HC Deb 18 January 1968 vol 756 cc1929-33
9. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister for Overseas Development to what extent technical and financial aid to under developed countries is to be reduced.

10. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what estimate he has now made of the effect the present economic situation in this country will have on the level of Government over seas aid in 1968–69.

13. Mr. Higgins

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether he will state the level of overseas aid planned for 1968–69; and how this compares with the figure for 1967–68.

14. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what reduction is to be made in the total amount of foreign aid for the years 1968–69 and 1969–70, consequent upon the devaluation of the £ sterling.

16. Dame Joan Vickers

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what cuts are contemplated in aid to the developing countries; and if he will give a list, and the total sum of money concerned.

Mr. Prentice

The aid programme will contribute to the economies in public expenditure by absorbing additional foreign exchange costs of approximately £10 million resulting from devaluation. The cash value of the basic aid programme will be held at £205 million in 1968–69 and 1969–70—the same figure as this year. Assistance to Singapore and Malaysia related to defence changes, increased replenishment of the International Development Association and Kennedy Round food aid remain, as announced last year, additional to the basic programme.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although I am the last person who would seek to deprive the people in under-developed countries of the aid they require, I have received representations, through correspondence and otherwise, which indicate that there are many people who are worried about providing aid to those countries which have severed diplomatic relations with Great Britain and which are adopting an unfriendly attitude?

Mr. Prentice

I have had a number of letters in recent weeks asking for a reduction in the aid programme, but I am glad to say that I have had eight times as many letters asking for it to be maintained or increased. As to the countries with which diplomatic relations have been broken off, I explained the last time I answered Questions about this that it does have the effect of tapering off aid. It does not necessarily follow immediately on the day relations are broken off between a country and ourselves that disbursements to that country cease under an agreement already reached.

Mr. Goodhew

In view of the very heavy burden the British people are being asked to bear as a result of the quite incredible incompetence and arrogance of this Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—is it not quite reasonable to expect the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that peoples abroad who normally share in our prosperity may take their share for this unfortunate time caused by his Administration?

Mr. Prentice

I have explained that there will be some loss in real value to the main programme as a result of absorbing the effects of devaluation. Beyond that it would, I think, be wrong to go. There are very important moral reasons and other important reasons of enlightened self-interest why this country should continue to have a permanent programme of helping in the development of poorer countries.

Dame Joan Vickers

In considering aid in future, will the right hon. Gentleman consider countries like British Honduras which have been very faithful to this country and which, moreover, are struggling to keep up their standards of living and also struggling to keep their independence?

Mr. Prentice

Yes. We consider, of course, all claims made upon us. I hope the hon. Lady will point out to some of her hon. Friends why it is not possible in this matter and some wider matters to ask for more for individual items than is in the total.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a very strong welcome on this side of the House— indeed, in all parts of the House—for the Government's determination to try to maintain the programme because of its great value on trading grounds as well as on moral grounds?

Mr. Prentice

Yes. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe this will do a great deal of propaganda on this subject in the years ahead. There has been a certain amount of misunderstanding about this among certain sections of the public, whipped up by the editors of some newspapers who ought to have known better. I think that those of us who believe and understand this part of our policies should lecture and explain to people the reasons for it.

Mr. Braine

Will the right hon. Gentleman recall that, as recently as 9th November, he told this House that aid would be increased this coming year? Since that undertaking is now dishonoured by the cuts in real terms, which will cause intense difficulty to some Commonwealth countries, shall we be told and will those countries be told and will Parliament be told exactly where the cuts are going to fall?

Mr. Prentice

In fact, aid will be increased, because the three additional items I mentioned in my original Answer will be additional to the £205 million basic programme. I cannot give the figures because the items are still being evaluated. Although there will be painful adjustments because of devaluation, the overall effect will be an increase in aid to developing countries.

Mr. Hooley

My right hon. Friend will agree, will he not, that as British military presence is withdrawn from various parts of the world it is all the more important that British aid in the form of technical assistance should be increased and strengthened?

Mr. Prentice

Yes, and I think that my hon. Friend will agree with me that, taking the long view on this, it is also important that other countries as well as ourselves should play their part.

Mr. Blaker

Cannot the Minister be firm about cutting off aid to countries which adopt policies hostile to us? Will he study the policies of General de Gaulle in this respect, which, on the whole, have preserved better relations between France and the former dependent territories in Africa than we have had with ours?

Mr. Prentice

I have already explained that if a country breaks off diplomatic relations with us this has an effect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that one does not necessarily turn aid on and off like a tap because of temporary political circumstances. There are important reasons why there should be a permanent long-term flow of aid, and it is in our interests as well as those of the countries who receive it.

17. Dame Joan Vickers

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether, in view of Her Majesty's Government's cuts in loans, grants and other forms of aid, he will ensure that Commonwealth and Colonial Territories are given preference.

Mr. Prentice

I have dealt with the future overall level of aid in an earlier reply. In allocating aid funds, we naturally take account, among other factors, of our particular responsibility towards the territories still dependent on us and of the special position of independent Commonwealth countries.

Dame Joan Vickers

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. A number of schemes have been started which, owing to devaluation, may not be finished. What action does he propose to take?

Mr. Prentice

As I said earlier, the effects of devaluation on the value of our aid is an extra £10 million worth of cost. about 5 per cent, of the £205 million total. We still have to work out how far the effects of that will be felt by the countries immediately affected by devaluation or whether there is to be some readjustment between those countries and others. We are still working that out.

Sir G. de Freitas

As other former colonial Powers maintain a high level of aid to their former colonies, will my right hon. Friend at least ensure that we do not fall behind them?

Mr. Prentice

It is important to recognise that we are not uniquely generous in this respect. Leaving aside private investment, our official aid amounts to about .6 of 1 per cent, of our national income. This is about the average for aid donor countries outside the Communist bloc.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In view of the U.N.C.T.A.D. proposal that trade preference should be extended to all developing countries, will the Government give an undertaking that the first preference will be maintained for Commonwealth and colonial territories?

Mr. Prentice

Trade questions will be discussed at the U.N.C.T.A.D. conference, and these are rather complicated. I think that the question asked here is more a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who will lead the British delegation to the conference.

Mr. Leadbitter

Bearing in mind that loans and aid to our Commonwealth and colonial dependent territories are of vital importance to many of them, particularly such places as The Gambia, possible cuts in aid to them should not come into the Government's thinking at all. Would not my right hon. Friend agree that any cuts should come in the areas where the Governments are particularly hostile to us?

Mr. Prentice

These questions are all of great importance to Commonwealth countries, and I certainly bear in mind what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, when he pointed out that it was peculiar that some right hon. and hon Members opposite who proclaim their belief in the Commonwealth are inclined to oppose these programmes.