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Column 308hungry, and even selfishly want to ensure that, when the UK develops again and makes products for the rest of the world, there will be an increased market for them--one that does not exist currently because developing countries are not creating their own stable economic structures--we must acknowledge that we shall never solve those problems by working separately, in partial or small territorial groups.
I strongly agree with those hon. Members who said that the UN can only achieve as much as the nations of the world commit it to do by finance, material or personnel. The problems are often complex. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that population control is immensely important, but it is not the only way to free women from the terrible burdens that shackle them. Women make an immense contribution in their own families, societies and communities--but they are rarely if ever empowered to own land or to borrow money. However, they are infinitely capable of transforming the lives not only of their own families and communities but of regions. Those complex issues are intertwined-- particularly in respect of women--in a structure that embraces culture, religion and education. At least five separate issues are contingent upon one possible solution working.
The developed world seems incapable of grasping that there is not one simple solution or even 10, but that there may be 1 million solutions. The co-ordination, bringing together and prioritising of solutions to the dreadful problems that confront the world can only be done by an organisation that all the nations of the world recognise--and one that is in a sense impartial, because it is consistently caring in a particular area. I argue that that organisation is conceivably the United Nations.
I argue equally that, in future, perhaps we cannot regard the UN as centred solely on New York. We might have to consider a UN for certain regions and areas of the world. None of that will be possible unless the developed nations take on board the fact that ours must be the major and central contribution.
Sometimes, I feel that the developed world regards the undeveloped world as a problem impossible to solve--that the most we can do will be inadequate, so the least we can do will be sufficient. I find that totally unacceptable. I believe that the majority of people in this country and throughout the world also find it unacceptable. It seems that only Governments tend to hold back. I sincerely hope that this debate will cause the British Government to reconsider the freezing of the UK's overseas aid budget.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : It was with shock and dismay that I learnt recently that hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Overseas Development Administration aid budget had been spent running tax havens in the Caribbean for the benefit of companies and individuals from this and other developed countries so that they may avoid paying tax in Europe and north America.
This year's Foreign Office departmental report states that the purpose of overseas aid is
"to help poorer countries and their peoples improve their standard of life."
In a state of disbelief, I raised the matter with Baroness Chalker. She wrote to me :
Column 309"Britain has a duty to ensure that"
the offshore financial industry is
"developed in a responsible manner"
and that therefore
"it would not be sensible to insist that the Territories met the costs . . . of the UK recruited advisers."
British aid money is paying for an inspector of offshore banks and trust companies, an insurance services adviser and a principal tax adviser in the British Virgin Islands. It is paying also for a superintendent and deputy superintendent of offshore finance and two further financial advisers in the Turks and Caicos Islands. According to a written answer that I received from the Minister earlier this year, the cost of each post, including salary, accommodation and air fares, is approximately £70,000 per annum. That is the average cost of the technical co-operation officers in those two British dependent territories in the Caribbean. Common sense says that the cost of a teacher or health adviser would be rather less than the cost of weaning a financial adviser from the City. I do not deny that there have been problems with offshore finance in the Caribbean. There were serious irregularities in the 1980s, when the United States Government complained to the British Government that ill-regulated offshore banks in BDTs in the Caribbean were being used to launder drug money and for other illicit purposes. Members of New Scotland Yard's fraud squad were sent to the Caribbean to investigate. There followed resignations by senior Caribbean politicians, the bringing of criminal charges and convictions. Against that background, in 1989 the Government acted by calling in Coopers and Lybrand to examine the situation. The Coopers and Lybrand report recommended, among other things, the appointment of advisers. The advisers face a daunting task. There are just two people in the British Virgin Islands, a bank inspector and an insurance adviser, to regulate the affairs of 110,000 offshore companies registered there. The British Virgin Islands has a population of 16,500, but last year alone, 30,000 new offshore companies were registered there. Regulation is certainly needed. However, why should the cost of that fall on the limited and over-stretched British aid budget ? If Britain wants to ensure that tax havens in British dependent territories are properly regulated, and if it wants to defend the Bank of England's reputation for probity, the Bank of England or the Department of Trade and Industry should pay for that.
I believe that the costs should, and certainly could, be borne locally. The British Virgin Islands Government raised £12,660,000 in taxes and charges from their offshore finance industry in 1992-93, but spent only £730,000, including the hand-out from the British aid budget, on regulating that industry. The Turks and Caicos Islands Government raised more than £1.5 million in taxation and charges from offshore finance, but they spent only £200,000 on regulating those offshore companies. The majority of that money came from the British aid budget.
Those territories could well afford to pay to regulate their offshore financial industries. It is not that tax levels are already punitive in the dependent territories. In the British Virgin Islands, income tax ranges from 3 per cent. to a top rate of 20 per cent. Company tax is 15 per cent. on chargeable income and offshore companies are largely
Column 310exempt from taxation. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, there is no capital gains tax, no income tax and no corporation tax.
It is nothing short of a scandal that hard-pressed British taxpayers, many of whom are on low incomes and who are paying a greater proportion of their income in taxes now than they paid in 1979 under the previous Labour Government, are subsidising a lavish, low-tax lifestyle for Caribbean professionals who work in the offshore finance industry. Their tax contribution to the British aid budget is enabling rich Britons to avoid paying taxes in this country, secure in the knowledge that they have found a safe and well-regulated tax haven abroad.
I recognise that there are dangers in comparing tax rates in developed and under-developed countries. However, the British dependent territories are not poor, third-world countries. The Cayman Islands has a per capita gross domestic product of $20,000. That is higher than that of the United Kingdom, which is $15,800, and it is substantially higher than the GDP per capita in the north of England and in Wales. It pays for regulating its own offshore finance industry, but even so the Cayman Islands, with a higher average income for its population than we enjoy in this country, received £119,000 last year in UK aid.
The British Virgin Islands, as I have said, received substantial aid for running its tax havens. Its per capita GDP is $10,479 which is higher than that in some European Union member states. The British Virgin Islands received £1.2 million in aid from the British overseas aid budget, which works out at £74 per person. I have no doubt that some of that money trickles down to the poor. However, the well-paid local lawyers and bankers who work in the offshore finance industry in the British Virgin Islands do not need a tax handout from the people in this country on lower incomes and higher rates of tax. I am wholly in favour of overseas aid for other Caribbean Commonwealth countries which have a greater need of aid. St. Vincent has a gross domestic product of $3,647, which is about one third of that of the British Virgin Islands, and it receives £9 per person in aid. Jamaica has an even lower per capita GDP, but it receives £2 per head.
This year's Foreign Office annual report promises to target aid "on the poorest countries where the problems of development go deepest."
The report also states :
"all of our priority objectives are therefore concerned with poverty reduction."
In her letter to me, Baroness Chalker said that aid for Caribbean tax havens
"does not mean giving any less priority to the poorest." She then quoted the figures to which the Minister referred at the beginning of the debate. She said that India receives £90 million a year in aid, Bangladesh receives £50 million and Zimbabwe and Zambia each receive £40 million.
However, the Department's own publication, "British Overseas Aid Statistics", tells a different story. On a per person basis, Zambia receives £5 in aid. It has a per capita GDP not of tens of thousands of dollars, but of $744. Zimbabwe receives £4 a head. Bangladesh, which has a per capita GDP of $872, receives 40p per person in aid. India, with a per capita GDP of just over $1,000, receives 10p per person in aid. However, the British Virgin Islands, with a per capita GDP 10 times greater than that of those states, receives £74 per person per year in aid.
Column 311Where is the justice in that ? It directly conflicts with the Minister's stated policy of providing aid to poor countries and to poor people in poor countries. In her letter to me, Baroness Chalker stated :
"80 per cent. of our bilateral aid goes to the poorest developing countries --a higher proportion than any other major donor." To whom does that aid go ? It does not go to the poor. The PIMS system, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) referred earlier, which is the new performance monitoring system in the ODA, reveals that only 10 per cent. of the overseas aid budget is spent on poverty reduction.
Is the ODA serious about its statements in the Foreign Office annual report about targeting aid on the poorest ? The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) said that he was confused because 80 per cent. of the British bilateral aid budget was going to the poorest countries, but only 6.6 per cent., according to the UN development programme which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), goes to meeting basic human needs. It is possible to reconcile the two. The money is going to the poorest countries, but it is not going for basic human development in the poorest countries. It is not going to the poor in the poorest countries.
People have been saying for a long time that it is right that aid should be directed at long-term development projects that are run for, and, wherever possible, by, the poorest people in the poorest countries. That principle underpinned Labour's White Paper entitled "More Help for the Poorest" as long ago as 1975. That principle was quietly dropped in 1979 when the Conservatives came to office, but I congratulate them on reinstating it in 1990.
The rhetoric has changed, but when will the reality of our aid programme change ? If there was a need to refocus aid on the poorest in the 1970s, when the aid budget was growing in real terms and as a percentage of our national GDP, there is more need now when the aid budget is contracting.
I asked the Library to tell me, at constant prices, what had happened to the British bilateral aid budget since 1979. In 1979, it was £1.6 billion. It is now down to £1 billion, and it is set to fall further. The independent group on British aid, which draws together aid specialists from several development agencies, which hon. Members have praised fulsomely, predicts that that budget will shrink to £900 million by 1996. The technical co-operation element of the aid programme, which is what pays for the tax regulators in the Caribbean, absorbed a third of bilateral aid in 1982. It has risen to half now, from £394 million to £520 million in 1992 prices.
Transferring know-how can be an extremely effective way of improving the living standards of poor people in poor countries, and I welcome that when that is what happens. I have seen largely small-scale development projects in local communities transferring know-how from the United Kingdom to aid their development, but it can also end up enhancing the living standards of third-world elites. Hon. Members have talked about the high incomes and incredible wealth of some people in developing countries.
In its annual report, the Foreign Office says that, in future, technical assistance will be the only aid, in normal circumstances, given to middle- income countries. That
Column 312suggests that we need a much tighter definition of technical assistance--for example, which projects in middle- income and low-income countries and which technical assistance projects will be supported and which should be avoided in order to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.
There are good moral reasons for giving aid, and I have focused on them because of what I believe is the shocking immorality of spending aid on running tax havens for the wealthy from the developed world. There are the economic reasons which the Brandt report considered, and there are strategic reasons which are exercising people's attention, particularly now, after the cold war, as people consider where future security risks might come from--for example, from eastern Europe, where there is a danger of economic stagnation and migration to the west and of economic collapse, which will add fuel to the fire of extreme right-wingers when they take over. There is a need for aid, and aid has been given.
There is fear of a deterioration in relationships with the Islamic world, but aid is being given to many Islamic countries in the middle east, to the Yemen, to the west bank, to non-oil producing regions of the middle east, to north Africa, to Algeria, to Egypt, to Tunisia, to Morocco, and to the Muslim countries of west Africa.
People talk about the fear that the twin pressures of population and poverty will force an exodus from black Africa to the north which will threaten our security in Europe. There are two possible responses. There is the fortress Europe response : instead of guarding an east-west frontier, our troops and NATO should line up from Athens to Gibraltar and defend Europe from Africa. There is an alternative approach, which I describe as enlightened self-interest : we use our aid to tackle the problems of poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, so that we reduce those pressures upon Europe. Do not the Government realise that, when they misuse aid to run tax havens in the Caribbean, they run the risk of undermining the credibility of the whole aid programme with the British people ? People in the United Kingdom generally are generous hearted. They understand--some even sympathise--when they pay their taxes that they are providing aid to help the poor, but they do not sympathise with aid to help bankers and tax exiles. The giving of aid for that purpose in the Caribbean will be regarded by the public as the Conservatives misusing public money to help their supporters. It is a scandal, when bilateral aid has been cut, that any of it should be squandered on creating tax breaks. That money--I hope that the Minister will respond to this point--should be switched immediately to provide aid to poor people in poor countries.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : Throughout this debate, right hon. and hon. Members have identified a whole host of desperate humanitarian problems which fall within the broad spectrum of aid and development. Some, such as Rwanda, lie close to the political end of that spectrum ; others, such as debt relief and trading agreements, reflect the sort of debate that the allies conducted 50 years ago as they tackled the problem of reconstructing Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. Perhaps I could begin by drawing the parallel out a little further and suggesting that we could learn a great deal
Column 313from the discussions which took place 50 years ago at Bretton Woods, and those which followed in London and New York.
We should recall--and recall quickly--that for the best part of the past 50 years, we employed massive resources, including many of our bravest and most talented men and women, such as scientists, engineers, intelligence staff and the armed forces, and huge amounts of precious public finance in the name of defending liberty and democracy against a Soviet threat. It was an extraordinary mobilisation. Surely it is now time to transmute a small part of that commitment and ingenuity into a new crusade--trying to prevent future Rwandas or, at the very least, to ensure that once such catastrophes begin there can exist among the potential victims at least some hope of rescue or relief.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House have made clear, Rwanda is by no means the only horror story unfolding in the world. Terrible wars continue in Angola and Sudan, and scarcely less cruel conflicts rage from Bosnia and the trans-Caucasus through Afghanistan to East Timor. In countries brought to their knees by recent wars, such as Ethiopia, Cambodia and Mozambique, famine and the curses of land mines and smashed infrastructure continue to threaten the revival of civil society and sustainable economies. Indeed, right now, a combination of unreliable weather, extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition hold literally millions of Ethiopians in the shadow of impending starvation.
The terrible civil war against the dictator Mengistu is over and Ethiopia is at peace. As Andrew Timson of the Save the Children Fund points out, however, Ethiopia is getting minimal rewards for doing what the international community wants it to do--liberalising its economy and introducing, however imperfectly, multi-party democracy. The crisis in Ethiopia is acute, and the world must address it if we are to avoid falling back once again on the efforts of charities attempting heroically but often too late to stem the flow of innocent life into the dirt of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is our duty to find a means of breaking the desperate circle of war, poverty and famine. We do not lack the means or the capacity to do it. The incentive, besides common human decency, is the prospect of creating new and more prosperous trading partners. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have confirmed that this country has a great reservoir of talent with huge experience and professionalism in helping developing countries and delivering aid and disaster relief. They and their colleagues in the British armed forces enjoy a world-wide reputation for the high quality of their performance and achievements.
We in this Chamber must try to assist them as they address the questions of how best to devise a means of heading off disasters in the first place, how to judge where best to deploy peacekeeping troops and equipment, how to shift food and supplies into the most needy areas and, infinitely more importantly--as the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) reminded us--how best to encourage and help sub-Saharan Africa and the poorer countries of Asia and Latin America to produce and trade their way into a more prosperous 21st century. Their economic salvation lies primarily in their ability to feed, house, clothe and educate their populations, and to produce tradeable goods and commodities. However, many of those countries are hauling themselves through the painful trials of structural adjustment programmes which, in the short
Column 314term at least, are causing enhanced levels of unemployment and hardship among populations already hard hit by decades of poverty and inflation. What those countries do not need is another 10 years or so of having to bear the additional burden of monumental debt repayments. To those ends, we must make further progress in tackling the problems of the debt trap, especially in Africa.
All of us welcome the writing off by Britain of £1.1 billion worth of debt. We welcome the initiative taken by the British Government on the issue at the G7 summit in Tokyo last July. However, those are limited measures and we urge the British Government to persuade the G7 countries and other member states of the European Union to extend the work that they have begun on bilateral debt arrangements in order to deal with the debt of countries such as Uganda to multilateral institutions. Her Majesty's Treasury and the World bank still insist that such debt cannot be considered for rescheduling or cancellation.
Clearly, it is farce shading rapidly into tragedy to force countries such as Uganda to seek fresh bilateral loans in order to pay off the interest on their multilateral loans. One of the most important and immediate adjustments in that respect would be for the World bank and the International Monetary Fund to modify their constitutions so that debt cancellation could become a real consideration.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : The points that my hon. Friend makes are extremely important. Is it not also true that as a result of the pressure of debt some countries are forced to take decisions which are environmentally unsuitable to them and may have implications for countries in other parts of the world ? They may be forced to take that line simply because they need the economic benefits.
Dr. Howells : Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. I remember that he and I examined the problem in the Environment Select Committee. We saw that countries desperate to earn foreign revenue were willing, for example, to take industrial waste that no one else was prepared to touch, and unscrupulous companies in Europe and America were prepared to dump such waste on them. It is important that we understand how developing countries have to degrade themselves environmentally and socially simply to gain foreign currency. It is encouraging that the World bank acknowledged recently that it must take more radical action on the debt crisis simply because sub-Saharan Africa could not sustain its current levels of debt servicing. The debt arrears of those countries have risen from £12.8 billion in 1987 to almost £40 billion now. In 1992, for example, the developing countries repaid £100 billion in interest on their debts. That was more than twice the amounts that they received in aid. Between 1988 and 1992, the OECD countries cancelled £6.6 billion of debt. Those cancellations were very welcome, but those same countries received £318 billion in debt repayment--48 times as much. The Government must build on their small but welcome beginnings on debt relief and urge their partners in the G7 and the European Union to address the problem with much more resolve and urgency. That point was made time and again during the debate on the subject last week in another place. Many noble Lords expressed concern about debt, as they did about the detrimental effects that the arms trade and excessive military expenditure have had on the ability of developing countries to escape the debt and poverty trap.
Column 315For example, Lord Desai warned against perpetuating the notion that poverty in the so-called third world was all the fault of the first world and that the third world was a helpless victim. That is not true. A recent United Nations Development Programme report, which Lord Desai helped to draft, criticises equally the Governments of countries which, despite the grinding poverty suffered by most of their populations, find money to spend on armaments when it should be spent on education and health. Lord Desai cited the cases of India and Pakistan, where the money spent on Migs and Mirage jets could have been spent on education, population control and the provision of clean water.
Baroness Chalker acknowledged that excessive military spending can create political and military insecurity and damage development by pre-empting scarce resources. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) reminded us of the terrible consequences of that hard-sell, unregulated trade in arms, and of the trade in land mines. Yet the Department of Trade and Industry's provision of export credits for arms sales continues to rise, at the same time as aid is set to decline in real money terms. That mismatch urgently needs tackling. The most effective way to meet Britain's security objectives is not to arm and train regimes in the third world, but to guarantee international peace and tackle the underlying poverty.
There is a similar mismatch between the rhetoric of donor countries such as ours and our record on trade in general. There has been a welcome, wide- ranging and democratic demand in donor countries for greater accountability when it comes to judging the value for money and quality of funds allocated to aid and development projects. The World bank has demanded greater transparency to allow us to understand the effectiveness of public money spent in that way. Those demands formed part of a series of radical changes in the way in which the World bank disburses loans and grants and the context within which it expects them to be used. I support those changes and see no virtue in handing over funds for which there will be no accountability. It is extremely important that we stress that accountability.
Structural adjustment programmes in the third world have often entailed forcing recipient Governments to open up their markets to world trade and to deregulate considerable areas of administration. It is a miserable fact to have to record, therefore, that donor countries do not necessarily practise in their own countries and within their own trading alliances what they preach abroad. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) pointed out, in the European Union we operate protectionist policies in the form of a barrage of restrictions against third-world producers. At the same time, third-world farmers have to compete locally with imports from Europe, such as beef and sugar, which are heavily subsidised by the common agricultural policy.
The manufacture of clothes and textiles has been identified as one of the few industrial sectors in which poor countries have an opportunity to compete with the rich. Despite the planned 10-year phase-out of the multi- fibre arrangement under the general agreement on tariffs and trade, however, the European Union continues to use that tariff system to limit the opportunities for poor countries to compete. The World Development Movement has
Column 316calculated that, as a result, third-world producers have been denied up to $35 billion a year--as much as all the western aid put together.
Agricultural producers also suffer from the continuing vast subsidies paid to American and Japanese farmers, in direct contradiction to their rhetoric about the necessity to extend free trade.
The new democracies of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are already demanding that the European Union--the largest and most powerful trading bloc in the world--should open its doors to produce from the east. The Ukraine, once one of the grain-producing centres of the world, finds itself importing subsidised grain from the west and is already reminding us that if we are serious about encouraging the implementation of liberal democracies in that region we had better understand that we cannot buy it with money from the know-how fund, welcome though some of that may be to the eastern Europeans. We must open our agricultural markets to those countries and we had better decide now that it would be better for the Ukrainians and the British alike if the Ukrainians are able to tend their own fields and gardens rather than having to come here as economic refugees seeking our money to tend our gardens for us.
There is every possibility of progress if this country has the will to force through the required changes by making huge savings--savings which are wholly beneficial to all sides--and to begin seriously the work of reducing the crazy levels of expenditure on the common agricultural policy and its Japanese and American equivalents, which are costing European Union member states vast amounts in precious public funds and costing third-world farmers their livelihoods. I do not mind the taunts that we heard earlier from Conservative Members, who for 15 years have allowed that outrageous farce to continue at a cost of tens of billions of pounds to British taxpayers. If the Government want advice about the location of funds to aid the world's poorest people to move towards the UN target figure for contributions, let them look to their semi-detached relationship with the European Union and their failure to intervene to force down those outrageous subsidies.
On the question of European expenditure, will the Minister clarify the Government's position on certain trends which are beginning to manifest themselves in the way in which multilateral aid organisations and, in particular, the European Union are implementing that aid ? Much as we may agree with the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester)--I certainly join him- -in welcoming the activities of multilateral agencies and especially the co -ordinating role that they play in the distribution and allocation of funds for aid and development, we must be careful to ensure that the considerable allocation of funds from this country can be properly tracked through Brussels and the Commission.
The ODA estimates show significant trends away from the disposal of funds through bilateral channels and into new channels, some of which are rather more opaque in terms of public accountability than some of the bilateral channels. The World bank's annual world development report shows that about £132 billion per year of infrastructure investment in developing countries has greatly increased access to electricity, sanitation, paved roads, telephones and water, but points out that gross
Column 317inefficiencies and poor maintenance of those investments have meant that money has been wasted and services have been patchy. The president of the World bank, Lewis Preston, declared that the emphasis everywhere must be less on cutting ribbons to open new facilities and more on ensuring that those facilities deliver the intended services. The World bank stresses--as hon. Members have stressed today--the importance of involving local people, which is vital. The bank's study of 121 rural water supply projects shows that in Asia, Africa and Latin America, in those projects where participation by the local population was classified as high, 83 per cent. had good maintenance levels and 81 per cent were graded as effective in achieving their goals. Of those where participation was low, 23 per cent. had good maintenance levels and only 8 per cent. were graded as effective.
While non-governmental organisations applauded the World bank's call for more emphasis on maintenance and greater user participation, they said that the bank itself was a part of the problem : "What proportion of Bank infrastructure lending goes to maintenance ? There is no figure in the report,"
said Paul Spray, head of policy at London-based Christian Aid. Returning to the issue of accountability, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) pointed out, in 1993-94 an estimated 45 per cent. of the ODA's expenditure went on multilateral projects by organisations such as the European Commission, and for 1996-97 that estimate is set to rise well above 52 per cent. We are told that the main reasons for this shift are the pledges made at the 1992 Edinburgh European Council, and that the planned allocation of the European Union's aid budget is set to rise from the current figure of around £300 million to almost £750 million by 1996-97. Can the Minister confirm whether our contribution to the European development fund is set to increase by more than 12 per cent. between now and 1996-97 and that under the terms of the Edinburgh agreement the expenditures are legally binding until 1999 ? That will mean only one thing --that the share of aid allocated to the poorest recipients will shrink.
I am afraid that the figures contradict the claims made by the Minister, the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), that the Government are successfully targeting the very poorest in the world. If they are doing so at the moment, it will not continue. The statistics cannot be welcome news to anyone concerned with aid and development. No one will argue against helping the eastern Europeans and the new democracies of the former Soviet Union and I have argued that it is vital that we do, but there must be no question of a compensatory reduction in our aid programme to the poorest countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The growing refugee problem in those areas is already an enormous drain on the resources of bilateral and multilateral agencies alike. All the briefings that we receive from the United Nations agencies, Oxfam, Actionaid, Save the Children, One World Action and all the other NGOs warn that the world's refugee population has grown substantially. From Bosnia on our doorstep to Afghanistan and Zaire, it is possible that as many as 42 million people worldwide have been displaced by wars and other catastrophes. How much longer will we be prepared to bear
Column 318witness to their suffering ? How much longer will we expect the relief agencies time and again to find the money to ease their pain and hardship ?
I welcome the pleas issued by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who stressed the case for greater availability of family planning resources. As they both said, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is doubling every 25 years, and many of those people are in refugee camps. There are 12 million more mouths to feed in Ethiopia than there were just 10 years ago. Surely it is time that we began to concentrate on that dilemma some of the energy, talent and ingenuity--and some of the resources --that for half a century we concentrated on the business of defending liberty and democracy during the years of the cold war. This is as good a time as any to begin that concentration. It is 50 years since D-day intensified the struggle for the liberation of Europe from the chains of fascism, and 50 years since the Bretton Woods agreements which helped to underpin the reconstruction of an entire continent. In the year when democracy returned to South Africa and Malawi, let us not miss the opportunity to help South Africa to transform the whole southern half of the continent. This is one of the great opportunities in history. We are very lucky to have not only Nelson Mandela but an extraordinary figure in de Klerk. There have been many moments in history when we could have done with people of their calibre ; now that we have them it is vital not to regard South Africa as a former trouble spot that we can now safely forget. If we help to make South Africa a success, we shall help to make the entire southern half of that continent a success.
Let us not throw away the opportunity to begin a new crusade against an enemy every bit as insidious and destructive as fascism. The chronic poverty and deprivation of so much of the underdeveloped world are a slur on the name of civilisation. The impotence and disarray of the United Nations Security Council are a negation of the spirit of hope and regeneration which established that organisation after the desperate years of the second world war. The murder of half a million Rwandans--after the murders of so many innocents in Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Liberia, East Timor and a score of other places--leaves a stain on the hands of every one of us.
These are political problems which require political solutions. If we believe that our global agencies and international organisations are not up to the task of developing those solutions, as was argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie and the hon. Member for Broxtowe, we must modify and reconstruct them--as the generation that defeated fascism constructed the UN in 1945. We may not succeed in every instance in alleviating debt burdens, encouraging production and opening up trade, heading off wars and denying famine and disease their terrible harvests of human life, but we shall be seen to be trying--to be caring, as we should care for each other on this fragile planet. If we care, and if sometimes we succeed in our great endeavours, we shall bring hope where now there is no hope--and there can be no greater achievement than that.
Column 3199.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) : This has been an interesting and extensive debate, with many informed contributions. I shall try to answer them all as well as I can. I normally give way quite a few times, but so many hon. Members have spoken tonight that I do not know how often I shall be able to do so.
There has been talk of the need for a White Paper : the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) mentioned it. I shall say more on the subject later, but let me say now that I do not believe that there is another Department of State in Whitehall that is so open with the information that it gives. I should know : I sign all the questions to which right hon. and hon. Members receive answers in this House, and I can only say that the answers are as long as the questions are numerous. I shall give further information to all hon. Members by letter if I do not manage to answer their comments.
The argument advanced by the Labour party was coloured by two characteristics. First, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who opened the debate, and many of his colleagues sought to occupy the moral high ground. Labour Members always want to be up there doing good, but do not demean themselves by suggesting how they will pay for their promises. They think that the accountants and money men will find the money for them to pay for their promises. I must inform them that all those guys occupy a building in Whitehall called Her Majesty's Treasury. The Opposition enjoy the lack of responsibility and the luxury of not being in power. For the sake of our great country, I hope that they continue to enjoy their extravagant fantasies for many years to come from the comfort of the Opposition Benches.
Mr. Worthington : The Minister said that our policies were theoretical. If the Government have been so successful, why has the proportion of aid fallen from 0.51 per cent. to 0.28 per cent., and why has the rate of growth been slower than under any Government since the war ? Why have the Government been unable to match the achievements of the former Labour Government ?
The second characteristic of Opposition Members' contributions, particularly that of the hon. Member for Monklands, West, whom I respect, is that they have picked up the arguments in the papers which the World Development Movement has issued to all of us. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) had the temerity to repeat the information that he found on the first page of the World Development Movement's press release, which said that opinion polls show that everyone in Britain wants more aid expenditure. But paragraph 4 on the second page gives other statistics. It says that 33 per cent. of people wish to continue to give the current proportion of our national wealth as aid and 33 per cent. want to decrease
Column 320the proportion. So two thirds of people think that we should either continue to give the same or give less than in the past.
So I say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central and those who wrote the World Development Movement report that we know what it is all about--lies, damned lies and statistics. It makes no sense at all. In his opening contribution, the hon. Member for Monklands, West gave advance warning of what he was going to say by referring to the arguments of the World Development Movement--the same comments and criticisms--about what we are doing.
The World Development Movement is a lobby. I accept that it has a cause, but a lobby with a cause is a lobby none the less. The hon. Gentleman should not listen so extensively to organisations like the World Development Movement, but should seek information in many of the areas of his concern from the Overseas Development Administration, or, if he prefers, table questions to me, which I shall answer. I shall make a few general comments. Our aid programme is a high-quality, successful programme. That is not simply my opinion, although I am happy to adopt it. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee completed a review of the British aid programme earlier this year. It said :
"The United Kingdom has a highly concessional, well organised bilateral programme based on substantial national expertise and largely oriented towards the poorest developing countries." We have heard an awful lot about how we do not help the poorest developing countries. That is not the view of the independent critics in the OECD.
We make extremely good use of taxpayers' money. Far from being a misuse of funds, the aid programme is effective because it is so well targeted. It is well targeted on where we spend our aid--the poorest countries in Africa and Asia. Eighty per cent. of our bilateral aid is targeted on the poorest countries. It is well targeted on clearly defined objectives, set out clearly in the speech of my noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development at Chatham house last year. Our aim is one which everyone in the House will agree as an ultimate objective--long-term sustainable development. Along with the lead we have taken on debt relief and on pushing for freer trade, that helps stability and contributes to the global economy. That is in Britain's interests and the interests of the countries that receive our aid.
I shall give a snapshot of some of the objectives that we support, including economic liberalisation--sound economic policies in other words-- which encourage investment and give incentives to produce. We promote the productive capacity of developing countries. We improve management skills in developing countries. We encourage thereby more effective public expenditure programmes in those countries. We promote good government--an objective which hon. Members from both sides of the House of course endorse. We promote good government, to improve legitimacy and accountability, and promote the democratic process and respect for human rights. We are increasingly directing and focusing our programme on the direct reduction of poverty. Mr. Robert Hughes rose
Column 321We promote human development, including better education and health and access to family planning services. We help poorer countries tackle environmental problems, which were said by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to be a cause for great concern, with which I agree.
Mr. Robert Hughes rose
We provide speedy and effective humanitarian assistance. All those objectives strike me as extremely good uses of British taxpayers' money.
Mr. Robert Hughes : The Minister has set out a marvellous range of objectives, with which none of us would disagree. The problem is that it is all rhetoric and no delivery. It is no use saying that he promotes good government and stability when he knows perfectly well that in Angola the actions of the British Government are leading to worse government, leading to tremendous humanitarian problems, and indeed, siding with people who do not accept the pluralistic electoral policy that he and his friends supported and indeed brokered.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I am sorry that I gave way. If I had not given way, I would have had more time to develop my speech and to give the detail which supports the assertions that I have just made. I return to the argument of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale that a White Paper was needed. Let me tell the House how we disseminate our information--I say it with some feeling because I am responsible for clearing it before it comes to the House of Commons. My noble Friend the Minister set out our aid strategy clearly in her speech at Chatham house last October--one of about 50 speeches she makes a year about aid. We publish annual departmental reports to Parliament, an annual review of the programme, an annual statistical review of the programme and a range of other booklets about specific aspects. Earlier this month, we launched new strategies on forestry and biodiversity. We are about to do the same on population strategy. [Interruption.] I am answering the right hon. Gentleman's request for a White Paper. It belittles the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) to interrupt in that way. We have done a great deal to improve the flow of information. We have agreed, for instance, that the forthcoming review of the United Kingdom's aid programme by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee should be the first such report to be published in full. It will compare information on the performance of our programmes against our objectives.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who said that we are publishing more information about the aid programme than ever before, in an attempt to make it more transparent and to make a genuine contribution to the debate on development aid issues. I can see no case in those circumstances for a White Paper on aid and related matters.
Mr. Tom Clarke rose
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene once I have commented on what he had to say. I need to make a great deal of progress if I am to get through my speech, and I shall not be able to give way much more.
Column 322The hon. Member for Monklands, West and several other Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), made much of the Trinidad terms. Certainly, the original Trinidad proposals were for a two thirds reduction for countries with a track record of economic reform--but we cannot move unilaterally to that target from 50 per cent. We must do so multilaterally, and we are pressing other creditors to agree to the full Trinidad terms. We must do this in conjunction with others if we are to be effective. As for multilateral debt, both the IMF and the World bank say that full repayment of debt allows them to continue lending even when other lenders withdraw. The World bank argues that cancelling or rescheduling debt could make it more expensive for the bank to raise money on the world's money markets--money with which to help developing countries.
It is therefore not a question of any stubbornness on our part. Our views are based on what the institutions themselves want. It is most ungenerous of Opposition Members to give no credit to the Prime Minister, who initiated that whole process which is doing so much to help the developing world.