Bilateral Aid

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th April 1995.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate 12:00 am, 24th April 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proportion of United Kingdom bilateral aid is targeted towards meeting basic needs. [18753]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

All our aid policies are focused on helping countries poorer than ourselves to achieve sustainable social and economic development.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

Does the Minister agree that a basic need for all children is the right to education? In the light of increasing evidence of the brutal use, in many instances, of child labour, culminating last week in the report of the dreadful murder in Pakistan of a young boy, allegedly because he was attempting to improve the working conditions of his colleagues in a carpet-weaving factory, what precisely are the Government doing to ensure that children in the third world are carrying a burden appropriate to the size of their shoulders?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

As the hon. Lady will know, we are supporting basic education programmes in Pakistan. Our aid programme throughout the world is targeted at assisting poorer countries to achieve sustainable economic development, in many instances by supporting basic education. The whole House will share the hon. Lady's concern that child labour should not be exploited as it was in the instance she cites. When we discuss our bilateral aid programmes with countries, we obviously draw to their attention concerns that young people should be at school and that they should not be exploited in that way.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway , Croydon South

When considering bilateral aid to Rwanda, will my hon. Friend recognise that the dispute there is primarily a territorial dispute brought about by overcrowding, as a result of excessive population growth? Will he recognise that the stork is the bird of war? Will he take every step to implement the Cairo plan of action which will do something about that?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The causes of unrest in Rwanda are complex and many. However, as my hon. Friend will know, because he was at the United Nations conference on population and development in Cairo, the United Kingdom Government have been taking a leading role in supporting projects to ensure that parents can have children by choice and not by chance.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

Bearing in mind what the Minister has just said about his belief in education for children, does he agree—this was confirmed by my recent travels in parts of Africa—that structural adjustment has undermined many education programmes and that many families are now having to pay for education rather than having it free?

Even allowing for some changes, which the Minister has pointed out, in the definition of low-income countries, the British Government now spend a lower percentage of our bilateral aid budget on the poorest countries. According to Overseas Development Administration figures, 80 per cent. was spent in 1992–93, whereas the figure for 1993–94 was 69 per cent. Will the Minister enlarge a little on the answer he gave a few moments ago? What plans does he have to ensure that aid is more focused on low-income countries and, in particular, on the poorest people in those countries?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

First, on structural adjustment, I remind the hon. Lady of what the Zambian Minister of Finance said, Zambia being a country to which we give sizeable bilateral aid. He said: We have all heard the many arguments both for, and against, structural adjustment. In Zambia, the argument is very clear. Our history has shown that the costs of not adjusting have been very much higher than the costs of adjusting. The Zambian Government have said that the results of structural adjustment are impressive, that their economy is stable, that consumer and business confidence has revived and that growth is evident in several areas. Countries that have undertaken structural adjustment are beginning to see their economies strengthen.

Secondly, on basic needs, part of the problem is that the UN definition of a basic need is completely meaningless. For example, emergency assistance to refugees is excluded, as are the ODA's joint funding for British non-governmental organisations, support for Voluntary Service Overseas and any projects to encourage sustainable forestry or better water management. The definition is totally meaningless. The hon. Lady talks about the support that we are giving for basic needs. All our aid programme—all of our development programme—is intended to help poorer countries and to ensure that countries poorer than ourselves can achieve better social and economic systems through sustainable development.