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UK Politics

Aid minister Justine Greening to Tory critics: our budget serves British interests

Minister says tackling poverty will eventually benefit the UK through increased trade

Providing aid to Africa is in Britain’s economic and security interests and funding should be kept at current levels, the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, has warned.

Implicitly criticising those within the Conservative party who have attacked the Government for protecting the aid budget, Ms Greening said the funding was a national as well as a moral imperative.

Speaking to The Independent ahead of a G8 summit today on alleviating hunger in the Third World, Ms Greening also hinted that the Government would push to end EU targets on biofuel production.

Britain has signed up to produce 10 per cent of its transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020. But critics have warned that biofuel production has taken millions of acres of land away from food production in Africa,  making it harder to combat the malnutrition that kills one in five children in some part of the continent.

“We want to see those tracts of land that can produce food producing food,” she said. “We will play our role in trying to make sure we get a responsible policy from the EU. A lot of the targets – including on biofuels – were set before the understanding of the broader impacts of those targets were known. I don’t think anybody intended for biofuels to take away land that otherwise would be used to feed some of the poorest people in the world.”

She added: “Tackling extreme poverty is the right thing to do. But it is also a smart thing to do for our country. If we are to ever have the prospect of seeing a world that is less unstable, where there are more markets for us to trade with, it means working with those developing countries to get down that development route faster.

“We can see the impact of Chinese demand on the UK economy. The increase of our exports is significant – but 15 years ago we would have been talking about China in terms of providing aid. So development can work – but we need to take a pragmatic look at what works.”

Ms Greening also pointed out that Britain’s total international aid budget was still a tiny proportion of total development spending. “People can make an argument about how much money we are investing in aid. But for every 1p we spend on aid we spend 6p on defence, 15p on education, 17p on health, 30p on welfare. They key is making sure that we get the most impact from this money we are spending on international development. But it is also having a clear eye on the UK’s national interest as well – whether its stability or making sure we are in the growth markets of the future.”

The G8 conference on hunger today is likely to unveil new strategies for boosting agricultural production in Africa – including harnessing new scientific techniques to produce crops that are less vulnerable to drought.

Paul Polman of Unilever, which will host the summit, said: “It doesn’t take much to help these people get a better life compared to the billions that we are spending somewhere else. We have spent more – and I’m not saying if that is wrong or not – bailing out Greece or Portugal. It is not a trade-off, not an either-or, but just put it in  perspective.”