HC Deb 28 February 1956 vol 549 cc1144-54

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. E. Wakefield.]

9.59 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

In a way, it is appropriate that after we have heard what may be presumed to have been the winding-up speech for the Government on the first day of the defence debate, when we have been discussing expenditure of some £1,500 million on defence—

Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)

The hon. Gentleman may not have been present at the beginning of my speech, but I made it clear that it was a winding-up speech for myself.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am glad to hear that correction.

We have been discussing the expenditure of £1,500 million on defence, and I now wish to raise the question of one form of expenditure for the defence of children in the world as a whole for which the Government are able to find £200,000 a year. Although it is not altogether fair to compare one straight against the other, yet I think it fairly raises in all our minds the question whether this kind of fantastic disproportion is one that we ought to allow to continue without at least pressing the Government for a proper explanation why—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. E. Wakefield.]

Mr. Blenkinsop

—it is impossible to make a larger contribution for one of the most urgent of all needs in the world today.

I think we would all agree that when we talk about these great problems of world affairs, it is not only the urgent need of military defence that we must consider but also the urgent problems of the welfare of the peoples of the world themselves, and perhaps none more urgently than the welfare of the children; for unless we can be seen to be making a full contribution in this work, it is surely a little doubtful whether other countries will view our massive contribution for military defence in quite the same light as we might see it in this country.

I make no apology for raising this question again tonight. It was raised last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) and on that occasion it was the Joint Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who is to reply this evening, who said that he hoped it might be possible—I grant that he made no commitment—to increase the contribution in a future year if financial circumstances allowed. No doubt the hon Gentleman now has the unhappy responsibility of saying that on this occasion the financial possibilities do not allow of that, in spite of the contrast I have drawn between the expenditure we have just been discussing and the size of the expenditure that we are talking about now.

When, together with certain other of my hon. Friends, I put a Question on this matter in the House only ten days or a fortnight ago, we were told that there had been representations, as I believe is true. Wide sections of opinion in the country which had made representations on the matter felt deeply, as I said at the time. There was a sense of shame at the small contribution—the almost pitifully small contribution—that we are making to this example of international help. We are making a contribution of £200,000 a year, a contribution which has not been increased for a considerable time.

Obviously, the value of the contribution has fallen. The cost of goods to be purchased in this country and elsewhere has risen and, therefore, we can reasonably say that there has been a fall in the real value of our contributions. So far as any attempt has been made to express the contribution as a proportion of the funds available to the Children's Fund, that proportion has fallen, too. It means that we are making a contribution of no more than 3 per cent. of the total budget of the International Children's Fund, as compared with the contributions that we make to the regular budgets of the United Nations Agencies of about 11 per cent. and the varying percentages that we make in our contributions to other international bodies.

I am glad to say that we make a larger contribution, to, for example, the Technical Assistance Board. We were delighted that it was possible to increase that contribution a year ago, although we would have liked a further increase again this year. We are making a considerably larger percentage contribution to the Technical Assistance Board than to the Children's Fund. This certainly seems to be the Cinderella of all the Agencies to which we contribute.

I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting for a moment that this is the only way in which contributions are made. We know that there are many others, but this is one of the few ways in which we can, internationally, make a contribution which is supported by very much larger contributions from other countries all over the world, and not least from countries whose needs are greatest. Perhaps it is the most shaming thing of all that the underdeveloped countries, whose needs are clearly greatest, are the countries which, in many cases, have been increasing their own contributions to this Fund, quite apart, of course, from the large efforts which they have made towards any schemes operating in their own lands.

I want to emphasise what I think is a slightly fresh point. We know that the money contributed to the Fund goes through that Fund to the World Health Organisation, as well as to other Agencies of the United Nations. The Children's Fund acts as a sort of supply agency. Indeed, there are many congratulatory messages in the Government's own pamphlet which they issued a year ago praising the Children's Fund for all the work it is doing. It acts as a supply agency, especially for the World Health Organisation, about whose activities I know a good deal.

It so happens that at present the World Health Organisation is attempting to embark upon a major international campaign to get rid of malaria—not merely to control it, which has been the case up to now, but actually to eradicate it. It is of the utmost urgency that this job should be effectively tackled, because there is a very great fear indeed that, if we were to continue merely with the control schemes which have been operating for some years now, all that would happen would be that the infecting mosquitoes would become immune to the insecticides used today, and we might gradually begin to fall away in the effectiveness of our work. The only way of counteracting this while we have the time is to embark upon an even larger campaign, not merely to control this disease, but actually to wipe it out at its source, which experts believe to be a fully practicable thing to do within a period of from five to ten years.

I have with me here some of the detailed schemes on which the Children's Fund, together with the World Health Organisation, is working all over the world in order to carry out this exciting and vastly important project. The speed with which it can be done depends upon the resources that are made available, both directly to the World Health Organisation and indirectly to it through the Children's Fund.

I have put Questions to the Government asking whether they are prepared to make a contribution direct for this malaria eradication campaign, in addition to whatever contribution the Government make to the World Health Organisation. I am told that they are not prepared to make any contribution, although contributions are coming in from the Far East, from such countries as Cambodia and Viet-Nam. Even though contributions have come from Germany and elsewhere direct to this malaria eradication scheme, none is to come from the Government. If they cannot make a direct contribution, cannot we offer them the opportunity of making one indirectly, by increasing their very small contribution to the Fund in the knowledge that a very large amount of this money will be used for the purpose which I have mentioned? I have the figures for the programmes ahead, which show that about half the money of the Fund will be used for this malaria eradication scheme in the coming year.

I therefore appeal to the Minister to consider the possibility of an increase, upon the added ground of the urgent need of this campaign. I urge the importance of this international work because, unlike contributions which we may make direct to our own Colonies under the Colonial Development and Welfare Scheme, and the sterling releases which we make to the Colombo Plan countries, this is a scheme where nearly all the countries in the world are working together upon a joint plan, and pooling their resources. Everything we contribute towards this scheme encourages a greater contribution from other countries, especially the United States, which has been willing to make a very large contribution up to now, on the understanding that other countries will take a fair proportion of responsibility for this work.

It is said—and I think it can be proved to be true—that the Fund is spending far more in this country—in purchases of supplies, payment of fees, and so on—than we are contributing to it. That is not an overwhelming argument, but it creates the feeling that we are taking advantage of the scheme, and are not giving it anything like the support that we should do. It is also true that every major country which is being assisted by the Fund is itself putting up the larger proportion of the money required. This is not a case where aid is flowing entirely to countries which are merely sitting back to receive it; it is an essential part of all the schemes brought forward under the Fund that the country to be helped makes the major contribution.

Although I appreciate the difficulties with which the hon. Gentleman has to deal, I do not suggest that he is being tried on this occasion. I only wish it were possible to address the Department which I feel to be more responsible, in other words, the Treasury, which no doubt decides these matters no matter what the Minister himself may feel about them. I suggest that we all ought to feel a sense of shame at the fact that our contribution, of all contributions, is miserably low. There can be no possible Treasury or other excuse for maintaining the contribution at this fantastically low level. Secondly, there is the special reason which I have already mentioned, in connection with the malaria eradication scheme. In this year we should attempt to increase our contribution, in order to try to ensure that this exciting new project goes forward as it should.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I intervene in the debate very shortly, to show that the cause for which the hon. Member for Newcastle - upon - Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) has pleaded is supported by hon. Members on this side of the House. I put forward only two additional reasons for supporting the Fund. The first is that it is an expanding programme, and that when we first joined it we did so with the intention, in common with all the other nations, of seeing its activities increase year by year. Up till now they have been doing so, and it is only natural that as its experience has widened and its responsibilities grown, the Fund should be making demands upon contributory nations for annual increases in its budget. It is making those demands today and we have not been able to satisfy them with our contribution.

The second reason is that U.N.I.C.E.F. is the basis of the other Specialised Agencies. When our families are healthy and the children are brought up without infantile diseases, the nation will rise from the poverty which afflicts the world into a degree of wellbeing, education, good health, and preparedness to work. If they are ill and if the mothers are sick, we cannot count upon the nation. All the money which we pour into the development of backward areas from other agencies is thrown away because the best use cannot be made of it.

I know there is a danger that when we make this plea it will be thought we are doing so because any fund associated with children has obvious emotional associations. There will he a tendency to dismiss it as prompted by sentimental motives. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State to make this increase—next year, if it is not possible now—as a deliberate act of policy. It is up to us to give a lead to other nations, apart from the Americans, who have been extremely generous in this regard. Let us make a small sacrifice in our standard of living—though who could say that another £500,000 would have any effect upon our standard of living? Private contributions to U.N.I.C.E.F. last year showed that there is tremendous willingness in this country to make a sacrifice on behalf of the children of the world. Whatever my hon. Friend is able to promise us tonight will have the commendation of every Englishman.

10.18 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Newcastle - upon - Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), who raised this subject, for the constructive and moderate way in which he did so, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) for his contribution on the same lines. It seems only yesterday that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) and I were facing each other on exactly the same subject.

At the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech he referred to the disproportion between the money spent on defence and the money we are able to find for U.N.I.C.E.F. I think he would agree that, to say the least, the adequate defence of the free world in peace is not without its impact on the safety and wellbeing of the children. I am not saying that in mitigation of the Government's policy on U.N.I.C.E.F. but simply because the hon. Gentleman raised the point.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The Joint Under-Secretary will agree that it is important, in the process, to keep the children alive.

Lord John Hope

Yes, but I was not under the impression that the hon. Gentleman carried his attack to the length of saying that because of our contribution to U.N.I.C.E.F. children were dying who, otherwise, would have lived. I do not think he went quite so far as that, which would not be right or true.

Just over a year ago the House was promised, as the hon. Gentleman said, that we would carefully examine the possibility of increasing our contribution in 1956 in the light of the available financial resources of this country and of our many international commitments. Her Majesty's Government gave the most careful consideration to the possibility of proposing an increase but were obliged to decide, with much regret, that this was still not yet possible in the circumstances.

We realise fully the strong public interest in the humanitarian work of the Fund and indeed we share it to the full. We took that fully into account. The financial circumstances were, however, overriding on this occasion. I say that to the House and to the hon. Gentleman, not with a sense of shame, which was the expression that he conjured up, but certainly with a sense of sorrow and sincere disappointment.

I wonder whether I might go a little wider than the hon. Gentleman did, largely for the benefit of so many people outside this House who feel deeply about this subject, who are under some illusion, in perfectly good faith, and who make what are, I think, frequently unfair and unhelpful comparisons. That has been done in the House before now, but it was not done in any way by the hon. Gentleman tonight.

What one appeals for is that the picture should be looked at as a whole. Let me explain what I mean. Much is made in some quarters, for instance, of the apparent discrepancy between what our Colonies received from U.N.I.C.E.F. and the size of our contribution. Our Colonies do receive substantial help from the Fund, and we are very grateful for it, but we do not agree that we are under any obligation to contribute exactly to the same extent as our Colonies benefit.

The purpose of U.N.I.C.E.F. is to succour children wherever they are in need. Moreover, in the claim that our Colonies get twice as much out of the Fund as we put into it—I have seen it described like that—there lies a confusion between the allocations by the U.N.I.C.E.F. Executive Board for projects in our Colonies and actual expenditure.

From its inception in December, 1946, to 31st December, 1954, U.N.I.C.E.F. allocated £969,214 to British non-self governing territories but the actual expenditure was £606,376. During that period, the direct contributions made by Her Majesty's Government and certain colonial Governments totalled £595,714. The substantial difference between what U.N.I.C.E.F. allocated and what it actually spent is to a large extent accounted for by the fact that allocations are mainly for projects lasting more than one year and sometimes for two, three or even four years.

The work of U.N.I.C.E.F. in our Colonies is, of course, complementary to what is being done in the humanitarian and social field on a larger scale by our colonial Administrations and through the Colonial Development and Welfare Programme. Under the colonial development and welfare Vote, £18 million will be spent in the financial year 1955–56, and a substantial proportion of that sum will be spent on humanitarian and social work directly or indirectly benefiting mothers and children.

Some of our critics are under the impression that U.N.I.C.E.F. is the only organisation caring for mothers and children and fighting disease in our Colonial Territories. That is not so. U.N.I.C.E.F. is not the chosen instrument for carrying out health policy in any of our Colonial Territories, even in its own restricted fields. For example, out of a total provision on health services in Nigeria of £5 million, the Nigerian Government plan to provide £345,620 in the financial year 1955–56 for combating tuberculosis, malaria and sleeping sickness.

Mr. Blenkinsop

As the Minister has mentioned Nigeria, does he realise that, in fact, there are very valuable World Health Organisation and Children's Fund schemes in Nigeria—in co-operation, of course, with the local Government—to fight malaria and leprosy, which are typical of the sort of work going on?

Lord John Hope

I am aware of that, but I am showing what Nigeria has given as compared with what external agencies are giving, because that is relevant.

In the light of these and other similar facts, I think that the Government—and, indeed, the Governments of the Colonial Territories—can fairly claim that their record in the humanitarian and social fields in our Colonies is good. It is true that on a per capita basis we stand low in the list of contributing countries, but it must be remembered that we have many other interests, apart from those of the Colonies, which are not shared to the same extent—in some cases, not shared at all—by those other countries which on a per capita basis contribute more generously to U.N.I.C.E.F. than we do. That is why I said earlier that the picture had to be seen as a whole.

There is not time for me to go through other examples, such as the Colombo Plan, to which we contribute millions of pounds. They are well known, but not always remembered—

Mr. Blenkinsop

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, apart from a very small contribution, the Colombo Plan is based on the sterling balances which the areas themselves have built up in London?

Lord John Hope

It is certainly being contributed to by the taxpayers of this country, however the hon. Gentleman may look at it, and it is perfectly fair to bring that Plan and other similar schemes into the argument. It can truthfully be said that all the schemes directly or indirectly benefit mothers and children.

As I said at the beginning, it was with great regret and with sadness that the Government had to announce that they cannot for the moment increase their contribution. Those are not empty words, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to recognise. The moment we see the way clear to doing more, we shall do more. What I have the right to ask at the moment—and these words, I hope, will go further afield than this House—is that, however strongly people may feel, however deeply they may be moved by our expressed inability to contribute more to this Fund, they will bear in mind that there are other causes which go to the same worth-while and noble ends that this does, for which we find a great deal more money than do others that do not contribute at all.

I have the right to ask that they will pause to consider that there is a whole story to be told and not just one part of it which, taken alone and in isolation, they may find unattractive and forbidding so far as their support to this country or to its Government is concerned. We shall act in good faith, we shall help when we can—and we shall help when we can without stint—but we must be realists and we must be guided by facts and not by dreams.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.

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