HC Deb 11 February 1964 vol 689 cc262-82

There shall be laid before Parliament an annual report together with accounts, of expenditure incurred under this Act.—[Mr. Chapman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Chapman

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The complaint of Members on this side of the Committee, as it was during the Second Reading debate, is that the Government are treating this Measure as a purely technical Bill. The Economic Secretary refuses to discuss the wider issues of policy involved in the I.D.A., and more or less hints that the points that we wish to raise should be preserved for another occasion.

The purpose of the new Clause is to try to insist that we should have an opportunity annually to debate what will probably be a White Paper, or some similar document, which will explain the extent to which the I.D.A. has drawn on the funds made available under the Bill, and to try to explain to the House and to the country the way in which the money provided has been used by the I.D.A.

When I looked to see what documents were available to us, I was astonished at what I discovered. First, under the Ruling made by Mr. Speaker in 1961, the Treasury has placed in the Vote Office the documents which it thinks are relevant to this debate. Apart from the resolution referred to in Clause 1, all that we have had available in the Vote Office are the Articles of Agreement of the I.D.A. dated 1960, another document dated 26th January, 1960, and the I.D.A. Act of 1960. We are supposed to be able to discuss the work of the I.D.A. after studying those three documents.

When I made inquiries about the possibility of seeing the I.D.A.'s annual report and the document of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, I found that they were not stocked by the Stationery Office, and were therefore not available to hon. Members. It is deplorable that in the Library of this House there is only one copy of the I.D.A.'s annual report. If someone had borrowed that copy, I would not have been able to see it before the commencement of this debate, and on the basis of that one document, which we are able to see thanks to the perspicacity of the Librarian, and not due to any efforts by the Government, we are voting over £30 million to be spent in the next three years, with no provision for a report back in the interval, by way of documents published by the I.D.A. or by the Government, to explain how the money is being used. I repeat that the main purpose of the new Clause is to ensure that a report will be published annually about the use being made of the funds provided under the Bill.

I suppose that one answer which the hon. Gentleman can give is that, after all, in September last year the Government published the White Paper, Cmnd. 2147, entitled "Aid to Developing Countries". But if that is really the hon. Gentleman's answer, perhaps I might refer him merely to the first sentence of that White Paper which says: It is now more than three years since a White Paper giving a comprehensive account of our economic aid to developing countries was published. The present state of affairs is deplorable and I cannot emphasise too strongly what I feel about it. We are pouring out about £100 million to £150 million of economic aid of one kind or another and we have no document, except an occasional one thought up by the Treasury once in three years, no international document, no annual report, and no White Paper to show how the money is being spent. It is astonishing that this state of affairs has been reached without steps being taken to keep Parliament and the country properly informed.

I repeat that the purpose of the new Clause is to try to remedy that state of affairs; to try to provide that next year we shall have a report on the £10 million, or £12 million, or whatever it is, that is drawn by the International Development Association, together with at least a summary of what that body has been doing with our money, with taxpayers' money, with British money, in that period. When that document is published, we shall have a chance to ask Questions about it in the House and to prevent the hon. Gentleman from coming forward at some future date and saying, "All that the Government have for the House is another technical Bill. I cannot discuss policy subjects. I do not know anything. I have not been briefed. The matter is not dealt with by my Department, and in any event we do not have a Department to deal with this subject". That is the sort of tale that we have had throughout this debate.

I hope that my new Clause will shake up somebody on this issue, and that in future we shall get documents by which Parliament can be kept reasonably informed, and the country can be made aware of what is happening to the money that is raised from the taxpayer.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has moved the new Clause, and I support it. As my hon. Friend said, it is important that people in this country should know what responsibility the House has accepted on their behalf, and how we are fulfilling our task in helping the newly developing countries.

There is an immense amount of public interest in this subject. The development of Oxfam, War on Want, and similar organisations in the last few years is one small indication of this tremendous interest in the subject. Only the other day I heard that a school in my constituency, with only 400 students, had contributed more than £400 to the War on Want funds, an indication of the tremendous interest taken in this subject by schoolchildren.

I believe that people would like to know how we are playing our part in these international organisations, and if this report is presented to the House it will give us an opportunity of questioning informed Ministers rather than those holding a mere technical brief about the working of these organisations. Judged from the Bill that we are discussing, which will see us through to November, 1967, it will be about three or four years before this House has another opportunity to debate the work of the I.D.A That is too long to wait in this development decade. I hope that when the Economic Secretary replies to the debate the Committee will hear that he is prepared to accept this very reasonable and well-argued new Clause.

6.0 p.m.

I make a further suggestion, that the Economic Secretary should consider the setting-up of an advisory committee to assist him and his colleagues in the work of presenting a policy case to the I.D.A. and co-ordinating all the points which have been raised this afternoon, as well as many others which are bound to be raised by Commonwealth countries and dependencies. We have already established an advisory committee on co-operative development, of which my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) is a member. Can we match that committee with another which would advise on the International Development Association and other agencies and the part the United Kingdom is playing in them? Such a committee would assist the Minister responsible for preparing the annual report which would be presented as suggested by this new Clause. I support the new Clause and I hope that the Economic secretary will on this occasion see fit to accept it.

Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I often wonder whether hon. Members who put forward Amendments really understand the purpose of what they put forward. This new Clause is simply an amendment to this Bill. All it asks us to do is to ensure that an annual report, together with accounts, of expenditure incurred under the Act should be Provided. This country and this Government employ huge sums of money far in excess of those called for by this Bill. I remember the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in the last Parliament, and on previous occasions, calling for the expenditure by this country of 1 per cent. of the gross national product to help emerging countries. We are doing much more than that, but what we shall spend under this Bill is very much less than 1 per cent. of the gross national product.

We spend far more in other ways in helping these countries than is proposed by the Bill. We should recognise that fact. As a nation, we spend far more in helping emerging countries than does any other country in the world. It does us no good to denigrate what we in this country are doing. We are doing far more than any other country at this time. If hon. Members opposite were sitting on this side of the House they would not be able to do any more to help these countries than we as a Conservative Government and party are doing.

Simply to publish an annual report about what we are doing would not help anyone. What the country wants to know is can we do more? Are we doing more, or are we doing less than we can do? [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) does not agree with me, but what his Friends are seeking to do by this new Clause is to create the impression that the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government are not doing enough and that if a report were presented year by year the country would see how badly we are doing. What we are doing is far more than is being done by other countries.

Mr. Stonehouse


Mr. Cooper

I am sorry; I cannot give way. Hon. Members opposite are now making what one might call a deathbed repentance about this issue. I raised this issue in an Adjournment debate before the Whitsun Recess five years ago. I raised the question of what we were to spend, how we could spend it and what the country could do. I do not recall that at that time any hon. or right hon. Member opposite supported me. I tried to show that the country was doing a very great deal and that we as a nation could not invest in a deficit. No matter how much we present accounts to show what we are doing, we cannot do more than the country is capable of doing as a result of its trading position. If we as a nation are earning a surplus in our trading account we can support a much bigger—

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he should come rather more closely to this new Clause, which particularly asks for an annual report to be laid before Parliament. He should not go into a more general debate.

Mr. Cooper

I should be the last to disagree with you, Sir Robert, in your Ruling on this matter, but one has to look a little beyond the terms of the Motion before the Committee at this time. For all the fine phrases which have come from the Opposition tonight, which are simply designed to indicate to the country what we are doing, the purpose of this new Clause is to show to the country that we are not doing so much as hon. Members opposite would like us to do. That is the sole purpose of the new Clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Whatever they may say, all these fine words, comments of "nonsense" and head shaking, all they are trying to do is denigrate the efforts of the Conservative Government in helping emerging nations. I am seeking to show that they could not do better because, unless our trading position is good—

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he is getting wide of the new Clause. I must ask him to come back to the question of whether a report should be laid before Parliament.

Mr. Cooper

The new Clause says: There shall be laid before Parliament an annual report, together with accounts, of expenditure incurred under this Act. All I suggest is that there are motives other than those which appear on the face of the matter.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

But what is on the Order Paper?

Mr. Cooper

There are many things on the Order Paper of this House which are not necessarily in the minds of hon. Members who propose them. I am suggesting that what is being proposed is something derogatory to the record of this Government. This new Clause ought not to be accepted. The House and the country are doing as much as possible within the limit of resources available.

Mr. Oram

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) was obviously frustrated by your Ruling, Sir Robert. He was developing a very interesting speech which I think would have been very much in order had he been delivering it on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". It is a pity that, quite rightly, you had to rule him out of order.

I warmly support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and his new Clause asking for the provision of an annual report of expenditure under the I.D.A. I only wish that my hon. Friend had been able to incorporate in the wording of the Clause the requirement that the report, having been laid, should be fully debated. Clearly this cannot be provided for in the Clause, but it is highly desirable that we should have in future a report and that there should be an annual debate upon it.

For some years I have been trying to take a special interest in the problems of developing countries. I have been astonished at the lack of opportunity that there is in the normal course of the business of the House of Commons to debate specifically questions of aid to developing countries. Opportunities arise such as in last Thursday's debate on Commonwealth trade, when in a sentence or two one can inject a few ideas. Opportunities for a special debate on the problems of developing countries and what this and other industrial countries can do about them are remarkably few in the House of Commons. Anything which can be done to overcome this difficulty should be warmly welcomed.

Not long ago we managed to squeeze in a debate lasting an hour or two on the Freedom from Hunger campaign. This occurred in part of the debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill. This only reinforce my plea that annually there should be, perhaps on a report such as that suggested by my hon. Friend, a straightforward debate on the whole question of aid to developing countries. In a few weeks' time we shall have our annual debate on defence. Always at this time of year a Defence White Paper is laid and, after a great deal of preparation and publicity, we have a debate on defence which usually lasts two days. The problems of the poverty-stricken lands are at least of equal importance as those of defence. If we can have a two-day debate annually on the Defence White Paper, as should have a report on this Association on which there should equally be a regular two-day debate every year. The maintenance of peace depends more on the elimination of poverty throughout the world than it does on the provision of weapons of offence or defence. It is in the hope that a report of the type asked for will lead to some breakthrough on this vitally important question of the needs of developing countries that I warmly support my hon. Friend's initiative.

Mr. Charles Longbottom (York)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) that we are doing a great deal by way of aid and technical assistance. I do not think that anybody in the House of Commons denies that, though many people feel that we are not co-ordinating our aid programmes properly, that perhaps we are not getting the right priorities in our aid programmes, that perhaps we are not getting across to the people the extent of British aid and the need for it, because our programmes are not co-ordinated.

Within our aid programme the activities of the International Development Association should be much more widely known, As the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), amongst others, argued on Second Reading, the receiving countries want this aid over a long-term period and with low interest charges. We must all agree that there is in general the need for a much wider debate in Parliament on the priorities of aid. The Clause proposes that we should have an annual report on the expenditure incurred under the Bill. The Association itself produces an annual report. The hon. Member for Birmingham. Northfield (Mr. Chapman) rightly said that this report should be much more readily available. This would probably be the answer, rather than us having to produce one of our own. The hon. Member was right that we need much more opportunity to debate aid and technical assistance. In whatever way we achieve this, it should certainly be done.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Bence

I am sure that the Committee is grateful for the contribution of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Long-bottom). His was a reasonable contribution, very different from the extraordinary outburst of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) whose contribution lowered the whole standard of the way in which this Committee or any Committee of the House of Commons operates. The Committee operates on the principle that we table Amendments and new Clauses with the object of discussion and achieving a purpose. We do not table them with ulterior motives. The hon. Member for Ilford, South gave the impression that he rose with the ulterior motive of defending what may be a marginal seat. I was astounded at some of his remarks. His was a disgraceful contribution, because in the time I have sat in the Committee today I have heard no one denigrate the efforts of this country in making its due contribution to all sorts of international organisations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) rightly argues that we should have an annual report on the disposal of the taxpayers' money and the accounts of this international organisation. This is a reasonable request. All my lifetime I have heard Parliamentarians, those out of the top drawer and those out of the bottom drawer, stress the need to preserve Parliamentary accountability for the use of the taxpayers' money. I support this principle, because as a member of the Estimates Committee I am always deeply concerned about the way in which money is spent, to whom it goes, and who gets the benefit from it when it is spent. I represent a Scottish constituency. We in Scotland consider that not nearly enough money is spent in Scotland by the central Government.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South complained about annually accounting for the expenditure of the taxpayers' money. We have a body in Scotland called the Highland Development Association. The contributions paid by the Exchequer to the Association are subject to criticism and analysis every year. Yet the contributions the Government make from the taxpayers' money to an international organisation can go on for years and years without anyone questioning them. This is a dangerous precedent. The Government could go on linking themselves with all sorts of international organisations, pouring the taxpayers' money into them, without any accountability to Parliament. This is a breach of the constitutional principle of accountability to Parliament.

I know full well that the Whips work the machine and the Lobby fodder goes through the Lobby. It is probably true that there is not enough freedom of expression in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, we should have in our hands annually documents showing in every detail how the State spends the taxpayers' money. There always seemed to be inquiries about money for Scotland. We need only to have a simple proposal to build a power station and there is a public inquiry; every penny is scrutinised; the profitability has to be examined. Nothing can be done in Scotland without a close examination. Yet under the Bill hundreds of millions of pounds can be paid into an international organisation. I agree with the principle of making the contribution, but I still believe that it should be accounted for to Parliament. The argument of the hon. Member for Ilford, South seemed to be that, as it was a small sum and as it was paid to an international organisation, Parliament should not bother about it.

Mr. Cooper

Nothing that I said could in any way be related to anything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. I will ask him this direct question: is he saying clearly and unequivocally that we as a Government are doing as much as we can in this respect?

Mr. Bence

I cannot refer to any of the hon. Gentleman's remarks because if I did I would be out of order, for his contribution to the debate was not directly relevant to the point at issue.

I believe that this country, irrespective of Government, has and is making a great contribution towards helping the developing territories. We are now discussing whether an annual report on the money spent by the Government as a contribution to I.D.A. should be presented to Parliament for examination. Do hon. Members consider that such a report should be presented to the Public Accounts Committee? Should any Department of State have the right to spend the taxpayers' money without telling Parliament how it is being spent? My hon. Friends and I are not saying that the amount being spent is inadequate or that it is too much; only that, whatever it is, details of it should be presented to Parliament annually.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South receives the Report of the Public Accounts Committee and is able to see how much is being spent, for instance, in Scotland on hydro-electric development and so on. My hon. Friends are asking for something that is absolutely Parliamentarily sound. It has been our tradition not to spend money without debating why it is being spent and to whom the money is going. How much longer will we delegate responsibility to the Executive so that the taxpayers' money may be used in any way the Government wish without presenting the accounts to Parliament?

Do hon. Members wish to create a bureaucratic system whereby there is no accountability? If so, that is in direct conflict with everything I have believed. The State should answer to the people, through Parliament, for every penny that is spent. This may sometimes be difficult to do, but it must be done. To suggest that £34 million is a small amount and, because of that, the Government need not be accountable, is frightful. I recall being told as a child that the smallest hole will sink a battleship. If the views of the hon. Member for Ilford, South were taken to their logical conclusion we should be in a frightful state, with money being flung out of the till with no accountability.

Whether it be the National Health Service, increased pay for judges or more money for the Army, we must have accountability. That is why hon. Members are here. If the Executive are not to be accountable in this sphere how are we to be sure that that they will be accountable in other respects? I am surprised at the hon. Member for Ilford, South for taking the attitude of a Tudor King; that money should be spent without any questions asked. That is a Tudor, pre-Jacobite attitude to take. Does he want the Government to rule by divine right, with no questions asked? I hope that the Economic Secretary will accept the proposed new Clause, which is vital if Parliamentary responsibility and the integrity of hon. Members is to be retained.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I very much regret that I do not think it possible to accept the proposed new Clause, for it would not work in practice. I see the point behind it; that there should be occasions for Parliament to debate and be given detailed information to debate this subject. However, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) summed it up when he said that the new Clause would not be practicable. In any case, its provisions can be achieved without difficulty in other ways.

I should first like to deal with the narrow point of accountability which, in a characteristically late and exuberant contribution, was dealt with by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). I will have to be rather technical about this because, despite the dislike of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) of technicalities, this is a technical Clause.

The Bill, as interpreted under Clause 2(1,a) by reference to the draft resolution of the executive directors of the I.D.A., the terms of which are contained in the White Paper, Cmnd. 2230, provides for the payment by the United Kingdom to the I.D.A. of three instalments, each of 32.2 million dollars—£11½ million—on 8th November, 1965, 1966 and 1967. The payments will take the form of non-interest bearing and non-negotiable notes, as provided for by Clause 2(3), applying Section 2(4) of the I.D.A. Act, 1960.

The procedure is for the Treasury to create these notes in favour of the I.D.A. on the due date, and the corresponding amount of cash is paid to the I.D.A. in return for the notes on demand; that is, when the I. D.A. needs the money for the purpose of its operations. This procedure is, for the purpose of accounting, the creation of a debt to the I.D.A. and the subsequent redemption of that debt. In other wore s, the United Kingdom borrow the subscription back from the I.D.A. on the day of payment and repay it when the money is needed.

The amount of the payments is specified by the Bill, as interpreted in the light of the resolution of the executive directors, and the dates of payment are also so specified. The payments will be recorded in the various published accounts of Exchequer issues, including the Consolidated Fund Abstract Account which is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and laid before Parliament. In addition, the Finance Accounts of the United Kingdom, which are also laid before Parliament, will show both what notes have been created, and in what sums; and to what extent notes have been redeemed during the preceding financial year.

In effect, because of this somewhat complex procedure—of, so to speak, giving the money, borrowing it back and lending it again—the sum will appear twice in the accounts, once in the Consolidated Fund Abstract Account and once in the Note Issue. In view of these considerations there appear to be no grounds for requiring that an additional annual report and accounts of expediture under this Bill should be laid before Parliament.

6.30 p.m.

There is no statutory requirement in the International Development Association Act, 1960, any more than there is in the legislation concerning the United Kingdom subscriptions to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation and International Monetary Fund. The postion is the same for all of them. Additional statutory accounts are normally required only when they will disclose information additional to that already available to Parliament. Therefore, it is fair to say that the sums provided by the Bill will be accounted for in the usual way and by the methods which covers the other affiliates of the International Bank and also the International Monetary Fund.

The new Clause would require the laying of an annual report as well as of accounts under the terms of the Bill. This is where the difficulty arises. It is not possible to give an account of the money spent under the Bill, because the United Kingdom contribution is simply a fraction of the total payments and it is impossible to isolate it. It would be impossible to say in what direction our contribution was devoted. It goes simply to the I.D.A. In other words, the money which is contributed through the Bill will be accounted for. The money which is spent by the I.D.A. under the Bill cannot be separately accounted for, but will come into the general accounts and annual report of the I.D.A.

Part of the burden of the complaint of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) was that the information was not available. His Amendment begins to look like saying that we should republish the I.D.A. Report as a White Paper.

Mr. Chapman

Something like that.

Mr. Macmillan

I cannot agree to that course at the moment, but I undertake to see what can be done about it. The real point is that the House of Commons should have a debate on aid from time to time at suitable intervals. As I have suggested, there are opportunities when the various accounts are laid before Parliament, and there has been a White Paper.

The remainder of the hon. Member's complaint was that White Papers did not come frequently enough for such an important subject. I will take note of this point, too. The hon. Member is asking for the report of the I.D.A. to be republished and made available; for it to be done either through the Library, or by way of a more frequent White Paper on aid which could be debated. One of these two alternatives would be more satisfactory than the method proposed by the Amendment to achieve the hon. Member's objective. He will not, I hope, expect me to give an undertaking that we will do this, although I will certainly put to my right hon. Friend the point raised by the hon. Member and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take note of it as well as of what has been said in the debate.

Mr. Chapman

I am obliged.

Mrs. Castle

We begin to make progress. The Economic Secretary's reply shows how justified we on this side were in refusing to treat the debate merely as a formality. It would be a good step forward if, as a result of this debate, we were to get the laying of an annual report on all aspects of aid and for the House to have the occasion for an annual debate. Before we go much further, we shall have won the hon. Gentleman over to the sequitur that we should have one Minister who could answer effectively questions concerning aid.

It would not be of much help to us if the annual report dealt with the work of I.D.A. in the same way as the most recent White Paper, Cmnd. 2147, does. At the end of three years, we merely had on page 39 of that White Paper a reference to I.D.A. covering its official terms of reference and some rough financial figures. It was simply three short paragraphs and gave no details about the work. It would not meet the point merely to supplement that by publishing the annual report of I.D.A. as a White Paper.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) made a valid point when he said it was scandalous that we could not even obtain the annual report of I.D.A. to guide us because we were all competing for it. I know. I was in the queue and was angry to be informed in the Library that the one and only copy was temporarily in the possession of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse), who was effectively doing his homework for the debate. I had to give strict orders that the document should be out of his hands by a certain time so that I might have it, only to be informed by the Library that I, too, must pass it on before too long because somebody else was awaiting it. Therefore, to have it available in the Vote Office as a White Paper would be something.

That would not be enough, however, because the annual report of I.D.A. is very brief and gives no indication of the policy pursued by our representative on I.D.A. It is not good enough for the Economic Secretary to say that when we appoint a representative to serve upon a multilateral agency, we thereupon lose all control over his activities. I.D.A., particularly in a situation in which it has less funds than it needs to meet more than a fraction of the claims upon it, must obviously exercise priorities. Parliament has a right to discuss whether it is exercising the right priorities and whether its work is effectively integrated with the work of other agencies. This is all part of the move towards more effective planning internally in this country and externally on a world basis, in which we genuinely believe, and we are having to take the Government through a tutorial course on the necessity for thinking in proper planning terms. This is part of the operation to that end.

I have read the annual reports of I.D.A. They leave many questions unanswered. For us to send the Governor of the Bank of England, who may be extremely good at deciding upon the financial validity of a project in conventional market terms, to represent us in taking decisions which by definition, under the terms of reference of I.D.A., will be based upon quite different considerations, is not a situation which leaves me happy that the right economic political and social questions are taken into account in fixing the priorities of I.D.A. and in deciding which claims should come first and how the contributions of I.D.A. should fit in with help from other agencies to recipient countries.

For all these reasons, we should welcome the Economic Secretary's offer to consider the laying of an annual White Paper. That is a step forward. In that White Paper, we want far more information about the work of I.D.A. than we had in the last White Paper. We should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would put the I.D.A. annual report in the Vote Office as a White Paper every year, but will he, please, supplement it through his all-embracing White Paper with much greater detail about how our representative sees the work of I.D.A. and how he acts on our behalf in its deliberations?

Mr. Chapman

I shall, of course, seek leave shortly to withdraw the Motion. I thank the Economic Secretary for what he said and I accept his offer in the spirit in which he made it, subject to the qualifications made by my hon. Friends about the nature of the payments to be made. I hope that this will open up a new era in these matters. The Economic Secretary will realise that all I could do was to table a new Clause which would be in order and which would be called, and not something which would quite do the job we had in mind. Nevertheless, the outcome has been what we all wanted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion end Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I do not want to detain the House, because we have had a thorough discussion of the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, but it would be wrong to let the Bill pass from he House without underlying its importance in British participation in the International Development Association. Enough has been said to indicate that we believe that this must be one of the major international instruments enabling the richer nations of the world to help those that are less well off. What has irritated and frustrated us particularly during the proceedings on the Bill has been the fact that the Government who are responsible for it have dealt with it as a narrow financial Bill, instead of a Bill whose financial provisions open up policies of the widest possible humanitarian and international nature.

I hope that the attention that has been given to this comparatively small Bill on one aspect of our international aid policies is some indication of the degree of importance which the Labour Party gives to these in its overall attitude on matters of public policy By the next time that these matters come to be debated in the House a General Election will have taken place. The kind of arguments which have been adduced from this side of the House, and the absence of arguments from the other side during most of the proceedings, themselves are a strong reason why Britain, in terms of international responsibilities for aid-giving, would be better off with a change of Government.

We hope that by the time this kind of Bill comes before the House again there will be a Labour Government dealing with it and that that Government will deal with it through a Minister for Overseas Development, with his proper place in the Cabinet, responsible for co-ordinating all our aid policies and giving the House and the nation a much more adequate account of our responsibilities than we have under this Bill.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

We have had a full discussion, but I remind the Economic Secretary that he expressed the opinion that a wider debate on the whole question of technical assistance and aid to underdeveloped countries would be welcomed in the House, that he said that he would speak to the Leader of the House, and that he advised me to raise the matter on business on Thursday. I propose to do this. We would welcome anything which the Economic Secretary could do behind the scenes in the meantime to put to the Leader of the House the deep dissatisfaction felt on these benches about the way the Bill has been approached by the Government, about the narrow front on which Government spokesman have been operating, and about the total absence of support on the back benches opposite, which once again are entirely unoccupied. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey these sentiments to the Leader of the House and will press him to give us a wider debate.

Thanks perhaps to inadequate briefing, the Economic Secretary has left a large number of questions unanswered. I should be grateful if he would cause HANSARD to be looked at carefully by his Department, or other Departments more closely concerned, and I should be glad of answers, perhaps by correspondence, on the question of assisting more effectively the underdeveloped countries to absorb aid given by this country through I.D.A.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Bence

I also want to support the great purposes behind the Bill. If we are to maintain the best that is available in Western civilisation we can do that best by co-operative effort, by all the nations in the United Nations and outside that organisation, to raise the living standards of the peoples who form a part of world civilisation. By means of international organisations of many kinds, nations of different standards of financial and physical resources can contribute in terms of those resources to a planned effort to raise the standards and the productive capacities of other nations. It is absolutely essential to give immediate aid, but it is just as important that we should give that form of aid and capital assistance that enables nations to raise their standards by increasing their capacity to do things for themselves.

This can be done only through a co-operative effort by all the nations. I do not think that it can be done in future on the old principle of competitive investment. There is room among the wealthier nations for competitive investment in Western civilisation, but we must also look further afield. The wealthy nations must look to exporting, even as a gift, much of their capital resources and surplus capacity to the underdeveloped countries.

There is a great opportunity in an international organisation like the I.D.A. to put a stop to the sort of flag-interest investment and the kind of aid with strings attached given by nations individually to further their own individual ends, which may be good or otherwise. It is often easier to offer help than to have that offer accepted willingly. There is often understandable suspicion among recipients of aid that it might cause conflict in other directions.

It is desirable, therefore, that aid and development should be carried out collectively by the richer nations through an international organisation. Under the Bill our contribution is not made for a specific purpose. It is a contribution to a universal development policy. It cannot be isolated as a British development. It is international. This is highly desirable because this means some sort of planning on a world basis and international decisions on the priorities. The hon. Member said that difficulty arose when aid was given in certain areas which led to greater expansion than elsewhere, but these things can be overcome if, through such an Association as this, there is a proper distribution of the various resources afforded by each country.

The easing of trade barriers helps to raise standards all over the world and helps poorer nations to develop, but by itself it is not sufficient. Every year all the Western nations should find means, through scientific and technological expansion, whereby they can increase their own standards and cultural level and, in co-operation with each other—the United States, E.E.C. and E.F.T.A.—increase the contribution which they make to the more rapid development of those nations where capital development is small, where the educational level is low and where the cultural core is very narrow but where there is a great potential. We should yearly be able to make larger contributions, with other organisations, through such an Association as this and should expand investment which is complementary rather than competitive.

This would be a great asset and addition to competitive trade between nations. I welcome the Bill and hope that when it expires we shall be able to introduce another Bill which will increase the contribution to a much higher figure than that suggested in the Amendment. I am sure that my hon. Friend, too, hopes in the future to increase the sum.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I have little to add to the long debate on some aspects of aid policy which we have had in the course of this small Bill. The criticisms have been not of the I.D.A. but of the Government. Broadly speaking, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think that our aid has been too small and ought to be multiplied by about seven, whether other people do anything to contribute or not. The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) suggested that we should provide much more bilateral aid at a subsidised low rate of interest. In general terms, the feeling was that there should be a Minister with a seat in the Cabinet controlling a co-ordinated aid policy based primarily on channelling aid through international institutions and multilateral channels, rather than aid tied to any British exports or national needs.

At the same time the I.D.A. has received a great deal of stimulating and inspiring attention, not least during this debate. The review of policies which have been put in hand by the new President, Mr. George Woods, has raised great hopes for the future, it has been agreed. As we made clear on Second Reading, the Government from the outset have strongly supported this initiative and particularly welcome the proposals for expanding the help given both for agricultural development and for education. Mr. George Woods' intention to put in hand a large programme of technical assistance is equally in line with Government policy. All these reviews augur well for the future. It is against this background, and having said enough in the course of the debate, that I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read accordingly the Third time and passed.