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Overseas Aid

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 30th January 1996.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 6:49 pm, 30th January 1996

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles 7:15 pm, 30th January 1996

I beg to move, That this House fully recognises and accepts the United Kingdom's share of global responsibility towards the elimination of poverty and calls on the Government to make steady and measurable progress towards honouring its pledge of the United Nations overseas aid target of 0.7 per cent. GNP; deplores the Government's failure to play a more central role in the delivery of multilateral aid, both within the EU and other multilateral organisations, and the damaging effects of its policy on the bilateral programme at a time when global poverty is increasing; and calls on the Government to establish an aid programme which is better equipped to meet the needs of the world's poor. Some people may wonder why we have chosen overseas development as the subject for debate this evening. There has been no obvious recent Government announcement or policy change on which to peg this debate. No major international conference is being held this week that is directly relevant to the United Kingdom's aid budget. It is increasingly clear, however, to those of us who care about the UK's role in global development that the Tory Government are selling the British people and the world's poor short.

In a nutshell, the Government are prepared to trade short-term electoral bribes in the form of tax cuts at home against the development of an effective and sustainable aid programme throughout the world. That strategy, fed into the Chancellor's autumn statement last year, permeated two Government documents—the ODA's fundamental expenditure review and its senior management review, which I hope to address later.

I do not doubt for a moment that the Minister will mount a robust defence of the Government's track record. He will, no doubt, talk about quality as opposed to quantity; about supporting programmes that are recognisably British, as opposed to multilateral, in origin; and about the high regard afforded to British aid throughout the world. You see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have been reading the Minister's ODA press releases.

For all his claims, however, the Minister cannot disguise the fact that the Tory Government have demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate by their actions, that their overseas aid policy is morally, politically and intellectually bankrupt: morally, because by cutting aid—and the Government are cutting aid, make no mistake—they are demonstrating that they attach a low priority to the alleviation of poverty in developing countries; and, politically, because the cuts announced in the Budget were a crass response by erstwhile Tory liberals to the demands of the right. I am sure that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury found the world's poor to be a soft target.

Such actions grossly misjudge the mood of the British people, who have an admirable record of enthusiastically supporting appeals for help to the developing world. A Harris poll conducted last autumn revealed that 79 per cent. of those interviewed wanted the aid budget to stay the same or to be increased.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

From what the hon. Lady is saying and from the Opposition motion, it is clear that she will be focusing on official development assistance, and it is right that she should do so, but does she accept that that is a slightly monocular view? Are not private flows from this country to developing countries of great assistance to the development process?

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

I accept that there are private flows and they are very welcome, but I am talking about the Government's record, not other people's record. It cannot be right to say, as I presume the hon. Gentleman meant, that although the Government are failing in their responsibilities, other people are making up the deficiency. That is not the subject of the debate.

The Government's intellectual bankruptcy is striking. Their figures, in response to my recent parliamentary question, show that a mere 10.5 per cent. of British bilateral aid in 1994–95 was spent on basic needs. That is well short of the commitment to 20:20, to which the British Government signed at the social summit in Copenhagen in 1995. So much for focus on poverty.

I have no doubt that the Minister will claim that the Government's overseas development programme aims to reduce poverty, but such a claim simply does not tally with their economic and social agenda at home. In short, a poverty focused programme of investment and assistance abroad would be a very uncomfortable mismatch with the Government's approach to the alleviation of poverty in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition believe that the values of social justice and human solidarity are as relevant abroad as they are at home and that Britain has a clear moral obligation to help to combat poverty and alleviate suffering, wherever they occur. Unlike the Government, the Labour party has a vision of development that is coherent with its domestic policy, and which is rooted in traditional Labour ideals about fairness, rights and participation in society. We believe in the rights of people everywhere to a decent livelihood and the ideal of an international society in which we all benefit culturally and economically from development.

Nor is that a narrow vision of self-interest. Development can be about improving the global environment, reducing enforced economic migration, creating new export opportunities and reducing the threat of war. Those aims are to be welcomed, but the vision must be wider. It must be a vision of global inclusion, not exclusion, and of interdependence, partnership and mutual learning.

Visions need a practical anchor. What does our vision mean for the hard choices that face British development policy and especially British aid? How do we ensure that the ODA's claimed poverty focus is paramount? What does the ODA mean by poverty? Which forms of aid—project aid, programme aid, and aid delivered with the assistance of NGOs—are best suited to achieving significant and lasting reductions in global poverty? What are the implications of increased aid contributions to eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Mediterranean for aid programmes in Africa and the Indian sub-continent? Have the Government decided that there should be a sharp geographical focus to the delivery of aid?

What should be Britain's role, as an active participant in the European Union and the United Nations, in the development of aid policy and aid delivery? Those are the questions that people are asking and they demand thoughtful answers. If we do not receive such answers tonight, it will show that the Government have chosen to pursue a policy of cuts—to the bilateral programme and to the multilateral programme—as a result of which Britain's standing and influence in the world and its role as a leading provider of aid will take a hammering.

The Opposition are not prepared to stand by without comment to watch British Ministers abdicate their responsibility to the world's poor and cause lasting damage to them and to Britain's reputation. May we have an agreement that aid resources must be focused on the poorest people and the poorest countries? There must be no more Pergaus, for example. Will the Minister assure us that the channels for delivery of aid will be chosen specifically for their real impact on poverty? What evidence does the Minister have that different channels do better or worse at poverty reduction?

In recent years, we have seen a dramatic shift in the proportion of aid allocated away from project aid and towards emergency programmes. What efforts are being made to ensure that emergency aid is linked to and consistent with longer-term development objectives?

The main report on the fundamental expenditure review, which was published in December 1995, raises profound issues about the future role and work of the ODA. I was pleased to hear that the Minister proposes to make a statement to Parliament in the near future. I do not intend to discuss the report at great length today, but there should be no misunderstanding about the process. It is not, as the remit of the FER suggested, merely a search to improve the effectiveness of the ODA: the report is fundamentally about reducing what the ODA does. It is about cutting the aid budget still further, cutting aid projects and programmes and cutting British contributions to various UN agencies.

We support some proposals in the report, but they cannot be allowed to conceal the true nature of the exercise. It has been accurately described by leading NGOs as a "rationalisation of decline", and was described today by Christian Aid as a mean policy to take us into the 21st century". One of the issues raised in the FER report is the future of multilateral aid. Britain is, of course, a partner in several multilateral programmes. The search is in the EU for a new vision after Lomé. Following the Government's deplorable 23 per cent. cut to the European development fund in 1995, how does the Minister propose that Britain will be able to play a constructive role in the future of EU development programmes?

The Opposition want real improvements to EU aid and development programmes, especially in relation to poverty focus, participation and accountability. We endorse the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the role for the British Government is to engage with fellow member states and the Commission in seeking to develop a realistic framework for delivery of EU aid". How can a Cabinet that contains the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), and the Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley), possibly play the constructive role in European development policy that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee suggests?

Is the Minister seriously suggesting cuts to the United Nations Children's Fund and to the United Nations development programme? As the Minister will know, both programmes have recently undertaken reform and are among the most efficient in the UN system. I recently met the new executive director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy. She is clearly someone of drive and enthusiasm who will continue to build on UNICEF's outstanding work on behalf of children worldwide. I know, too, that Ms Bellamy met the Prime Minister, who I understand was also impressed.

I fail to understand how Ministers can endorse the work of UN agencies, such as UNICEF, and at the same time undermine them by proposing to reduce their funding. That is the height of hypocrisy and the world's children will suffer as a result.

I understand that in my absence yesterday—I was speaking at a conference in Dunblane organised by the excellent Scottish Education and Action for Development organisation—the Minister made some interesting claims during parliamentary questions, which were so ably handled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, do not praise him too much. The Minister's claims bear revisiting tonight because I have no doubt that they will form the nub of his response. The Minister stated: Britain's aid programme is the fifth largest in the world. That may be true in money terms, but not as a percentage of gross national product. The Minister further admitted that the Government have an on-going commitment to maintaining a large and effective aid programme". The obvious implication is that he anticipates a slide down the league table. Given current expenditure plans, perhaps he is only being realistic.

In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley rightly pointed out that Britain is in 13th place in the real terms of gross national product. We share that position with Italy. That GNP figure is based on the latest available figure—1993—supplied by the British aid statistics annual report.

The current and future picture, however, is less clear. The fundamental expenditure review predicts a further reduction to 0.26 per cent. in 1997–98. As that was drafted before last year's budget cuts were announced, a more realistic figure would appear to be 0.25 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that when he speaks.

How far down that list is the Minister prepared to see us fall? Under the last Labour Government, the figure stood at 0.52 per cent. and was rising towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent. The longer the Conservative Government are in power, the steeper is the climb back to that target. In their first year of office, a Labour Government will start to reverse that decline.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

I will repeat the commitment.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

There is nothing amazing about it. A Labour Government will start to reverse that decline in their first year of office.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Don't give way".] No one is trying to stand up. They are on their bottoms, mumbling, but they are not standing.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] All right, I will give way.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

Is the hon. Lady aware that any ratio that is a proportion of gross national product can be increased, if that is the Labour party's commitment, either by reducing GNP or increasing the aid budget? Which does she intend to do when she is in office?

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

The trouble with me is that as I get older I get kinder. Perhaps I should not have given way. I made it perfectly clear. We can be judged on our record. When we left office the figure stood at 0.52 per cent. and was rising towards target. The longer that the Government are in power, the steeper is the climb back to the target, but a Labour Government would start to reverse that decline in their first year in office.

I hope that I may now continue. Yesterday, I was rather taken aback by the Minister's bold admission that There is no doubt that the bilateral programme will face reductions…we have admitted that—as we switch to multilateral aid."—[Official Report, 29 January 1996; Vol. 270, c. 637–38.] Did I miss something, or was that the first time that a Minister has come clean about a deliberate policy to switch resources from the bilateral programme, which the Government claim to hold dear, to the multilateral programme? Only last autumn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the bilateral programme a ringing endorsement, saying that in a tight public spending round…the planned allocation for bilateral aid is likely to be little changed from that set out in last year's departmental report. British bilateral aid is internationally recognised for its high quality and for the substantial share going to the poorest countries in Africa and Asia, and that will continue."— [Official Report, 28 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 1060–61] We welcome that statement.>

The Prime Minister, no less, told us: I intend to ensure that multilateral contributions do not swallow up bilateral aid."—[Official Report, 28 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 262.] Resources are to be switched, we are now told, from bilateral to multilateral programmes. Which statement is correct? I would be grateful for clarification. According to last year's ODA report, in any case, bilateral aid to Africa was set to fall by £17 million or 5 per cent. in real terms, bilateral aid to Asia and the Pacific by £25 million or 10.9 per cent., and the total bilateral budget by £102 million or 9.6 per cent. If that is what the Chancellor calls "little change", I would hate to see his idea of a substantial cut.

It is worth reminding the Minister that those are the very countries—our "traditional partners" as he called them yesterday—that he claimed Britain would not neglect.

One further matter puzzles me about the Minister's comments yesterday. If resources are to be "switched" from bilateral to multilateral programmes, how does that square with the lower forecasts for this multilateral aid to which the ODA budget press release last November referred? Is the Minister talking about a switch and a cut at the same time?

This country's contributions to the World bank, the European Union and the UN agencies are undoubtedly significant and it is important that Britain maintains its influence in the delivery of aid. How does the Minister justify our position among the G7 countries, or in the EU, on the basis of cuts to the overseas aid multilateral programmes—the 23 per cent. cut in the UK contribution to the European development fund, for example, and the threatened cuts to UN agencies and the United Nations development programme?

Taken with cuts at home to institutions with internationally recognised reputations, such as the BBC World Service and the British Council—the latter is due to suffer a 28 per cent. cut in its development grant in aid in the next three years—it is easy to see how an impartial observer could conclude that Britain is undertaking a structured withdrawal from its global responsibilities.

The British Council's dilemma bears closer study. The Government have gone on record, quite rightly, to support its work, describing it as the principal agency for cultural relations, yet, by cutting support funding without saying where future activities should be concentrated, Ministers are showing a cavalier attitude to the scope and focus of its activities.

Of course, aid is only one way, although a most significant one, in which poverty can be alleviated. The Government amendment refers to the debt burden, which shackles so many of the poor countries. We welcome the lead that the Government have taken on debt relief, but surely the Minister must acknowledge that the debt problem remains acute in a substantial number of countries. Opposition Members believe that the intolerable burden of debt that continues to be borne by many of the world's poorest countries is morally unacceptable and a serious barrier to their prospects of sustainable economic development.

The accounting costs of debt in regions such as Africa is the diversion of financial resources from capital investment, health care, education, sanitation and other essential services into the coffers of external creditors. The real cost, however, is paid by ordinary Africans in the form of higher infant mortality, poorer standards of nutrition, shorter life expectancy and increased illiteracy. I was glad to learn that a series of seminars have been arranged next week by the Debt Crisis Network to highlight that problem. I shall meet the people involved. Kenneth Kaunda, the ex-president of Zambia, is among those who will speak about the debt burden in parts of Africa.

There is an urgent need for a new international initiative to relieve the burden of debt, both bilateral and multilateral. We need to press for international agreement on an 80 per cent. write-off of official bilateral debt owed by the poorest countries, which is crippling them and their development. We must also consider the low-income countries, with more debt relief in that direction and, perhaps more important, talk to the World bank and to the IMF—as I hope to when I visit Washington shortly—about more resources to fund debt relief. Those actions would be of real help to countries that find themselves in an impossible position.

Responding to the needs of the world's poor requires not only intellectual vision but the moral and political courage to put it into action. The Government have demonstrated that they have neither. Labour has that vision. A Labour Government will have that moral and political courage.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes 7:27 pm, 30th January 1996

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: acknowledges the United Kingdom's important role in helping reduce poverty and suffering in poorer countries and commends the Government for maintaining a substantial and effective aid programme which is the fifth largest in the world; applauds the Government's intention to maintain a bilateral aid programme next year which will be as large as that which had been previously planned; welcomes the central role the United Kingdom plays in seeking to make multilateral aid more effective; and commends the Government for the increasing poverty focus of the aid programme and for the leading role it has played in seeking a comprehensive solution to the debt burden of the poorest countries.". The United Kingdom's official aid programme is one of our greatest national assets. It is one of the main links that we have with many countries in the developing world and one of our main means of securing the principal goal of our foreign policy, which is a more prosperous and stable world. Together with the huge contribution made by British trade and investment and our notable efforts in relieving the debt burden of many developing countries, the aid programme plays a highly significant role in reducing poverty and suffering throughout the world.

The Government are fully committed to maintaining a substantial and effective aid programme. We are the sixth largest economy in the world in absolute terms, yet we have the fifth largest aid programme. The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) kindly admitted that. Three of our G7 partners—the world's biggest economies—give more as a percentage of gross national product than we do, and three give less. Those figures ignore the crucial role played by the British private sector, which the hon. Lady was pleased to dismiss. When our aid flows are combined with private sector flows, our total contribution to the developing world exceeds the 1 per cent. target that the United Nations set as a benchmark. That is a significant achievement and one that we can be proud of.

At the same time, a responsible Government must balance the many and growing public expenditure priorities and demands. Our overriding goal is a more prosperous Britain with sound public finances. Hard choices have to be made.

Hon. Members are well aware that the total amount available for aid was reduced in the autumn statement by £124 million in 1996–97 compared with our previous plans. The aid budget will still be £2,154 million in 1996–97 and will grow to £2,201 million in 1997–98 and to £2,270 million in 1998–99. In that total, we expect bilateral aid in aggregate to be no less than we announced in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental report last March. That is because a number of multilateral institutions are expected to spend less money in the immediate future than we had anticipated a year ago.

For example, the replenishment of the European bank now under discussion seems likely to involve a lower paid-in element and a longer period for disbursement than we had forecast. The Asian and African Development banks have advised us of a slower rate of drawdown of existing pledges than they had forecast earlier. The reduction was made in the knowledge of those lower requirements. The European development fund has also advised us of reduced forecasts.

The new spending level represents a significant transfer of resources and shows that the Government have resisted the major cutbacks in aid that have affected so many other donors. The United States programme faces deep cuts; the Italians cut aid by 35 per cent. last year and the Canadians are cutting aid by 20 per cent. this year.

As the hon. Member for Eccles said earlier, volume is not everything; more important is impact. We have maintained a strong aid programme because aid works and because it is something that Britain does supremely well. Our Overseas Development Administration is internationally recognised as one of the most effective Government aid agencies in the world. Our bilateral programmes are among the most successful in bringing about a real transformation in the lives of the poor in the world's poorest countries. Britain's intellectual leadership in the institutions through which we spend our multilateral aid has been significant in ensuring that the British taxpayer's money is used efficiently and effectively.

However, the ODA could be even more effective. We have recently carried out a fundamental expenditure review, or FER, of its activities and organisation, to which the hon. Member for Eccles referred. That review was thorough and wide ranging. It involved consultations with non-governmental organisations, recipients of aid and others. Copies were sent before Christmas to the Libraries of both Houses. We are encouraging a debate about its findings. I suppose that the contribution of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) at Question Time yesterday could be said to add to that debate.

I am pleased to be able to explain some of the errors that people have made about the review. I shall explain what the review found and what the Government propose to do about the findings. The review concluded that there is a continuing need for the UK to provide substantial flows of concessional aid. It also recommended that we should clarify the purpose of the ODA's work by better defining the aid programme's basic goal and aims. The Government have accepted both those conclusions. We shall define the ODA's purpose as improving the quality of life of people in poorer countries by contributing to sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

If that is the aim, could special attention be paid to what is happening in one of the poorest countries, Nepal? A delegation led by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) visited the research station at Lumle, where there may be cuts, about which the right hon. Gentleman and I met the Minister, Lady Chalker. Could special attention be paid to the issues involved in that?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Yes, certainly. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development referred the matter to me when I met our high commissioner from Nepal only last week. I shall consider the matter and reply, if I can, by the end of the debate.

We accepted the main conclusions of the FER. We shall support the four principal aims that relate to the FER: good government and economic reforms; human resource development; the productive sector and the environment; and our stewardship of multilateral development institutions and the development aspects of wider economic policies.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

Within those aims, will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that fair distribution methods are adopted for the aid? For example, a high proportion of aid-assisted students in Britain come from a tiny elite that uses the aid as a sort of patronage that bears little relationship to fair distribution. That is just one example of the difficulties—which I realise that any aid programme will have.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are proud of the fact that some 9,500 students and trainees were supported under the aid programme in 1994–95. Other training schemes exist. We have special schemes not only for the Commonwealth but for all overseas students in the United Kingdom. The number of overseas students in higher and further education in the UK has more than doubled in the past decade, from 50,000 to 123,000. I realise that my hon. Friend is talking about the distribution of the benefits of that programme. I shall certainly examine that matter, with reference to what he said.

The hon. Member for Eccles also referred to where we shall spend bilateral aid in future. The FER recommended that we concentrate further our country programmes. That policy has been evolving for some time, has the full support of many NGOs and is being pursued by other advanced donors.

The starting point for any debate has to be that the ODA is working in more countries than ever before and undertaking more complex activities. New demands have arisen because of the collapse of communism and the need to help the countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as they move towards market economies and full democracy.

It does not make sense in the long term to retain such a widespread network of aid activities, because the world is changing. Many countries are graduating out of aid. Some of the countries of east Asia are becoming donors themselves. We expect that in the medium term, many of the countries of central Europe will simply not need aid programmes as such. Concentrating a greater share of country programmes on a limited number of recipients that both need aid and can put it to good use will help to raise the quality of bilateral aid. It will also help to increase the poverty focus of the programmes, which is our most important goal.

The development indicators for need are worst for sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. They contain the vast majority of the world's very poor countries. We also have much influence in those regions, which is why our aim is to concentrate aid increasingly on them. That does not mean that we shall abandon countries where our support is still needed. There is still much to be done, for example, in helping eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and the countries of the Caribbean. We have a strong commitment to the dependent territories that still need our aid.

As I said, some countries will graduate from aid when conditions are right, just as Korea and Singapore have. We shall continue small programmes in most cases through British partnership schemes and scholarships. Many countries will continue to benefit from the substantial contributions that we give multilaterally.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Will the review result in cuts in aid to the Caribbean?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

We have still to decide on the amounts to be given to various countries. We must also see whether, in the regions that I described, the amount of aid needed can be used effectively and efficiently. The Caribbean will certainly put its case to us with its usual enthusiasm. Although I cannot make commitments at this point because matters are still being discussed, we shall not abandon countries that definitely need our support.

A greater concentration of substantial bilateral programmes will be progressively achieved. Last year, 70 per cent. of bilateral aid went to the 20 largest recipients. We aim to increase that concentration ratio gradually over the years. We shall do so very gradually, not radically as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley suggested yesterday. Although concentration countries will not necessarily be the same from year to year, the key is how effective our partnership is in ensuring that the aid is used effectively. I hope that my explanation of that important aspect of the FER will dispel fears generated by the media that aid will be limited to only 20 countries. That is simply not true. While we shall target better a limited number of large programmes, many other countries will continue to receive aid, too.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

I applaud the policy of concentrating and focusing aid. Will there be a degree of what I might describe as "Commonwealth preference" in that policy? Many countries with the greatest concentrations of poor people happen to be in the Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have a continuing interest in and commitment to the other countries within the Commonwealth. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, but I believe that the case for aid will be on a country-by-country basis, and I would not expect an overt preference for Commonwealth countries. Preference will be given to countries in need. However, I shall look at the issue and write to my hon. Friend with the answer, which my right hon. and noble Friend might be able to give when she returns from Africa.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

The Minister keeps saying that countries will graduate out of aid and that the Government will be increasingly selective about which countries should receive aid. Does that mean that, looking to the future, the Government have abandoned the 0.7 per cent. target that was restated in the 1992 Rio summit as being desperately needed by the world's poor countries?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

No, we have not abandoned our goal of 0.7 per cent. We continue to hold that objective when funds allow. We are at 0.31 per cent. and diminishing by a small amount because we are ensuring that our economy is strong enough for us to achieve the 0.7 per cent. in time.

I have been explaining how our bilateral aid will be better targeted in the future. The FER also had important things to say about the growing contribution that we make through multilateral aid. This year, multilateral contributions are set to exceed bilateral programmes for the first time, almost entirely because of rising contributions to the European Commission's aid programme. More of our multilateral aid goes through the EC than through any other channel—about £600 million last year.

The multilateral share of our aid is set to increase further, although, as I explained, the rate of increase is less than previously forecast. The ODA will need to put more of its effort into improving the quality of multilateral aid and exploiting opportunities to use it to support UK interests and priorities.

The FER is also clear about that. It recommends that the ODA adopt a high-level aim that relates directly to its multilateral aid work. The objective is to make multilateral aid more explicitly subject to the same strategic disciplines as bilateral aid. For example, we shall strengthen the ODA's capability to influence the European Community's development operations.

Strategies for the main areas of multilateral aid will be produced regularly, to ensure that the ODA's control over the uses to which multilateral aid is put is reinforced. There is no question of the UK being less committed to the multilateral aid system. We have been at the forefront of attempts to make multilateral aid more effective. In the European Union, we have pressed for closer co-ordination among member states; in the United Nations, we have contributed valuable ideas on management reform; and we are beginning to make headway in promoting reform in a number of agencies.

But the World bank group of institutions is at the centre of the global development effort. The World bank group's objectives and the ODA's aims are closely linked. The institutions' quality is reflected in the richness of their collective experience and their record of success. The UK will continue to give them our full support. In particular, we want to see a substantial eleventh replenishment of the International Development Association.

The hon. Member for Eccles seemed to be surprised that we were shifting from bilateral to multilateral aid. On the contrary, it is well known and will continue for some time. As I have said in the House before, a high proportion of our multilateral aid spending is determined by negotiated or assessed international commitments. The size of the EC aid budget is decided by all member states acting together, and by the European Parliament. The UK does not have sole control, but the ceilings were set at the 1992 European Council in Edinburgh. We are in the middle of that shift, although the ratio of bilateral to multilateral aid is currently approximately 50:50. Last year the ratio was 60:40. The shift should be seen within the total aid that we can produce.

We can also be proud of our record on developing country debt. We have taken the leading international role in seeking a comprehensive solution to the official bilateral and multilateral debt burdens of the poorest, most heavily indebted countries and have written off more than £1.2 billion of their aid debts. Twelve countries have now benefited from the higher rates of debt relief—67 per cent. in some cases—available at the Paris Club of Government creditors under the Naples terms first proposed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor. Since December 1994, more than £2.5 billion of bilateral official debt has been restructured on Naples terms. We have gained widespread recognition that additional measures must be taken to deal with the multilateral debt burden of a number of the poorest countries. In response, the International Monetary Fund and the World bank have agreed to submit such proposals at their spring meetings in April 1996.

The UK will continue to be at the forefront of international thinking, policy and action on development. We shall maintain strong programmes of research, which underpin our capacity to influence others and promote effective development. We have announced a further increase next year in our joint funding scheme for non-governmental organisations, and we shall continue to support the societies that send British volunteers abroad at a substantial level. The Commonwealth Development Corporation expects to expand its annual level of commitments by some 12 per cent.

We shall continue to respond to humanitarian emergencies, building on the outstandingly successful work of British experts and non-governmental organisations, which we have supported to great effect in Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere. We are putting increased effort into the role of aid, both in conflict prevention and in promoting a long-term approach to complex emergencies. The aim is to encourage the return to development, and we are beginning to see the fruits of that approach in several parts of Africa.

Opposition noise about public expenditure reductions obscures the fact that we expect to deliver a bilateral aid programme no less substantial in aggregate than we had planned before the reductions. That programme will be increasingly concentrated on those who need it most and can use it most effectively. I am proud of our aid programme; the Government are proud of their aid programme; and I commend the Government's amendment to the House.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North 7:58 pm, 30th January 1996

Cuts in the overseas aid budget are to be deplored, and it does the debate no good when people say that other countries, such as the United States or even Canada, have cut their aid budgets even more than we have. Such comparisons are odious, and no answer to the problem.

Ministers talk about the great advantages of the flow of private capital in development. Private capital can be an aid to development, but I have never known it to be altruistic. Private capital goes overseas and to the underdeveloped world because it believes that it can obtain a good return. It is bogus, therefore, to include private capital inflows to developing countries in the category of aid.

I accept that overseas aid policy must have clear objectives and must be geared to countries in greater need. Of course we want aid to be directed to sustainable development and of course we want to lead countries out of need for aid, although I have never subscribed to the opinion which is held in some parts of the House, especially on the Conservative Benches, that there is an aid-dependency culture in some countries. No country wants its development to be held back simply to obtain aid.

I do not subscribe to the theory that a good aid policy depends on our self-interest. We benefit from overseas aid, but that should not be the primary reason to provide development aid. We have a responsibility to ensure that aid policy, whether multilateral or bilateral, helps the people in the greatest need and is directed to countries in whose future we have a direct interest and influence. The Minister conceded that one of the Government's aims would be to give aid where there is a possibility of influencing development.

Aid is desperately needed in Angola. I understand that in the next couple of weeks Baroness Chalker is to go to Angola. When she does so, she should remember that the United Kingdom was involved in the peace process which sought to bring to an end two decades of civil war and culminated in the Lusaka protocol in November 1994. Yet after all that time, more than a year later, the peace process is in serious danger. It hangs in the balance.

The United Nations Security Council will meet on 8 February 1996 to decide the future of the UN mission in Angola. The United States is making noises to the effect that it is fed up with the situation and wants to walk away from the problem. We know, however, that one of the reasons for the difficulty in the peace process is the behaviour of the United States' surrogate, Jonas Savimbi of UNITA.

At the donor conference in September 1995, attention was drawn to the fact that, according to estimates by the United Nations children's fund, almost one in three children in Angola dies before reaching the age of five; 280,000 Angolans live as refugees in neighbouring states; only 41 per cent. of the population has access to safe drinking water; the urban population has increased from 15 per cent. in 1970 to about 50 per cent. in 1995 as people have fled the country because of the war; life expectancy for Angolans is 45 years.

Having heard those statements, anyone would say, "That country needs assistance." Yet at the round table donor conference in September last year, although the United States pledged $190 million to the reconstruction fund, France pledged $140 million and the Netherlands pledged $60 million, Britain fail to donate a single dollar, a single penny. The reason was that at the time the Government were busily involved in the argument about the further expenditure review. It is disgraceful that the Government of a country so closely interlinked and involved in the peace process, and in the pressure on the Angolan Government to concede massively to UNITA, should stand back and refuse to give any money. If Angola is to have a real future, Baroness Chalker—one of whose responsibilities is to participate in that type of argument—must tell the United States to make it clear that Savimbi must keep to the agreements that have been signed. There is a massive wish in Angola for peace. The peace process needs to be confirmed and money needs to be given.

Governments influence overseas aid and overseas development policy in many ways. Cash is important—I do not deny that—but giving cash makes no sense if the Government's negotiations on trade matters can negate the entire development policy. I draw the Government's attention to the trade negotiations between South Africa and the European Union. Things are at a crucial stage.

For years, every hon. Member said, with equal sincerity—I would not want to recall the past and quarrel with people who held a different view from me at the time—that we wanted the end of apartheid. We all said that we wanted a democratic Government in place in South Africa. We wanted that, not only because it was a theoretical democratic exercise, but because we wanted significant development for the people in southern Africa. None the less, the negotiations have stalled as a result of the way in which the European Union is approaching them.

Detailed discussions finally started in December 1995, after a long period of pre-negotiations. It is almost two years since the Berlin conference to discuss the relationship between South Africa and the European Union. Negotiations are in danger of stalling because France, supported by Germany and some southern European countries, is drawing up a list of "sensitive" products to be excluded from the negotiations. A list is accumulating, and circulating among member states, of products amounting to 58 per cent. of South Africa's agricultural exports to the European Union. What is more, it has now been suggested that before negotiations can be completed, "impact assessments" should be made of the impact on the European market, not only of potential South African produce, but of free trade agreements in general. Those may cause enormous delays.

The Italians, who currently hold the presidency of the European Union, believe that they can achieve a deal that can be signed during their presidency. If that is to happen, it is imperative that the United Kingdom pulls out all the stops to urge the other EU member states to allow a speedy start to the detailed talks and to resist a growing protectionist momentum against South Africa.

Although some minor trade concessions were made last year, the European Union gives South Africa a worse deal than most countries outside the western world, including many with a higher per capita income. South Africa is often said to be a rich country, but it has an extremely low per capita income. About 58 per cent. of its population is illiterate. There is desperate unemployment.

Those things must be considered in the round. Development policy is not a simple matter of bandying around figures to say that this will work this way and that will work that way. It is about real people in real situations. I hope that in discussing overseas aid policy the Minister and Baroness Chalker will not take a monocular view, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) eloquently put it. I hope that they will not adopt tunnel vision and seek to defend their policy, or to make progress with their policy only in the narrow sense of percentages of gross domestic product. Those are important, but they are not the whole story.

It is not good enough for the Government to say, "We aim eventually to reach the UN target figure, but in the meantime we shall go backwards until we can afford it." This country can certainly afford it, and I believe that the vast majority of people in the country would be willing to contemplate an increase in our monetary programme. I hope that the Department is not isolated but is able to influence wider foreign policy. Otherwise, the whole mess will collapse like a pack of cards. It will not matter from the point of view of our influence, but the most desperately needy—the men, women and children who depend on the sensible progress of our aid policy—will be the ones who suffer.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale 8:09 pm, 30th January 1996

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who made several comments with which I agree. I shall refer to the issue of national self-interest, which he touched upon, in my short remarks.

I had the great privilege to be a Foreign Office Minister for four years, and for two of those years I answered for the Overseas Development Administration in this place. I was enormously impressed by the quality of the British aid programme and by the quality of advice that I received as Minister defending the Government's policies. I am pleased that some of those who advised me are present today and I note from the tabulations attached to my right hon. Friend's brief that he receives the same fulsome advice. Although I worked extremely hard, I must confess that sometimes it was rather like boxing with one's eyes blindfolded. I hope that my right hon. Friend does not feel the same way.

I welcome the aid programme because I see it as an extension of the British diplomatic initiative—the British interest. Those who criticise the aid programme because they do not believe in aid or because they believe in charity more than the British national interest should consider the Japanese position. Japan's aid programme is about four times as large as ours in money terms.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale

Japan's aid programme is smaller than ours as a percentage of gross national product, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman should temper his enthusiasm to support his hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), who opened for the Opposition.

When the Japanese give aid, the four-wheel drive vehicles and other manifestations of Japanese commercial clout arrive shortly afterwards. I believe that the attitude of most decent people in Britain to aid is a reflection of their attitude to the conduct of their lives: they are mindful of their own self-interest while doing what they can afford to help others. When it comes to aid, I sometimes wish that the Opposition would recognise that self-interest is no bad thing. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North touched on that issue in his speech. Of course it is not a primary objective of our aid programme, but I believe that it must be given greater emphasis.

Opposition spokesmen often seem to be in the grip of non-governmental organisations, such as those involved in the World Development Movement, which deny the national self-interest. On occasion, I feel that Opposition speeches are not directed to the House and to the nation, but to the NGOs to which I have referred.

The British aid programme is a good programme because it is targeted largely at the poorest countries; I do not wish to see that change. However, I am a strong supporter of the aid and trade provision and I believe that everything about that concept should be encouraged. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend Baroness Chalker and her colleagues in another place found it necessary to cut the ATP this year in their fundamental expenditure review and that it will be cut further. I am greatly disquieted by Labour party proposals, which lack any substance or detail, to reform the provision still further if Labour were elected to Government.

There can be nothing wrong in principle with development projects which are proposed by British companies. I cannot accept the view expressed by the World Development Movement that the aid for trade provision should be abolished. I think that that would be insane. In that context, I shall comment about the Pergau experience because I believe that my criticisms of the Opposition were characterised by Labour Members behaviour on that occasion. When it was all over, the Foreign Secretary said: We must ensure that British companies are not disadvantaged in bidding for worthwhile development projects against competitors who can afford soft finance". I wholly agree with that. Whatever mistakes were made during the Pergau episode were made in good faith by Ministers acting in the national self-interest. However, we heard only howls of indignation from Opposition Members, which showed that they were more concerned about pleasing those who get at them in the Lobbies than about supporting our national self-interest.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No Labour Member would argue against the Government providing soft finance for private companies bidding for projects, but we do not regard it as an appropriate use of money that the British public believe is being spent on aid.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale

I hope that the hon. Lady will provide more details, if she intends to make a contribution to the debate, about what she wants to be done about aid and trade provision. I shall be interested in what she says because I believe that arguments in favour of aid provision which do not also favour national self-interest are unlikely to enjoy public support. Anyone who wants the aid budget to increase—I include in that category the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mrs. Abbott) and the World Development Movement—must realise that my constituents will be easily persuaded that aid provision should be increased only if the argument for increased aid is combined with national self-interest.

Because I believe that the national commercial and diplomatic self-interest must be served by the aid programme where possible and reasonable, I shall comment on multilateral aid provision and the European Union.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to trade relations between South Africa and the European Union and I heartily agree with what he said. It is absurd that the European Union should make selfish provisions of the kind to which he referred and I found his contribution most helpful and illuminating. It is a cause of great irritation to many of us that so much of our aid is diverted from our bilateral programme to multilateral aid, particularly into the European Union, where we contribute about one sixth of its expenditure from our bilateral aid. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say that negotiations will be hastened in an effort to improve the European multilateral programme.

It has always seemed curious to me that the European Union should have an aid programme. I cannot see why it should in principle, but nonetheless I recognise that it is a matter of history and that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have more important arguments to pursue within the European Union. However, as a former Foreign Office Minister, I recall one incident involving the chief minister of a Caribbean dependent territory who was anxious to build an education college in his country—which undoubtedly would have been named after him and boosted his ego. I received advice, which I was happy to accept, that it was an extravagant and not particularly worthwhile initiative in aid terms and we refused to grant aid. The chief minister in question—the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) knows to whom I refer—then went to the local European Union representative and his request was approved.

Although I am aware of my irritation regarding many aspects of the European aid programme, I know that Britain is more successful than many other countries in obtaining contracts for our non-governmental organisations and consultants out of multilateral programmes. We benefit from spending multilateral aid on organisations originating in Britain. That is very good news indeed. Here I declare an interest as I was an observer at the recent Palestinian elections, under the auspices of the monitoring exercise organised by the European Union. The hon. Member for Eccles declared in her opening remarks that British influence is taking a hammering. If she had observed the Palestinian elections, she would have found that to be profoundly untrue. I have some reservations about the size of the European operation and other matters, but I shall not dwell on that aspect today as I wish to congratulate the British people involved.

Four of the 30 European Union administrators were British and they were in a position of great influence; we had six long-term observers and our effort—especially that of one British administrator, who is an expert in organising elections throughout the world—helped the Palestinians to design their electoral system. British officials spent several months with leading Palestinians, who were deeply grateful for their advice. That involvement was a great success for the European Union and for the United Kingdom at little cost to ourselves, and as Palestine emerges as a nation we shall certainly benefit from our participation.

We shall also benefit from our aid programme to the Palestinians. Over the next three years, the British contribution, which is substantially but not exclusively funded through the European Union, will be about £80 million. It is quite a large programme for a small emerging country and that initiative will do our standing with the Palestinian people even more good.

There are several small programmes such as those in sewerage and public health; there is a mini know-how programme and a Bank of England initiative to help the Palestinians set up a monetary authority. They are small schemes and, once again, they are extremely well targeted, fashioned and constructed and they will put our officials in contact with leading Palestinians. I believe that those initiatives will follow the principle that I have enunciated in that they will be good for the Palestinian people and the British self-interest.

Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon 8:22 pm, 30th January 1996

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Sir M. Lennox-Boyd). I well remember his fine work when he was a Minister. I am sad, however, that the chance to speak on Britain's overseas aid programme has been provided by budget cuts. I support the retention and expansion of the current budget which was so well managed for so long by Baroness Chalker.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I thank the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen for their recognition in the motion of the value of British aid, and the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) for her fine and moving speech. My colleagues and I share their dismay at the Government's continual reduction in targeted assistance to the poorest of the poor. I consider that part and parcel of the Government's deliberate ignorance of the plight of the most needy people, domestically and overseas.

Photo of Mr David Faber Mr David Faber , Westbury

Does the hon. Lady recall what she said on 19 June last year in response to the speech of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), who is now her hon. Friend? She said: Despite the passionate commitment of those hon. Members, they were just rotating old and outdated statements that bore little relationship to the reality of today's overseas aid programme".— [Official Report, 19 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 109.] Does she still agree with her words then?

Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon

Yes. That was before the current budget cuts. I supported the Government on this and many other matters last summer and last autumn and I am desperately sad that my loyalty and my belief in the value of statements by Ministers and supporters have been rubbished by their actions. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman raised that point.

My personal experience of the effectiveness of British official aid spans three decades: first, as a volunteer in India and Africa; secondly, as a salaried member of staff of the Save the Children Fund and other organisations such as Plan International; and, thirdly, since I entered Parliament, as a volunteer again. I have considerable experience in these matters.

What is the purpose of government aid? We all know the Government's main stated aims. They are to support economic reform, to enhance productive capacity, to help achieve good government, to finance activities directly benefiting poor people, to promote human development, to promote the status of women and to help to tackle environmental problems. We all agree with those aims, but are the Government giving the Department the tools to do its job?

Until last autumn, Britain's performance was not brilliant, but at least there were small increases in aid spending in 1994. Plans were also approved for further small increases for 1997–98. We were the fifth largest aid donor, but our contribution was less than half that of No. 4 on the list—Germany. In 1994, we spent 0.31 per cent. of our GNP on aid. We were 12th equal with Finland and below such countries as Luxembourg, Switzerland and Portugal. Neither the scale of our aid nor our aid-GNP ranking reflected our strong and special bilateral links with many of the world' poorest countries, unlike donors such as Sweden and Luxembourg.

The stated objective of the former Foreign Secretary was to punch above our weight. To do that, we need to concentrate on our strengths. Our bilateral experience and long expertise give British aid its quality and make our voice on development matters universally respected and more important than those of many other countries.

Even with the planned increases in 1994, our bilateral aid was set to shrink from £1.1 billion to £945 million by 1997–98. Bilateral aid to Africa alone was to fall from £318 million to £280 million in only two years. Yet much of that money is still needed to support economic reform and good governance—two of the Government's main aims.

The aid cuts announced last November, far from modestly increasing the aid budget for 1996–97 and 1997–98, will cut spending to significantly below even this year's spending. In each year, more than £120 million has been axed from previous years' spending, representing a cut of about 9 per cent. in the amount expected to be spent in the last financial year. At 1994–95 prices, the cost will be at least –200 million in each of the next two years, compared with the total for 1994–95. That is more than two thirds of total private United Kingdom aid flows.

First, is it true that nearly all that money will have to come from bilateral aid? Secondly, as fast-spending aid to support economic reform and good governance is the easiest to cut, what impact will those cuts have on our leverage in pursuit of those aims, especially in Africa? How much will go to Africa in 1997–98?

The Government's aim to help the poor—especially women—has wide public support. It is carried out in partnership with excellent British voluntary agencies such as Oxfam, Plan International and the Save the Children Fund. Plan International has Ian Buist, a former ODA eminence, as a director. Can the Minister assure us that previous plans for the joint funding scheme and other partnerships with such agencies will not be affected by the cuts? What about our contributions to the United Nations Children's Fund—UNICEF—whose concerns loom large?

The Minister stated this evening that he wishes to improve the quality of multilateral aid, but how do the Government expect to maintain Britain's influence in the multilateral aid agencies, including the European Union, if they take the axe to our bilateral programmes? Who will listen to us if we do not put our money where our mouth is?

During the previous financial year, the Government said that when many major donors face difficult decisions about the size of their aid programmes, the increase in the United Kingdom's aid programme reconfirms the Government's commitment to international developments. I deeply regret the fact that, by this year's decisions, so soon afterwards, they have trampled that commitment into the dust.

The fundamental expenditure review, the FER, changes ODA priorities. It drops the unique focus on women, yet women and their children make up 80 per cent. of all refugees and displaced people. Is the Minister content that that should happen, given that in the poorest societies women and girls bear the heaviest burdens of illiteracy and hunger, as well as child labour?

The review focuses a higher proportion of expenditure—85 per cent.—on only 20 countries. Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that in many mid-level economies, and even in wealthy nations, where millions of refugees eke out their lives, sometimes for 30 years, the official British attitude will now be survival of the fittest? Surely he must know that no GNP statistic allows for vicious or ignorant social policies and that high national wealth does not lead to automatic redistribution or to tolerance towards minorities. Aid is about people, not about classroom economics. The Government have turned their face against asylum seekers coming into the United Kingdom. Surely the Minister knows that funds spent preventively in difficult regions help people to stay at home.

Given the fundamental changes of focus that the FER recommends, will the Minister refer proposals to the House for debate rather than take decisions within the Department? That would restore a sense of political balance that is sorely missing. Opposition Members have always taken overseas aid more seriously than the Government. In 1979, the Labour Government were spending 0.5 per cent. of GNP on aid. The forecast within the FER, before budgetary cuts were known, was that the percentage would fall to 0.26 per cent. The percentage must now be lower still.

The first ODA Minister, Barbara Castle, went into the Cabinet on 18 October 1964. Lynda Chalker still waits outside the door.

Recently, there was comment on Japan. It spends 0.29 per cent. of its GNP on aid. That is a higher percentage than was forecast for the United Kingdom before the budgetary cuts. That is not good.

Sadly, UNESCO has been badly weakened because it lost more than one third of its financial resources after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom and the United States 11 or 12 years ago. They have denied it their full co-operation. Its director-general, Dr. Federico Mayor Zaragoza, made that very point to one of the Minister's colleagues when he came here last December for the 50th anniversary of both UNESCO and the United Nations. It is clear that multilateral co-operation between rich and poor countries is not one of the Government's top priorities.

At the same time, we need a global perspective of participatory knowledge about a changing planet, co-operation in the advance of scientific understanding, the selection of appropriate uses of technology and the social and economic implications of the information-communications revolution, which are critical. We must take account of all those factors and their effect on cultural creativity and development, which will be denied to poorer nations unless the United Kingdom and the United States participate.

If the Minister does not know the facts, let him say so. The World Service debate recently revealed Government ignorance. The Foreign Secretary claimed credit for the Government in introducing the Rwanda service, the Kinyarwanda-Kirundi lifeline. In answer to a question from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: I am informed that it is funded through the BBC World Service, which is funded by the Government."—[Official Report, 16 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 558.] That is just not true.

The current cost of the project is £124,000 a year. Since April 1995, it has been funded entirely externally, with £85,000 provided by six British non-governmental organisations: Save the Children, Christian Aid, HelpAge International, Action Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and the British Red Cross. It is appropriate to raise the matter in this debate because £39,000 comes from the ODA. That is a very different picture from the one painted by the Foreign Secretary.

I keenly regret the planned cuts, but I am relieved that their effect is at least partly alleviated by our membership of the European Community. Through a network of multilateral and bilateral agreements with developing nations—many of them are members of the Commonwealth—development assistance and trade advantages are given and administered by the Commission's external services. Non-governmental organisations—many of them British—receive financial support for their vital work, which is now to be at least partly ignored by the Government.

I draw special attention to the work of the European Community humanitarian office, under Commissioner Emma Bonino, whom I had the pleasure to meet recently in London at the ODA. I wish also to mention the fine work of her director, Santiago Gomez Reino; her deputy director, Donato Chiarini; and senior official, Richard Lewar-Towski. The office ensures that urgent, humanitarian aid reaches the most dangerous parts where others may well fear to tread, not only throughout former Yugoslavia but in northern Iraq and its southern marshes, as well as Chechnya and other parts of the Russian Federation that are caught up in a bloody civil war.

Will the Minister think again about his response yesterday to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who is in his place? The hon. Member for Salisbury described the European Union's aid as being "of inferior quality" and said that it dilutes our traditional aid effort into parts of the world with which we have…little in common".—[Official Report, 29 January 1996; Vol. 270, c. 638.] The Minister did not reject that, perhaps, ignorant view out of hand. After all, Iraq is a former colony or protectorate of the United Kingdom. He said that he understood what the hon. Gentleman had said. Will he now support the EU aid package, against his colleague, as he holds ministerial responsibility for it? Who is right—the Minister or the poor who benefit from EU aid? May I say that "little in common" is not a criterion that I have heard before in terms of aid distribution, save one of the lowest sort? It is surely need combined with value for Britain, not shared interests between donor and recipient, that mark out proper development aid. I hope that the Minister will agree with me and not with the comment of yesterday that he appeared to endorse.

This year, 1996, is the United Nations year for the eradication of poverty. I am ashamed that the British Government have started the year in such a desperate fashion. I beg the Government to reconsider the cuts. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I support the motion.

Photo of Mr James Lester Mr James Lester , Broxtowe 8:37 pm, 30th January 1996

This is the first time that I have been able to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) since she crossed the Floor. It is my experience of the hon. Lady that she has a good heart even if she is misguided in the way in which she seeks to view the future.

There are Conservative Members who do not approve of any reduction in aid. Many of us made that clear before negotiations took place. That may be why we have maintained the bilateral aid programme at the same level despite the other reductions.

Despite the pledge made from the Opposition Front Bench this evening, a Labour Government would face exactly the same pressure. There is the problem of holding public expenditure. That has been tackled for as long as I can remember by means of equal pay for all Departments, with the exception of those responsible for education, law and order and health. That means that no attempt is made to evaluate the value and success of individual Departments and what they achieve in terms of money spent.

The World Service and the British Council have already been mentioned. In public expenditure terms, they have exceptionally small budgets, yet any reduction in what they spend has a greater effect than elsewhere. The left-wing newspaper the Financial Times has an excellent editorial today that explains the position rather better than I have. I have always felt—perhaps because I have always had an interest in international affairs and overseas development—that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a Cinderella department. It has a small budget in public expenditure terms, yet it goes through the same process year on year of review and reduction.

Having said that, I believe that the reduction in the ODA's budget this year is enough to sadden people like me, but it is not enough to cause me to despair or revolt, and it was nothing like the scare tactics that were used by some who should know better. We can handle the reduction. It is within manageable terms, and it is in the whole concept of the FER. It is a time of significant change anyway in the delivery of aid and the bilateral aid programme relative to our European multilateral programme, which I support. Intellectually, I have never understood why we cannot conceive of 15 nations working together and being able to do far more in the fundamental provision of essential elements in other countries—I am thinking of my recent visit to Uganda. Fifteen nations working together could provide the infrastructure that President Museveni recognised is needed first and foremost before he is able to start to look at poverty reduction. Bilateral aid programmes cannot do that.

We can look at ways of easing aid to the countries whose overall income is increasing and target aid to the countries that are in poverty, and the poorer countries. I welcome the statement that was made by my right hon. Friend about the increase in the pound-for-pound scheme, because NGOs overall face real problems in terms of the reduction of their direct contributions from the public. They are increasingly valued by Governments, yet they want to maintain a degree of independence and not be seen as arms of Government. The pound-for-pound scheme is an excellent example where that co-operation can be carried forward. My advice to the NGOs with which I am involved is that, if they concentrate on the sheer professionalism that we have, no one could accuse them of being an arm of Government; they would simply be the best vehicle of ideal grassroots aid in whatever country they work.

We also need to watch the prevailing mood in the decline in aid flows at a time of increasing need. It is not acceptable as an excuse that others are doing worse, although one should be conscious of that. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the 11th replenishment of the International Development Association, as it is critical. The United States let down the international community and itself because of the way in which it dealt with that replenishment. I was distressed when I was on Capitol hill, speaking in Congress, to find the degree of isolation that currently permeates those two bodies.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon mentioned economic migration. That has been a growing issue over the years which we have discussed in the House in terms of domestic legislation. Some of us are less than happy about it. Unless all the developed countries recognise that the transfer of resources, from whatever source, to the least developed countries takes place and the people are made more comfortable and given hope in their own countries, economic migration will grow and grow.

I welcome the fact that, increasingly, we are beginning to look more objectively at the total needs of the least developed countries. The aid flows, from whatever source, are vital, but just as important is investment from the private sector, which has worked so dramatically in the east, and, of course, the halfway house of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is able to bridge the gap between direct investment, where a return is expected immediately, and investments that can take longer to develop the countries that need it most. We are also looking at the reduction in debt. We are looking objectively at the report of the all-party group, which I chair, on the objective analysis of debt, be it bilateral, commercial or multilateral. We must make urgent progress in resolving the outstanding debt over and above the Paris Club negotiations.

I welcome the work that has been done by the working party within the World bank and very much hope that the untimely leap will not prevent progress in moving towards writing off on a case-by-case basis debt that can never be repaid.

A great deal of work has gone into the report. I hope that we shall be able to see the results and that it liberates domestic funds that are currently paid to the bank for investment in areas of the world that face the greatest problems.

The hon. Lady said she was going to Washington soon. I saw the president of the World bank in December. He very much welcomes parliamentary interest in the House in the World bank and its responsibilities. He is prepared to come to the House and address the all-party group or any other forum that we can arrange. I hope to do that in the near future and to talk about the debt situation and about being accountable to parliamentarians, many of whom write regularly to him or his predecessors about the changes in structural adjustment and about using it objectively, not to create further poverty. There are good signs that comprehensive progress is being made, and that is the only way in which the gap can be closed between the developed and the developing world.

One is wary of suggested reductions to multilateral aid unless it is, as the Minister explained, for humanitarian work which is no longer necessary. Many of us are concerned about the United Nations and its future. It has many problems. One of the principal problems is that the majority of its members are not interested in international affairs. They are members of the club because they feel that they should be. They pay their dues and demands at the last possible moment, and when asked to do anything, many of them, unless it directly affects them, are reluctant to do so. Britain's support for the United Nations is vital as its goes through its reorganisation phase.

Britain, unlike the nations that I have described, has a different history. I am sure that every hon. Member present is proud of that history. We are one of the most international countries in the world, with an outlook, influence and trade that reflect that. The former Foreign Secretary said that Britain punches above its weight in every genuine sense. The amount that we spend on foreign service aid and the various organisations that we support is very small, but the gain is almost impossible to calculate. Many of us are concerned that the constant chipping of relatively small sums from organisations, from his budget and the ODA budget, are contrary to our long-term interest in every sense. I hope that these words are listened to with great care as we approach the next round of negotiations.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley 8:47 pm, 30th January 1996

As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Sir J. Lester). He and I see eye to eye on many of these issues. I notice that even he is saddened by the cuts in overseas aid. Those are strong words for him. I wonder just how saddened he must be before he leaves the Conservative Benches and joins his former hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) somewhere on the Opposition Benches. I can assure him that there will always be a very warm welcome for him.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) demonstrated eagerly and ably, overseas aid expenditure is to be cut by an amount that would be enough to fund this year's combined programme to Africa—of Action Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

It is a fair bet that one country will not be affected by the Government's cuts. It has been named as one of the world's most corrupt. Its people have suffered at the hands of their Government from some of the worst human rights violations this century. Its Government systematically uses military force to underpin its harsh authoritarian rule. It is not one of the world's poorest countries. Despite all that, however, British aid to it has doubled in the past six years, and is due to increase again this year. The country is, of course, Indonesia.

My concern about Britain's relations with Indonesia arises in part from my visit to the territory of East Timor in 1989 as a member of an Inter-Parliamentary Union group. Indonesia illegally annexed East Timor in July 1976, following a bloody invasion of the territory in the previous year; about 200,000 people were slaughtered as a result of that invasion. Since then, I have closely followed developments in Indonesia and East Timor, and recently conducted research into the bilateral aid programme. The main findings of my report have been submitted to the National Audit Office, which is now carrying out a detailed investigation.

Britain's commitment to Indonesia's ruling regime strikes me as remarkable, but not surprising in view of the Government's amoral and highly selective approach to overseas aid and development. Last year, the Minister for Overseas Development, Lady Chalker, said that where a Government turns its back on democracy, ignores accountability, flouts human rights and allows corruption to flourish, our aid will only be of a humanitarian nature to help the people in real need. When she visited Kenya last year, Lady Chalker said: We have concern about treatment of opposition parties, about the treatment of the press. We have heard very disturbing reports about some legal cases. We know the horrors of ethnic tensions that this country went through. And we know the evils of corruption. Strangely, however, when Lady Chalker visited Indonesia a few weeks earlier, she was conspicuously silent on the issues of human rights and corruption. Rather than expressing her views, she put her signature to an aid-related loan for £80 million.

It is not as if British aid were helping to alleviate poverty in Indonesia. Only a tiny proportion of it is spent on the vital purposes of poverty reduction and human development; much of the rest is focused on high-cost, prestigious transport, power and communications projects, many of which are of dubious developmental value.

At present, about two thirds of aid to Indonesia is accounted for by aid and trade provision and, Commonwealth Development Corporation expenditure. It is clear that the aid programme is part of an overall strategy that gives priority to the promotion of British business and the sale of British arms. Indeed, as everyone knows, Britain is a major supplier of arms to Indonesia. It is therefore not surprising that aid to that country has increased from £33 million in 1992–93 to £51 million in 1994–95. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether it will be one of the countries of which he talked that would graduate from aid. Perhaps there will be other considerations.

The Government's attitude to East Timor illustrates the point only too well. Despite persistent statements to the effect that they do not recognise Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, they have provided funds and personnel for projects that include East Timor as well as Indonesia. They have also approved export licences for military equipment that has been used against the defenceless East Timorese people.

Aid money has been used to provide maps and other land data concerning East Timor for Indonesia's Ministry of Transmigration. That is a particularly disturbing example of the misuse of British aid. The Indonesian Government have used transmigration to control the population. Officially, the objective is to. Reduce overpopulation in densely populated parts of the country, and to settle the transmigrants in underpopulated parts such as East Timor. An essential part of the programme, however, is the colonisation of outlying regions with Javanese peasants who are more loyal to President Suharto. The deliberate aim is to undermine non-Javanese societies and cultures.

Britain's assistance has made a real contribution to the integration of East Timor within Indonesia. In practice, the Government have not only recognised Indonesia's annexation but aided it. Furthermore, it appears that the Secretary of State may have acted unlawfully in approving the project under the Overseas Development and Cooperation Act 1980. It is generally known that Britain has contributed militarily to the subjugation and oppression of East Timor. Everyone knows about the highly controversial £500 million deal for the sale of more Hawk aircraft to Indonesia. Foreign Office officials have dismissed eyewitness accounts of the sighting of the aircraft in East Timor; assurances given by President Suharto that the aircraft would not be used against the Timorese have proved worthless.

Only a few months ago, the British journalist Hugh O'Shaughnessy saw two Hawks make a low pass over Dili, the capital of East Timor, as part of the security forces' campaign of intimidation and terror to warn the people against staging any public protest to mark the fourth anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre that had resulted in the deaths of 150 unarmed civilians. Noam Chomsky once described the west's proclaimed commitment to human rights as one of the great lies of modern history", and the Government have provided ample evidence to support that assertion. As we know, they would be much happier if persecuted and abused people were prevented from coming to Britain in the first place, and in that regard the East Timorese are proving a bit of a problem.

In September, five young Timorese men applied for asylum after taking refuge in the British embassy in Jakarta. Their application stated that military brutality has become a fact of everyday life in East Timor—a military brutality which has consisted of sudden arrest, rape, intimidation, terror and slaughter". In the event, Portugal granted the five asylum while Britain dragged its feet.

The military brutality referred to by those asylum seekers includes the activities of the Indonesian national police. The INP is part of the Indonesian armed forces; it is essentially a paramilitary force, which, in areas such as East Timor, is wholly under the command of the local military. The primary role of the armed forces, including the INP, is to maintain internal security. That has led to serious human rights abuses by the police throughout Indonesia, yet our Government have been providing training awards for INP officers since 1979 as part of our aid programme. A consultancy unit established under the training project is available to advise and assist the East Timorese police authorities if required, and the Government have admitted that officers trained under the aid programme may subsequently serve in East Timor.

In March 1990, the Government approved the police management training project, involving expenditure of £713,000. The project claims to have as its objective the improvement of the quality of service of the INP, through the establishment of a consultancy unit which advises senior management on strategic change. The Government have stated that they hope that the assistance that they have provided will influence all receiving it and help develop respect for human rights in East Timor. In view of that statement, the support for the INP must be a completely ineffective and inefficient use of aid money.

The Overseas Development Administration's "Guide to Aid Procedures" specifically states: ODA considers non-military security organisations such as police forces…as legitimate beneficiaries of the aid programme…However, each request for such aid must be considered most carefully in terms of both general human rights and the rights of the individual, taking account of the circumstances of the country in question. For instance tasks assigned to police vary widely from country to country and could be of a para military nature". Again in the words of the ODA, in doubtful cases, a request for aid must be referred to higher authority or for Ministerial approval. I have strong doubts about whether correct procedures were followed before police funding was approved. If it was approved, it would be interesting to know which Minister approved it.

The Government's argument is that, in introducing officers to western approaches to policing, they are aiming to improve respect for human rights. That assertion is plainly ridiculous. Why is it that these officers receive no training in human rights issues? Why is it that the British consultants working under the project have had no formal training in human rights issues and do not even provide advice on such issues?

In the United States of America, in evidence to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about similar training for Indonesia, the executive director of Asia Watch said: These police are part of the armed forces, who are responsible for torture on a routine basis. Their role in practice is to get information from suspects by any means possible and to administer summary punishment as they see fit". He added that to give them additional training with US funds as long as the structure in which they operate remains unchanged would be utterly irresponsible. The degree of our Government's responsibility in training the INP within the aid programme can be judged by the records of certain officers who have benefited under British-funded training. For example, Colonel Hindarto was trained in Britain, subsequently became Jakarta's chief of police, and was clearly influenced by his British training in carrying out his duties. The Jakarta Post reported last year: Even…Hindarto admitted…that officers had a strong tendency now to shoot people caught red handed at a crime 'in order to give the public a greater feeling of personal safety'". The article adds that Hindarto said he fully supported his subordinates in the shooting cases and that police sometimes are forced to resort to shooting criminals in self-defence. Since January 1995…police officers have reportedly shot 25 criminals, 19 of which died. In a sworn statement made last year in Lisbon, an exile described the treatment meted out by Hindarto, when he was chief of police of a region that included East Timor, to one victim who was accused of involvement in a demonstration that preceded the Santa Cruz cemetery massacre. The man was hit in the face with gun stocks, kicked and severely punched. He was kept naked for the first five days of his detention, tortured and burned on his face and body with cigarette butts. During the 40 days of his detention, he was repeatedly beaten and hit with bars of iron and gun stocks. In his statement, the exile states: His head was the target, consequently he is mad now". The statement includes examples of other atrocities, all carried out when Hindarto—a man trained under the British aid programme—was the chief of police.

It is difficult to identify the reasons for the Government's support for the INP. However, as the Indonesian armed forces perform a dual security function, perhaps the Government are looking to foster their influence over senior officers such as Hindarto who are potential buyers of British arms. In any event, there is, once again, no consideration for human rights and poverty reduction.

A few years ago, I initiated the investigation into the Pergau dam by reporting my concern to the National Audit Office. Unfortunately, I do not think that the Government have learnt one lesson from that case as they persist in funding projects which are, at best, developmentally unsound and, at worst, positively harmful. Sadly, it seems inevitable that support for such projects will continue so long as the Government remain ideologically opposed to considering the needs of the poor ahead of the needs of British arms manufacturers and business elites.

The Government spend much time and effort proclaiming that human rights and good governance are important criteria that govern their foreign aid policy—no doubt the Minister will confirm that yet again tonight—but it is clear that, in the case of Indonesia, that litmus test is not being applied and that a huge amount of public money is being spent on projects that are of no obvious benefit to Indonesia's poor and are devoid of developmental merit.

Projects that positively support the repressive Ministry of Information and the brutal national police and which aid Indonesia's illegal annexation of East Timor are a shocking indictment of the Government's handling of the bilateral aid programme—an indictment that the Government have a duty to answer.

Photo of Mr David Faber Mr David Faber , Westbury 9:05 pm, 30th January 1996

As so often on these occasions, we are a little short of time, but I should like to begin on a personal note and pay a warm tribute to my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker who, until a couple of weeks ago, I was honoured to serve as parliamentary private secretary. Just before Christmas, I and many others from the Foreign Office and the world of aid—and, indeed, representatives of foreign Governments—attended a reception at the Foreign Office to mark her 10th year as a Minister at the Foreign Office, the vast majority of which time has been spent as Minister for Overseas Development.

My right hon. and noble Friend has, throughout, been a tireless campaigner on behalf of developing nations when negotiating with the Treasury at home and in ensuring the effective delivery of aid to those who need it. It is largely because of her personal efforts and expertise that Britain is now seen as a good friend to countries in Africa, the Commonwealth and, indeed, throughout the developing world, which recognise the value and efficiency of British aid above that of almost all other countries. There can be few other Ministers who command the respect that she does among those who deliver the aid and, more important, among those who receive it.

As we have heard, the United Kingdom is the fifth largest aid donor in the world, and the programme for 1996–97 will be worth £2.154 million. In 1994, about 55 per cent. of our aid programme went on bilateral aid, 55 per cent. of that went to Commonwealth countries and two thirds went to the poorest countries. Last year's Budget settlement will mean that the planned allocation for bilateral aid for 1996–97 will be little changed from the forecast set out in last year's Overseas Development Administration's departmental report, but the Department's new plans take into account lower forecasts for multilateral aid such as that channelled through the World bank and the European Union.

The Opposition motion deals again with the well argued issue of the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product being spent on overseas aid. The Government have consistently reaffirmed that we will work towards that target, but have said, quite rightly, that we cannot set a timetable as any decision on achieving that target must always depend on an overall review of public expenditure, year on year.

In fact, as the House knows, we currently spend some 0.31 per cent. of GDP on overseas aid, which is higher than the average 0.29 per cent. of all the countries represented on the development assistance committee.

It is interesting to note that, once again, the Opposition refuse to set a timetable for achieving the UN target, presumably because it represents a too easily costed spending promise, although we heard from the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) that the trend will, Labour hopes, be reversed in the first year of a Labour Government. Rather, the motion speaks of "steady and measurable progress", a phrase that is, I think, vague and woolly enough to be supported by almost every hon. Member. Of course, Labour's 1992 general election' manifesto contained a pledge—repeated at the 1993 conference—to achieve the 0.7 per cent. target within five years. That pledge would appear to have been dropped.

Nor can I let go the speech made by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) for the Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately, she is no longer in her place, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will report to her what I say. I fear that the hon. Lady may have misunderstood my intervention. I was not in any way doubting her ability to speak on overseas aid. She has a long and good record of doing so in the House. I was doubting the remarkable change of mind that she appears to have had since June last year. I should like to quote further from the speech that she made at that time. She spoke of The primacy of the market for freedom and wealth creation and of the Government's objective being quite superbly achieved during the past 15 years. She continued: I was very surprised that Opposition Members, with their constant bleating about old-style socialist policies—moan, moan, moan—failed to acknowledge that great British success story."—[Official Report, 19 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 108–9.] I have no doubt that she is well able to speak for the Liberal Democrats on overseas aid, but I doubt the fact that, as recently as June, she was singing a very different tune.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

How long did it take the hon. Gentleman to decide that the poll tax should be repealed?

Photo of Mr David Faber Mr David Faber , Westbury

I was not in the House either when the poll tax was initiated or when it was repealed.

I, like many other Conservative Members and Conservative councillors, have had a pleasant couple of weeks reading the fascinating document "Towards 1996", which the Liberal Democrats Whips Office has produced.

I tried hard, while reading it this afternoon, to find a reference to overseas aid. The only reference to the Liberal Democrats' policy on overseas aid that I can find in the entire document is about the fact that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) cares more about Bosnia than he does about anything else.

The central aim of the British aid programme is poverty reduction. Our strategy is based on seeking to inspire broad-based economic growth, on investing in people, and on providing social safety nets where they are needed. Short-term relief for emergency aid is only part of that strategy, although it is overwhelmingly the most publicised.

Across the globe, 300 million people are affected by disasters—and the number is growing by a staggering 10 million a year. An increasing number are victims of violent conflicts. Last year, there were 56—mostly internal—wars, compared with 46 in 1990. Civilians all too often bear the brunt of such tragedies. I learnt the staggering statistics today. At the beginning of this century, 90 per cent. of all war casualties were military; now, 95 per cent. of all war casualties are civilian. Conflicts also lead to huge movements of populations. The number of refugees increased from 13 million in 1989 to 23 million last year.

Those of us who have seen at first hand the pain and suffering in the former Yugoslavia can only despair at those figures, but we can also take pride in our country's response. The ODA responds every year to between 50 and 100 emergencies, allocating more than 300 grants. In the previous financial year, those grants totalled £334 million and went to 71 countries.

Perhaps this is a suitable moment, since I am not sure that I have heard it said this evening, to pay tribute to all those who are paid or volunteer and who work so hard, often in appalling conditions, to deliver our aid overseas. We should especially remember the families of the three British soldiers who were killed in Bosnia at the weekend while going about their duty of implementing our foreign policy.

Emergency aid is only a small part of the overall programme. Contrary to the wording of the motion, there have been some marked falls in relative poverty around the world over the past 30 years. Life expectancy in the poorest countries has increased by more than 12 years. Infant mortality rates, such as in India where they have halved, have fallen steeply. There are still huge variations however, as some countries progress and others do not. That is why we target aid to the places where it is most needed.

In June 1994, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development praised the quality and effectiveness of our aid. Two thirds of our development aid goes to the poorest countries in the world. British aid works at all levels. In the local community, we target poverty reduction projects, often in support of a local non-governmental organisation. We often work with Governments to help improve standards in, for example, health or education provision. We use aid, too, to help speed up a broader policy of institutional reforms in promoting, for example, good government and sensible public expenditure. We have written off more than £1.2 billion-worth of debt, and led the way in implementing the Trinidad terms.

Most crucially, we recognise the vital importance to developing countries of free trade. Trade brings in three times as much foreign exchange to developing countries as does aid. The United Kingdom provides half of all the European Union's private investment, and it is the third largest investor in the world, after the United States of America and Japan.

Our aid programme is wide and effective. The Opposition motion says that our multilateral aid is suffering because of our bilateral contribution. In the current year, our multilateral contributions have exceeded our bilateral aid for the first time. Although an appropriate balance should be struck, it is clearly important that the money should be well spent, so I hope that, when my right hon. Friend the Minister winds up, he will say a little about the checks and balances that we can exercise in Brussels to ensure that that is so.

We all want multilateral spending to be as effectively delivered as is our own bilateral spending, and we want the United Kingdom to get proper credit for the contributions that it makes through the European Union, for example, which is not always the case now.

I am sorry to refer again to the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon, but in conclusion I can do no better than quote what she said at the end of her speech on 19 June: this evening I urge hon. Members to discard the rag-bag of items proposed by Opposition spokesmen and to give the Government's amendment their whole-hearted support".—[Official Report, 19 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 110.]

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 9:15 pm, 30th January 1996

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) made a powerful case from the Dispatch Box. She made the moral case for aid, but I am afraid that I do not share her optimism about the moral sensitivities of Tory Ministers, so I intend to make the practical self-interested case for aid.

I begin by emphasising that it is important to put all the issues connected with aid and development in the wider economic context. That is why I welcome the fact that the Government motion refers to their work on debt.

The first point to be made about aid is that it is quite wrong to present it, as many Conservative Members do, as though it were merely a question of charity and of handouts to undeserving black and brown people. The fact about the flows of money between Britain, the European Union, America and the third world is that more money flows from Africa, India and the rest of the third world in debt repayments than flows to them in aid.

If we put aid, especially the vexed question of debt repayment, in the wider economic context, we can see it more clearly. As there is a brief mention of debt in the Government's motion, we must not forget how the debt was incurred.

The history of the debt crisis of the 1970s and 1980s is a fantastic tale of the agents of international banks criss-crossing the third world urging dictators to take on debts. Much of the money never touched the borders of the countries that ostensibly borrowed it. Instead, it was safely stashed away in Swiss banks. Much of it was spent on arms, and most of it never trickled down to the people of the countries concerned, in whose name the debts were incurred.

There is something very cruel and unfair in the fact that, as we approach the millennium, the people of some of the poorest countries in the world are toiling to pay the interest on the interest of debts incurred in their name by long-past military dictators.

The Government speak of their record on debt, and Opposition Members commend them for their efforts in relation to the Trinidad terms and in trying to change the way in which the World bank looks on debt, but, sadly, past efforts at debt reduction have focused on two categories of country—countries such as Mexico and the Philippines, where it was politically convenient for the United States to forgive debt, or the very poorest countries.

There are, however, many so-called middle-income countries, such as many of the nations of the Caribbean, with social conditions that would require the Government to consider debt reduction for them much more seriously than they have hitherto. The Trinidad terms were worthwhile, as they did not involve huge sums of money, but they only began to chip at the weight of debt—even for the poorest countries—and they did not help the deserving populations in many so-called middle-income debtors.

If the issue of aid is to be viewed properly, it must be considered in the context of this country's work on debt reduction and its role in the International Monetary Fund and the World bank. A review of the terms of some of the structural adjustment programmes that we are forcing on third-world countries is long overdue, as the record of such programmes is not wholly good. In many countries that have had structural adjustment forced on them by the IMF and World bank, living standards, education and basic health care available to ordinary people worsened in the 1980s.

Sadly, in recent years we have witnessed the redirection of flows in aid and other multilateral assistance from the poorest countries in Africa to eastern Europe. Opposition Members want, of course, help to go to eastern Europe, but not at the expense of the very poorest peoples of the world. At this point, I wish to echo what was said by the lion. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) about the Commonwealth preference. Many people were sad to hear that there is a possibility that the ODA will cut aid to any part of the world, but in particular to the Caribbean.

I travel regularly to the Caribbean, particularly to Jamaica, where my family comes from. It is sad that although people in Jamaica and the Caribbean hold the Commonwealth link in the highest esteem, Ministers speak of it in the Chamber in a cavalier way. Countries all over the world have Chambers that are replicas of this one, and one can step out of the tropical sunlight into such a replica. Those countries hold the British and Commonwealth link in the highest regard, yet daily people see Ministers turn away from the Commonwealth. I think that there is a case for a Commonwealth preference in relation to aid.

I feel most strongly about the Caribbean. It is all very well for Ministers to look at the totality of GDP figures in the Caribbean, but the figures mask the increasing poverty and decline in basic social services in health and education. The sugar and banana industries in the Caribbean have collapsed following the impact of Lomé, and the ill-effects of the north American free trade agreement have meant that trade that might have gone from America to the Caribbean is now going to the NAFTA counties.

What do the Government think the consequence will be of their cuts in aid to the Caribbean? I can tell them that it will not he an increase in self-reliance. Rural labour will not be getting on their bikes. The consequence will be an increase in the drugs trade. Where traditional agriculture has collapsed in the Caribbean, it has been replaced by the illegal drugs trade. There is no point in Ministers talking about a war on drugs while the Foreign Office and the ODA pursue policies designed to create the economic conditions in which the drug trade flourishes.

There are historic links between this country and the Caribbean. Many people from the Caribbean fought for this country in the war or helped the war effort, and there is a large Caribbean community here. There is an ever-growing drugs menace in the Caribbean, and the Government should think seriously before cutting the already low level of aid to the Caribbean.

I have spent today in the Committee considering the Asylum and Immigration Bill, and I do not wish to bring the details of that Bill into tonight's debate, but in the context of immigration and asylum we hear over and over again about the waves of economic refugees and how the continents of the world are being criss-crossed by refugees driven by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—war, famine, poverty and pestilence. What is the point of introducing increasingly punitive and criminalising measures against economic refugees if our aid programme does not address the causes of economic refugees? I am not saying that it is practical at this point for Britain to open its doors to economic refugees, but it is heartless and impractical not to aim aid and development work at dealing with the causes of economic refugees. Our aid should be directed at some of those countries to help development and growth.

Conservative Members have the idea that a practical approach to aid means misusing aid as a form of soft loan for arms deals and dubious construction projects. That is wholly impractical. Aid should be used to promote growth and development, which is the only effective check on the waves of economic refugees. Surely nobody seriously believes that people leave Africa, the Indian sub-continent and other parts of the third world to sit in damp council flats in Hackney and live on benefits. They leave because they are driven to do so by poverty.

Our aid programme should not be directed to help arms dealers: it should be directed to the relief of poverty. The aid programme should not be abused in other ways. It is bizarre that Dominica is getting extra aid—alone in the Caribbean—because it is willing to take a refugee who is inconvenient to the British Government. That is another abuse of the aid programme.

Although the Prime Minister claimed in the Queen's Speech that the commitment to overseas aid would be maintained, ever since the Conservatives came to power investment in aid has gone down and down. There is not just a moral case for aid but a present-day, economic, internationally self-interested case for aid to cement the strong relationships with Commonwealth countries, such as those in the Caribbean. We should continue to deliver an aid programme that is in the interests not of construction companies or arms dealers but of the poorest people in the world who need relief from poverty.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury 9:26 pm, 30th January 1996

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office on his speech. He said much that I would have wished to say, so I need not repeat it. I strongly support the Government motion. I shall speak briefly about three aspects of aid—poverty and suffering, multilateral aid and increasing the poverty focus.

On the question of poverty and suffering, I wish to draw attention to the worldwide premature abandonment of the high profile accorded to the problem of acquired immune deficiency syndrome over the past few years. That work has not been mentioned in the debate so far, but it is crucial. Human immune deficiency virus rates are stabilising in some parts of the world, but the epidemic is continuing to spread at an alarming rate.

Many countries with weak health and social systems are finding it virtually impossible to cope with the growing numbers of people falling ill. In certain African cities, the rate of HIV infection is as high as one in three adults. In rural Zambia, mortality among hospital nurses had soared from 2 per cent. in 1980 to almost 27 per cent. by 1991.

There have been many successful interventions by the world community, and Britain—I am proud to say—has been in the forefront. Where funds have been invested in community activities in the past three years—for example, in parts of Tanzania and Thailand—there have been impressive successes in slowing the rate of growth of the HIV epidemic.

There have also been large-scale changes in sexual behaviour, which 10 years ago people said was quite impossible. There has been a clear-cut decline in conventional sexually transmitted diseases from north-west Europe to Thailand and from Costa Rica to Zimbabwe.

There are still many concerns. I hope that the future focus of the Overseas Development Administration budget will not affect programmes aimed at preventing the spread of HIV at a time when the epidemic is continuing to spread at an alarming rate. It is important to remember that, while 93 per cent. of the people with AIDS live in developing countries, only 8 per cent. of HIV and AIDS funding is allocated to those regions. It is also important to remember that the World Health Organisation has estimated that up to $3 billion is needed every year for basic prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in developing countries, yet only 10 per cent. of those funds is currently available.

British international trade is of prime importance when considering the aid programme, and private flows simply cannot be ignored. They complement Government donations—taxpayers' donations—and the contributions of non—governmental organisations.

I sometimes wonder what my constituents in Salisbury would make of the debate, which has been esoteric to say the least, when what they understand to be meant by overseas aid is the sort of charities for which they work so hard—for example, Oxfam, which has such a strong base in our communities.

What on earth do our young people think when they hear us rabbiting on as we have been tonight? Their idealism is unmatched anywhere in the world, as far as I can tell. It is undiminished in the younger generation, compared with how we felt 20, 25 or 30 years ago. What do they think when we are not talking about how they can get involved?

We have to face some difficult problems. Humanitarian emergency aid is one. I know of no one, whatever his or her political leaning, who wants to cut that—it is accepted by everyone. However, most people understand the aid programme to be poverty focused aid—water and food, usually in Africa and perhaps in India and Pakistan. What about India and Pakistan? Are we really talking about the British taxpayer supporting the poorest people in those countries, when, at the other end of the economic scale, they have the capacity to develop nuclear industries?

I was interested to receive press releases from the Overseas Development Administration in October and December. Of Shanghai, I read: Rapid development is taking place. The ODA also says that Shanghai is China's biggest municipality and industrial centre, supporting heavy and light industry as well as township and village enterprises. So why is our aid programme providing £2.8 million to help combat industrial pollution and improve the municipal water supply"? Similarly, I do not think that my constituents understand why the overseas aid programme is spending £8.4 million on the new international airport that is being built south of Nanjing. It is not as if the Chinese do not have an airport in that province—they have, but they do not think that it is big enough.

Of course, the Government must promote British interests and support British companies overseas, but those are important issues and they raise questions about the aid framework and particularly about aid and trade provision. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the time has come for more scrutiny of the provisions—for example, the concessional financing arrangements—which would benefit our aid programme. I am not arguing that such arrangements should not be made, but they are misunderstood and a stronger case can be made for them.

On 13 February, a further concessional financing arrangement will be signed between the United Kingdom and China, which will double that arrangement. That is the sort of thing that we should tackle.

Finally, on multilateral aid, it was a pleasure to be criticised by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) for being ignorant—I then realised that I must be on the right track. Her comments were somewhat premature, however. It is true that I do not boast about my knowledge as shamelessly or as often as she does, but I yield to no one in my support of UK overseas aid, not just as parliamentary private secretary to Chris Patten, but for many years before that as a supporter of the Project Trust and of GAP activity projects, which introduced hundreds of young people to the developing world. In multilateral aid we have a new weapon that we can use to our advantage and to that of others.

I must say a few words on the importance of the southern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and how that is relevant to overseas aid—[Interruption.] It will take only a couple of minutes. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is angry with me, but there have been some lengthy speeches by Opposition Members.

There is no doubt that poverty on the southern side of the Mediterranean is of direct significance to what is happening on the northern side. There is instability. We see the state military threat from north Africa as being small and the terrorist threat as being real, but we must concentrate on tackling instability in north African countries, using intelligence and technology. It is not simply a matter of addressing Islamic fundamentalism, which becomes a threat only if it harnesses and nourishes people's discontent.

Poverty, and the contrast with what is happening on the other side of the Mediterranean, is becoming increasingly visible through tourism and television. The answer, as with so many other examples of the use of multilateral aid, is to reduce the motive for economic migration. That is where the European Union's aid budget can be of immense assistance and can benefit both them and us. It is a question of trade and investment. Why export jobs from this country and from Europe to the Pacific rim when we can help to create those jobs in countries so much closer to home? That is a good purpose for a multilateral aid budget and I support it. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to persuade the Treasury to continue to keep our aid budget at the highest level that we can afford and justify to our constituents.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 9:35 pm, 30th January 1996

Thanks to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), accompanied by my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) and by the hon. Members for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) and I were able to go to Nepal. May we have some formal statement on the future of the valuable agricultural research station at Lumle, about which the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing and I met Lady Chalker? Its value is that it does urgent practical research into local crops in one of the poorest countries in the world. The scientists who took us round said, movingly, that they were really helping their people.

We have an obligation to a small group of people, the people of the Pitcairn islands, to establish whether it is true, as suggested in the serious Japanese press and confirmed this evening by some Japanese, led by the ambassador, who were in the House, that there has been serious leakage from Mururoa. We are obliged at least to establish whether the people on Pitcairn, who clearly cannot do anything for themselves, are in danger.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 9:37 pm, 30th January 1996

I am not sure what debate the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has been sitting through or, indeed, whether he has sat through the debate. Far from being esoteric, it has been valuable and lively. As the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) said, it was opened with great sincerity by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor). She was followed by the Minister, who spoke with some urbanity, with his carefully crafted soundbite about "the substantial aid programme of which we can be proud". We have had that on a number of occasions and no doubt we shall hear it again. Although the journalists and spin doctors tell me that this is the age of the soundbite, I do not think that soundbites can hide the truth.

The Minister attempted, with, as I said, some urbanity to justify something that I do not think that he really believes in. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Sir J. Lester) made it clear that some Conservative Members do not believe what was said by the Minister. Some of them must oppose, as we do, the hypocrisy peddled by a Government who are seeking to hold on to the trappings of power. They say one thing and they do another. They say that there is a substantial aid programme of which they can be proud, but they preside over cut after cut. The Deputy Prime Minister cannot take that—he cannot stand people picking up the sort of soundbites that he uses and throwing them back at him.

Successive Governments' commitment to the developing world may not be seen by some as a crucial campaigning issue. Some people may think that the issue does not win elections, but that they are won on issues such as health, education and law and order. But are we politicians who care deeply about development as far removed from the public on this issue as some people would have us believe? My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles quoted a Harris poll in which 81 per cent. of those questioned agreed that it was important that the British Government—not just voluntary organisations or private sources—provide aid to the developing world, and 79 per cent. thought that Britain should increase the amount currently given. When will Ministers realise that the cuts that they regularly and meekly concede when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury calls them into his office are not supported by three quarters of the population?

The pride that the Minister keeps mentioning is nothing but rhetoric. The Government constantly say one thing and do another. The most recent Budget was a prime example. The ODA issued a public statement. Press releases quoted earlier said that the aid programme was to be increased. That was not true. The independent House of Commons Library analysed the figures, which show that, in both cash and real terms, the aid budget will fall this year. The Government say one thing but do another time and again.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles said, even the Department's fundamental expenditure review estimates that Britain's aid as a percentage of gross national product will fall to 0.26 per cent. by 1997. When Labour left office in 1979, it was 0.52 per cent. and rising; now it is 0.3 per cent. and falling. Instead of vacillating and undermining multilateral assistance, Ministers would do better to spend their time opposing the cuts and the loss of British influence throughout the world caused by reductions in the World Service and in funding to the British Council. Above all, they should look at the fundamental expenditure review and oppose the cuts and the removal of British influence in the Caribbean, Latin America, south-east Asia and the Pacific. Guyana, Haiti and Vietnam have low per capita incomes and need assistance.

We heard the Minister's weasel words about the Caribbean. I hope that he will say something more positive about the Caribbean when he replies to the debate. He shrugged off the importance of the Commonwealth. I hope that, when he replies, he will answer the points made about it.

The Minister should not kowtow to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that he will give a pledge tonight that, because of what Opposition Members and some Conservative Members have said in the debate, he will press the Chief Secretary for a substantial and effective aid programme so that his deeds can match his words. It would be an easier task if the Minister were directly involved in the decision making instead of getting the crumbs handed down from the Cabinet table.

When Labour takes power, the ODA will be transformed into a Department of international development, with its Secretary of State in the Cabinet, speaking up for the overseas aid budget. A Cabinet Committee will bring together Ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department for Education and Employment and other Departments, to utilise their expertise in the developing world. A Select Committee will monitor our work, and a new vision and fresh impetus will be given to the Cinderella Department that exists under the present Government.

I do not deny that some aspects of the fundamental expenditure review, which will be debated in more detail once the House has received a report on it, are to be welcomed. Incidentally, some hon. Members may have seen tonight's programme on Carlton television about Humana. It was an excellent investigation into that organisation, but I hope that people will not judge the other excellent non-governmental organisations involved in overseas aid by one bad organisation. We want consultation with NGOs and an increased ODA role in multilateral institutions. There are things to be supported in the FER, but all of them are used as a smokescreen to camouflage the cuts that are the essential element of the document.

The withdrawal of aid from some of the poorest countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and the abandonment of some Commonwealth partners and of the dependent territories—colonies that have no place to look to other than the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said—are an appalling indictment of the Government.

The budget has been decimated by the present Government. Before any Tory placemen rise to their feet proving Pavlov to be correct, let me reaffirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles said earlier. She said: In their first year of office, a Labour Government will start to reverse the decline in overseas aid expenditure. It does not come much clearer than that. Even the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), if he were listening, should be able to understand that.

Justification for the Government's continuing reduction in the aid programme was given by the Minister on Monday and again today. We heard about reductions in other countries' expenditure—the United States and Italy are repeatedly mentioned—but countries such as Japan are substantially increasing their programme. Taiwan is becoming a major aid donor. Let us forget the irrelevant comparisons. We should be standing proud in relation to our role in the world.

The Minister's plea, in mitigation, that a tight spending round hurt everyone this year is pretty pathetic—he said that hard choices had to be made—considering the need in the third world. One person in four lives in absolute poverty; basic social services are denied to more than 1 billion people; 130 million primary school age children are not at school. Every day, 35,000 children die of preventable diseases—diseases that might be prevented with more help from countries such as Britain. The magnitude of the need is frightening, and is ignored by Conservative Ministers.

The Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, have even failed by their own standard, by their own claim, by their own natural instincts to look after themselves, to consider the political and commercial advantages to Britain in increasing the aid programme. The size and expertise of the aid programme have helped Britain to maintain an influence in the United Nations, in the G7 and in the World bank that is not justified simply by the size of our global responsibilities. We need to continue to have a global aid programme, to justify our participation in those institutions.

Looking beyond the short-termism of the present Government, aid to the developing world can save the Chancellor money. A better environment is created for trade and investment by increasing prosperity and stability in the developing world. Aid generates income for many British organisations. Do not Ministers read the advice of their experts, as expressed in the FER?

I want to give the Minister time to reply, so I shall leave out some of the things that I intended to say. No doubt I shall have opportunities to return to them. I shall say, finally, what we shall do after the next election.

Labour will set out its agenda in full during the summer. We shall produce an agenda for the future—a set of policies that will revitalise an area regarding which we have in Britain the ability, the expertise and the resources to help the developing world. The agenda will be rooted in traditional Labour ideals—fairness, rights, responsibilities and the idea of society and community, which is as relevant abroad as it is in the United Kingdom.

We recognise the enormity of that task. In the past 16 years, Conservative Governments have decimated our aid programme. Labour recognises the importance of our aid programme to the populations of the developing world, to us at home and to Britain on the world stage. Conservative Governments have failed in their moral duty to the developing world and in their obligations to Britain.

The next Labour Government will bring with them the moral values and the political agenda to tackle poverty in the developing world and to place Britain, once again, at the heart of the international community.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes 9:49 pm, 30th January 1996

With the leave of the House. I am grateful for the courtesy that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has shown in allowing me time to respond to some of the points that were raised during the debate.

I believe that it has been a very good and useful debate, and I am pleased to see the high level of interest that hon. Members on both sides of the House have shown about the aid programme. The subject is certainly worthy of debate and there is considerable public support for that programme. That is why the Government devote a high level of public spending to the official aid programme, which is several times greater than the total contribution of all the non-governmental organisations. Hon. Members' remarks during the debate confirmed their support and high regard for the official aid programme.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) said in his excellent contribution, the Opposition seem to have shed their original commitment to raise the aid programme budget to 0.7 per cent. of gross national product in the space of a Parliament—unless the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley will reaffirm that commitment now.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

The hon. Gentleman says one thing and does another. Even after the debate, I am unclear as to the Opposition's position with regard to the size of the aid programme. The hon. Gentleman opposed almost every reduction in that programme, for whatever purpose, but he has offered no real commitments: we hear only high and pious words.

I am pleased that the debate has provided an opportunity to explain the results of the Overseas Development Administration's fundamental expenditure review. It is exactly what we are trying to encourage and I am surprised that some Labour Members found it difficult to understand. I believe that there is support on both sides of the House for what the FER advocates. We all want a strong aid programme; we all want a programme that focuses on the poorest countries, which are not yet able to help themselves. We all want aid to go where it is most needed and where it can do the most good. Would the Opposition reduce our commitment to the poorest countries? Would they give aid to countries where it is not needed?

In answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor): yes, we plan to maintain funding of the United Nations Development Programme and UNICEF in 1996 at broadly the same levels as in 1995. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the Lumle research station in Nepal. Her Majesty's Government have supported that research station for nearly 30 years and we are now examining the best way of supporting research into hill agriculture in Nepal in order to maximise the value of the research carried out at Lumle and elsewhere in the hill areas of Nepal.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to our responsibilities for Pitcairn island. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as the most easterly country for which I have some responsibility, I care about Pitcairn and its population of 53. After all, I had a majority of 74 in this place and it is fairly special when one's parliamentary majority is bigger than a country's population. I shall certainly look at the matter that he raised, although initial signs are that the people of Pitcairn are not in danger.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) referred to my comment about our national aid flows and our private sector flows. He said that I cited bogus figures. It is sad that the hon. Gentleman claims that our figures are bogus as soon as we achieve a United Nations target. The UN definition is 1 per cent. and we have exceeded that in total national aid flows and private sector flows. I think that we should be proud of that achievement; it should not be rubbished.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to the progress on the South Africa-European Union agreement and said that it had been slower than he had hoped. I agree—progress has been slower than everyone hoped. We have pressed EU member states about an early resolution of the matter, which was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council only yesterday. We are hopeful that a timetable can be agreed, with a conclusion reached within the Italian presidency.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to Angola. I can assure him that Britain is working closely with our partners, including the United States, to sustain the peace process in Angola. We provided almost £9 million in emergency aid to Angola last year and we have developed a strategy for supporting the transition to rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. I assure the House that we plan to continue our substantial support to Angola.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson) said that under the FER, the ODA seems to have dropped its commitment to women. I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady that the redefinition of the ODA's aims in no way reduces the priority that we attach to helping women.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Sir J. Lester) made his usual excellent speech. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that he is always worth listening to on this subject. I shall draw his speech to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development on her return from Africa—a country that he knows very well.

I am grateful, too, for the compliments about my right hon. and noble Friend. She does a superb job, and has held that office longer than almost anyone. Her knowledge and commitment are well known throughout the world. It is unfair of the Opposition to say that our commitment to the Commonwealth is somewhat half-hearted. My right hon. and noble Friend is a living example of that commitment.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) mentioned Indonesia. I do not say "as usual", because her beliefs are sincere. She knows that we shall look carefully at her accusations in the light of the National Audit Office report, which is due in the reasonably near future, perhaps in just a few weeks' time.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said that Ministers decry and run down the Commonwealth. I can tell her in the politest terms that that is absolute rubbish. I attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in Sri Lanka recently, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Anyone who attended that conference knows not only that the Commonwealth is healthy, but that British representatives there—including Ministers—feel that the Commonwealth is extremely important. We value it as a vital and unique worldwide family of nations.

The hon. Lady also mentioned aid to the Caribbean. I understand her special pleading for the Caribbean as she made it absolutely clear. As I said in my opening speech, there are still major needs in the Caribbean and I can assure her that the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth are close to the Government's heart. She may rest assured that we shall not turn our back on it when we have assessed the amount of money that goes to that part of the world. The figures will be announced in the reasonably near future.

At the start of the debate, I said that the United Kingdom will continue to maintain a substantial aid programme. It will amount to £2.15 billion next year, more than £2.2 billion in 1997–98 and nearly £2.3 billion in 1998–99. As I have said, the full details will be in the next departmental report.

As I have also said before, bilateral aid next year will be roughly in line with our previously published plans. Africa is likely to receive more than we had previously planned, largely because of reductions in our expenditure forecasts regarding a number of international organisations. For example, the United Kingdom assessed contribution to the European development fund is likely to be £40 million less in 1996–97 than was forecast last year. That means, not that our commitment to those organisations has diminished, but that our contributions are determined by factors such as exchange rates and relative GNP. It also means that we can maintain a high level of bilateral spending, and it demonstrates the Government's determination to maintain a substantial and effective bilateral programme.

As I explained, we get excellent value for money from the £2.2 billion that we spend on aid in one of the world's most effective official programmes. The programme commands widespread public support, yet the Opposition continue to criticise and belittle our achievements instead of taking pride in work that is well done. They tell us to spend more, as they do in every debate that touches on public spending, yet they have failed to make any commitment on spending. Nor have they said where any extra resources would come from. Until they reveal their policy on spending, how can we believe them?

The skills built up in the official programme and by the NGOs are a British success story. Our commitment to a high-quality programme is beyond doubt. It is now stronger and more effective than ever before. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley said that he gave a commitment earlier. If he gave a commitment, he did not mention money. As so often, it was just wind. If the hon. Gentleman would like to fill in the blanks, we should be grateful. In the meantime, we will help the world, and I invite the House to support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 270, Noes 310.

Division No. 40][9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott Ms DianeBayley, Hugh
Adams, Mrs IreneBeckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Ainger, NickBeith, Rt Hon A J
Allen, GrahamBell, Stuart
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Bennett, Andrew F
Armstrong, HilaryBenton, Joe
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBermingham, Gerald
Ashton, JoeBerry, Roger
Austin-Walker, JohnBetts, Clive
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Blunkett, David
Barnes, HarryBoateng, Paul
Battle, JohnBradley, Keith
Bray, Dr JeremyGrocott, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Gunnell, John
Brown, N (N'ctle upon Tyne E)Hain, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Hall, Mike
Burden, RichardHanson, David
Byers, StephenHardy, Peter
Callaghan, JimHenderson, Doug
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Heppell, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hinchliffe, David
Campbell-Savours, D NHodge, Margaret
Canavan, DennisHoey, Kate
Cann, JamieHogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)Home Robertson, John
Chidgey, DavidHood, Jimmy
Chisholm, MalcolmHoon, Geoffrey
Church, JudithHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Clapham, MichaelHowarth, George (Knowsley North)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Clelland, DavidHoyle, Doug
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cohen, HarryHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Connarty, MichaelHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hutton, John
Corbett, RobinIllsley, Eric
Corbyn, JeremyIngram, Adam
Corston, JeanJackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cousins, JimJackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cox, TomJamieson, David
Cummings, JohnJanner, Greville
Cunliffe, LawrenceJohnston, Sir Russell
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cunningham, RoseannaJones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dafis, CynogJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dalyell, TamJones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Darling, AlistairJones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davidson, IanJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)Keen, Alan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Khabra, Piara S
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)Kilfoyle, Peter
Denham, JohnLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dewar, DonaldLiddell, Mrs Helen
Dixon, DonLitherland, Robert
Dobson, FrankLivingstone, Ken
Donohoe, Brian HLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dowd, JimLlwyd, Elfyn
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethLoyden, Eddie
Eagle, Ms AngelaLynne, Ms Liz
Eastham, KenMcAllion, John
Etherington, BillMcAvoy, Thomas
Evans, John (St Helens N)McCartney, Robert
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMcFall, John
Fatchett, DerekMcKelvey, William
Faulds, AndrewMackinlay, Andrew
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)McLeish, Henry
Flynn, PaulMcNamara, Kevin
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMacShane, Denis
Foster, Don (Bath)McWilliam, John
Foulkes, GeorgeMadden, Max
Fyfe, MariaMaddock, Diana
Galbraith, SamMahon, Alice
Galloway, GeorgeMandelson, Peter
Gapes, MikeMarek, Dr John
Garrett, JohnMarshall, David (Shettleston)
George, BruceMarshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Gerrard, NeilMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMartlew, Eric
Godman, Dr Norman AMaxton, John
Godsiff, RogerMeacher, Michael
Golding, Mrs LlinMeale, Alan
Gordon, MildredMichael, Alun
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Milburn, Alan
Miller, AndrewSheerman, Barry
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Moonie, Dr LewisShore, Rt Hon Peter
Morgan, RhodriShort, Clare
Morley, ElliotSimpson, Alan
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)Skinner, Dennis
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mowlam, MarjorieSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mudie, GeorgeSnape, Peter
Mullin, ChrisSpearing, Nigel
Murphy, PaulSpellar, John
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)Steinberg, Gerry
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Stevenson, George
O'Hara, EdwardStott, Roger
Olner, BillStrang, Dr. Gavin
O'Neill, MartinStraw, Jack
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySutcliffe, Gerry
Parry, RobertTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pearson, IanTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pendry, TomThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Pickthall, ColinTimms, Stephen
Pike, Peter LTipping, Paddy
Pope, GregTouhig, Don
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Turner, Dennis
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)Tyler, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Vaz, Keith
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Primarolo, DawnWalley, Joan
Purchase, KenWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Quin, Ms JoyceWareing, Robert N
Radice, GilesWelsh, Andrew
Randall, StuartWicks, Malcolm
Raynsford, NickWigley, Dafydd
Reid, Dr JohnWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Rendel, DavidWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Robertson, George (Hamilton)Wilson, Brian
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)Winnick, David
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWise, Audrey
Rogers, AllanWorthington, Tony
Rooker, JeffWray, Jimmy
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wright, Dr Tony
Rowlands, Ted
Ruddock, JoanTellers for the Ayes:
Sedgemore, BrianMr. Robert Ainsworth and
Ms Ann Coffey.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Booth, Hartley
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanBoswell, Tim
Alexander, RichardBottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Bowden, Sir Andrew
Amess, DavidBowis, John
Arbuthnot, JamesBoyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Brandreth, Gyles
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Brazier, Julian
Ashby, DavidBright, Sir Graham
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertBrooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Browning, Mrs Angela
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Baldry, TonyBudgen, Nicholas
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Burns, Simon
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Burt, Alistair
Bates, MichaelButcher, John
Batiste, SpencerButler, Peter
Beggs, RoyButterfill, John
Bellingham, HenryCarlisle, John (Luton North)
Bendall, VivianCarlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beresford, Sir PaulCarrington, Matthew
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCarttiss, Michael
Body, Sir RichardCash, William
Bonsor, Sir NicholasChannon, Rt Hon Paul
Chapman, Sir SydneyHarris, David
Churchill, MrHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Clappison, JamesHawkins, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hawksley, Warren
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Hayes, Jerry
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHeald, Oliver
Coe, SebastianHeathcoat-Amory, David
Colvin, MichaelHendry, Charles
Congdon, DavidHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Conway, DerekHicks, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cormack, Sir PatrickHoram, John
Couchman, JamesHordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cran, JamesHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Day, StephenHunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Deva, Nirj JosephHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Devlin, TimHunter, Andrew
Dicks, TerryHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenJack, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dover, DenJenkin, Bernard
Duncan, AlanJessel, Toby
Duncan-Smith, IainJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, BobJones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Durant, Sir AnthonyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dykes, HughKey, Robert
Eggar, Rt Hon TimKing, Rt Hon Tom
Elletson, HaroldKirkhope, Timothy
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterKnapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Knox, Sir David
Evennett, DavidKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Faber, DavidLait, Mrs Jacqui
Fabricant, MichaelLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame PeggyLang, Rt Hon Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fishburn, DudleyLegg, Barry
Forman, NigelLeigh, Edward
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Forth, EricLester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanLidington, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerLord, Michael
French, DouglasLuff, Peter
Gale, RogerLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gallie, PhilMcCrea, The Reverend William
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanMacKay, Andrew
Garnier, EdwardMaclean, Rt Hon David
Gill, ChristopherMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gillan, CherylMadel, Sir David
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMaitland, Lady Olga
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMalone, Gerald
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMans, Keith
Gorst, Sir JohnMarland, Paul
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir MichaelMates, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynMawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamMellor, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchibaldMerchant, Piers
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mills, Iain
Hampson, Dr KeithMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hanley, Rt Hon JeremyMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hannam, Sir JohnMoate, Sir Roger
Hargreaves, AndrewMonro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Montgomery, Sir FergusStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Moss, MalcolmSteen, Anthony
Needham, Rt Hon RichardStephen, Michael
Nelson, AnthonyStern, Michael
Neubert, Sir MichaelStewart, Allan
Newton, Rt Hon TonyStreeter, Gary
Nicholls, PatrickSumberg, David
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Sweeney, Walter
Norris, SteveSykes, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyTapsell, Sir Peter
Oppenheim, PhillipTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Page, RichardTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Paice, JamesTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Patnick, Sir IrvineTemple-Morris, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon JohnThomason, Roy
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Pawsey, JamesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethThornton, Sir Malcolm
Pickles, EricThurnham, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Porter, David (Waveney)Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Portillo, Rt Hon MichaelTracey, Richard
Powell, William (Corby)Tredinnick, David
Rathbone, TimTrend, Michael
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnTrotter, Neville
Renton, Rt Hon TimTwinn, Dr Ian
Richards, RodVaughan, Sir Gerard
Riddick, GrahamWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Robathan, AndrewWalden, George
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir WynWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Waller, Gary
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Ward, John
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Ross, William (E Londonderry)Waterson, Nigel
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Watts, John
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaWells, Bowen
Sackville, TomWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir TimothyWhitney, Ray
Scott, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWhittingdale, John
Shaw, David (Dover)Widdecombe, Ann
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Shephard, Rt Hon GillianWilkinson, John
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)Willetts, David
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wilshire, David
Sims, RogerWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Skeet, Sir TrevorWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wolfson, Mark
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wood, Timothy
Soames, NicholasYeo, Tim
Spencer, Sir DerekYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr RobertTellers for the Noes:
Spring, RichardMr. Patrick McLoughlin and
Sproat, IainMr. Richard Ottaway.
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House acknowledges the United Kingdom's important role in helping reduce poverty and suffering in poorer countries and commends the Government for maintaining a substantial and effective aid programme which is the fifth largest in the world; applauds the Government's intention to maintain a bilateral aid programme next year which will be as large as that which had been previously planned; welcomes the central role the United Kingdom plays in seeking to make multilateral aid more effective; and commends the Government for the increasing poverty focus of the aid programme and for the leading role it has played in seeking a comprehensive solution to the debt burden of the poorest countries.