Chalker urges Major to protect aid budget

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BARONESS Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, is to appeal to John Major and members of the Cabinet not to agree to Treasury proposals for cuts of up to 15 per cent in Britain's aid to impoverished nations.

She will argue that the Government will be breaking a manifesto commitment and a promise made at the Earth Summit in June if the cuts go ahead. 'She's fighting a desperate rearguard action,' an Overseas Development Administration source said.

Last March, the Conservatives' manifesto promised, for the first time, to work towards the United Nations target of developed nations giving 0.7 per cent of their gross national product to the developing world. At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, ministers reaffirmed their commitment to this target while refusing to be tied to a date. Last year Britain gave 0.32 per cent of GNP.

Justin Forsyth, an Oxfam policy adviser, said yesterday: 'It's scandalous that they are contemplating cuts after making these promises, especially at a time of such need in Africa.' Third World charities are lobbying MPs and asking supporters to write to Mr Major. But there are Tory MPs, and some ministers, who feel that in a tough round of public spending negotiations during a prolonged recession, Third World aid is ripe for cutting.

The aid budget this year is pounds 1.8bn and the Treasury wants cuts of around pounds 200m. About half goes on multilateral aid which Britain gives with other rich countries and is thereby committed to the payments several years in advance. That means the brunt of the the cuts will fall on the bilateral aid that Britain gives direct to poor countries, mostly for long- term projects.

European Community finance ministers are also pressing for reductions in the EC's aid budget, which would mean a real drop in funding next year.