in the first session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of




ELEVENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98 House of Lords

1 Jun 1998 : Column 1

Monday, 1st June 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Overseas Aid

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made towards the objective of untying aid in overseas development co-operation programmes.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we strongly support multilateral untying of aid. Some progress is being made. There is now agreement in the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, which was endorsed by the G8, that we should work towards a recommendation on untying aid to the least developed countries. The intention is to propose a text to the 1999 high level meeting of the Development Assistance Committee.

Lord Judd: My Lords, will my noble friend accept that we find that reply extremely encouraging? Has he seen the analysis which indicates that if all OECD donors were to untie their aid, that would amount to an increase in value of the total aid programme of some £2.5 billion? Is the Minister aware that there are good indications that if there were a general untying of aid there could be considerable benefits for the British economy and British jobs? Can we perhaps move ahead practically by starting with binding reciprocal agreements with like-minded governments--for example, the Netherlands--to ensure that at least we can start the process of phasing out mixed credits to follow up the move that has already been made on the aid-and-trade provision?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as my noble friend indicates, the British Government have made some

1 Jun 1998 : Column 2

progress in ending the trade-for-aid arrangements. We are seeking as wide agreement as possible through the G8 and our partners in that group. I have seen figures indicating the benefit that would accrue were we to untie substantial amounts of aid. The UK has made more progress in that respect than many other countries. We are below the average for the OECD in terms of tied aid. We hope to make progress in that forum by the time of the 1999 high level meeting.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I welcome the robust defence of the Secretary of State and of the noble Lord of the multilateral approach to untying aid and its repetition in the international development White Paper. This, alongside the eventual elimination of export subsidies, should have been one of the main items on the agenda of the group of industrialised nations when it met in Birmingham this May. I am sorry that greater progress was not possible. Can the Minister say when the Secretary of State will raise these matters with her German and Japanese counterparts, and whether we can expect a statement on tied aid to be included as part of Britain's EU presidency?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, these matters are being pursued from time to time in the Development Council of the EU. However, the main forum for reaching agreement is the OECD, which includes the Americans, the Japanese, the Canadians and so forth. As my main Answer indicated, it will be at the high level meeting next year that we expect the most progress to be made rather than through the EU, although we are attempting to get maximum agreement among our EU partners in this respect.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in the light of my noble friend's answers, does he agree that if we are to be true to the commitment which the Secretary of State repeatedly emphasised--that our aid programme must be concentrated on the elimination of poverty--and if we accept that through having tied aid we may be building inconsistencies into the economies of

1 Jun 1998 : Column 3

developing countries which are compelled to purchase other than on sound market criteria, we should avoid waiting until everyone has agreed? As I asked in my earlier supplementary question, will he consider the possibility of moving ahead, with reciprocal agreements, with those governments who are prepared to do so?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that may be an option which we can explore. However, our main effort at the moment is to try to reach agreement at the OECD. The total bilateral aid programme of the United Kingdom now is only 14 per cent., which is substantially ahead of most of the other countries that we hope to persuade to go down the same road. However, we see possibilities of extending the agreement, which has already been made in principle at the G8, to further countries and achieving a major step forward over the next 12 months in that respect.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to clarify the Secretary of State's attitude to emergency humanitarian aid? Unfortunate publicity was given to a recent speech which suggested that reaction to a public response to an emergency such as that in the Sudan was not the right approach. Does the Minister agree that for the people and the aid agencies concerned it was an emergency which had to be responded to and which could not to be caught up in longer-term aid planning?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, to some extent the remarks made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and the response to them, were misrepresented in the press. The department has always supported the efforts made by NGOs in bringing urgently needed humanitarian aid to where it is required. Last week we announced a doubling of our assistance to NGOs working in southern Sudan, so our commitment is clear. The point that the Secretary of State was making was that television seems to show only negative pictures of the developing countries and, distressing though they may be, we ought to focus more on the positive aspects of development aid and the progress that is being made in terms of improving the lot of the people in developing countries, outside the crisis areas, as a result of government aid, private investment and NGOs. Notwithstanding that, we support the humanitarian appeals and should like others to support them also.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House some indication of whether, after due consideration of the G8 proposals, we can expect any detailed proposals from the European Commission?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards the untying of aid, as my earlier answers indicated, we see the main forum for that as the OECD, which involves a wider range of donor countries. The whole question of the EU's development programme is shortly to be considered in the context of the new Lome

1 Jun 1998 : Column 4

arrangements. Those negotiations will start shortly and there will be announcements on the progress that is made in the coming months.

Power Station Fuel: Short Rotation Coppice

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to promote short rotation coppice as a fuel for power stations.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, short rotation coppice (SRC) is one of the country's key potential sources of renewable energy. Ten contracts have already been awarded under the non-fossil fuel obligation (NFFO) arrangements for renewables to generate power from SRC and forestry residues for a period of 15 years.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is he aware that the general target of achieving 3 per cent. of our total energy requirement from renewables by 2010 is a very tough target to meet? Is the noble Lord also aware that the cost of establishing coppice is very high, at about £500 per acre, and that that is not attractive to farmers who might be attracted instead towards the softer option of set-aside? Is the Minister aware of what happens in Sweden, where there is a generous subsidy, resulting in the cost coming down to about £200 per acre and the planted area being a lot greater? Should we not do as the Swedes do?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps I may allude generally to the measures which are being taken to give support to the use of traditional coppice in response to the points so reasonably made by the noble Viscount. Generators proposing to use existing coppice have been eligible to bid in the NFFO competitions for biomass (in NFFO 3 and 4) which have been held so far. The Woodland Grant Scheme offers both annual management grants for coppiced woodlands and a one-off woodland improvement grant to bring neglected woodlands back into management as coppiced woodlands. The Forestry Commission also promotes training courses in traditional coppicing skills and supports the publication of the sales magazine, Woodlots, which gives owners the opportunity to offer coppiced timber to potential buyers. In addition, the Woodland Grant Scheme is being reviewed by the umbrella organisation, British Biogen, which is hoping to make an announcement sometime in the summer. So, some considerable support is already being given, although not along the lines suggested by the noble Viscount in relation to Sweden.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page