HC Deb 09 March 1961 vol 636 cc679-82
40. Mrs. Castle

asked the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will now set up and finance a peace corps of young men and women from the United Kingdom willing to work without pay in the under-developed countries, on the lines proposed by President Kennedy last week for the United States of America.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply.

Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate the value of giving young people opportunities for constructive and useful service overseas. But they consider that such opportunities can best be provided over most of the field by voluntary bodies. Her Majesty's Government have assisted these bodies in the past and are always prepared to consider further assistance in the future.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Leader of the House aware that the efforts of these voluntary bodies, excellent though they are, are gravely hampered by lack of financial support from the Government? Voluntary Service Overseas, which merely gets £9,000 grant from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. is sending only 120 students abroad this year. Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider following President Kennedy's model of centring responsibility for this inside the Department of State, even though bringing the voluntary organisations into co-operation, thus enabling the sending overseas of a far larger number of young persons specially trained for this work?

Mr. Butler

The Government fully realise the importance of this subject. Indeed, we are in process of studying President Kennedy's initiative which must be taken as being in the very early stages but, nevertheless, we admire it. The hon. Lady referred to Voluntary Service Overseas. The amount of the grant was actually £11,000. I agree that is not a very large sum, but there is the British Council's school leavers' scheme which we are also supporting financially. My original Answer said that the Government were willing to consider further assistance, and I shall be only too glad to receive constructive suggestions on this question to which we attach great importance.

Mr. Gaitskell

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that President Kennedy's proposals have caught the imagination of a very large number of people of the United States and that, although we all welcome and respect the efforts made by voluntary organisations here in this field, they are still, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) pointed out, on a very small scale? Would not the Government think again about this matter with a view to taking the initiative themselves, building, if necessary, on the work of the voluntary organisations?

Mr. Butler

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman said what he did in the latter part of his supplementary question, because I think that it is wise to remember that the voluntary organisations have attached special importance to sending the right people for the right jobs overseas, and that they have done very well. I will certainly discuss any matter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my other colleagues particularly concerned, but I hope that the House will for the moment accept this as the only reply that I can give.

Mr. Teeling

In view of the tremendous reception given recently by the Young Conservative movement to the Colonial Secretary, will my right hon. Friend make a point of seeing that a large number of these people should be members of the Young Conservatives?

Mr. Butler

While we must stoutly rely on the voluntary system, we must not import any element of politics into this scheme. It would be extremely sad if any one section were exported abroad.

Mrs. White

On 26th January my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) and myself warned the Prime Minister that President Kennedy was likely to get in first on this very matter. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is probably not the last unflattering comparison that may be made between the vigorous and youthful leadership given on the other side of the Atlantic and the rather effete gamesmanship that we have on this side?

Mr. Butler

I was aware that the hon. Lady might intervene and I have her original supplementary question with me here. I do not think that it is a good thing for our country to run down the efforts which we are making through our classic voluntary organisations and compare them with something which is only in its infancy, though I have already expressed by own admiration of it. I suggest that we see how it develops and take the constructive advice not only of young people but of sager people and try to improve upon our own experience.

Sir J. Duncan

If my right hon. Friend chooses Lancaster House as the headquarters of this organisation, will he change its name, in view of recent Press photographs, to the "Elephant and Castle"?

Mr. Gaitskell

If we are to be personal in this matter, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that among the Young Conservatives who are to be recruited into this possible organisation there will be no members of the Cecil family?

Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman, however, whether he would not agree that if this country is to play its part, as I think we would all wish it to do, in an imaginative project of this kind, a great deal more in the way of both initiative and finance from the Government will be necessary?

Mr. Butler

I have already said that I will discuss the suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members with my right hon. Friends who are principally concerned.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Leader of the House consider publishing details of the assistance to voluntary societies which is already available, particularly in travel grants? Secondly, have the Government considered the need for a more permanent technical service to be available for working in the under-developed countries of the world?

Mr. Butler

On the question of technical assistance, a White Paper on the whole extent of Government technical assistance to overseas countries has been prepared, and it should be published shortly. I should require notice of the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.