other people—will ask candidates of all parties where they stand in relation to Great Britain's effort in assisting the poorest countries. Our aid programme is the clearest single test of our national will to help. Commodity problems, private investment and all the other such matters need to be discussed. It should not be a party issue.

Great Britain's performance in the past has been inadequate under Governments of both parties. I believe that the same is roughly true of all other Western countries. One needs to alter the national mood towards these matters. People should not regard help for the developing world as a marginal charity—something into which one puts a coin or two if one is in the right mood and can afford it. Aid should be seen as a vital priority within our national policy because of the need for interdependence and for moral reasons. I hope therefore that this subject will be raised at election meetings and that candidates of all parties will be challenged to say where they stand on this issue.

Photo of Mr John Loveridge Mr John Loveridge , Havering Upminster 6:13 pm, 9th May 1983

Want in the midst of plenty must horrify us all and yet time and again we read reports of prolonged famine, which even all our modern transport and reserves of food cannot relieve quickly. I am therefore happy to welcome the Council's recommendation for the implementation of a "Special Programme to Combat Hunger in the World" within the European Community. The Commission has proposed that the Council should set aside 50 million ecu of appropriations in its 1983 budget under that heading.

The document that we are debating emphasises that the grant aid is for developing countries, to support national food strategies, structural measures designed to protect the natural resources of developing countries and to improve the way in which those resources are utilised and to finance training. What a change that is from the history of food and the Third world. We have so often seen food supplies to Third world countries depress and sometimes destroy the indigenous agriculture and the farmers' capacity to make sales. Impoverished, those farmers turned to their Governments for help. Their Governments in turn have gladly bought American surpluses and, latterly, European surpluses cheaply, although the European surpluses have been bought on a smaller scale. That has left country after country with desperate balance of payments problems and heavy debts to banks. They no longer have the resources for the redevelopment of their own agriculture with its need for new machinery for cultivation, for new wells, and new technologies to take advantage of building up what they had before—the capacity to feed themselves. They do not then have the money to trade with or to buy from the advanced countries. Aid by itself is not enough. In Europe's time of need after the war, when its factories were destroyed and its agriculture run down General de Gaulle called for trade, not aid.

It is necessary to have aid for emergencies. We should always be ready to help the starving with immediate transport and food but, above all, our resources should ensure that these countries can feed themselves.

The way in which America has responded is to be welcomed. There was an article in The Economist of 9 April with the unusual heading "Surprise, surprise". It stated that because the United States had suddenly taken out of production immense acreages, a total of 82 million acres were to be left idle in the coming planting season. That will surely help the trade war that was pending between Europe and America over the export of agricultural surpluses and has set a marvellous example to Europeans. It should never be forgotten, however, that the growth in the sale of European agricultural surpluses is small compared to American sales. Although an important factor, European sales have been on nothing like the scale of those of the United States with its vast prairies from which to draw.

The article speaks of the American move confounding sceptics in America who thought farmers would refuse to allow their land to go fallow on such a scale. A generous United States Government have provided the equivalent of a subsidy to allow this land to lie fallow. That will undoubtedly have a profound effect on world prices and keep them at a level that will not allow, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) said, an inflationary spiral to arise from a sharp over-production and supply of agricultural produce.

The amounts cut back are substantial-32 million acres of wheat and 40 million acres of corn and sorghum are not to be planted and the remainder of the total of 82 million acres are not to be planted with cotton and rice under the new programme announced by the United States Government. A further 100 million acres will remain uncultivated under other programmes previously settled. That represents an enormous cutback in production and might at first sight appear to be dangerous when food is short in the world. However, the Americans' stores are full and in Europe we have our own food mountains. It is wiser to have food mountains and to sell what cannot be stored to hungry Russians at a cut rate than to run the risk of the weather— and agriculture is totally dependent on the weather— resulting in a bad harvest year. We should never forget the seven lean years of Bible history. Today, with the miracle of new seeds, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry referred, we have seen that two people can be fed from the same amount of land that would have previously fed one person.

The difficulty is that every advance in seed technology has been followed by advances in disease. No one can be certain that the advances in technology can for ever keep ahead of the ravages of disease to which weak crops are prone. It is most imporant that in Europe—and perhaps some of the money might be set aside for this—and in the world generally, old seeds long in use should be preserved and that one should try to cross them, as has been done, with modern seeds, because in many cases old seeds give protection against disease, while the new seeds give high-yielding crops.

The example set by the United States must make us all feel a little humble. A real and direct sacrifice has been made by the American Government for the good of the world. It is one of the most significant single Government decisions to be taken in recent years, and will have profound effects for good so long as—I emphasise this —we help the poor and undeveloped nations to grow their own crops, to keep up to date with technology and to sink wells, and so long as we help them by inviting their partially trained people to come to the agricultural schools in the Western world. The amount set aside by the EC of 50 million ecu is not large for such a programme. It is a very small sum for so great a purpose, but at least it is a beginning. For the first time the EC will have in its budget a "Special Programme to Combat Hunger".

I spoke earlier of my concern about the balance of payments, when Third world countries imported too much food, for which they could not afford to pay, which destroyed their capacity to produce food that they needed, even when they had previously been self-sufficient. The failure of the world farm industry could be a key to a major industrial slump beyond the extent of any recession that we have recently observed. A failure of the farm industry in the United States could set off such a slump. The effects of America going off the gold standard under President Nixon, which led to the sharp increase in oil prices, would make our recent recession look small compared to what might happen. Agriculture remains the world's largest single industry. Therefore, stable farm prices are vital to the economies of all Western countries and to the Eastern and Communist countries.

Any drop in subsidy or in help to the farmers must be regarded with the greatest caution because if it induced a yo-yo effect in prices it could induce a slump the like of which we have not seen. It is therefore with regret that I have sometimes heard hon. Members talk about cutting back our agriculture and buying in the world's cheapest markets. That is exactly what has happened to the Third world countries. They have bought in the cheapest world markets. As a result, they have undermined their agriculture, have had balance of payments problems, have had to cut back their industry and can no longer trade adequately with the Western world. The roots of stability for the Western economies and the possibility of advances in technology lie in keeping agriculture stable. It is far better to have a few small food mountains than shortages.

I shall refer in a little more detail to the food supplies of the world. The figures for wheat this year are expected to be greater even than the record figure in 1981. It is estimated that there will be a wheat crop of 476 million tonnes and a coarse grain crop of 784 million tonnes. That means that there will be plenty of food about, even in spite of the "set aside" programme in the United States. However, that does not mean that there will not be a need for an enormous programme from the Western world for the training of technologists from the underdeveloped countries to help their agriculture—far more than the 50 million ecu referred to in the document that we are discussing.

World consumption of wheat rose from 349 million tonnes to 461 million tonnes between 1971 and 1981. However, in Russia, production fell from a little over a third of the world total to under a quarter. There had to be imports as a result. This must surely reflect upon the Russians' capacity to manage their agriculture properly. It is a pity, without wishing to be offensive to such a country, that some "set aside" programme, comparable with the 50 million ecu programme, could not be used to train the Russians in how to use their own land more effectively. It is dangerous for the Western world that that country should be so heavily armed and yet incapable of feeding itself from its own good soil.

One of the most important factors affecting the Third world has been the rise in oil prices and the fact that large sums of money have been set aside that have not been reinvested. We talk of loan recycling but in many cases loans have been recycled into bits of paper and not into factories. The debts that have amassed have placed an immense burden upon the Western world and, in turn, upon agriculture. The debt of the non-OPEC developing countries was $70,000 million in 1980 and rose in the following year to $83,000 million, or 27 per cent. of their total export earnings. These figures represent idle money, which means recession.

There has also been a decline in food output not only in, for example, the USSR, but—more relevant in terms of the use of the 50 million ecu in the document under discussion—in Africa, where we are unhappy to note that the output of food per head fell by seven per cent. in the 1960s and a further 15 per cent. in the 1970s. A great belt of land across Africa has been affected by drought. Even more important was the fact that many countries were buying in cheap imports and ruining their own agriculture as a result. People were driven out of the rural areas into the cities, although the resources were not available even to make the growing shanty towns hygienic. That has been a grave anxiety to us all.

I was in Bophuthatswana at the end of last year, where they are wisely trying to build up their agriculture, and there I heard talk of large numbers of people trying to infiltrate down from the drought-stricken countries to the north. The problem has been accentuated by an increasing and sorry drought in recent months.

Fifty million ecu will not go far. It is merely a gesture. However, we should welcome the gesture, because once it is established in the EC budget voices will be heard saying that the sums available should be increased. It is important to stress that the money should go to training and to re-establishing dying areas of agriculture that can be revived, rather than to providing more cheap food. That would only set up again the unhappy cycle of which we have spoken.

At present, perhaps a quarter of the population in the world's poorest countries is hungry and malnourished during much of the year. That figure cannot fail to affect the hearts of all those who think of what it means. We see on our television sets the effect on the children, and we weep for them in our hearts, because those deaths are not necessary in a world of plenty.

Europe and America must work together. It is true that much has been done. The EC plans to give aid flows amounting to $1,200 million to the agricultural sector this year. That represents an increase under the second Lométion period, 1981 to 1985, over the aid flows under the previous Lomé convention.

I spoke earlier of the USSR. The output of the harvest of that great people is estimated at about 160 million tonnes. It should be perhaps 60 million tonnes more than that, and the harvests of potatoes and sugar beet in the USSR have been well below target in the past as well. The Russians have improved their milk production, and they have a gigantic herd of cows. That might suggest that the population of Russia should be well and comfortably fed, but the sad truth is that their cows do not produce as much milk as they could. Again, there is a need for training.

The imbalance between the USSR on the one hand and Europe and America on the other is very dangerous. Anything that we can do to help the Russians to make better use of their agricultural land — without giving offence to that great people—should be done.

I hope that it is not outside the scope of the debate to speak about the distress in Russia. Perhaps "distress" is the wrong word, but the Russians are not doing as well as they could.

Photo of Viscount  Cranborne Viscount Cranborne , South Dorset

I am interested in my hon. Friend's comments about Russian agriculture. He quite properly hopes that the Russians will improve their rate of production, but is it not ironic that the Russians are actively trying to prevent another Third world country — Afghanistan — producing any food at all? Indeed, they are destroying crops there. Is that not a curious paradox?

Photo of Mr John Loveridge Mr John Loveridge , Havering Upminster

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. It is quite right, when we are discussing what Europe is trying to do for the underdeveloped world, to note that another great people is trying to prevent part of the underdeveloped world from peacefully growing its own crops. The Russians would be wise to allow the people of Afghanistan to go their way in peace, and to help the Western world to provide training for the reconstruction of their agriculture.

I hope that the money that will be provided if this EC proposal is accepted will be used largely for training in the Western world as a whole.

It is interesting to compare the grain yields of different areas. The United Kingdom might hope to produce six or seven tonnes of grain per hectare. There are "10-tonne clubs", and I have even heard of 15 tonnes a hectare being produced on an experimental basis. However, we use large amounts of fertiliser, and it would not be proper to expect such use in the countries about which we are speaking. They would not have the cultivating equipment, the water, the storage or transport needed to cope with heavy harvests per hectare. We need to enable them to take in the small harvests per hectare that they can produce, and to train them to do so rather than to give up harvesting altogether and to buy cheap grain from elsewhere.

In the United States about 4·2 tonnes of grain are produced per hectare. That figure has risen from 1·6 tonnes over the past 30 years, because of the green revolution and the new methods of cultivation. In the USSR, yields have risen only from 0·8 to 1·4 tonnes per hecare — a very low figure. It is no wonder that the Soviet Union has to import grain from America and Europe.

However, all is not dark in eastern Europe. Although Czechoslovakia's grain harvest was below the planned level, it did well with sugar and fruit. Any improvement in output is to be encouraged, because it improves the prospects for peace and for peaceful trade in industrial as well as agricultural produce. Poland, however, is in a sad state. It has almost become a Third world country. Rationing has been in force throughout the year. Europe and America have, in the generous outpouring of their stores of food, recognised the needs of their neighbours. More than help in supplies, though, they need help to grow more themselves. In the Third world we should go back to what was once widely applauded and taken up even more than at present—the concept of voluntary service overseas. It is not that these countries lack the money; rather they lack training. For example, one reads of wells sunk in countries such as Bangladesh. Then, in that wet and flooded country, the wells silt up. Without adequate training to keep the wells in operation all the good of the first help is undone.

Limited though the money is, we welcome the European initiative. Our basic message must be to help people to produce enough food to feed themselves, thereby creating the wealth to buy Western machinery so that those countries can become mechanised and in turn buy from us.

As has already been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, the debt of the world's banks hangs heavy over the whole question of how we can help Western agriculture. In January 1973, I forecast debt levels for our own country rising to £10,000 million. That happened. Increased debts have also occurred in much of the rest of the world. The Williamsburg meetings will be the key to the hungry world's hopes. Unless in some way Williamsburg is able to solve the financing of future trade, we shall find that agriculture may slip back, and with that there could be a drastic and dramatic slump from which it might take years to recover.

We must encourage our Government to do everything that they can to bring sanity to this question, so that we avoid the volatility of the wildly fluctuating yo-yo exchange rates that we have seen in recent years. We must avoid the imprudence of advancing money to countries that cannot repay it, for things that they may not need, which often destroy the very roots of their own prosperity by damaging their capacity to feed themselves.

This European Community document is to be welcomed. It is good, but it is not enough. I hope and pray that the Government will carry the message to Europe that we must set aside more money for training countries to feed themselves.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington 6:42 pm, 9th May 1983

The whole subject of food aid immediately triggers an emotional response among the British electorate, and I am sure that that is true of all the Christian people of Europe as well. Therefore, emotion is inevitably in favour of a proposal such as this. But, increasingly, we are coming to realise that simply disposing of aid without discrimination does not necessarily do the best for people living in countries in the greatest need of the basic things of life. We must use our brains and should not merely respond impulsively with our hearts.

I hope that it will be in order if I spend a few minutes considering the food aid policy of the European Community. I shall divide my remarks into two considerations — the chronic food surplus that is developing in member states and the chronic food shortage in the developing countries, even those with long-established connections with the western European industrial countries.

Many people are beginning to think that, like the United States, western Europe should be working towards a recognition that we are likely to have a permanent export surplus, at any rate of some classes of foodstuffs. Therefore, we must consider how the disposal of our food surpluses will fit into our policy of encouraging food production in other countries.

I want particularly to look at the difference between the position in Britain and that on the Continent, because every year we have an unhappy conflict over food policy, particularly the effects of the CAP in the matter of price support. That aspect of the European Community budget causes the most disputes and bitter antagonism, and I am afraid that this year we have not improved on former years, because Britain appears once again to be the odd man out on food policy.

I believe, however, that our awkward relationship with the CAP is transitional and not fundamental: it is a serious issue, however, and it is worth considering why the situation in Britain is so different from that in the Continental countries. We have to look back to the first part of the 19th century to understand why our agriculture is so different.

Britain was the first major country to industrialise and to bring large numbers of people into the tow ns. In the middle of the 19th century, the vast majority of people on the Continent gained their living from agriculture or forestry and, unlike in Britain, one did not find large urban populations dependent on the price of food and unable to look after themselves, as agricultural communities can in good years and bad.

I suppose that it was inevitable that Britain was the first country to allow in supplies of grain and meat from countries such as North America, Australia and New Zealand, which were developing vast export surpluses of cheap foodstuffs during the 19th century. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 is the origin of Britain's difficulties now—in 1983—with our Continental partners over the CAP. In order to feed its towns, Britain adopted a cheap food policy, whereas on the Continent that policy was resisted and agriculture protected right up until recent times. Indeed, it is still protected as a matter of policy, whereas we are still inclined to the cheap food policy we adopted in the 19th century.

It is all forgotten now, but the effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws on British agriculture was disastrous. It ruined a large proportion of the British farm population, which sought emigration as the only way to survive. Many tens of thousands of British farmworkers went to Canada, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere to continue their livelihoods, because it was no longer possible to farm in Britain at the prices set by world competition.

I suppose that that was the principal reason why by 1914 such a large part of the world was coloured red. Britain had an enormous surplus of farmworkers. However, the same thing did not happen on the Continent. The people there remained in their overmanned, terribly inefficient and medieval systems of agriculture. By the end of the war, in 1945 or 1950, 20 to 25 per cent. of the population of France was directly dependent on agriculture for its living, whereas here the proportion was less than 5 per cent. and still declining. In Italy, the proportion of the population that was entirely dependent on agriculture was even higher and the proportion was still extremely high in parts of south Germany. The agricultural population had political clout, and the industry was seriously overmanned.

In the early days of the Common Market, the enormous surplus population on the land was recognised by Mansholt, who introduced schemes which at the time were considered to be intensely controversial but which, looking back, were probably right. He tried to find ways in which to resettle the huge surplus population. For Britain, the problem had long been forgotten. When the Common Market came into being, there was a grab for funds to deal with the biggest social problem—the most overmanned industry in Europe. That was not so much because cheap food was being imported from the rest of the world as because social and technical change was breaking through into European agriculture and people were not prepared to continue to live in primitive housing without proper facilities; the younger generation was drifting into the towns because there were better opportunities there; farming methods changed because even the older farmers discovered that they could make more profit by using machinery rather than horses.

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, agriculture on the Continent changed very rapidly. However, it was subsidised by raising prices artificially throughout the Common Market. It is tempting to wonder what might have happened if a deficiency payment system had been introduced under the Treaty of Rome rather than the policy of maintaining high prices, which was the form of protection chosen for the less efficient producers. To this day, France and Italy have large agrarian populations that are maintained—I hate to use the expression but I shall — in a human zoo. Methods that are seen to be inefficient are still permitted because it is not possible to accommodate a faster drift away from the land. One has only to consider the changes in great cities such as Paris, Lille, Milan and German cities, where enormous numbers of new schools, high-rise flats and other facilities have been built to house the population that has drifted from the land, to realise the pressure that the change in agriculture has put on the national economies.

European agriculture is in transition and there is still a tendency to overproduce, not because of farm policy or for economic reasons but as an aspect of social policy. Continental politicians ask how it is possible to press for reform of the CAP when there is unemployment in Continental towns. They simply cannot accommodate a faster drift of population away from the land. Reducing food prices might reduce the food surplus, but it would destabilise their democratic societies.

We must therefore think in terms of a long-term Community programme for reform of the CAP. We cannot solve it by introducing measures from year to year as part of political pressure from the Commission, or from Britain or other member states. There are ways in which we should examine the problems of overmanned agriculture sympathetically. I have constantly advocated that there should be major expansion of our forestry programme. The main reason for overproduction, especially of dairy products, in the Common Market is the shortage of capital. If one is short of capital, one cannot carry one's family and outgoings on a farm for long. One must go in for the types of product that one can market quickly and get an immediate return on. That is one of the many reasons why there is such a remorseless surplus of milk. If one produces milk, one gets two crops a day. In one produces meat, one has to carry expenses for very much longer. If one produces timber, one is likely to get only one major crop in a lifetime or even longer. In marginal farming areas in continental Europe, farmers, their wives and their families cannot live on forestry unless there is a major programme of farm income support which enables them to make the switch out of short-term market products into the longer-term ones.

Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire

May I challenge my hon. Friend to come up to my constituency, perhaps after the general election, and defend before the National Farmers Union and especially dairy farmers in west Derbyshire the proposal that their farms be turned over to forestry?

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

We are one of the countries that are increasing their milk production. That is an embarrassing fact when we criticise the surplus of dairy products in the Common Market. Britain has not solved its problems any better than have other countries. I do not think that farmers in Derbyshire would resist the idea of producing timber if they thought that it would provide satisfactory support for their families in the long run. If one must persuade people to go into timber, one must show them that they can depend on 50 or 60 years of consistent price support so that they do not discover halfway through that they are stranded without means of financial support from their land.

We import large volumes of timber into the Community. When it comes to the disposal of the dairy surplus, we simply do not know how to dump the byproducts of milk production without embarrassing our friends. We must therefore take a long look at problems in the Community and put them in the context of world demand for food in the long run. We must make long-term plans for agriculture. Trying to deal on an ad hoc basis from year to year in the context of the annual budget in the European Community is not producing results. I hope that the Government will seek to make serious contributions to long-term thinking about European agriculture in the context of world demand. When I say long-term I do not speak of five or 10-year programmes. We must make projections of supply and demand over half a century if we are to make useful reforms in our agricultural system that will not ultimately prove to have been a waste of money.

I shall say a few words about the food shortage in developing countries, because it is an emotive subject. Many people in Kensington are deeply concerned about it and feel that it is against their normal principles to enjoy the benefits of ample supplies of food when they know from television, the press and their own examination of the world scene how many people are destitute or even dying of hunger every day. The world produces about 200,000 more people every day. I suppose that it is better to have a surplus of food in Europe than a shortage. If one projects that expansion in the size of population over a few years, it might seem that we shall soon need every ounce of grain and pint of milk that we can produce. But as the standard of living in developing countries increases, their inhabitants tend to have smaller families and their productivity increases, and therefore those countries which are now so desperately short of food—in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere — may in time reach a balance through the natural forces in their economies. However, we should be seen to be helping them in every possible way.

The Lomé convention is one of the best measures introduced in the European Community since Britain joined, but it has its deficiencies. It could give better value for money and improve in several ways Europe's contribution to the solution of the problems of the developing countries. First, it should be extended, and now is the right time to do that. We should not concentrate only on the major former dependencies of France and Britain, but we should look ahead to that time—I hope that it will come soon—when Spain and Portugal join the Community. They, too, have links with Spanish and Portugese-speaking areas in Latin America, Africa and the far east.

We should prepare a second Lomé convention that will embody in treaty form the relationship that we eventually want to strike up between the European Community and the Spanish and Portugese-speaking countries. We must make a long-term commitment to the Lomé convention. I do not necessarily suggest that we increase our payments under the Lomé convention, but we should enable those who plan its expenditure to think about programmes that will last 10, 15 or 20 years. Capitalism depends on the ability to make long-term plans with the reasonable certainty that they will bear fruit and prove to be right. Continuity of policy is therefore essential if our contribution to the Lomé convention is to be well spent.

To use the formula that many hon. Members use in speeches on the subject of food aid, "When a man is hungry it is better to teach him how to fish than to give him a fish". I would like to advocate once again my recommendation, which I have argued with Mr. Pisani in the Commission and with Ministers of the British Government, of the concept of the world university of the air. The opportunities for the transmission of ideas by satellite will soon be so numerous and widely spread that there will be a shortage of useful programmes to occupy the time available for sending out sound and sight messages by satellite all over the world. Europe must not be behind in coming forward with programmes that can be transmitted by satellite, and received all over the world, and that will be of real use to those who receive them.

I do not know how long it will be before millions of people will have acquired cheap facilities to receive sound and television broadcasts from satellites. When one considers the speed with which the Japanese develop new products, make them cheaper, market them and get them absorbed all over the world, we realise that even during the 1980s facilities will be available to establish a world university of the air.

That objective should be adopted by the Lomé convention, and would be in the long term a much more fruitful use of the money that Mr. Pisani is recommending the European Parliament and member states to spend on food aid. It would teach people how to make the best of their opportunities instead of becoming increasingly dependent on gifts of food and programmes introduced on a year-to-year basis from countries that remain technologically far superior.

Large cadres of people in the developing countries should be trained in the technology that will enable them to help themselves. We should prepare simple programmes in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages for regular transmission by satellite, and we should prepare tutorials to be used by the training establishments, schools and universities of the developing countries to allow students to make better use of the tapes.

The BBC language services are already being followed by millions of people, and we already have a successful Open university in Britain. It could be said that we have mastered the technique of tuition through radio transmission. Europe should seize that idea and use it for the benefit of the developing world.

Those are my recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the money that we spend through the Lomé convention. The proposal before us is modest and it would be churlish to criticise it. The House should approve the Commission's proposal, but it should return to the subject again and again.

Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire 7:05 pm, 9th May 1983

I apologise to hon. Members, especially to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, for the fact that I was not here to listen to his opening speech. It is poignant—I am not the first hon. Member to mention it — that in a depleted Chamber, preoccupied as we are by other considerations, we should be discussing a matter which, by any objective scale, is far more important than whether there will be a June election. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the Williamsburg conference, where she is determined to discuss such matters. It is sad that the substance of what she says about this matter will not be of much consequence during the election campaign, but it is comforting that, regardless of that fact, the matter is important to her.

I do not wish to be sententiously self-congratulatory, but it is a tribute to the honour and principle of hon. Members on both sides of the House that a subject on which there are so few votes should continue to command the attention of the House, as it does, and to command a goodly share of our resources. If we were selfish politicians who ask only from where the next handful of votes would come, we should not spend as much time and money on this matter as we do. To some of the malnourished children whom I have seen in Africa—I was brought up there and have travelled there extensively —it is of little importance whether the general election is on 9 June, 23 June or even October.

I have learnt much from the hon. Members who have spoken this evening. I was especially interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham, and I agree with him about the importance of trade. He mentioned the lack of self-sufficiency in some countries, especially in Ghana. I used to know Ghana quite well, and I am perplexed by the fact that a country which is so well endowed with the resources to produce its own food should have reached such a calamitous state. My hon. Friend said that most food aid should be provided in response to calamity and should not go beyond that. I agree with him, but the problem is that in some parts of the world calamity has become almost perpetual and, by relieving the calamity with such aid, in some ways one contributes to the perpetuation of the calamity. Yet it seems unkind to turn aside.

My hon. Friend mentioned the admirable and hardheaded World Bank report, and especially the success of the Cameroons in producing their own food. I travelled recently across the northern Cameroons; and hon. Members would be surprised by what a gentle, fertile, rich and well-farmed country it is. Parts of it resemble the home counties, both in climate and the way in which they are farmed. My hon. Friend mentioned the need for a Community corps of experts and advisers, and I agree with him. There is often more of a need for experts and advisers than there is for large parcels of food.

I was interested in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). I agree with him that rationality rather than emotion is important. As he said, there is a chronic food surplus in the EC and a chronic food shortage in the Third world. That in itself is not necessarily wrong in principle. There is a chronic copper surplus in Zambia and a chronic copper shortage here. However, the parallels are superficial rather than profound, the problem being that, although there is a chronic food shortage in the Third world, it has to have the means to purchase the food being produced elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with trading where one trades what one can produce easily for what one cannot. The Third world countries that could produce food easily cannot pay for food from abroad, but yet are not producing the food that they need.

The poorer countries may one day approach a balance, because as people grow richer they tend to have fewer children, and the problems of overpopulation diminish. When things are working one has a virtuous circle, but when things are not working there is a vicious circle, and as countries grow poorer people seem to produce more children, and the population problem grows ever more intense. I admire the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, while remaining within the bounds of order, sustained a long discussion on the world university of the air, although that is not a subject upon which I can follow him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) made an interesting point. I agree with much of what he said, but he criticised somewhat unfairly my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells). The latter had suggested that food aid can sometimes be a bit of a sop and an outlet for the unwanted food, for example, that the Community produces. Those criticisms are valid, and that sometimes can be the effect of food aid. Wherever vested interests become involved in the provision of one form of aid rather than another, one must look carefully at the rational argument for that aid rather than at the rational arguments for the continued support of the vested interests producing the wherewithal.

Photo of Mr Peter Griffiths Mr Peter Griffiths , Portsmouth North

I trust that my hon. Friend recognises the importance of the EC document, which makes it clear that it is concerned with a much wider range of support for food production than simply the providing of packages of food for those who need them in the short term. It is a very broad plan, and it is in that sense that I welcome it.

Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire

I agree with my hon. Friend, and to the extent to which we can live up to the aims expressed in the programme, as opposed to some of the interests that sometimes become involved, we shall be very much the better.

I agree too about the endemic problems in the Third world for which the provision of aid is no solution, such as soil erosion, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend. I know parts of Africa very well, as I said. All that we are doing and all that we can ever hope to do by way of aid cannot begin to balance the damage that is being done and the way in which what could be rich farmland is being undone through soil erosion. Hon. Members who have not been to that part of the world would be shocked and amazed at the extent and sheer scale of the soil erosion. Without meaning to sound lighthearted—although it is a subject that is difficult to treat without an air of levity—goats are probably doing more damage in the world than British aid is doing good. A world programme for the eradication of goats, although it might bring us the sort of correspondence the clubbing of baby seals has been bringing us over the past years, would do a great deal to help the people of those territories.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North mentioned, as did other hon. Members, the hoarding of cattle. In parts of Africa and India, cattle are used almost as a form of currency. Consequently, farmers keep far more cattle than is necessary and they do not keep the cattle in the condition that they should be kept in because it is the number rather than the condition of the cattle that defines a man's wealth. In Swaziland, where I went to school for six years, the Swazi people—this is also true of the Zulu and Xhosa people—have a custom that is the opposite to the old system of dowries that we used to have. A dowry was the purchase price paid for a bride, usually by the parents of the groom or the groom himself. The Swazis, with perhaps more regard for the underlying psychological realities of the marital state, pay the groom to accept the bride, and the father of the bride pays the groom a lobola. The standard lobola in Swaziland was 11 head of cattle, and if a man had five daughters he would have to have 55 head of cattle to dispose of his daughters. He would try to keep 55 head of cattle regardless of whether the land which he was farming would sustain cattle in a fit condition. These problems, although they entertain our constituents less than the percentage of GNP that we may be able to contribute, are more important than anything we might be able to do.

I also listened with great interest to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) said. He was a little critical of food aid, as most hon. Members have been. He made an important point about the plight of the cities in the Third world, giving Calcutta as a example, and said that the plight of those cities is often the direct consequence of the plight of the countryside, because from the country the poor people flood into the cities in the hope of employment. That is true to the extent that if we make life in the countryside easier we shall relieve pressure on the cities, but there is another problem that is harder to define.

In many Third world countries that I know, people have been inculcated with a system of values that makes city life and city dwelling high prestige projects, and the traffic of a materialistic Western society is so much higher in the estimation of the people, and in particular in the estimation of politicians, that rather than live a relatively comfortable life in the country people prefer to come into the city on the vague offchance of securing some of the these more glittering prizes. It is a great pity that there is this attitude in the Third world. Some of the richer of the Third world countries are just as bad, and Jamaica where I lived for five years is a good example. It is a pity that these countries cannot inculcate more of the dignity of agriculture into their people. In this country there is no indignity in living and working on the land—quite the opposite—and until we can get the same sort of scale of values in the Third world there will be difficulties.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Upminister (Mr. Loveridge), who spoke about the importance of trade. In particular, I agree about the great significance of the cutbacks in the United States agricultural production which are now under way. He said, and he was right, that this was a great and important sacrifice that we in the EC must be prepared to match. I hope that we have the courage to do so in the future. I was surprised by the statistics that he gave the House on African food output, which he said fell by seven per cent. in the 1960s and by a further 15 per cent. in the 1970s. It is a sad and surprising tragedy that, in an age when many improvements to agricultural methods must be, at least in theory, available in the continent, it should be slipping back so fast in the production of food.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster spoke also of Voluntary Service Overseas, and I agree that this is important. I saw a great deal of it when I was in Africa. However, the problem with VSO members is that they are usually sent out between school and university, and the experience is often more valuable for them than it is to the people whom they teach. They learn much, but at the time that they go out they do not have much to teach. In the modern world, we should send out people who have at least gone through a university degree, and possibly even send out people in mid-career when they have acquired useful skills of one kind or another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) was particularly interesting when he spoke of his own experiences in finding people hoarding large quantities of grain in a country where grain was supposed to be in short supply; indeed, the hoarding had caused the short supply.

I have noticed that we have some reservations in Britain about any increase in cereals aid. We may eventually be obliged to accept an increase in cereals aid if it is a substitute for, or if it goes hand in hand with, an increase in aid in dairy products. It is not right to be ripping minerals, in the form of phosphates, out of the ground so that we can grow cereals in Britain, often on land which is not particularly well adapted to growing them —growing them through the aid of subsidies which come from VAT, and dumping them on countries in which they could more easily have been grown in the first place. That does not make sense.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I recall a small incident which happened to me many years ago in a fairly rich Arab North African country, not by any means one of the poorest of the Third world states. I went into an oasis town in that country looking for some flour. We were camping a little way outside the oasis. Flour was not sold in the shops, so we went to the bakery. The baker said that he would give us some flour because he had a great deal of it and it did not cost him much. I looked into his stores from whence the flour came, and saw that it was part of United States aid. On the side of the great sacks it said, "A gift from the people of the United States". That incident raised in my mind several problems about food aid.

The destination of food aid is always and necessarily uncertain. It can be dispatched, but one never really knows where it will end up. In many cases it ends up either in the wrong country or at least in the wrong class within the country to which it has been addressed.

There is the problem of corruption. Everyone in the House accepts that there is a level of corruption in the Third world—in some countries worse than others—but I think that many hon. Members would be surprised by the scale of corruption that is still commonplace in Africa. I have become inured to the thought that one should be prepared to accept a loss of 10, 20, 30 or even 40 per cent. as the necessary kick-back or slush fund to the middle man, but there are parts of Africa where less than half of what we are sending is reaching the desired recipients. I think that in some cases only a quarter of it is getting there.

There is the problem of transmission. The flour to which I referred earlier was rather poor and was in bad condition. It must have been fairly old because the last drought in a neighbouring country in that part of Africa had been some years previously. Food is not well suited for transportation. It goes off, it deteriorates, and in relation to its value it is much too heavy to be sending all over the world. It does not make sense to be sending butter, milk powder and flour if we can transmit our aid in more sensible forms than that.

Next, there is the distortion of patterns of food consumption. In most of the oasis towns in the country that I visited, people ate a great deal of bread. It probably does not make sense to encourage a taste for bread in a country in which little wheat, if any, is grown. There must be other forms of carbohydrates that would be more sensible in balancing the diet. The bread was cheap presumably because the flour was cheap, and the flour was coming from elsewhere.

There is the distortion of patterns of food production. In my constituency, on marginal land— and in some places on what is almost hill land—farmers are trying to grow barley on land which is clearly not suited to it. There is something wrong with our system of production and EC aids if farmers on marginal land in the United Kingdom are trying to grow barley. It is a question of the vested interests that begin to surround food—a matter that I was discussing with my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North.

Finally, there is the point which was made by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping—that: by sending food aid to countries which are proving to be unable to produce their own food we tend to reinforce inadequate or wrong-headed policies of agricultural production in those countries.

I spent about six years of my childhood in Southern Rhodesia, as it then was. When I was there Southern Rhodesia not only produced all the maize she needed but exported maize to Malawi, Mozambique and Northern Rhodesia, as it then was. Zimbabwe is now in danger of having to import maize.

It cannot be right always in cases of food shortages simply to fill them by exports from abroad when what is needed is a reorganisation either of patterns of production or of the economic system in the countries concerned, so that production will be rewarded in a way that will encourage farmers to grow what is needed domestically.

In rehearsing the problems of food aid, and of helping other countries by sending them food rather than in other ways, I do so without any sort of glee. Having discovered that food aid is not the best way to help countries, I do not think that we should conclude that we need not help them at all or that all forms of aid are wrong. We should simply conclude that there are better ways of helping people than by sending them food.

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis). I hope that it was not his swansong. One has to be careful about giving plaudits, because they can be used against an unfortunate Conservative candidate in a general election. A Labour councillor in my constituency once congratulated me publicly on doing what he was kind enough to say was a good job. The unhappy man has since had those plaudits thrown back at him at every election campaign—not by me, I hasten to add. Perhaps I should not say that I should like to see the hon. Member for Hackney, Central back in the House after the election, but I would. I have always listened with great interest to what he has had to say in debates such as the present one. He speaks not only with compassion but with great understanding.

I conclude by mentioning a subject on which the hon. Gentleman dwelt at some length—the problem of aid for those countries of which, for one reason or another, political or otherwise, we may disapprove. I try not to observe double standards in these matters. I have always argued that, even in countries such as South Africa, it is important that a certain amount of commercial intercourse should take place. Even with the Soviet Union, a certain amount of trade and exchange is important.

I am thinking particularly of Vietnam when I ask the Minister whether it is not time to review the absolute prohibition that Britain still maintains on aid for Vietnam. There is a great deal of malnutrition in Vietnam. I know that we disapprove of Vietnam for all kinds of reasons, but there must be a stage in the gravity of a calamity at which we set aside political considerations and ask whether the commonsense thing is not simply to provide the help. I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend's views on Vietnam.

Photo of Mr Tom Normanton Mr Tom Normanton , Cheadle 7:27 pm, 9th May 1983

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this juncture in a debate which most of us anticipated would last a mere one and a half hours. Judging by the contributions to the debate, I am sure that the importance of the subject matter has fully justified the extra time that has been made available.

I declare an interest as an elected Member of the European Parliament. Ever since I became a Member of it, appointed by this House in 1973, I have taken a very active, energetic and genuine interest in the relationships between the European Community, as it has developed over the years, and the developing parts of the world, and the help which is given—and increasingly given—to them. It was first given under the Yaoundé treaty, when the territories concerned were exclusively French or former French overseas colonies. Since the Lomé treaty eight years ago, there has been an expansion of that aid to cover the wider world of Lomé, now comprising 65 individual autonomous sovereign States in the Caribbean, in the Pacific and in Africa.

I must also declare an interest in an organisation that is energetically and actively involved in financing developments and activities in the developing world and especially helping to solve some of the financial problems of those countries.

The fact that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, called me to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) gives me considerable satisfaction. My hon. Friend made a valuable contribution to the debate. He based his contribution not on theory or study, but on direct first-hand involvement for a long time. He mentioned the five years that he spent in Jamaica. I spent only five days in Jamaica three months ago and would not dream of commenting on any of my hon. Friend's remarks. He mentioned many of Jamaica's difficulties and the need to find solutions for them.

My hon. Friend referred also to the time that he spent in Swaziland and other parts of Africa. I spent many weeks in Africa as a member of the consultative assembly of the Lomé convention, which is a parliamentary institution of a kind. I have to say "of a kind" because in virtually all of those territories the word "parliamentary" means something entirely different from anything with which we in this House are familiar. It is a forum where politicians from 65 individual sovereign states meet elected parliamentarians from the European Community to pool their experiences, share their hopes and contribute to finding solutions to such problems as food production.

The Commission's proposal flows indirectly from the type of dialogue that has taken place for many years. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development for missing his opening contribution to the debate. I trust that in the course of that introduction he referred to the European Parliament and the dialogue that has occurred between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers culminating in the agreement of 30 June last year. That agreement established a modus operandi and a constitutional basis for the exercise of EC budgetary powers.

The debate has ranged widely as a result of the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members and has been constructive.

For reasons of time I do not propose to touch upon two aspects that are of tremendous importance — first, the constitutional and legal questions, which involve the basis upon which the Commission's proposal is being presented to the House and, secondly, the budgetary powers and the budgetary aspects of development finance by the European Community. I do wish, however, to refer to a few aspects that I consider to be of special importance. Deep and wide consultations are taking place throughout the 10 member states of the Community, throughout all its parliamentary institutions and between the Governments of the individual member states comprising the signatories to the Lomé convention, for a new Lomé 3 to take effect next year. In doing that, several lessons must be learnt.

First, I wish to direct Britain's attention and especially that of British industry to the way in which British industry is failing to avail itself of opportunities for business, industrial and commercial expansion in the way that France has done so successfully for many years. I refer to the European development fund. The sum involved is quite small in comparison with the totality of the United Kingdom's budget. That is about £125,000 million, whereas the EDF comprises about 5,500 million units of account—approximately £3,000 million— a relatively small sum. French interests, French industry and, above all, French governmental agencies go out of their way legitimately to capture as big a slice of this fund as they can for French benefit, and especially for former French colonial territories. British industry is only 25 per cent. successful when measured in terms of the success of French industry.

The EDF is financed by member Governments of the 10 EC states. For every franc that the French Government inject into the EDF, French industry, interests and agencies take out two francs. For every pound that came out of the pockets of right hon. and hon. Members and the public last year, a mere 41p came back to British industry. The reason for that is lack of awareness of what the fund is, how industry can get its hands on it and the opportunities available.

When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies, I trust that he will either confirm or refute my point. Will he, loudly and long, stress to British industry the need to take advantage of the opportunities available?

I wish to refer to the defects in the Community aid programmes. I have been associated with such programmes since the Yaoundé convention and since Lomé 1 and Lomé 2 programmes have been involved. Many defects and weaknesses have been shown to exist. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West touched on many of them. His points are entirely valid and sensible and constructive lessons should be drawn from them.

I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in his participation as a member of the appropriate Council of Ministers will lay great stress on the many difficulties in the budget. First, there is the delay between presentation of requests by individual states for aid and their processing for inclusion in the Community approved programmes. Secondly, there is the lamentable delay that results almost inevitably in underspending of approved and available sums. That topic causes deep and justifiable anxiety on the part of the 65 member Governments of the Lomé convention. Thirdly, I have always felt that the Community and the individual member states have tended to place too great an importance on aid in the form of food, in helping to fill empty bellies rather than pursuing the objective of helping countries to help themselves, which should be the principal objective of the Lomé 3 policy for helping the developing world.

Another lesson to be learnt is the importance of infrastructure. If a fraction of the sums that the EC has poured into the developing world under the Lomé 1 and 2 programmes had been concentrated on infrastructure—for example, the construction of hydroelectric schemes which would have outlasted many of the political arguments and inter-state rivalries and hostilities that have characterised the relationships between many Lomé states, particularly in Africa—the control of water to create power and the supply of water to desert and arid areas would have been the biggest single contribution to helping to fill the empty bellies to which I referred earlier.

The classic example is the Sahel where enormous quantities of flour, powdered milk and so on have been flown in at huge cost. Much has perished on the way. If we had made water flow where no water has flowed before or has flowed only intermittently, in the form of floods and deluges, we would have made the biggest single contribution to helping those in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

I hope that the Government will consider this matter. The Council of Ministers proposes to make available a mere 50 million units of account to help to combat hunger. We must help people to help themselves to fill their own bellies, not make them dependent on us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West referred to VSO. Many young men and women in my constituency have benefited enormously from serving on VSO projects, but I suggest that a greater and longer-lasting benefit would accrue to the developing countries if their own clever people came to Europe, learnt skills and expertise that are appropriate to their own countries, and went back and put into practice what they learnt here.

There is a gap in the administrative structure of most developing countries. It is the absence of what might be called a middle class or a commercial sector. We have a duty, not to say a mutual interest, to try to fill that void. In the consultative assembly of the EEC/ACP I have managed to get support for the establishment of a business training college. I am thinking not of something like the Harvard school, because that would be useless for people from developing countries, but a place where skills and expertise can be taught to those from developing countries so that they will be able to do for themselves what only they can and must do. There is a great need for the establishment of such a college, and I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will think about that, not necessarily today, but when he is having discussions with the political leaders of the 65 Lomé states, with whom he is frequently in contact.

The other area in which developing countries desperately need help is in financial management. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West mentioned corruption, but that is only one part of the syndrome, albeit an important part. I know of one country—it would be unethical of me to name it at this stage — whose president pleaded with me to help him to set up an efficient, honest and capable Ministry of Finance. I know the president well and have met him frequently. It was not that he did not trust his Minister of Finance or the officials in the Ministry. They are good and honourable people, but in handling financial contributions from the West, including from the E.I.B. and the World Bank, they do not have the expertise to be efficient and cost effective.

The West could bring influence to bear in such areas. Britain has the resources, the expertise and, above all, the world-renowned integrity that would allow us to help to train people from developing countries to be more effective—some would say more honourable, though it is a matter not of honour or ethics, but of expertise—-in the management of their own financial affairs.

The European Commission is proposing that the Council of Ministers should adopt the legal basis that is necessary under Community regulations for 50 million units of account of appropriations to be entered in the 1933 EC budget. That is in addition to the funds that are already made available under the European development fund, but the control of them and the legal basis for projects under the regulations will be different. I strongly support that proposal and I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister will reflect his concern and mine sympathetically in his discussions with his opposite numbers in the other nine member states of the Community.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Nantwich 7:49 pm, 9th May 1983

No one could look at the extent of the suffering that is caused by a shortage of food in Third world countries without feeling enormous compassion and sorrow. The question for the House to consider therefore is not whether we have a duty to help, but to what extent it is practicable for us and the European Community to do so, whether the aid proposed is adequate, and what other steps can be taken to increase the assistance that we give the stricken countries in the Third world.

First, we must consider the causes of the suffering and shortages. As many of my hon. Friends have said, there is no great shortage of food in the world, but there is a great shortage of food where it is most needed and surpluses where it is not needed. An easy mistake is to assume that by the mere process of moving the food from one part of the world to another one can resolve all the problems. However, the burden of cost of moving that food makes effectiveness of such aid highly questionable. In America, the vast areas of corn-producing land often end up with an enormous surplus heap. No one moves it and it rots. There is a problem of scale, and it cannot be met by assistance from this country or from any one nation. It is a problem that will give the world headaches for many years to come.

In Africa, in particular, one of the causes of the chronic problems is the cost of oil. In Kenya some five or six years ago, before the last great oil price increase, only 20 per cent. of the gross domestic product was spent on importing fuel. Now, over 75 per cent. of the product of that country has to be spent on imported fuel before any agricultural work can be undertaken. It is clearly impossible for any country in that position to feed its own population adequately or to create the wealth that is necessary to buy the food on the world markets and import food at a reasonable price.

Another problem in Africa is the lack of expertise and skill together with the tremendous and unfortunate political instability which has led the whole of that continent year after year into a state where it cannot properly govern itself. Also, sadly, racial prejudice in many African countries prevents them from helping themselves correctly. African leaders who refuse to allow white people to farm or contribute to farming in their countries demonstrate the totally counter-productive attitude of their Governments. It makes it hard for European nations, however well-intentioned, to give them adequate assistance in learning to feed themselves.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris)—who, unfortunately, has just left the Chamber—who pointed to the danger of the idea that one could solve the problem simply by sending food. To send food is superficially attractive. No one can look at dying and starving people without wishing to send food that will alleviate their suffering for the time being, but to do so is often far from kind in the long term, unless these countries learn to feed themselves in due course. The supply of aid cannot continue for ever, and the more dependent they become on imported and artificial food the less likely it is that they will be able to help themselves.

Moreover, there is a major problem with the changing climate that is affecting farming enterprises throughout the globe, particularly in the southern hemisphere, where both Australia and South Africa recently experienced droughts which, as far as I am aware, had no parallel in recorded history. If there is a major crop failure in such comparatively advanced countries, the consequences for the rest of that part of the world must be severe.

I do not know whether man's knowledge will grow sufficiently in the coming years and decades for us to be able to predict weather patterns more closely. It will not help to attempt to grow crops in places which cannot support them. It is difficult to carry out the planning that has been suggested in the Chamber today if we give aid in terms of expertise of machinery and equipment where the soil or weather prevents the effective growing of crops.

None the less, and reluctantly, I agree with what has been said about food imports. If we attempt to give aid by sending food, such as tinned milk, and cereals in particular, all too often that aid disappears en route or is the subject of massive corruption on the part of recipient Governments or members of those Governments. The food does not filter through to the poor and starving people. My father was in India at the end of the last war and he was in charge of some of the operations that we undertook at that time to help with the terrible starvation that was one of the consequences of that war. He told me about the corruption that he encoutered in the chain of command and supply and distribution. The grain or rice that was sent from this country to India never got much further than the pockets of some of the Indian gentleman who were responsible for distributing the aid. We must not pretend that corruption does not exist in many of the countries to which we send aid.

I suggest that when we send food aid direct we should make certain that the EC is in total control of the way in which the food is used and distributed, as happened recently with some of the charity that was sent to the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia. The acute suffering was brought home to us by the extremely good television coverage. It showed us the appalling sadness of the dying children there.

There are two main ways in which we can follow up the policies which the EC has adopted. First, we must make sure that food aid is not distributed by people whose honesty is questionable. Secondly, we must ensure that where aid is given to help with farming, it is given in such a way that it can be used by the people who are learning from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West spoke about the admirable work of the VSO and said that, notwithstanding its great benefit both to the communities visited and to the young people themselves, he was doubtful about the real use of that form of aid to the communities that it is supposed to serve. I agree with that view, in that, although I accept that it is magnificent to send young people out to teach, when it comes to teaching agriculture they are generally not sufficiently expert to be of much practical use to those communities, and even if they are expert they have probably been apprenticed to English farms, using English methods of agriculture which are wholly unrelated to the situation in which they find themselves.

We should put greater emphasis on encouraging people with the relevant experience and with good academic qualifications to spend longer periods in these communities, trying to help them to set up suitable schemes of their own. It is not a matter so much of teaching farmers as of teaching people who can then become teachers and teach the farmers how best to use the facilities of their own countryside. Unless we do that, we shall waste the limited resources that we can put into such schemes and the opportunities to alleviate the suffering and to make a constructive contribution to the agriculture of the Third world. While I support the proposals in the document before the House, and I believe that everybody will do so —there are only two Labour Members present, so it is unlikely that they will argue against the Government's proposals—none the less, we should do so with those comments in mind.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

If the hon. Gentleman had followed the debate from the start he would have been aware that there was almost complete unanimity between the Front Benches. Only one or two Conservatives Members have suggested that they do not support the Government's policy. There was clearly acceptance among Labour Members that the matter had to be improved before the Government could agree with it.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Nantwich

Yes, I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I have no doubt that every hon. Member is anxious that we should do what we can to help to deal with this dreadful, widespread and unacceptable suffering. It is extraordinary that over 400 million people are suffering from malnutrition. That, put into the context of the EC, shows that only a limited amount of help at any given time can be made available and that, unfortunately, we can only scratch at the surface with any steps that we might take to be of assistance. I warmly commend the recommendations in this paper and hope that others will do the same.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , Perth and East Perthshire 8:01 pm, 9th May 1983

This is an interesting debate because it reflects the attitudes of the developed world to the underdeveloped world. There can be no doubt that, whatever party one belongs to, no one can look at the problems of the Third world and remain untouched. The real issue in debates of this kind is whether the aid that is being given is channelled in the most useful way, not whether it is sufficient. Are we making the best possible use of resources that the developed world, in particular the EC, has for helping the Third world? After all, aid is a highly emotive word and the developed nations of Europe have been involved in many forms of aid to the Third world for many years.

Some would criticise the way that aid has been exploited by individuals within the Third world, and that has been touched on by some hon. Members. Food aid, in particular, can be seen as a positive way to help people in the Third world where food is in short supply. It is easy to ship grain to those people who are hungry. Sadly, assistance which can give relief in the short term can do long-term damage to the country receiving aid if the aid is only given in the form of food. We must consider how to encourage people in different parts of the world to cultivate more from their own resources—to improve their agriculture to achieve what is necessary.

The real challenge that is facing us is to build up and develop agriculture in the Third world so that so it can become more sufficient. It is sad that many parts of the world which, provided the other conditions are right, have a climate that can produce enormous harvests for those living there fail to do so because the most important commodity—water—is missing. We should channel aid from the EC to the Third world into the production of food, marketing, and distribution. Those are all the areas that are either in need of change or do not exist at all. If such countries are to provide food from their own resources they must have the means of production, marketing and distribution. The aid should be channelled into those areas and then monitored effectively to provide long-term solutions to the problem, which is not new; it has been with the Third world for a long time.

How can the EC effectively help to combat hunger in the Third world? It is certainly not by providing food either free or cheaply. It is by dealing with production, marketing and distribution. That can be achieved, first, by ensuring that there is the necessary infrastructure within those countries. Without that, little can be done. That will call for hydro schemes in some areas to produce electricity, which can then be used for irrigation schemes. More importantly, assistance will be needed in crop management and animal husbandry.

The sad truth is that lack of water in the right places, coupled with infestation, has been responsible for many of the sad sights that we see so often on our television sets —the malnutrition and the illnesses that children and adults suffer from.

I want to draw on an example of the work that has been carried out over the past 60 years in a part of the world that was previously made up of swamps. Anyone who has visited the West Bank of the Jordan and looked at the work that has been done there and in Israel will know that swamps have been turned into farms and that deserts have become fertile agricultural land. I make no comment on the political situation in that sad part of the world; I am just drawing attention to what can be done in an area that has for so long been a desert or a swamp. When I served in that part of the world as a young man I can remember noticing the difference when one flew over the Sinai peninsula and then came to the country that was called Palestine. One could see the difference. No wonder it was called the Promised Land. There were the green areas and the lovely crops adjacent to an enormous desert that is now slowly being transformed by irrigation and the fact that the people know how to apply what nature provides. Provided that they can be harnessed, a desert or a swamp can be made to produce food.

Food aid can have a depressing effect on market prices for locally produced products and in many ways creates a disincentive for local producers. Even in a country that already has the means of production, if the Western world in its wisdom decides to send it lots of food in the form of aid to solve its problems that can have a depressing effect on that country's market and can be a disincentive to local producers. The vital task is to encourage the development of production in Third world countries. That can best be achieved with crop programmes that can produce a return.

An element that has not been touched on previously in the debate is to be found in the example set by the tobacco companies in the Third world. Tobacco is used as a revenue-producing crop, with which a producer can then rotate his crops and grow other much-needed foods. That is done in conjunction and with the help of the tobacco companies, which give advice on husbandry and crop rotation. The tobacco companies come in for much criticism from many quarters but it is interesting that their example in the Third world is rarely touched upon. Yet, if anyone cares to study their work in the Third world, it will be seen that they have a record that is second to none in terms of positive help in crop management and rotation. That is one way in which the private sector has been involved over many decades in assisting Third world countries. It is certainly true in Latin America, south-east Asia and Africa.

There are other ways in which we can help. For example, the Crop Research Institute at Invergowrie in my constituency sends out people to give help and advice on crop rotation, the best crops to grow and the way to care for them. That is another example of an organisation within the EC that is helping producers in the Third world in a meaningful way. It is not enough merely to give advice. We must become more involved. We must give advice and practical help on the spot and ensure that the advice is understood and applied. When we say in English what we want done, the effect may be entirely different when translated into Swahili, for example, and may convey a very different message.

It is clear from the example of the USSR that when the state tries to run agriculture there can be ghastly crop failures. That is not necessarily because the climate or the growing conditions are bad. When individuals work in agriculture they must be highly motivated. It is no good if they start work at 9 o'clock when they should have started at 6 o'clock. It is no good if they put off until the next day what should have been done on the day in question. Many of the problems in the USSR stem from a lack of incentive.

If developing countries try to run their agriculture on the model of the USSR, we should not be surprised if the result is failure on a grand scale. When we give aid to the socialist countries of the Third world, we should stress that although we may not be against their ideals—although we may be — and are not saying that there are better approaches, it must be recognised that capitalist North America produces crops that meet its needs and the world's needs, whereas in the USSR that is not achieved.

It is sad to consider the problems that the Soviets have faced. It gives me no pleasure to realise that Soviet agricultural production was at its best in 1978. Since then it has been on a steep decline. Agricultural production within the Soviet Union has not been adequate to meet the nation's needs since 1978. However, it has the land mass and the conditions that should make it possible to produce on the scale that will satisfy demand.

In the Third world there are countries with climatic conditions that could provide food in abundance if they received advice on irrigation, for example, and other assistance. That is true of Israel where the swamps were turned into splendid agricultural areas. That can be done but there must be investment in the right form. Such a transformation calls for management aid and, more importantly, the motivation of those who have to carry out the task.

If the EC and the United Kingdom are keen on helping positively and meaningfully, voluntary aid is an extremely effective method of getting our young people to the areas where they are most needed. There is a need especially for trained people who can provide the leadership and motivation that is desperately needed in Third world countries.

In many Third world countries there are endemic problems such as corruption. We judge corruption by United Kingdom standards, but in many Third world countries it is normal for pay-offs to be received and for people to expect a cut on the strength of an involvement. We must accept that that is the way in which certain countries are run and operated. We must ensure that we do not allow that corruption to continue on a scale that deflects the aid that we are prepared to give. However, we must not expect that these countries will have codes of conduct that are comparable with those that we expect in the United Kingdom.

When we provide positive and meaningful aid, I hope that we shall consider carefully how the schemes will be administered and who will be responsible for doing so. That means that we must give careful consideration to the practice that Europe has adopted of getting rid of its surpluses. That is not a clever way of helping countries that need help. In getting rid of its surpluses, Europe is helping to destroy the agricultural potential of many Third world countries. That is the result of putting their producers out of business.

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney , Wycombe 8:15 pm, 9th May 1983

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate. It is not without significance that at this interesting stage in the Parliament we are debating food aid to the Third world. It is not without reason for comment, too, that the Liberal and Social Democratic parties' Benches have been empty for a long time while a debate has been proceeding on a subject that is clearly of great interest to the main political parties.

The Third world is a subject of especially deep importance to the British people. That may stem from a colonial past, for which some of us—but very few on the Conservative Benches and certainly not I—attempt to apologise, or from other historical links, but it seems that the British people's consciousness of those in the Third world and their sense of responsibility and interdependence are deep indeed.

The phenomenon of the Brandt Commission's report is a sign of that fact. I happen to believe that that report had some rather serious flaws, many of which were eliminated in the later report, "The Common Crisis". The phenomenon to which I refer is the response of the British people to the report. About 120,000 copies of the Brandt report have been sold or distributed in the United Kingdom compared with about 6,000 or 7,000 in the United States, and fewer still in West Germany. Almost none were sold or distributed in many other countries. I believe that it had a high distribution in the Netherlands, but overwhelmingly the report rang a bell with the British public. That is something in which we should take pride.

As a people we continue to feel that we have a link with the suffering in the rest of the world. That feeling is developed by what we see on our television screens, although from time to time we may become nervous about some of the representations, which may become misrepresentations. I accept that generally the television coverage of the Third world's problems has a beneficial effect. It maintains the awareness of which I speak and finds a ready response in Britain among all sections of political opinion, and most certainly opinion in the Churches. That I greatly welcome.

I have the opportunity quite often of speaking throughout the country and I am pleasantly surprised at the depth of knowledge as well as the compassion that is revealed among so many of our compatriots. The resolution which is put to member countries by the Commission is a welcome reflection of that feeling. To that degree it has to be welcomed, but the Government must be congratulated on their recognition of the fact that the proposal is in need of improvement. It approaches the important problem of hunger and undernourishment at too simplistic a level.

The problems of western Europe—which perhaps we have created because of the common agricultural policy and food surpluses—have created pressures which have led us into a dangerous emphasis on transfer of food aid. There are other pressures and dangers of which we should be aware as we wrestle with the problem of ensuring that 400 million people will not go on starving. To that end, food aid is not the only answer, and to exaggerate the impact of straight food transfers could itself be damaging.

Before I was privileged to enter this House, as a member of the Diplomatic Service I spent about 10 years being involved, in various capacities with the administration of our official aid programme, and I saw much of the programmes of the various voluntary agencies. I served as deputy high commissioner in Bangladesh. I had experience of Latin America, India and Pakistan and, from the London end, I had some experience of our links with east African countries.

That experience gave me a considerable insight into the possibilities and dangers of aid. One danger of food aid —the food goes, by definition, to what are basically food-producing countries—is that it seriously upsets the local economy. I have not yet seen an example—even in India, which is one of the most sophisticated economies to benefit from food aid—where serious problems have not been caused for the national economy and local food producers. Chapter 3 of Brandt pointed out that most problems must be solved in the countries themselves. If the political, structural, economic and social criteria are not right, no amount of external aid—food, economic, the simple transfer of funds or even aid by way of technology —will work unless, using the phrase metaphorically, the domestic soil is properly cultivated.

The experience of the post-war years—certainly the 20 or so years during which the developed countries have made a considerable effort in the provision of aid—has confirmed Brandt's comment that, without something approaching the correct domestic conditions in the developing countries, no amount of external aid will produce the answers for which we passionately look. When we consider the record of those countries which have taken off, we see that that thesis has proved to be correct time and again. We may not approve of the political mix of a country, but when we look at the successs of some and the failure of others it is clear that many lessons are to be drawn.

Consider, for example, what has been achieved in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. They could, on the face of it, be extremely poor countries. Singapore and Hong Kong have virtually no natural resources yet, with massive populations, they have achieved incredible economic growth, to the point where we in the West have come to fear for our own industrial and manufacturing capabilities.

Bangladesh, where I had the honour to serve for two years, is a fertile country. It suffers from water problems —usually too much, but sometimes drought—but the soil is highly fertile. Despite its serious population problem, if it could achieve the acreage yields of Japan, the food problems of Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, would be on the way to being solved. Sadly, that is far from the case. They will not be solved by a few more thousand tonnes of dried milk being shipped in from western Europe. They can be solved only by the people of Bangladesh making the necessary land and other reforms, with proper irrigation and so on. The knowledge is there. Only the organisation and motivation are required, though an appreciation of that is dawning there and elsewhere.

Consider what is happening in China, which went through the traumatic experience of the cultural revolution, 10 years during which Mao was seeking to make everyone live in impersonal communes containing huge groupings of humanity, with the theory of Marxism and Communism being brought to what he believed was its highest point. It was a political disaster. The cultural revolution developed into near civil war. Food production was a disaster. It was a great lesson for the Chinese.

The developing world should see what has happened in China since the new policies have been followed over the past four to six years. The present Chinese leadership, particularly under Deng Xiaoping, has recognised the point that I am making, and which was made by the Brandt Commission, that organisation within the community is what matters. The Chinese have returned to private incentives and rewards for the peasants. The results have been tremendously encouraging, and that is to put it mildly. We are always chary of dealing with Chinese statistics, and I shall not quote any, but it is clear to any observer that over the past four or five years the Chinese have made great strides, because they are solving their problems locally at peasant level.

When I was in China just over 12 months ago there was the incredible phenomenon of peasants with high incomes by Chinese standards. It was reported in the local newspaper that the family of one peasant was earning no less than £12,000, which is an absolute fortune in China. It would be regarded by many of us as a not inconsiderable sum. The private plots of land which are burgeoning are bringing food into the cities. China has been transformed. It is a lesson that the rest of the world should lean.

The opposite can be seen in other areas where Socialism is practised and clung to as an ideology through thick and thin. It is virtually always through thin. It is no accident that the billions of pounds that have been spent over the past 20 years on the developing countries by the industrial world have had less effect on those countries which have clung to the ideological commitment of a Socialist Government. That is confirmed when we look at the international figures for food grain.

It is unfortunate, as many hon. Members have pointed out, that we should be debating this subject when there are record cereal harvests. The wheat crop harvest is 746 million tonnes and coarse grain 748 million tonnes. They are record figures and yet at the same time other parts of the world have serious problems. The majority of countries which have those problems are those where Socialist principles are being applied. That includes the Soviet Union. Whereas in 1970 the Soviet Union was a net grain exporter, in 1982—and I believe that it will he the same in 1983 — it was one of the world's leading importers of grain and wheat. The entry of the Socialist countries of eastern Europe into the grain markets is yet another factor that is putting pressure on Third world countries. When one adds to that the problems and pressures created by the oil price crisis and its impact on the import bills of the developing countries, and the consequent sharp reduction in their ability to pay for their own imports, one has a good idea of the problems that we face.

What is the answer for Britain and the rest of the developed world—the Community and the countries that participate in the Development Assistance Committee? The answer is to follow the element in the Brandt Commission that concentrates on helping Third world countries — the underdeveloped countries — to help themselves. That must be where the answer lies. It cannot be in constantly increasing food aid transfers. As I have tried to show in my brief remarks, that may help, as a temporary palliative, to relieve some of the immediate problems for a week or a day, but the real answer must lie in developing the right conditions.

The situation could be transformed. The developing countries could look at the successes of and the lessons that can be learnt from countries such as South Korea and Japan. Leaving aside the industrial might of Japan, the rural areas there have much to teach the rest of Asia. The leap from the low productivity in so many parts of South Asia or Africa to the productivity that has been achieved in countries such as Japan seems enormous at present, but, with the correct policies, the correct political leadership and the incentives that private enterprise gives, and the private enterprise that China can demonstrate, it would be reasonable to hope that in two or three years' time we would no longer need to debate emergency food aid proposals. Then we could look forward to a much more prosperous world in which living standards are rising and markets are increasing, for the greater benefit of all of us.

Photo of Dr John Blackburn Dr John Blackburn , Dudley West 8:38 pm, 9th May 1983

I am delighted to have the favour of being called in this debate. Now, when Parliament is coming to an end, it is a time for reflection. In that spirit I reflect on the House of Commons at its finest moment. In my considered judgment, the House showed all its compassion, sense and gift in the two wonderful debates on the Brandt report. It was a credit not only to the House and to those who took part, but to this country and the compassion that was poured into the pages of the Brandt report.

It is most opportune that I should have been called to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), because he has given a moving and authoritative account of the position in the Third world, which he knows at first hand, in particular from his service in the High Commission in Bangladesh. His speech reflected the greatest possible credit upon my hon. Friend and his constituency.

In the few moments at my disposal, I should like to follow the theme of the debate by referring to the Indian subcontinent. Eighteen months ago, I spent five weeks in the Indian subcontinent and visited the two poorest countries in the world. It was a sobering experience. I urge hon. Members, in reading the document before us, to be cautious about the concept of continually providing aid in the form of food. My experience in the subcontinent suggests to me that, in the final analysis, that is not the answer.

In India, 12 months ago, $80 out of every $100 earned in foreign currency was spent on oil. In Bangladesh, the figure was $65 out of every $100. That is a crippling burden for a people with little industry and with a very limited agricultural industry, mainly at peasant level, to bear. I should therefore like to direct a few remarks to article 3·4.

Before I had the privilege of serving in this House, I spent 22 years as an engineer. It is remarkable that, although we are talking about aid to the underdeveloped countries and the Third world, one has to look very hard at the proposal before finding any mention of industry, engineering or the possibility of increased trade. I should like to pay a sincere tribute to the then Government for the decision taken in 1978 to give aid to Bangladesh in the sum of £500 million. It is a credit to this House that that aid was not given in the form of food or medical assistance; it was for building.

If one travels to the northern part of Bangladesh one will find a factory called Ashundi, the like of which I have never seen in my life. It employs 18,000 people, and it was aid from this country that built it. The factory produces fertiliser. When in full production, it will produce enough fertiliser to supply the needs of Bangladesh and for export. That is an example of real, positive, constructive aid to the Third world.

There are tremendous problems in earning foreign currency to meet the fuel bills. I salute the engineers of this country who went to Bangladesh and with their skill, their gifts and their talent gave Bangladesh more than the food that any other country could have given. They discovered natural gas on a scale which, if handled and engineered correctly, should reduce the figure of $65 for every $100 earned to possibly $10 or $20. That is the sort of aid that the developed country should be giving.

A consistency throughout the debate, again a credit to the House, has been that hon. Members have spoken about food, vitamins and nourishment. It is an equally sobering experience to stand outside a hospital in Dacca at seven in the morning and to see 800 people queuing up for treatment, many of whom had walked 10 or 12 miles through the night to be there. It is a humbling experience to go through the hospital wards in Bangladesh, be they in Dacca or Chittagong, and see them staffed by people from the European Community. They give aid in a way that can never be measured within the terms of a Community document.

I hope that people will not be offended by what I say, but I have always been a dedicated disciple of trade between countries. Given an opportunity to create positive trade between these countries, we shall help them in such a way that perhaps the cries and pleas for food aid will be a thing of the past. I am sure that our prayer is that that should be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said that there was either too much water or not enough. It is incredible that the cost of supplying fresh, pure drinking water to a village is £150. I have seen a tube well sunk in the village square giving such a water supply. But we should hang our heads in shame because the £150 needed to supply that tube well does not come from Brandt or this House, with all its majesty and compassion, but from the Christians who donate to the various missionary funds that supply the villages of Bangladesh with water. I am especially pleased to note in article 3·4 the expression vocational and technical training in the field of development". There is a real opportunity for people who are dedicated to and love the Third world to use their talents for the benefit of Bangladesh. I would not allow the House to think that Bangladeshis do nothing for themselves. When the pages of history are written, it will emerge that one of the tragedies of that country was the assassination of the man who, at 6 o'clock in the morning, went to the villages, took a spade and dug the irrigation canals together with his people. That was President Ziaur Rahman. His assassination at the Circuit House at Chittagong was one of the darkest deeds in the short history of Bangladesh.

As to India with all its problems, the real hope that we pan give is to allow it to develop its national resources, its trade and its people's skills. It is honourable to earn one's daily bread.

It is against that background that this debate and the document are important. I have mentioned the development of natural gas and the production of fertiliser. I respectfully remind the Treasury that if we gave such development greater emphasis and developed trade between our countries, we should confer on the Indian subcontinent all that it could wish for.

I suppose that this is the last time that I shall make a speech in this Parliament. Brandt is the key which opens up new horizons for the people of the Third world. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have accepted the terms of Brandt. I exclude the Social Democrats and the Liberals who, yet again, are conspicious by their absence from this important debate. No one has a monopoly of compassion and love. This debate is another example of the House of Commons dealing with Brandt and facing the issues. I hope that we shall give a good account of our stewardship of this important EC document. I hope that we shall pray that God will bless those who help people in the Third world. They deserve our support and protection and I am sure that the House will not fail them.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North 8:54 pm, 9th May 1983

I have travelled extensively in the Third world and have seen the problems that we are discussing, especially in Africa, the middle east and Mauritius. Direct aid in the form of agriculture counts for most in Third world countries. We should encourage school children to support the Third world by buying and naming a cow for a village, and by sending money for a hospital that someone can visit. What we need most from children, adults and people of good will who have over the centuries, especially in this and the past century, been moved to send money and to relieve the hungry in the Third world is aid that contributes to the development of a country's ability to produce its own food.

One of my best friends is Archbishop Trevor Huddlestone. I visited him in Mauritius two years ago and travelled with him round that small island to see where aid from Governments, the EC and voluntary service goes. Direct aid from Britain has provided an infrastructure of roads, which is fundamental to the development of any economy, and voluntary aid has provided hostels for old people which they would never otherwise have, and facilities for children, orphans and the blind in the form of a nicely appointed home.

We who sometimes stagger from Sainsbury's with groaning shopping bags complaining of being underfed should think of those who have distended stomachs because of malnutrition and the hell that that involves. In our comparative affluence, we should think of those who have nothing.

Photo of Mr John Sever Mr John Sever , Birmingham, Ladywood 8:58 pm, 9th May 1983

The House will have welcomed the opportunity to give such deep consideration to this document. Hon. Members on both sides of the House welcomed its arrival. There has probably been greater agreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) and the Minister of State than between the Minister and many of his colleagues. The Minister was wise enough to welcome the document cautiously, but also to express some reservations about it that he believes to be appropriate.

By tomorrow many people who are alive now will be dead. Many bodies will be strewn round the Third world. People will die for want of a decent meal, which most of us, we hope, will enjoy later this evening. They are desperate. The situation for most of the developing nations is difficult at best and beyond hope in certain regards at worst. It is a credit to the EC that it should, at least in some small and meagre measure—which this is—be giving some consideration to those who are doubtless the worst off. If we are, as the Government have accepted recently, supposed to be giving aid to those in the greatest need, the poorest in the poorest countries, any little help that we might be able to give from improvements in the way in which we operate both our bilateral and multilateral aid, such as the measures about which we are talking, is to be welcomed.

The House has heard a number of hon. Members refer to different aspects of the way in which we can be of some assistance to those in greatest need, and help in the development of the Third world and the improvement of the living standards of millions of people. Not much help will come to those millions from the money that will be disposed of if we accept this document. The Minister is right to believe that there are some reservations that we should have about the way in which we operate and dispense what little funds we have for the tackling of what is probably the greatest problem and the greatest tragedy that face mankind — that of those who do not have enough to eat.

The House has a considerable degree of compassion and concern for those in this unfortunate category and that is why I hope that in the years to come, when we will have, I hope, a new Labour Administration who are somewhat more specifically committed to development in the Third world, we shall see a more purposeful advance towards overcoming the tragedies of the Third world. I hope that were my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich in the position of the Minister of State, he would introduce proposals and documents that would be more helpful to the development of the Third world than the one that we are discussing now. However, I cannot blame the Minister for the contents of the document but merely for not being able, with whatever powers are at his disposal for encouraging his European partners, to propose something more meaningful for this great tragedy.

My right hon. and hon. Friends, during the course of this Parliament, have argued consistently that the recommendations outlined graphically in the Brandt report and the memorandum recently issued should be pursued with all vigour and enthusiasm. Money should be made available from the Treasury to back up the Brandt recommendations and to make real inroads into the problems of development, not only in the Third world but in those countries where some degree of improvement is long overdue.

Earlier in the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) made a telling and moving contribution about the tragedy that now faces the people of Ethiopia. In recent times, this issue has highlighted and pinpointed the great problems that face us in the developed world over the way in which we administer funds and offer help and succour to those in greatest need. My hon. Friend referred to the great tragedy of the refugees and the starvation that has hit millions of people in the Horn of Africa. The commitment that we are making there is considerable, and much credit should go to the Government. However, that commitment is in no way a true reflection of the view that the British people hold about the tragedy there or the way in which they believe that the Government should be supporting those who are facing such jeopardy. We should be encouraging the Government, even at this latest hour in what will be, I hope, their terminal week, to make something more than the gesture that they have made to those people to bring about a happier solution to the problems facing so many.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) gave the House, with some degree of humour, his view of the Government's views on Nicaragua and the problems that that country faces. Many of us believe that, while the political situation there might not be all that it is in Birmingham, Ladywood, or anywhere else in Britain, it is showing the signs that we would hope for in its development, inasmuch as the Government are committed to bringing about real and meaningful improvements in the standard of living of their people. The political ideologies that might divide the Government of Nicaragua from the Minister of State and his colleagues should not be so wide as to cause the rejection of any pleas for help that might come from them, or appeals for an advancement in the aid that we are able to offer.

To ensure the stabilisation of countries that are facing enormous and extremely difficult problems we should be making contributions towards their development and helping those there who are seeking to bring about genuine improvement.

I am mindful of the fact that in the past there has been a degree of criticism about the way in which aid has been dispensed and of the kind of aid that has been made available. It was mentioned earlier that aid often has an adverse effect on the indigenous industry of the country to which it is sent. One or two hon. Members have referred to that aspect in the debate. It is particularly the case with food aid, which can seriously disrupt the agricultural organisation of the area to which it is sent.

Recently a witness spoke very disparagingly to the House of Lords Select Committee dealing with the subject, and said that, although, the dangers of food aid can be avoided, the way in which the EC gives food aid makes it as difficult as it can be to ensure that the negative effects are avoided and the positive effects are attained.

There have also been cases of EC food aid being withheld from certain regions for political reasons. The Select Committee documents the case of the suspension of the Community's aid programme to relieve the Vietnamese population in 1979, and the delay in food aid to El Salvador in 1980, which was resumed in 1981. There is a parallel to be drawn between those situations and that which now obtains in Nicaragua.

Several hon. Members have referred to the way in which we might develop our trade associations with the developing nations in order to bring aid to them. I doubt whether many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), who has left us momentarily, would argue against the proposition that they could do with a few more orders being placed in the engineering firms' order books in Dudley for projects being developed and set up in Third world countries.

Obviously, while it is accepted that the development of fertiliser plants and so on is of immense value to the development and infrastructure of Third world countries, it is none the less the case that while those projects are being constructed people are dying in the villages around them. The urgency of the food aid programmes and of assistance such as that referred to in the document before us must be recognised and pursued with all speed.

Several hon. Members have referred to the framework of our overseas aid and development programme and to the way in which the moneys are dispensed. There is something in the argument that we could very well streamline the way in which money is made available in our overseas aid programmme. We need to look again at the way in which we dispense aid moneys.

It can be argued that there are a number of voluntary organisations that might best be suited to looking after certain aspects of the work that we are trying to undertake. I should like to see any Government doing that. Often the voluntary agencies have a knowledge of and a relationship with an area that is probably far more intimate than that which can be obtained through a Government agency. The pound for pound scheme, which has been discussed in the House, should be developed, supported and, if possible, extended. As a mark of their foreign aid commitment, the Government should state that every pound that a voluntary organisation can manage to find will be matched by the Government from a range of schemes and objectives that they pursue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich made reference in his opening remarks to the EDF. As Britain is committed to the fund, more finance should be found for it. We should encourage our partners in the Community to stump up the money that is required for a major advancement in the work that the European Community is attempting to undertake in the underdeveloped world. If Ministers go to Europe with a commitment to a greater involvement in development matters with their EC partners—with the support of the House—that would greatly encourage the work that is being done and would be a meaningful contribution to a solution of the problem.

If the EDF, the World Bank and other agencies were to be given greater support by Britain, there might well be a favourable response from many other countries, which do not necessarily make the contribution that Britain would wish them to make. Britain can play a leading role in the development of the Third world by reflecting the commitment of the House and the country towards the interest of those in the greatest need. A Minister of State would not be in any difficulty in seeking more money for this problem from his Treasury colleagues. It is not usually easy for the Minister for Overseas Development to argue against other more powerful Ministers for a greater budget. The support that is given in the House, and outside, especially by many non-politicially aligned organisations in Britain, and the pressures that are being put on them by the Third world are enormous. A courageous Government could acquire more money, spend more money and make a more meaningful contribution, thereby alleviating the massive problems that should rest on everybody's conscience.

Hon. Members referred earlier to the way in which the document was presented and what it means. The document has been described as being good, welcome and laughable. I suspect that the truth lies between the parameters of what various hon. Members have said. At best, the document is encouraging in that it seems to be a new initiative, but it is not especially encouraging because it is not meaningful as it lacks the back-up of real money. The task that it sets itself is not likely to create a real reduction in world hunger and is not designed to be specifically aimed at target areas. The document is a bit wishy-washy as to who will administer its recommendations, and as to how much money wil be spent in specific areas. Furthermore, the document does not set out any priorities. Those hon. Members who are not wildly enthusiastic about the EC might wish to make some political comments about it. I will refrain from doing so because I do not wish to criticise a document that makes small inroads into an enormous problem that all hon. Members wish to see solved. Many people will examine the document and be displeased because it will not achieve its objectives. It will not resolve the problem of the starving millions. Furthermore, I doubt whether it will do anything other than make a marginal difference to the way in which the problem facing the hungry millions is tackled. I also doubt whether citizens of the Third world will jump about with glee having read the document.

If the Minister takes on board the arguments in support of the document and the theory and principle of assisting the developing world, that might in some small measure show the enthusiasm of the House for doing something for those people who are in the greatest need. It will help to stem the tide of hunger and starvation that is growing throughout the world, which has continued unabated for the past 20 years and about which the Government are doing little and about which they might do more by supporting the document and arguing for improvements in it.

The validity of the document is undeniable. It will bring some small assistance to an enormous problem, but the Opposition's major hope is that a Labour Government will be returned at the general election. A Labour Government, committed to the advancement of those in the developing and Third worlds, will be much more meaningful than the document that we are discussing.

Photo of Mr John Sever Mr John Sever , Birmingham, Ladywood

I believe that the incoming Labour Government will make a firm and positive commitment to the Third world so that some of the enormous problems that face us can be overcome.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury 9:15 pm, 9th May 1983

By leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. We were expecting to debate this subject for no more than one and a half hours late in the day. In fact, we have had a full day's debate and I believe that those who have been present for it will be glad that that has been so. The debate has been thoughtful and has been distinguished by a number of excellent contributions. It has shown again the interest of the House in this subject

The comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever) about the greater interest of a Labour Government have not been reflected in today's attendance or in the speeches. We have had a string of excellent speeches from my hon. Friends, who have shown that Conservatives are deeply committed to and interested in the subject of the debate.

However, we have had 'valuable speeches from both sides of the House and they are worthy of careful consideration. The debate has ranged wider than the specific proposal mentioned n the motion and has justified the primary emphasis that we seek to give in our aid programme, including the part channelled through the Community, to help to increase food production in the poorest countries of the world and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) put it, to help them help themselves.

We shall continue fully to support the EC aid programme, and we wish to see it strengthened and directed in the most effective manner. That is what we shall be concerned to do when we are returned to power.

The point at issue on the Commission's proposal is not whether the 50 million ecu should be spent, but how they can be spent most effectively. We should be happy to see the money disbursed through existing Community institutional arrangements such as the non-associates programme or the emergency aid programme.

We are not convinced that the proposed new regulation will be an appropriate additional measure unless it is improved. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept the Government motion, and I am glad that the hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) and for Ladywood agree with the approach that we have taken.

The hon. Member for Greenwich made a point of substance when he spoke about recipient Governments being overwhelmed by the variety of offers and organisations that they face and by the administrative burdens entailed in dealing with different organisations. We have to recognise that, and if we can find ways of improving co-operation between donors it will be all to the good. Donor conferences can be valuable, but I accept that there is a need for proper co-ordination and that the hon. Member for Greenwich was right when he said that the policies of the Community towards the Third world should be co-ordinated. I should add that the EC is undoubtedly a useful instrument for co-ordination in this area. I agree, too, that we need a proper appreciation in reshaping the policies of the EDF, which will crop up in negotiations in the next Lomé round. So in those respects I agree with the hon. Gentleman, by and large.

The next speech was that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), who told the House that it would probably be his last speech in this House. After his long period in the House, that will have grieved his friends. It was valuable to be reminded by him that not only had he fought hard and for a long time for our membership of the European Community, but that we should take advantage of that membership. I shall come back to that matter later. My hon. and learned Friend reminded us, as did other hon. Members, that fundamentally we are talking about one world. That was the message of both the first and second Brandt reports, which we have already debated, and it is true.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) made a telling point. He told us that as a young officer he saw the Bengal famine in 1943, which must have been an awesome experience. He said that it was not just a natural disaster, because it was largely manmade. Although nature and forces beyond our control contribute a tremendous amount to our problems, we must never sit back and say, "There is nothing that we can do about it." We must take the right steps.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) also spoke of the human element. He gave examples of the way that the over-grazing of land can allow the encroachment of the desert. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) likewise spoke of his experiences in Africa, where he saw what was happening on the ground and how the problems were caused. He advanced the view that goats should be eradicated. I thought that that was rather unlikely, because I cannot see goats disappearing from the world. However, many of his arguments were trenchant and deserve to be considered carefully.

My hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) and Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) also made important points. There was the cost of imported fuel and its effect on the Third world. There was also the damaging effect of political instability and the problem—a natural problem—of whether we are living at a time when the climate is changing, and whether the damaging droughts in southern Africa and Australia have something to do with longer-term changes in our weather.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) talked, as he has done before, about the food aid policy of the European Community. No one has had a longer connection with the European Community than he, and no one is better able to speak of the development of policy in that connection. He gave us a historical perspective, going back to the repeal of the Corn Laws, which he condemned as a great mistake. He did not stop there. He also spoke about the reform of the common agricultural policy, which of course bears on this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) talked about the role of policy in increasing food production. He rightly drew attention to the importance of having the right policy environment to encourage the growth of food production in developing countries. One of the lessons from the efforts made by aid donors to direct more resources to rural development in the 1970s was that more finance alone is not enough. Without adequate prices, flexible marketing policies and the other elements of what nowadays is commonly called food strategy, investment may too easily fail to yield its proper return. That conclusion was carefully documented and brought out in the World Bank report "Aid to sub-Saharan Africa", to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) referred in his speech. Indeed, the absence of sufficiently clear and specific links between effective food policies and the provision of extra Community aid is one of the main reasons for the Government's reservations about the draft regulation that is before the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) both referred to the importance of the forthcoming Williamsburg summit for developing countries. We agree that developing countries have been severely hit by the current world recession. Their export markets have contracted and some are facing mounting debt problems. The long-term solution for such problems is clearly a return to sustained non-inflationary growth in the world economy. We have laid the basis for sustained and sound growth at home by the success of our policies in combating inflation. Elsewhere there are signs that economic activity in other industrialised countries, especially the United States, is beginning to pick up. The Williamsburg summit will be an important opportunity for Western leaders to discuss the state of the world economy in that context.

One of the topics that has been discussed today and which was commented upon both by myself in response to an intervention and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) is that of attribution. Let me say something about the practice of attributing expenditure from the Community budget to the aid programme, which is what we mean by the term "attribution". It is true that that expenditure is not provided for by means of the aid programme Vote but it is nevertheless real public expenditure and hon. Members will be aware that the United Kingdom makes a substantial net contribution to the Community budget.

It has been the practice of all United Kingdom Governments since we joined the Community to attribute the United Kingdom share of Community aid expenditure to the United Kingdom aid programme to ensure that the planning and control of public expenditure is based on an overall view of our multilateral and bilateral aid. Certain of our partners such as the Dutch and the Danes adopt a similar practice.

The European development fund, which finances the Lomé convention, is financed not from the Community budget but from direct contributions from member states. Therefore, the British share comes direct from the aid programme Vote. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Greenwich was right to point out that the growth in multilateral obligations is imposing a difficult management problem on our aid programme. Over the past five years our contribution to Community aid, both through the budget and the Lomé convention, has risen sixfold. In 1976, at £26 million, it represented 5 per cent. of the British aid programme. In 1981, at £158 million, it was 15 per cent. In the financial year just ended we estimate that British spending on Community aid totalled £180 million, and it will soon account for about one fifth of the total United Kingdom aid programme.

That rapid rise in expenditure is one good reason why we need to examine proposals carefully. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull observed, we shall offer constructive criticisms in an effort to improve the quality of European aid. The hon. Member for Greenwich, perhaps reasonably, pointed out that 50 million ecu, or £31 million, does not measure up to the gravity of the problem of hunger in the world. However, the 1983 budget provides for £560 million of aid which can make a substantial contribution if well directed. Nearly two thirds of that money is directed towards food aid, about which several hon. Members commented. I share the concern about it. The European development fund provides a further £430 million. Increasing expenditure is no guarantee of developmental success and the large amounts of food aid given by the Community are clearly an example of that. Food aid has expensive overheads, suffers from physical losses, is difficult to direct towards particular objectives, risks health hazards and may provide disincentives to local production. We believe, as hon. Members have argued, that the way to deal with hunger in the world is to encourage hungry nations to feed themselves. We must use our resources not to provide food aid but to help them develop their agriculture. We have supported Monsieur Pisani's efforts to combat hunger in the world on the understanding that he intends to achieve better co-ordinated and directed efforts within the resources that are realistically available. The problem with the proposal that is before us is that it does not fit readily into such a programme.

Although there is criticism about the proposal and of a number of other aspects of the European Community's aid programme, it is important to remind the House that it should not conclude that the disadvantages apply equally to the Community's aid programme as a whole. It is clear that many developing countries regard the Community's aid programme as an extremely valuable contribution to their development.

There are several reasons for this. First, there is the sheer volume of Community aid resources, to which I have referred. Secondly, much of the Community's aid is provided through contractual or other arrangements that involve vast commitments covering several years at a time. The aid element of the Lomé convention and the Mediterranean protocols fall into this category. These commitments enable developing country Governments to plan development schemes well in advance.

The third advantage that follows from the procedure of the Lomé convention is that there exists a built-in opportunity to link the application of aid funds with the improvement of trade access for the ACP countries. I believe that these are important advantages in the Community aid programme. It is up to Labour Members and the Labour party as a whole, which is endeavouring to take Britain out of the European Community, to explain clearly whether they believe that the developing countries would benefit by the weakening of the European Community aid programme and whether they want to withdraw from a system of aid and development for the poorer countries that has grown up within the Community. Labour Members must ask themselves that and face the questions of the electorate, including those who are deeply concerned about developments on this topic. We have not heard a whisper of an attempt throughout the debate to relate what we have been talking about to the Labour party's commitment to leave the European Community.

During the fairly short time that I have been in my post I have tried to get a deeper understanding of what has gone on. I visited the United States a short while ago and I have also paid a visit to Brussels, which for me was extremely valuable, in an attempt to familiarise myself with the workings of the Commission and to discuss some of our main concerns about Community aid to the Third world. I sought to get across the need to ensure that Community aid is well spent through improved project preparation, monitoring and evaluation, and to concentrate resources on schemes that have early and practical prospects of success.

The House will be aware that the Government have made efforts to strengthen the administration of our own bilateral aid in these respects. It is right that we should take every opportunity with our Community partners to bring about similar improvements in European aid. The massive European food aid programme should be put on a sounder basis. This means allowing its operation to be governed more by the real needs of developing countries than by the need to dispose of the Community's surplus agricultural produce. In Brussels last month I was able to press further our attitude to article 929 of the budget, which would permit food aid funds to be used to help agricultural production instead.

I shall try to take up some of the interesting speeches made by those who have contributed to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage talked about improved agricultural output in India. I heard about the role that development assistance had played during my recent visit to Washington for discussions with the World Bank. In its report entitled "IDA in Retrospect", which was published last year, the bank observed that in the mid-1960s India was importing 10 million to 12 million tonnes of food grain annually. The introduction of high yielding varieties of wheat, which had been developed in one of the international agricultural research institutes based in Mexico, literally revolutionised agricultural output in India. It is worth repeating that—we have already heard it today — as an answer to those who shrug their shoulders and say that aid does not do any good for anybody. It shows that properly directed aid is of great importance.

Associated with the introduction of those varieties was the need for a range of co-ordinated policies as the structure of Indian agriculture shifted from being basically subsistence to one in which marketable surpluses were produced. Pricing, marketing and distribution policies were particularly important: in that respect. The bank admitted that external aid was a relatively small proportion of the total resources applied in India to increasing agricultural output. Nevertheless, it believed that aid played a real part in assisting India in the transition from deficit to surplus in food grain production.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), who has been faithful in his attendance of the debate, talked of the impact of tube well projects on the water table. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) spoke about a similar problem. We are well aware of the possible adverse impact on the water table level that can arise from the poor siting of tube wells. It is a problem that must be handled carefully. Nevertheless, reliable irrigation is of vital importance to increasing food production in developing countries.

In Bangladesh, for example, irrigation is necessary to increase food production, enabling an additional crop to be grown during the dry season. We are co-financing with the World Bank and Australia a tube well project which, it is estimated, will benefit 300,000 farming families and produce an additional 282,000 tonnes of rice and 200,000 tonnes of wheat annually. Including contributions by the Bangladesh Government, the total cost will be $142 million. Of that, the United Kingdom share will be £17·4 million, of which £2·4 million will be for technical co-operation. That relatively large technical co-operation element will cover the cost of British consultants who will advise on the siting of wells to achieve an equitable distribution of water resources and consider the impact on ground water resources.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North also raised points about Ethiopia. We understand the problem of drought which is hitting much of Africa, in that area and further south. We have been providing aid to Ethiopia. We have contributed 27,000 tonnes of food aid worth £3·3 million from our bilateral contribution to the world food programme and we have recently provided over £400,000 to various relief organisations, mainly British voluntary agencies, to assist with famine relief operations. Further requests for food aid, if they come to us, will be considered sympathetically, although the resources available are limited.

On top of that, and relevant to the debate, the European Community's current food aid contributions to Ethiopia are worth £8 million, of which the United Kingdom share is £1·5 million. They comprise the normal 1982 cereal food aid programme of 20,000 tonnes, plus 2,000 tonnes of milk powder and 1,000 tonnes of butter oil. With the supplementary allocation in December of last year of 15,000 tonnes of cereals and a recently agreed emergency allocation of 5,000 tonnes of cereals and 94 tonnes of butter oil, the Community's aid programme to Ethiopia during the current Lomé convention comes to a maximum of £91 million, and we are paying 17·75 per cent. of that.

I do not know what the views of the hon. Member for Stockport, North are on the Common Market—I have a feeling that he is not a great one for staying in—but that is what the European Community is doing in practice in the fight against hunger and starvation in parts of the world that are faced with those terrible problems.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) mentioned Nicaragua. On 22 November in Brussels the Foreign Affairs Council agreed that the European Community special aid programme to Central America should benefit Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. When considering priorities for the programme with our EC partners we had to take account of local conditions in determining the best way to allocate the additional funds available. We expressed reservations about the lack of democratic development in Nicaragua, which seemed to be holding back institutions dealing with freedom of speech and other human rights. We are bound to be concerned about that. Nevertheless, Nicaragua already receives European Community aid from the regular EC non-associates and food aid programmes and will continue to be eligible to do so.

The Commission has since decided to grant Honduras and Nicaragua 3·2 million ecu for the construction of bridges, and Nicaragua 9·8 million ecu for agrarian reform and rural development. We also have a small bilateral technical assistance programme in Nicaragua. We have given some emergency relief.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the voluntary agencies' request for £150,000 for a programme of projects in Nicaragua. I have had to make it clear that we could not agree with that for reasons that I have already set out, but if the voluntary agencies put specific projects to us they can be considered.

We have taken the advantage of a rather unexpectedly full debate to cover enormously important ground. I am grateful to hon. Members for the way in which they have approached the debate. It has emerged that there are limitations in the proposal put forward by the European Community. I hope that the House will approve of my motion making it clear that we have these reservations. I hope that when the House goes away and thinks about this it will also bear in mind the enormously valuable contribution being made by the European Community, and ourselves, through our membership of it, to solving these great problems, and will ask itself whether it makes sense to contemplate backing out of the European Community.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4658/83 containing the Commission proposal for a Council Regulation on the implementation of the Special Programme to Combat Hunger in the World; and welcomes the Government's efforts to secure improvements to the proposal.