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My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met representatives of Christian Aid and other non-governmental organisations in the development field on 23 January and plans to have a follow-up meeting with them later this year. I met a number of NGOs, including Christian Aid, at a Foreign Office seminar on 25 April. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development and her officials have frequent contacts with those organisations, the next such meeting being on 16 May. Our discussions with the NGOs cover a wide range of issues affecting developing countries, including poverty reduction.
In view of the Minister's response, will he assure me that he will support the campaign by the Christian Aid group to eradicate poverty in Africa? In 1994, the poor people of Africa paid £10 billion to the country's wealthy creditors and obviously assistance is going in the wrong direction. Will the Minister support Christian Aid's campaign to try to reverse that process?
Yes, I certainly believe that that is the main focus of our aid to Africa. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have written off £1.2 billion in Overseas Development Administration debt for 31 countries—of which 18 were African—since the 1970s. Poverty reduction in Africa is an important part of all of our programmes. It is one of the reasons why at the spring meeting of the World bank and the International Monetary Fund last month it was agreed that several heavily indebted, poor countries have an unsustainable burden of debt and that action must be taken to reduce it so as not to put their reform efforts at risk. That action is being taken on the multilateral debt side. We are leading not only the European Union but the world community in trying to alleviate poverty in Africa.
Can the Minister confirm that at the recent conference in Oslo, which an ODA representative attended, the NGOs made it clear that they believe that the 20:20 compact—endorsed on a voluntary basis by the British Government at the world summit in Copenhagen last year—forms a vital part of a comprehensive strategy for the alleviation of poverty? Given that the Government have reduced this year's aid budget by £124 million; that, on current plans, the proportion of gross national product devoted to aid will fall to an all-time low of 0.26 per cent. by 2000; and that the fundamental expenditure review does not refer to the 20:20 compact, what plans does the Minister have to meet the United Nations target of 20 per cent. development assistance to be invested in basic social services, such as primary health care and education? Why did we achieve only about half of that target in 1994–95?
The 20:20 concept has attracted a good deal of attention because it is a superficially straightforward idea. However, it is unsatisfactory because it emphasises only the quantity of resources at a time of increasing donor awareness about the need to focus on impact, quality and effectiveness. It is an old-fashioned emphasis on inputs rather than outputs, and we want to avoid a return to the 1970s approach of top down, vertically targeted activities which failed to involve the beneficiaries in any assessment of their needs and priorities.
In answer to the hon. Lady's fifth or six question, we still have a substantial aid programme. I repeat that the United Kingdom remains the fifth largest donor despite the small budget reduction this year. We have a substantial budget of £2.154 billion in 1996–97. In 1994, our aid programme was 0.31 per cent. of GNP, which is above average for all donors, and the quality of British aid is extremely high. We still have an excellent record in aid. I do not accept the hon. Lady's criticisms. If she wants to make a financial commitment to increasing aid to 0.7 per cent., I would be grateful if she would say so clearly in the House.