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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, considering that the Fundamental Expenditure Review does not take into account the 0.7 per cent. UN target for aid, is it not

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time for Britain to abandon its commitment to that under present spending arrangements and actually say that they have given up on aid?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, our position on that is unchanged. We have agreed to the UN target but not to a timetable for reaching it. Levels of aid will continue to depend on our economic circumstances and other demands on public funds.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, may I, through the noble Lord, invite the Government to complete their study of the review at an early date? Is the Minister aware that as a result of the recent sequence of reviews of overseas aid the level of disbursement to the specialised agencies of the United Nations has fallen considerably? Is he conscious of the fact that the United Nations Children's Fund, of whose national committee I am chairman, has noticed a considerable decline? Does he share my concern that at the end of the financial year, which is now not very far away, there may show an evident decline in the Government's support for that organisation, to which they have been most generous in the past and which fully meets the standards of efficiency that the Government now require from agencies of the United Nations?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we continue to support agencies as far as possible. However, we have had to take some very tough decisions this year which have resulted in cuts in the spending plans of many government departments.

Baroness Gardner of Parks: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that a considerable amount of aid is now being determined locally in such countries in need? Moreover, in view of the fact that we have had such Answers in the past, can my noble friend confirm that the money spent through the NGOs is providing very good value for money? Can my noble friend also assure the House that they will still be funded wherever that is possible?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to say that we really appreciate the efforts made by the NGOs. We shall do everything that we can to support them.

Lord Molloy: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Cross Benches!

Lord Avebury: My Lords--

Lord Molloy: My Lords, they have had a turn!

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, we are running out of time. Of course, I am always in the hands of the House, but, if both noble Lords were able to ask their questions with expedition, I believe that we might be able to get each of them in before moving on to the next Question.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that British overseas aid is highly respected in Africa, Asia and, indeed, in the United States of America and the

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Commonwealth? Anything that could damage that respect would harm the name of Great Britain. Remarkably, such aid was built up by all governments. I hope that the present Government will recognise that fact and ensure that our reputation is in no way harmed.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the efforts of past governments--and, indeed, those of the present Government--in that respect are certainly very highly valued. We are very well received all around the world as to what we are doing now.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister say how many states, apart from Dominica, have had their aid cut because they were in arrears with debt repayments; and how many states--again, apart from Dominica--have enjoyed a 350 per cent. increase in the aid paid to them this year, consequent upon the repayment of such arrears?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I would need advance notice of such a question. I shall write to the noble Lord on the matter.

British Coal Enterprise: Privatisation

3.2 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to privatise British Coal Enterprise.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the British Coal Corporation has invited competitive proposals for British Coal Enterprise. It expects to have completed the sale of this subsidiary company by the end of March.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does he agree that British Coal Enterprise has an excellent record in the difficult task of generating employment in pit closure areas? Will the noble Viscount also confirm that the all-party Coal Fields Communities' Campaign has complained very strenuously to the Secretary of State about the proposed sale and that the European Commission, which has given BCE £10 million in grants, is also very much opposed to it? Is it not sheer vandalism to destroy such a successful operation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not believe that to be the case. However, I join the noble Lord in his praise for the work that British Coal Enterprise has done. That is indeed the case. Well over 100,000 people have passed through its auspices. But with the winding up of British Coal change is inevitable post-privatisation. We want to see the regeneration work that BCE has undertaken so successfully in the past continue. We believe that this move will be the best way to achieve that aim.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, can the Minister say, first, how many bids have been submitted since British Coal advertised; secondly, whether the economic regeneration of the coal fields is still part of

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the bid criteria; and thirdly, whether the moneys raised from the sale will be ploughed back into the coal field communities?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's first question, I understand that British Coal has prequalified 14 organisations to bid for all of BCE or its individual activities. I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to ensure that the regeneration work that BCE has undertaken so successfully should continue. As regards the issue of the revenues from the sale, I have to tell the noble Lord that, allowing for the repayment or the write-off of BCE's current debts, it is by no means certain what level of proceeds will accrue. However, such proceeds will go to British Coal.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, can my noble friend explain what is behind the idea that this regeneration can only be done by the public sector?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords, I cannot explain that because, as my noble friend knows, that is not the Government's policy. A number of other institutions--private companies and, indeed, organisations in the public sector--undertake such work. It is most important to realise that fact when considering the future for BCE.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, as it appears to be generally agreed that valuable work has been done by British Coal Enterprise and that it is desirable that such work should continue under the new owners, can the Minister say whether there is anything in the conditions of sale which will make that come about? In other words, is there not a risk that, with the new ownership of such businesses, such efforts could be diverted into other activities?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not believe that that is the case. When considering the bids that are put forward, British Coal will be looking most carefully at the sort of undertakings that such bodies will be able to give to continue that work. Within its statutory obligations British Coal is clearly looking for such work to continue. I believe that that is the right way to go about it.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that British Coal Enterprise has been one of the most successful examples of job creation in the coal field areas and that there is no certainty at all that any new company will be as successful in that respect as regards what we have seen recently? Can the Minister also give a better assurance than the one he gave earlier that the money from the sale will be used in the coal field areas? Will he confirm that that money will not just be given to British Coal, but that it will be used in the coal field areas for the benefit of the people living there?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords; I have clearly stated the position on what will happen to the proceeds. The moneys will accrue to British Coal. As I said--and I agree with the noble Lord--BCE has been a great success. However, that now has to be put against the background of post-privatisation and a changing environment for BCE. With the gradual winding-up of

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British Coal, we have to look at the right environment to ensure that such activities are taken forward. We believe that this move will be the best way to achieve that aim.

Foreign Prison-made Goods (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act 1897. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Avebury.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.


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