HC Deb 02 February 1967 vol 740 cc749-52
13. Mr. Judd

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what further precise details are now available of where the cuts in the overseas development programme are to be made; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Bottomley

I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) on 19th January.—[Vol. 739; c. 116.]

Mr. Judd

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it is unsatisfactory that we as a House should be expected to approve cuts without knowing their practical implications, territory by territory? Further, would he not agree that to plead current economic difficulties is shortsighted, because increased world purchasing power is so much in our long-term economic interests?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend will appreciate that when aid is discussed, it is between the donor and the recipient, and not until a decision is reached is it in a form which can be presented to the House. When that time comes, it will be so presented.

Mr. John Hall

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that his attitude in replies to Questions on overseas aid this afternoon is in direct contrast to the attitude which he took when on these benches? Is it not time that the Government tried to implement in action what they have promised before General Elections?

Mr. Bottomley

The aid programme under the previous Government and this Government has been expanding each year. It is a policy on which both sides agree. Temporarily, because of economic difficulties, there has not been that continual expansion.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall also the successful Conference at Geneva in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition took a leading part, in which Great Britain, along with other nations, was going to adopt expansive plans for helping the undeveloped countries? We were told by the Prime Minister that this is in the United Nations. Is it just being left there?

Mr. Bottomley

No, Sir. The U.N.C.T.A.D. Conference had said that it was desirable that all the developed countries should give one per cent. of their national income to help in such a programme. The British Government have exceeded that, and I am fairly confident that we shall do so in future.

Mr. W. Baxter

As a considerable amount of the money which we grant to these countries goes in the form of buildings like hospitals and houses, will my right hon. Friend consult the Minister of Technology to see if we cannot devise a new method of constructing prefabricated buildings like hospitals in such places as the Congo with wood and plastic materials? This is possible and would be a better method of giving grants than money in certain cases.

Mr. Bottomley

We are constantly studying ideas of this kind in our own research organisation in the Ministry. If my hon. Friend has any suggestions, I should be glad to hear of them.

14. Mr. Norwood

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what consideration he gave to the effect that his decision to reduce British overseas aid in the year 1967–68 will have upon opinion in Africa; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Bottomley

The recipients of our aid are well aware that the amount we are able to give depends upon our own economic strength and I am sure they will understand the reasons for our decision about the level of the aid target next year.

Mr. Norwood

Would my right hon. Friend agree that a 10 per cent. cut is minimal in terms of this country's economic position and is well understood to be so in Africa? Since so large a proportion of our aid is directed there, the effect which it is bound to have on African opinion must far outweigh the advantages to our economy of such a small saving.

Mr. Bottomley

We are making a large contribution to African development and the discussions which we are having continually with African countries show that they accept that we have our difficulties but that they recognise that we are doing our best.

Mr. Kershaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that to think to earn gratitude by aid is not a good basis for it, but that to seek to lay the foundations of productive enterprise of all sorts is to the interests of both the giver and the receiver?

Mr. Bottomley

I hope that this point of view is shared by both sides of the House.

15. Mr. Norwood

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if the cuts in British overseas aid foreshadowed for 1967–68 indicate a reduction in Her Majesty's Government's preparedness to assist developing countries; and if he will give an undertaking that the programme of aid will not suffer further cuts in subsequent years.

Mr. Bottomley

Her Majesty's Government remain prepared and anxious to assist developing countries as far as our resources permit. I think the House understands that the economic crisis of last summer did require some restraint on overseas expenditure of all kinds. Resources for aid in future years will depend on our economic circumstances and I cannot forecast them now.

Mr. Norwood

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that that is a disappointing Answer, particularly in the light of his Answer to the previous Question, since one of the greatest dangers, now that the programme has been cut, is that people abroad, particularly in Africa, will feel that this is a reversal of the previous trend of ever-increasing aid to which he referred earlier?

Mr. Bottomley

I imagine that my hon. Friend has read the recent White Paper on overseas development, which shows what has been done. We will keep that up, to the extent which is possible consistent with our economic difficulties, but he will no doubt agree that the introduction of interest-free loans and improvements of that kind mean that aid, if not in substance, has in fact increased.

Mr. Wood

How far are the Answers which the right hon. Gentleman has given this afternoon to this and other Questions on the subject consistent with the Labour Party's 1964 manifesto, which promised to increase the share of our national income devoted to essential aid programmes?

Mr. Bottomley

As I explained, we are meeting the requirements laid down by the United Nations. We should like to do more, but in present economic circumstances it is not possible.

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