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Column 654cent. United Nations target. I note that there is no pressure for us to give a timetable for the 1 per cent. target for unofficial and official flows. Perhaps that is because we usually attain it. No British Governments have given such a target. I suspect that a Labour Government would make an early move towards the target. They would do so by pursuing economic policies which would rapidly bring our economy to a grinding halt. No economic growth would mean that our percentage of GNP spent on aid would increase in the short term before reality caught up with the unsustainable public expenditure plans, which is what has happened in the past.
I do not wish to be ungracious to the hon. Member for Eccles but I can make a promise to the Labour party which is based upon an argument that I believe the House largely accepts. If--it is a spartan "if"--the hon. Member for Eccles were to be given my job next month or next year, she would find herself responsible for an aid programme of as high a quality as any in the world. That is a tribute not least to the women and men who manage the programme in my Department ; the women and men working in the field from Nepal to Zimbabwe, from foresters planting the Himalayas, to young and not so young volunteers spreading literacy in Tanzania or food in the war-torn Horn of Africa. It should be beyond party argument that we have a good aid programme. If we cannot agree on volume and other matters, we should at least be able to agree on that.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : The Minister and the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) have talked much about debt. The House is in the debt of the hon. Member for Eccles for introducing the motion and giving us a chance to have this important debate. The House is also in the debt of the Minister, who discharges his duties with his customary relish. No one can doubt his commitment to his portfolio. Although some of us disagree with the arguments he advanced, especially about volume, his compassion and commitment are not in doubt, and all hon. Members are grateful to him for that. We are especially grateful for the Minister's announcement this morning of additional aid for Ghana and Kenya and for his promise that evironmental issues will achieve much prominence in the future. Further, his announcement of additional help for the non- governmental organisations was welcome.
The debate, which is being held in Budget week and the aftermath of the successful conference held in London on the need for more international action to protect the ozone layer, is as topical as it is welcome. At the heart of the debate are two principal issues--the scale of our contribution, and our effectiveness, together with other nations, in co- ordinating the responses that we make to the developing world.
The hon. Member for Eccles rightly concentrated her fire on the issue of debt. Three days ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer also made a speech about debt. In his Budget address, the Chancellor told us that in 1989-90 he had budgeted for repayment of our national debt to the tune of £14 billion--3 per cent. of gross domestic product. He said that as a proportion of GDP, Government debt was now lower than at any time since world war one, and that net debt interest costs would be lower by £1.5 billion this year because of reduced repayments on loan charges.
Column 655The scale of those repayments is bigger than our aid programme this year. In justification of this financial policy, with which many hon. Members agree, the Chancellor said that the savings could be put to good use. Many hon. Members waited to hear by how much our overseas aid programme would increase, but we waited in vain. What a cruel contrast there is between our attitude to domestic debt and the usurous levels of debt and interest charges that cripple many underdeveloped countries.
The accelerated growth of international debt provides a graphic illustration of the parable of the unforgiving debtor. Many of the debts were amassed in the 1960s and 1970s, when conventional wisdom held that countries could not go bankrupt. Commercial banks in the developed world gave out money with the alacrity of a three-armed man. The sequel is well known--countries went bankrupt ; they defaulted on debts ; the banks rescheduled debts and interest rates soared. Third world countries have subsequently been forced to generate exports by selling raw materials and plundering their natural assets to pay Shylock and service interest on their debts. As the Minister said, Third world debt has been estimated at more than $1,000 billion. Despite the lead of some of our banks and the Government in writing off past debts, too few countries have followed.
Last October, the Minister said :
"An effective aid programme is one that stops babies dying." He must know that the conditions that the International Monetary Fund imposes on debtors tend to place burdens disproportionately on the poor. Financial austerity leads to cuts in already minimal health and welfare services and in food subsidies, which leads to hunger and babies dying.
Julius Nyerere complained bitterly of the IMF. He said : "They asked me to make a choice between paying the debts of Tanzania and feeding the people of Tanzania. For me, that is no moral choice ; it is not even a practical choice."
The debt crisis is a time bomb waiting to explode. Unless we insist on the rescheduling and cancellation of debt, it will cause immense suffering for the poor of the Third world. If, as the Chancellor argued on Tuesday, the repayment of debt, at a time of inflation and high interest rates, is prudent for Great Britain, it would seem reasonable to urge the Government to favour an identical approach to the developing world.
It is worth comparing our budgeted £14 billion debt repayment with our total allocated aid programme of £1.4 billion for 1988-89, which will increase to £1.5 billion next year. It would be churlish not to welcome this modest increase, but the House must put it in perspective. Over the past decade, until 1987, the value of Britain's aid fell by over 36 per cent. Even in ravaged, hungry Africa--for which the Minister said there would be additional help, and where babies have been dying in their thousands--there was a decrease in real terms in Britain's aid from £386 million in 1979 to £284 million in 1987. Yet the contrast between the northern and southern regions of our planet has never been more marked, and, for many of us, more intolerable.
In 1970, by United Nations resolution 2626, we committed ourselves to meeting the target figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product in overseas aid. When the Government took office in 1979, we gave 0.5 per cent. and
Column 656were sixth in the league table of the 18 western aid givers. Today, we are 14th. In 1983, the Prime Minister promised that we would move to the 0.7 per cent. target "when economic circumstances permit". Last month, she boasted :
"We now have a higher standard of living than we have ever known. We have a great budget surplus."--[ Official Report, 28 February 1989 ; Vol. 148, c. 154-155.]
On Tuesday, the Chancellor said that over the past 10 years our economy had been transformed by a dramatic and sustained improvement. He said :
"For the economy as a whole, our productivity growth has been second only to that of Japan We have seen a dramatic and long overdue improvement in company profits".--[ Official Report, 14 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c.294.]
However, there has not been a corresponding increase in overseas aid. Why are we lagging behind Japan, Italy, Germany, Canada and France? When will "economic circumstances" permit an improvement in our giving?
By contrast with our aid programme, we will find 10 times as much this year to pay off domestic debt, and almost 18 times as much for armaments. Even as far back as 1985, worldwide military expenditure topped £500 billion--almost £1 million a minute. Five hours of world military spending on that scale is equivalent to UNICEF's total annual budget.
The Minister talked about the success of our multilateral aid programme. However, our bilateral aid programme bears scrutiny and tells a different story. According to the public expenditure White Paper published in January, in 1987 the United Kingdom provided £594 million to over 120 countries in bilateral aid. Some 50 per cent. of that went to 10 countries, so India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, Sudan, Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique received an average of just under £50 million each. The remaining 110 countries divided £247 million among them, which is an average of £2.2 million each. The department that supervises parks, gardens and other community facilities in Liverpool will this year spend £24.5 million, which is 12 times as much as we shall give to any one of those 110 countries.
A couple of years ago, I visited Nepal, which is the fourth poorest country in the world and where the average annual income is £120. Adult illiteracy is about 78 per cent. In that context, our aid programme is pitiful. We in the affluent countries should call to mind the story of Lazarus and Dives. So often we are like Dives, refusing to give even the crumbs off our table. If we are to avoid the fate of Dives, we should, first, increase our aid budget by 20 per cent. in real terms each year until it reaches 0.7 per cent. of gross national product. Secondly, there should be a greatly increased programme of long-term aid. Thirdly, there should be a substantial reserve sum to provide prompt and generous aid in emergencies. Fourthly, there should be a detailed plan for adequate food aid in times of famine. Fifthly, there should be a detailed plan for the remission of the official and commercial debts of the poorest countries. Sixthly, there should be a comprehensive plan for improvement in terms and conditions of trade for the poorest countries.
Perhaps in line with Government thinking, we should also encourage the Minister in what he called last year :
"a pretty fundamental review of the working relationship between government and charities."
If the Government want to cut taxes, let them give more substantial tax breaks and incentives to those who are
Column 657happy to donate and let them give more support to voluntary organisations. For in that respect also, the Government are currently falling behind other countries. Last year, the United Kingdom gave 0.7 per cent.--ironically--of official aid to voluntary organisations, compared with 1.6 per cent. in Japan, 11.1 per cent. in the United States and an average of 5.3 per cent. among all the 18 OECD countries. Clearly, the work of voluntary organisations and individuals must be encouraged and must be dovetailed with Government action.
I said that our aid programme would be judged by its generosity and effectiveness. It will become more effective only when it is better co- ordinated with the programmes of other donor countries. It must be targeted to meet the global challenge of a broken and environmentally degraded world. The story is the same, whether it be the floods in Bangladesh caused by deforestation of the Himalayas or threats to the survival of Amazonian Indians through the reckless consumption of the rain forests, ozone or acid rain.
In 1980, the World Wildlife Fund, the United Nations environment programme and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, published their world conservation strategy. They argued that man was just a part of the ecological order, not its master, and that we lacked a sense of responsibility in caring for creation. In the developing countries, the situation is disastrous. The deserts of the world are now expanding by 60,000 sq km annually--almost the size of Ireland. Poor land management and deforestation lead to the annual loss of 6,000 million tonnes of top soil in India alone. Fuel wood is so scarce in the poorer parts of the Andean sierra and the African Sahel that the cost of clothing and heating can constitute one quarter of a family's budget. Every minute, 20 hectares of tropical rain forest are destroyed, although the rain forests are the most important ecosystem on the globe. The area of productive forest will be halved during the 1980s and 1990s. Twentyfive thousand plant species and 1,000 species and sub-species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish face extinction. The bulldozers and chainsaws hack down the forests, the aircraft spray their defoliants, the factory ships ruthlessly deplete fish stocks and the prospectors extract minerals while destroying flora, fauna and anything else that stands in the way. Yet we have the neck to call that progress. It is the selfish plunder of creation and instead of unsustainable growth we need good stewardship and the responsible husbandry of irreplaceable gifts. The Government should ensure that our aid goes into environmentally desirable projects and that the pressures that lead to wanton destruction are removed.
In biblical times, people favoured the proclamation of a year of jubilee when captives would be freed, fields would lie fallow so that they could regain their goodness, and unjust debts would be removed from those who could not pay them. Perhaps the Minister should persuade his colleagues to proclaim a contemporary year of jubilee. I want to commend to the Minister the story of two pre-Raphaelite painters, Rossetti and Morris. Whenever Rossetti saw a beggar, he would empty out his pockets and give the beggar everything in them. He would walk away and never think about the beggar again. Morris would never give a penny, but he went off to work for a world in which there would be no more beggars. Rossetti was all
Column 658heart and Morris was all head. The Government need to be a combination of heart and head. I commend the motion to the House. 11.4 am
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) : I want to join my hon. Friend the Minister in congratulating the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) on her private enterprise--if she is prepared to be associated with that phrase--in securing this debate and giving us the opportunity of nearly a full day on this important subject. I want to start where my hon. Friend the Minister finished--with the issue of expenditure. Having been privileged to sit on the Government Front Bench for over nine of the past 10 years, I fully accept my share of the collective responsibility for what happened to the aid programme over that period. However, whatever comments may be made about the economy and the state of the gross national product when we came to office in May 1979, I am unhappy that the aid programme in volume is so much lower in real terms than it was in 1979. I also find it regrettable that even at the end of the current three-year public expenditure period, the end of the financial year 1991-92, the aid programme, on present figures, will still be significantly lower than it was when we came into office in May 1979. The uncomfortable reality is that over that decade, we have chosen as a matter of policy not to increase expenditure on overseas aid as our economy has expanded. In the process, we have a sharply declining share in overseas aid expressed as a proportion of GNP.
My hon. Friend is perfectly right to point out that the economy was in bad shape when we came to office in May 1979, but I hope that we can look less at the position of the Labour Government and more at what is done by other comparable countries. I appeciate my hon. Friend's difficulty in saying so at the Dispatch Box, but he cannot be especially happy that when one looks at other comparable countries, not least in western Europe, the amount spent on official aid, as a proportion of GNP, is so much lower in this country than it is in almost all comparable countries. We now spend a significantly lower proportion of GNP on aid than France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. The proportion is lower than it is in Norway, Sweden and Finland, the major Scandinavian countries. It is even lower than it is in Japan, notwithstanding the enormous size of Japan's GNP and the fact that Japan is a latecomer in overseas aid. I hope that when my hon. Friend comes to the next public expenditure round, he will do what I am certain he has been doing in successive public expenditure rounds and seek to obtain a somewhat larger increase in real terms in the growth of our overseas aid programme, so that we can at least reverse the decline in our aid programme as a proportion of GNP. My hon. Friend reasonably refers to the quality of our aid programme and I endorse that. Like every other hon. Member, I have travelled in various parts of the world and I have no doubt that the quality of staff in my hon. Friend's Department, both those at home and those serving overseas, is extremely good. The quality of the members of staff in governmental organisations at some arm's length from Government, such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation and the British Council, is high. I fully endorse what my hon. Friend said about the quality of our non-governmental
Column 659organisations and our volunteer organisations, by which we are better served than any other country. They are probably the best in the world. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would be the first to agree, however, that quality is no substitute for quantum, especially when the needs are so evident and so clearly demand urgent attention. One cannot ignore the quantum element, no matter how good the quality may be.
My hon. Friend referred to the welcome increase in real terms in our overseas aid programme. Even more recently than in the Autumn Statement, in which an 18 per cent. increase in cash terms was announced, to be spread over the next three years, my hon. Friend has announced additional elements in the aid programme. I was delighted to hear him talk of a 5 per cent. increase in real terms in the next financial year, 1989-90, although I, for one, will certainly want to press him further to find out exactly what GDP deflator assumption has been used in arriving at that figure. I hope that it approximates closely to the figure that the Treasury is now using as the updated rate of inflation for the next financial year. In other words, I hope that there will be a genuine increase of 5 per cent. in the forthcoming year. I hope, too, that my hon. Friend will be able to achieve similar increases over the next two years as part of the public expenditure planning process, although I appreciate that we shall have to await the appropriate public expenditure rounds. Unless we can achieve real terms increases of 5 per cent. or more in the aid programme, there is no way that we shall reverse the trend in the size of our aid programme as a proportion of GNP in the next three years. There is a danger that it could decline still further. I hope that the Minister and the Government will be anxious to increase the 0.28 per cent. of GNP to which our aid programme has now fallen. Human needs are as critical and acute in the Sudan as they are in any other country. As the House knows, over the past few years the people of Sudan--particularly the people of southern Sudan--have had to contend with the appalling vagaries of a climate that oscillates between drought and flood, superimposed on a horrendous and brutally cruel civil war. One of the most graphic and moving television programmes that I have seen in recent years was that produced by the BBC "Everyman" team about a month ago, which was devoted to bring home to us the extent of the suffering of ordinary people in the southern Sudan as a result of the ravages of civil war and climatic horrors. The House will want to congratulate the "Everyman" team, who were no doubt exposed to not insignificant personal danger. In that programme we saw the appalling way in which displaced rural communities in some parts of the country have been driven by civil war into the more sheltered urban areas but reduced to living in appalling shanty towns and to trying to eke out an existence for themselves by clawing their way over municipal rubbish tips on the outskirts of Khartoum. Having visited Mekele hospital during the Ethiopian famine, I was struck vividly by the footage of the Juba hospital in the southern Sudan. Food had almost run out, the one X-ray machine had broken down beyond repair and general anaesthetic was no longer available. We saw film of a man who was fully conscious during major abdominal surgery for a hernia. In the absence of general
Column 660anaesthetic, he was being operated on under local anaesthetic. What is the Minister's Department doing to provide emergency relief and development aid to meet the urgent needs of the Sudan?
Can my hon. Friend also bring us up to date with what is happening in Afghanistan? I welcome his prompt initiative in announcing £500, 000 of emergency aid to Afghanistan to be administered through the Red Cross and UNICEF. Can he tell us whether that aid is reaching Kabul successfully and whether the Red Cross and UNICEF could use a greater sum than has been made available so far?
Trade policy relates closely to overseas aid. As the Minister has said on many occasions, a liberal trade policy is every bit as important to Third world countries as the quantum and quality of our aid programme. But the trend in trade policy seems to be tending away from liberalism, with potentially serious consequences for developing countries. I was particularly struck by a short piece in a very good speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 6 December at the all-party overseas aid group conference on debt. He said : "Although many developing countries still protect their trade heavily, a recent IMF study showed that, among the developing countries, liberalising changes outnumbered restrictive changes by nearly 2 to 1 last year. Unfortunately, in the industrialised world, protectionist moves, of one kind or another, including voluntary restraint arrangements and unjustified anti-dumping duties, were in the majority.
World Bank figures suggest that protection by industrialised countries costs the developing countries more than twice the amount of official development aid they receive."
It makes a mockery of our aid programme, and the aid programmes of industrialised countries generally, if we are taking more away from the developing countries through protectionist trade policies than we are giving them in aid. It is vital that all those concerned with aid policy should focus their attention closely on the details of trade relations round the world. I have two questions for my hon. Friend on that. First, how major a role does his Department play in the detail of trade policy? I am talking not about the general policy of trying to liberalise trade but about the specifics. For example, does his Department go into detail on the United Kingdom's position on EEC directives such as the directive against the dumping of tropical fruit, which can be critical to some Third world countries? I hope that my hon. Friend can assure us that these matters are not being left to the Department of Trade and Industry, still less the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whose interests and reflexes in this matter are likely to be protectionist.
Mr. Chris Patten : As my right hon. Friend will know, we are currently in the middle of the renegotiation of the Lome convention. We are at least at the end of the beginning, if not at the beginning of the end. We are one of the few countries represented by an aid Minister in negotiating an agreement which is about trade just as much as it is about aid. That is an indication of our fairly central role in trade matters as they affect developing countries. We also represent the United Kingdom in the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Across the board, we are pretty well plugged into the issues which my right hon. Friend quite properly says are of fundamental importance.
Column 661regular lists of draft EEC directives that are sent to hon. Members, a considerable volume appear to have a protectionist slant against Third world countries' interests.
What should be the key focus of priorities for the aid programme? My hon. Friend has done a great deal to ensure that the aid programme is properly given an order of priority. I welcome what he has done to focus the aid programme on the poorest countries, and I particularly welcome what he has done to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot look only at the poorest countries. We must go beyond them and look equally closely at the poorest people in the poorest countries.
I fully understand the attractions, from a national economic and industrial standpoint, of major programme aid projects and major infrastructure projects which, according to the policy that we have followed for a long time, will be tied to the purchase of British goods and services and, therefore, will be good for British exports. However, we must be careful that we do not allow the aid programme to become unbalanced and unduly unfocused as a means of providing what is tantamount to an export subsidy for British providers of goods and services. First and foremost, we must focus on the poorest people in the poorest countries.
I was struck by my hon. Friend's answer on 23 February in reply to a question that I had put to him on the rate of calorie consumption in the poorest countries. His answer showed that, in African countries south of the Sahara, there are now 27 countries in which the average--I stress that it is an average ; there are plenty of people below the average--daily calorie intake is below the minimum level necessary to maintain health.
We must focus on those people in such a desperate plight--people whose health, day by day, month by month, and year by year is degenerating through an inadequate supply of calories. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say whether he is able to do any more to focus the aid programme on the key elements of food and water provision and of dealing with disease. Ultimately, that is the biggest and most compelling justification for the whole aid programme.
In his ministerial role, my hon. Friend has done an outstanding job in the effective, able and caring way in which he has discharged his responsibilities with the resources that he has been given. Many hon. Members wish him well in trying to secure some more resources to deal with the urgent human needs in Third world countries.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), to the Minister and to the House, as I will soon have to leave to catch a plane to Glasgow. I shall read the winding-up speeches with great interest.
Like other hon. Members, I was delighted that my hon. Friend was successful in the ballot and that she chose this subject for her excellent motion. The House has rightly given much time to the crucial issue of debt. My hon. Friend clearly analysed the problem and offered certain prescriptions. To be fair, the Minister applied himself to some of the points that were raised, but he did not find much time to deal with an issue which is of great concern to many hon. Members and to people elsewhere. Although the Minister said that the Government have been and will
Column 662remain prominent in debt initiatives, I was a little disappointed that he did not find an opportunity to talk about the Brady debt plan which was launched in the United States last Friday. He may have something to say about that when he replies.
Mr. Chris Patten : I do not blame the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that I was being spectacularly boring. The hon. Gentleman's attention must have flagged when I referred to the American proposals and the Brady initiative. As the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) said, I said that we expect those American proposals to be discussed in greater detail at interim meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank next month.
Mr. Clarke : I shall read the Minister's speech with great interest. I do not recall that he used the word "Brady" or specifically referred to the Brady proposals. Opposition members would welcome his saying a little more about the proposals and about what was said last Friday, in particular what Mr. Brady himself said about the role of developing countries, and especially Japan, in trying to get a solution to the problem. The Minister said that we had conferred closely with Japan and other industrial countries in order to begin to lay the basis for a common approach to the debt problem by creditor countries. He was also fair enough to add that, in recent years, we had seen positive growth occur in many debtor nations and that last year six major debtor nations realised more than 4 per cent. positive growth. He said that that was primarily due to the debtors' own efforts.
It is not a particularly radical start, any more than the Baker plan was, but it is a recognition that the new Administration regards the problem as difficult. We look forward to hearing the Government's response.
We are told that the Brady initiative has been dramatised by the riots that left more than 250 people dead in Venezuela. Much of that arose because of the wealth imbalance in Latin America. There is an uneven distribution of income. In Brazil, the richest fifth of the population takes 86 per cent. of the total income. That is clearly a recipe for chaos and frustration. The Minister talked about the moral hazard, but it can also apply in this context. When there is inequality and an uneven spread of wealth, and poverty and malnutrition exist in the circumstances which hon. Members have debated, frustrations will arise.
I refer to the crucial issue that was raised during the debate and to which the Minister promised to address himself--the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. I was extremely sorry that, despite the flagging in the earlier parts of the Minister's speech, he did not actually make any commitment. I was particularly disappointed in view of the exchangesin the House over the past month--indeed, year--because they gave us every reason to believe that, after the Budget, some commitment would be made.
The Government have had 10 years in which to tell us their strategy, but we are none the wiser. The Minister said that the former Labour Government did not make such a commitment but it is only fair that I should remind him that when Dame Judith Hart left office, the figure for overseas aid had reached 0.59 per cent. of GNP. Now, despite promptings from the Opposition, the figure is a disgraceful 0.28 per cent. This is at a time when the Minister--we also heard this from the Chancellor and other Ministers during the week--admittedthat the GNP
Column 663had grown. In those circumstances, it is quite indefensible for Ministers to crow that the national cake has grown and at the same time to say that this will not be reflected in the money that they are prepared to give to the poorest of the poor in the rest of the world.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : My hon. Friend must be aware of the words used by the Chancellor on Tuesday, when he said that, this year, the Government expect to make a surplus of £14 billion--part of which will be used to pay off the national debt. In those circumstances, would it not be more appropriate and beneficial to the rest of the world if more money were given for overseas aid and to assist the very poor countries in the usary levels of debt repayments that they are forced into at present?
Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Time after time, we are told from the Dispatch Box that the Government are dealing with taxpayers' money. If that is the case, we would expect the Government to bear in mind the overwhelming view of taxpayers on overseas aid. Every test has shown that taxpayers feel that the Government should be more generous. The last opinion poll showed that 76 per cent. of people in this country thought that we should be giving as much as we do now, or more.
When the Minister talks about inflation and what happened--as he saw it--10 years ago, he seems to forget that overseas aid is not inflationary. By definition, it goes overseas. In spite of his very complacent speech this morning, I hope that if he met the Chancellor or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he would argue that we should do something that will be seen internationally to be decent, responsible and right, without adding to the problems of inflation. It is not good enough that the United Kingdom is now placed 14th out of the 17 countries in the OECD league table. In 1979, when we were seventh and our contribution was increasing, Dame Judith Hart said that we were set to do better still. Of the 17 members of the OECD's development assistance committee, the Government's fall in contribution is by far the largest and should be contrasted with the 300 per cent. increase in the proportion of GNP that is given by Italy, the 138 per cent. increase given by Finland and the 43 per cent. given by Sweden. There have been other increases from countries such as Denmark, Norway, Japan, Holland and even the United States. Most of those countries find no difficulty in accepting that, apart from aiming at the United Nations target, if GNP increases, it is not unreasonable to make an improved contribution to the Third world. The Minister and other hon. Members referred to Comic Relief, which showed that the British people are, by nature, generous and not mean, parsimonious or selfish. I do not believe that their aspirations are reflected in the policies pursued by the Government. The television programme gave some of the views of the British people and some of the consequences of lethargy. For example, Billy Connolly's contribution dealing with Mozambique is worthy of consideration. I hope that the Minister will recall that Billy Connolly talked not just about overseas aid or targeting--about which we hear from the Government in another context
Column 664--but about how our objective of trying to remove poverty overseas is undermined, particularly in Mozambique, by South African aggression. We were shown examples of that and the British people were appalled. We saw some of the activities of the South African guerrillas, which undermine the beneficial effects of British aid. In Mozambique, we want to address the problems of poverty, malnutrition and environmental imperfections faced by the desperately poor people. It is not enough simply to contribute--we should contribute more--if the Government do not even have the courage to tell the South Africans that this element of destabilisation in Mozambique is wholly unacceptable.
The Minister spoke about moral hazards. There is no greater moral hazard than to do what he did this morning when he wrapped up a poor policy in terms of complacency--which is being spread about the House like confetti, although happily it is not shared by the British people or the 10,000 who supported the Brandt report and lobbied Parliament. Therefore, despite the fact that this is a Friday debate and overseas aid, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles said, is not allocated much time, the Minister can be assured that many of us will return to the subject until we are sure that the British contribution to the United Nations figure is something of which we can be proud. Today, we are far from proud.
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge) : In following the hon. Gentleman for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) I shall make the brief point that I was at the United Nations when the figure of 0.7 per cent. was plucked out of thin air. I would have thought that the volume of aid rather than the proportion should be emphasised. It is nine years since I had the good fortune--as the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) has had today--of winning the private Members' ballot. I was then able to introduce a debate on the Brandt Commission report. It is unfortunate that we have to depend on the luck of the private Members' ballot to be able to discuss such important matters.
I was deeply impressed by the speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)--not least because they both emphasised the remarkable contribution of my hon. Friend the Minister since he has been at the Overseas Development
Administration. As a former very junior member of the ODA, that gave me particular pleasure.
Another matter which gives me pleasure and which it is important to emphasise is the United Nations revival after its ten lost Waldheim years. The performance of my friend and former colleague Perez de Cuellar, in bringing that organisation back into the forefront--where it should always have been--was a remarkable personal achievement. One of the greatest achievements of the United Nations was the world wide elimination of smallpox, which was not just a technical matter but one of political will by every single country in the world. Speaking as a former chairman of the "Stop Polio Campaign" of the Save the Children Fund, I know that we can do the same with other diseases. We do not have the answer for all of them-- malaria is the most conspicuous example and, obviously, AIDS. However, we know all about immunising people
Column 665against other diseases--and we have the technique and the facilities to do so. What we require, is the global political will because, for all its faults, the United Nations is the only such global organisation.
Recently I was reflecting on the new interest in and excitement about environmental matters. At one time I was a senior adviser to the United Nations on such matters. I was part author of the 1972 Stockholm conference report. We were years ahead of our time, but we underestimated national selfishness in almost every country. We also underestimated greed and the willingness to destroy the environment. On a slightly peripheral point, I have at times been a lone voice in the Conservative party urging the need for basic non-commercial research. A classic example of its value was the British Antarctic survey, the headquarters of which are in my constituency and which discovered the gap in the ozone layer. That major development would not have happened if all research were--as we are often told it must be--commercial, market oriented and so on.
I want to refer to southern Africa and the frontline states, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will shortly be visiting. The record of the British Government in this area in recent years has been excellent, and their help is far more appreciated than is generally realised. When I was in Harare last March and held a long discussion with President Mugabe, it was clear to me that the Zimbabwe Government were highly appreciative of what we are doing. We have spent more than £1 billion on the south African development co-ordination conference countries since 1980--a formidable sum. Now, for the first time, there are hopeful signs that at long last Namibia will gain its independence. The House knows of my deep personal interest and involvement in that.
My delight at recent developments has been overshadowed by the tragic death of Bernt Carlsson in the Lockerbie air disaster. He was the high commissioner for Namibia and was flying to New York to sign the final document in the long saga with Pik Botha.
Three things are essential for Namibia even before independence and certainly after it. The first is the need for good advice and assistance with agriculture. Namibia is a vast country with a very small population. I am not an agronomist, but it seems to me that a country with that many trees must have water and therefore possibilities. I should have thought that some of my Israeli friends, with their experience, could be of real assistance in this respect. Secondly, there is the problem of health. I was one of the last people allowed to go to the war zone in Namibia--a fraught experience. I went with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). One of the Catholic hospitals that we visited did not even have bandages, let alone drugs and medicines. Faced with poverty like that--it was as bad as any I had experienced in my childhood in India--one recognises what must and can be done at no vast expense.
The third aspect is education. Generations of a deliberate policy of depriving black children of education must be reversed. That will be a long -term project to which this country can make a positive contribution, given the good will that we have. Our reputation stands high in Namibia because our Governments of both parties have consistently supported resolution 435 and the Namibian people.
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It is true that on Tuesday morning beginning at column 157 I occupied 38 minutes of the House's time, and I am sure that there will be considered replies on the rain forest point from the Government to my speech.
I want to make one emotional point. I have never forgotten going to the Amerindians in Altamira and being asked by Pa-akan what people living on top of high buildings and skyscrapers know about them and their forests--a difficult question to answer. It is central to much of the problem that Brazil faces.
The Minister said that forests are not global property, which is true, and we must be careful about interfering in the preserves that the Brazilian Government understandably think are theirs. As I said in my speech on the Consolidated Fund, they are people of the highest quality. However, policy towards the forests has global consequences, and I am glad to see the Minister nodding agreement to that. Never in my public or private life have I been so concerned or frightened as I was by the information that became clearer to me during my visit to Amazonia at the invitation of Friends of the Earth. In case of misunderstanding, let me make it clear that in no way am I financially beholden to Friends of the Earth or anyone else.
I am concerned about my constituents. We live on the European equivalent of the north coast of Labrador and if we are not careful we shall have the climate of the north coast of Labrador. I hope the House will acquit me of the charge of being an eco-nut. For more than 22 years successive editors of the New Scientist have had confidence in my work as a weekly columnist. Had my scientific judgments been in any way far-fetched I would not have lasted a couple of weeks in that postion. What I say, I say with considerable care and after considerable thought.
If we are not extremely careful about climatological flip, we face the prospect and dangers of another ice age. The Minister knows the argument : I know that he takes it seriously, as did the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who answered my nocturnal debate on Monday. I am more concerned about the seriousness with which some Department of Trade and Industry Ministers approached the subject yesterday --although I may be doing the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) an injustice.
My concern is this : for tens of thousands of years the rains have come in from the Atlantic brought by winds from the east. They have come into north -east Brazil to the Amazon delta and the state of Para. In the past five years--minuscule in real time, still less in geological time--things have changed.
The one thing I suspect this Minister and hon. Members may not fully understand--I did not until I went there--is the sheer stark scale of the destruction. For kilometre after kilometre, going up the Xingu river--I have photographs of this, although this is not the place for a slide lecture--one sees the stumps of charred mahogany and brazil nut trees which are useless, deprived of their ecosystems. By Brazilian law they cannot be cut down. They are gaunt, stark, sad lacework figures, about to die.
Column 667The Kayapo indians believe that trees have spirits and those spirits are being killed and that insults their forefathers. I am no animist, but I understand and respect the feelings behind that view. There are swamps in places where there were no swamps before and those swamps are good only for mosquitoes. I do not want to be personal, but when I went to get my injections at the tropical diseases hospital, the person doing the injections said to me, "Do you realise that you are going to the most unhealthy place on the face of the planet?" That was the opinion of the hospital. The reason for such a belief is obvious. With all the swamps and mosquitoes the changes in the forests' ecosystems are obvious. Perhaps the change is no more strongly exemplified than in the presence of blue skies when there should normally have been clouds. I went out into what should have been the rainy season when there should have been heavy afternoon rainfalls. There were but a few drops at most and only a few clouds. I was told that in the past there would have been heavy clouds and rain.
That change has taken place in a very short space of time. The problem is cut-off of the moisture line. If the forests in eastern Amazonia continue to be cut down and burned at the present rate, cloud formations will not occur. If that happens because of tree removal, the vapours and moisture will simply not form. I do not want to give the House a lesson in physics, but that is classic desertification. Moisture will not form and if moisture does not form over that crucial area of land on the eastern coast of South America, the hop-scotch effect, the transfer of moisture up and down and the process of evapotransporation will not take place across central Amazonia.
There are three consequences if that happens. First, the dry season will be longer and there will be more felling. Cattle ranchers will find that the land on which they have their miserable cattle will last only one or two years and they will want more as a result. They will be ever greedier to fell more virgin forest and burn it. Secondly, inevitably, there will be larger, more extensive and more uncontrollable forest fires. The extent of the fire destruction can only really be revealed by NASA's satellite pictures. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will receive NASA's information about the extent of the burning. People talk about the destruction involving areas the size of France, although it may be greater than that. That destruction will inevitably take place if there is no rainfall.
Thirdly, botanists have told me that if the ancient eco-system of the central Amazon is deprived of rain for three or four weeks, many plants in that botanical diversity would wither. Those plants need rain. The Minister must know about that and I hope that he will get expert advice from Dr. Phrance at Kew and from others about that, and tell me if I exaggerate.
May we consider now the selfish, north-European British point of view. If everything that I have described happens, Jose Lutzenberger and others who claim to understand these matters have told me that the air currents and the hop-scotch moisture process across central Amazonia and across provinces like Acre and western Amazonia, will no longer, to use a very lose term, "bang"
Column 668against the high Andes, and the air currents we take for granted will not be formed. If they are not formed, they will not move easterly, eventually paralleling the Gulf stream. If they do not parallel the Gulf stream, we shall be in the greatest difficulty because the Gulf stream and those air currents from a generally south westerly direction give northern Europeans a different climate from those who dwell on the north coast of Labrador.
Our excellent physicist-ambassador in Brasilia, Michael Newington, told me very gently, "You don't know about all this." I am very pleased that one of our ambassadors is a physicist. However, as Michael Newington conceded, no one else knows for certain about it either. We had better find out because it is incontrovertible that the stakes are simply stupendous.
If anyone asks why we should be so concerned about the Amazonian forest, the answer is that we must consider the possible prospect of a climatalogical flip. We must consider the possibility of London, Hamburg and other great cities experiencing a complete change of weather. That would absolutely change life on our continent as we have known it.
It is a matter of the greatest priority that research should be directed to discover what would happen if there is any more destruction of the Brazilian forests and I emphasise the term "Brazilian" because they understand that I recognise their sovereignty over the forest. None of us can be sure of the viability of a great forest. Does there come a point when the whole eco-system is no longer viable?
Mr. Dalyell : My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) agrees with me. I do not want to be alarmist or sensational. I am not searching for a headline. This is the speech of a desperately worried individual who has had this experience and who thinks that life as we have known it, the whole life support system of the planet, could be in danger.
I want to reflect on a creepy subject. How did the mammoth ever become encapsulated in ice? The mammoth was not a tundra-eating animal. An examination of a mammoth's stomach contents showed that it had eaten ferns and plants, if not of a tropical type, of at least a temperate type. No tundra was found in its stomach. If the ice age had occurred over a long perod of time, would not the mammoths have drifted south? Why should they suddenly have become caught in the ice? Every indication--geological and otherwise--is that the ice age came very quickly and very unexpectedly on the animal kingdom. I do not want to be alarmist or to exaggerate, but I ask for a comment by the Minister on the proposition that there is the very greatest danger in destroying the Brazilian rain forest and rain forests in general. We have seen what happened to sub-Saharan Africa, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), to whom we are indebted for this debate.
Will there be some kind of urgent Government consideration given to this topic, about which many serious people are desperately anxious? I speak with the greatest anxiety and concern that I have ever done in my public life.
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Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : It is essential to alert more and more people to environmental threats. It strikes me that the United Kingdom is awakening, but that much of the world is still unaware of them. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) once again does a service by drawing our attention to the consequences of the destruction of the Brazilian rain forest. I shall make some remarks implicitly about the cause of that destruction--rather more in Asia than in Latin America, but the consequences are the same. I congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) on her good fortune in the ballot and on selecting overseas aid and development as the subject of the debate. Not unnaturally, most of the emphasis has been on debt, debt repayment and aid targets. Although United Nations targets are of importance, I personally, regard them more as guidelines than as immediate objectives. I am more concerned about the quality and type of aid than I am about the amount--though as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) pointed out, however much emphasis one places on quality, one must take account also of quantum.
I am more concerned about quality for a variety of reasons. One technical adviser may be worth 20 or 30 times his cost simply on the basis of the old argument : "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for one day ; teach him to fish, and you feed him for life." But whatever may be the targets, and whatever money may be available, aid is only a drop in the ocean compared with need.
That said, the Government's record is fairly respectable. We have been reminded that this year and for the next four years there will be a real increase in aid amounting to about 5 per cent. in real terms. That is a considerable achievement after the regrettable, albeit necessary, cutbacks in the early 1980s. Furthermore, to exceed the United Nations' target for official and private aid combined in all but two years since 1979 is also a considerable achievement. It is particularly noteworthy that 80 per cent. of our aid goes to the very poorest countries compared with only 60 per cent. from the west as a whole. That is not bad, but I shall concentrate most of my remarks on an area where much more aid, education and advice is needed.
Aid should be provided not just to enable developing countries to enlarge their gross domestic product, important though that is, but to enable individuals to enjoy a better standard of living. In that respect, the donor and developing countries have signally failed. It is easy to see the reason. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Minister expressing optimism about a turning point being reached in Africa. None the less, while food production has expanded and economies have grown, the benefits have been negated by the vast proliferation of the population.
Population statistics are becoming almost hackneyed, and certainly they are mind-boggling. In my lifetime the world population has grown from about 2 billion to 5 billion, and in another 11 years it will be 6 billion. Because of famine, most of the emphasis of work on controlling the population in recent years has been concentrated on Africa. However, three fifths of the world's population live in Asia, and 17 per cent. live in India on 2.4 per cent. of the