By Christopher Rails
CAFOD has reacted sharply to a speech by the Minister for Overseas Aid, Mr Neil Marten, last week, on Government commitment to the Third World.
Mr Marten was addressing a seminar on the Brandt Report, to the Church of England's General Synod Committee. He departed from the text of his speech to criticise CA FOD, Oxfam and Christian Aid for getting their facts wrong regarding cuts in the level of overseas aid expenditure, when they attended a meeting this month with Lord Carrington, Mr Marten, and several senior civil servants.
He said there had been "many
mistakes of fact" in their case, and that such inaccuracies did them no credit. Furthermore, they had spread their inaccurate information to the press.
Mr Brian Davies of CAFOD said the minister had been "nitpicking". Oxfam had produced a press release in which they had stated there was to he a further reduction of 14 per cent in aid to overseas, as against four per cent in other areas. The ministry pointed out that Oxfam should have said an average of four per cent.
Mr Davies said the argument was an attempt by the ministry to shield itself against general criticism of cuts in its aid programme. He described much or the Government's case for cuts as "utter rubbish". Lord Carrington and Mr Marten could apparently see no incompatability between pursuing commercial and political advantages in their dealings with the Third World, and in giving money to the poorest nations.
Mr John Forsyth of Oxfam said the Government had "really tried to terrorise" the deputation from the three agencies. They had expected to meet Lord Carrington, but found themselves confronted with the two ministers and several high-ranking civil servants, who tried to intimidate them.
Mr Davies also described Mr Marten's speech at the Synod as "laughable". Mr Marten indeed caused laughter when he said: "The Government stands by its commitment to work towards 0.7 per cent of the gross national product for its official aid, though without setting a target date." Mr Davies commented that Mr Marten seemed unable, in question time afterwards, to distinguish between 0.7 and 0.07 per cent.
The session was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, who was also outspokenly critical about Britain's commitment to overseas aid.
• The Government this week announced a further cut of £12 million (li per cent) in the overseas aid budget for 1981-2.