Overseas Development

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:10 am on 14th December 1990.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 10:10 am, 14th December 1990

My colleagues and I welcome the opportunity to debate the Government's claimed progress in promoting economic refonn and addressing population growth and the environment in developing countries. Those are vital issues and I only wish that we had the opportunity to debate the Government's development policy more often, in their time, rather than ours. This is the first debate on development policy initiated by the Government in a year and a half. There has not been a statement to the House by a Minister for Overseas Development since 1984, which is a disgrace. It is a sign of how little the Government care about development.

I welcome the Minister's comments this morning about her proposals to look urgently and in detail at the current famine in Africa—we realise that, in five African countries, the position is dire and that millions of people will die soon unless emergency aid is provided by the developed world. I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate that subject in more detail as soon as possible. Those of us who have been to countries like Ethiopia know how desperate are the needs of those countries.

For Africans in particular, this decade has been a disaster. In developing Africa, average income per person fell by 1·7 per cent. each year. Investment, export, imports and commodity prices also fell. Meanwhile, debt doubled to $256·9 billion. By the end of the 1980s, there were more than 150 million people severely hungry and undernourished in Africa. Despite all that, in 1988, Africa paid the industrialised countries $21·7 billion—more than we gave them in aid or loans. That is the reality. It is one of the reasons for the current famine, which is due not only to the weather, but to the fact that Africa is being bled dry by the developed world.

Before discussing the three main issues of economic reform, environment and population, I shall put the Government's policy and contribution to overseas development in context. The 1980s were a disaster for development. The progress of previous decades was rolled back in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Since 1979, the British Government have slashed the aid budget. This year, problems have been compounded by the Gulf crisis, increased oil prices, loss of remittances from the Gulf, the cost of resettlement of refugees, slower world economic growth and the diversion of attention from poverty in the Third world to the needs of eastern Europe.

In response, the Government have refused extra help to compensate for higher oil prices, and have dipped into the Third world's meagre pot to help out Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. Development is affected not only by the policies of the ODA but by the policies of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Departments of Trade and Industry, of Energy and of the Environment, and the Treasury. The present Government seem unaware of that. We have rarely heard other Ministers even refer to the implications of their policies for overseas development. The insensitivity of Ministers may be because the Government do not have a coherent policy on overseas development. Where is the policy?

The new east-west relationship has changed the position of developing countries enormously, but there has been no reassessment of development policy by the Government. They have never even produced a White Paper on development. Surely they cannot still be relying on the last Labour Government's 1978 paper, "More Aid for the Poorest". When can we expect to see such a policy document?

The title of today's debate is typical. The Government have picked three of the most important issues in development, affecting millions of people's lives, and thrown them together in one debate. Why not have a debate on the alleged success of all the Government's development policies, on their overall strategy? I expect the difficulty arises because there is no such strategy. One might be expected to find details of the Government's strategy for overseas development in the British overseas aid annual review for 1990, but that fails to provide any sign of overall strategy.

The Minister should take credit that her Department has, during the past year, produced many glossy publications with nice pictures, but she may take some of the blame for the Government's lack of vision and strategy. But perhaps the priority assigned to development is best illustrated by its miserly aid budget. Not only has British aid fallen dramatically as a percentage of gross national product since 1979, but in real terms, by whichever expenditure measure one uses, Britain is still spending considerably less on overseas aid than it was in 1979.

As for the quality of aid, British aid last year went to more than 130 countries, including several that are not in the poorest category, such as Turkey, Portugal and Israel. The National Audit Office report published earlier this year gave several examples of how commercial considerations have frequently taken precedence over development needs in shaping aid policy under the Government. I do not want to repeat the many criticisms of the quantity and quality of aid that I have made in previous debates initiated by the Opposition, so I shall consider today's topics of environment, population and economic policy.

A new Government vision is needed most on environmental issues but, sadly, that is the sphere where it is most lacking. The only document that could possibly be called a policy document is the green glossy one produced in May, which lists project after project, sector after sector, and the many agencies and institutions with which the ODA works. It witters on about the importance of sustainable development, but totally fails to provide a vision of what it is and how to achieve it. It fails to emphasise that sustainable development requires a total change in the way we live and plan our lives, as well as an overhaul of the process of development in developing countries, and thus an overhaul of policy of development agencies such as the ODA.

If anything is to be done about poverty, world industrial production must, according to the Brundtland report, increase by five or ten times over the next 50 years. If that increase in production is to be sustainable, the technologies employed must be at least five to 10 times more efficient in their use of natural resources. There is no sign that any Government Department is responding to that challenge.

Let us examine the record. The Government proudly proclaimed a contribution of £9 million to enable countries such as India and China to phase out CFCs in compliance with the Montreal protocol. Developing countries certainly need financial help if they are to meet their global obligations, and I welcome the fact that aid for global environmental projects is separate from and additional to the aid budget for development projects. But while allocating that £9 million the Government in 1989 spent £80 million on energy projects and £30 million on mining in developing countries. These are projects which, if the record is anything to go by, will destroy the land and pollute the atmosphere in the countries concerned.

As the Minister said this morning, the Government recently announced that they will contribute £46 million to the new global environmental fund of the World bank —the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Development Programme. I welcome that pledge and the fact that it is additional to the aid budget; but closer inspection reveals that the £9 million for CFC substitutes will be taken out of the £46 million contribution to the new environmental fund.

This is not surprising. The £100 million for tropical forests announced by the former Prime Minister and frequently boasted about by other Ministers was not new money either. The £46 million is less than half what the Government are spending on the aid and trade provision projects this year. ATP projects too often work in direct opposition to environmental goals because they often subsidise the export of out-of-date technologies which are no longer in demand in the United Kingdom and are no longer allowed in many European Community countries.

The old-fashioned equipment used at the Rihand power station in India, with no flue gas desulphurisation, is typical. The Minister claimed this morning that ODA procedures have improved dramatically since. I remind her that the ODA's power sector mission in India reported in 1986 that additional energy would be most cost-effectivelly provided by the improved repair and maintenance of existing power stations and by more effective distribution, not by building new power stations.