HC Deb 21 March 1961 vol 637 cc213-8
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government have recently had under review the governmental arrangements for the provision of technical assistance to overseas countries.

Up till now, requests for technical assistance have been dealt with through different administrative channels, depending on whether they come from one of our dependent territories, or from an independent country of the Commonwealth, or from a foreign country. These arrangements have been adequate in the past, but with the growth in the size and importance of our plans for helping overseas countries with trained men and women, special equipment, and so on, closer co-ordination is needed. The Government therefore propose to set up a new Department to be called the Department of Technical Co-operation.

The new Department will be in the charge of a Minister. His rank will be equivalent to that of a Minister of State. My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friends the Commonwealth Secretary and the Colonial Secretary will continue to be responsible for matters of general policy, but within these general limits the new Department will take over responsibility for the provision of technical assistance—other than capital projects—which is at present undertaken by the three overseas Departments. It will be concerned with much of the technical assistance provided with the help of the United Kingdom through international organisations as well as technical assistance given to the recipient countries direct.

The new Department will, as one of its duties, administer the scheme, set out in the White Paper presented to Parliament last October, for the continued employment of overseas officers. It will, however, not be responsible for the transfer, promotion and discipline of members of the Overseas Service in dependent territories; these matters will remain the responsibility of the Colonial Secretary.

I took the opportunity of the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers to inform them of our proposals.

I am confident that the creation of this new Department will enable the United Kingdom to meet more readily and effectively the many requests for men and women as well as for money that come to us from many countries, inside and outside the Commonwealth.

The legislation necessary to authorise the creation of the new Department and the appointment of its Minister will be introduced at an early date.

Mr. Gaitskell

On this side of the House we warmly welcome anything which improves the arrangements for technical and, indeed, other aid to underdeveloped countries. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how the new arrangements will work? I presume that the new Department will have a separate Vote and not simply be included in one or other of the Departments of State to which he referred. Will the Minister be a Member of the House of Commons? Precisely how will the provision of technical aid be separated from capital aid? Are there not frequently occasions when proposals come forward in which both are involved? What exactly will be the relationship of the new Department to the Colonial Development Corporation, which has a great deal of experience in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I feel sure that, when we have the details and the Bill, the House will regard this as a good plan. We shall be able to mobilise our forces more effectively both in collecting the right people, persuading industry to release them, perhaps, or various organisations to make them available, and in sending them to the right places.

The Vote will be separate. The Minister will be a Member of the House of Commons. The question of capital aid will not be for this Department as such. That will remain with the three overseas Departments. The colonial organisation which now exists will continue.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that this decision will in no way diminish the priority which the Commonwealth at present enjoys in the receipt of technical aid?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, it will not diminish it, but we have, of course, requests which we try to meet from foreign countries. We have requests from dependent countries which are still colonial countries, we have requests from Commonwealth countries, especially as they emerge into independence, and we have requests from other countries, foreign countries, some of them old friends of ours, some of them old members of our own Imperial system in the past. We try to meet them all.

What happens now is that a request from the Sudan, for example, will go via the Foreign Office. A request from a Commonwealth country will go via the Commonwealth Office, and so on. In putting it all under a single Minister, we shall, I believe, make it easier to have the priorities right as well as, perhaps, increase the supply.

Mr. Grimond

Will the new Department deal with requests for university and school teachers, and will it have liaison with Commonwealth countries for the purpose of obtaining suitable personnel from them from time to time?

The Prime Minister

Educational assistance through U.N.E.S.C.O. will still be a matter for the Ministry of Education. The work of the British Council in, for example, providing teachers of English will continue. All this, I agree, will have to be co-ordinated, but there will certainly be many requests for educational assistance which will be taken over by the new Department from the overseas Departments.

There are certain fields, particularly in inter-university matters, where it may be preferable to continue to operate through existing non-governmental bodies such as the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas or the Council for Overseas Colleges of Arts, Science and Technology in their respective spheres, and the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth. Nevertheless, I think that the new Department will be able to help them, too, in their work.

Mr. Tilney

Will my right hon. Friend consider within our technical aid programme volunteers, be they civil servants or technicians, from other Commonwealth countries should people wish to volunteer?

The Prime Minister

That is another matter which, no doubt, will be considered later.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sure that the House has noted with interest that the needs of the family will come first, but will the Crown Agents for the Colonies become part of the responsibilities of this new Minister?

The Prime Minister

I am not quite sure how that will develop. Of course, as things move on, their sphere is reduced. We shall have to work out some of these details, and it will take a little time to work them out completely. I would rather not be pressed on that point today.

Mr. C. Osborne

Can my right hon. Friend say about how much per year the new Department will spend?

The Prime Minister

As we all know, this country has made tremendous efforts in great capital schemes since the war. All Administrations have given capital aid. It is a great story. What this proposal concentrates upon is another form of help which is, perhaps, as important, if not more important in some countries. Some countries which are quite well-to-do do not need great capital assistance but they need technicians, engineers, teachers, hospital staff, doctors, and all the rest. It is not a question of money, but rather one of trying to get the people to go, trying to see that they are properly looked after if they come back to posts which they gave up, perhaps, for four-year or five-year contracts, and trying to meet the need as it shows itself in a particular territory.

Mr. H. Wilson

Since the figures published last week show that by far the largest amount of the capital going particularly to Commonwealth countries is private capital going from the City of London, and by no means all of it is going for work of the highest priority for these areas, what responsibility will the new Minister have for regulating or co-ordinating the flow of private capital to these areas and seeing that it follows some system of priorities?

The Prime Minister

I tried to point out that the new Minister will not deal either with capital aid given by Government Departments or with capital aid from private enterprise. He will deal with this form of assistance which we call technical assistance, chiefly providing the actual people, the right people, who are needed for special work.

Mr. Fletcher

Reverting to an earlier answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave, does he think that it would be a good thing if the new Department had a specific responsibility for the present activities of the University Council for Higher Education Overseas, which are in great demand not only in Commonwealth but in extra-Commonwealth territories?

The Prime Minister

I should not like to give a precise answer on that without consulting the chancellors of the universities.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will there be formed something on the lines of the Commonwealth Advisory and Technical Service recommended by the Estimates Committee? Will there be a service which a man or a woman can join which will provide a career for the rest of his or her life, or will it be done on a contract basis?

The Prime Minister

It seems to me that there are probably two points there. There will be some who will belong to the Overseas Service and there will be some serving on contract for a limited period.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the immense importance of providing training facilities here for men and women from these territories, particularly from within the Commonwealth, will the new Minister be concerned with that aspect as well as finding and sending abroad technically trained people of British nationality?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, he will, as I understand. The facilities here are one very important aspect of the matter, but, of course, more and more countries want facilities at home, quite naturally, and, therefore, it may be very important to send out people who can help to operate those facilities if they are created in each country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter now.