HC Deb 31 January 1973 vol 849 cc1367-87

3.47 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)

The proceedings which have just terminated are not as irrelevant to to the business on the Consolidated Fund as might at first appear. In the first place, the House has in the last 15 minutes given more attention to a very worthy proposition for a Bill than it is likely to give to any particular bit of the estimates which, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, we are to consider now for the rest of the day and probably a large part of the night.

In his remarks just now the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls)—it was significant—spoke of the traditions of this place, saying that they made it different from other parliaments, and I think he implied that they made it superior in its effectiveness to other parliaments in the world. It is that attitude that this place has greater efficiency and competence in the normal function of a parliament, which ensures that in many respects we are not exactly different, and that cannot be better illustrated than by the way we supervise or fail to supervise public expenditure.

The question now before the House is that the Government should be allowed to spend £591 million, which is not chicken feed for any Government, and the question is that the Government not only should be allowed to spend that total of money but should be allowed to expend it on a number of items the details of which are all in the Estimates. I have said before, and I shall continue to say, from these benches that the manner in which this House in the Chamber and its Committees attempts to supervise the expenditure of public funds is downright scandalous. We vote enormous sums of money without paying a blind bit of attention to what happens to it. The failure is not that we do not have packed benches to listen to the details on any particular subject but that we do not organise ourselves in Committee to do jobs which can only be done in Committee on the details of the Estimates. There is probably no other legislature in a developed country with parliamentary traditions that gives less attention than we do to the approval of public expenditure. It is high time that the House gave more attention to changes in its procedure designed to do that.

If this were the Bundestag and the Minister were coming here to get £4 million for overseas aid, the Bundestag would never dream of considering the matter in the Chamber but would refer it to two committees. The members of the overseas aid committee would each take bits of what the Minister wants, look at the bits in detail and go to the overseas development administration in Bonn and pore over them to see whether they could find a flaw in what the Minister wanted, to see whether they could fault him on policy or execution. The result is that in the Bundestag it occasionally happens that the Minister says "I want £X and he does not get £X. He may get a bit more or a bit less or he may get the money for a slightly different purpose, but he does not automatically get what he wants. In this Mother of Parliaments the Minister always gets what he wants. We know that he will get what he wants, and yet we go through the empty charade of discussing whether he is to get what he wants.

The solution is clear. When the Estimates are presented by the Government to the House as a request for funds, that request should be referred to the Expenditure Committee of the House, which in turn should refer it to the subject sub-committees to look at or ignore as they wish and to take upon themselves greater responsibility for it than any other hon. Member. It is a good managerial principle that a few people should have a greater responsibility than 630 people. No one would dream of operating a commercial concern on any other principle. The House of Commons, however, totally ignores that managerial principle.

There is a move afoot for the House again to set up a Select Committee on Overseas Aid. The motion calling for that has been signed by about 200 hon. Members. I understand that it is likely that the Government will look sympathetically at that proposal, at least in principle. If we do set up another Select Committee on Overseas Aid I should like us to take the opportunity to make an experiment in having a subject committee. I use "subject committee" as a term of art to mean a committee which deals with, and is invited by the House to deal with, all matters pertaining to the subject allocated to it.

What normally happens with, for example, a Select Committee on Overseas Aid is that it spends days and days hearing evidence from witnesses and comes up with a report which is generally ignored and has no practical effect. What we should do is to have a permanent committee on a subject like overseas aid so that whenever the Estimates are brought before the House those relating to aid are referred to the committee to pore over them and, if it so wishes, to bring out a report approving, disapproving or commenting upon them. If legislation were coming before the House relevant to that committee's subject, it would be right for that legislation to be looked at by the committee.

That is common sense, although it may be revolutionary for the House of Commons, and it would never be accepted if it were proposed for the whole of policy, but I am suggesting that if the Government are sympathetic to the idea of a Select Committee on Overseas Aid we should experiment with that idea on that subject. The subject is not in the forefront of political controversy and there would be no effect on the other working of the House. The committee would be taking over the functions of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee in so far as they relate to future projections of overseas aid figures, the public expenditure White Paper and surveillance over the Estimates. The manner in which we do these things at the moment is a public scandal of the first order, and we must do something about it quickly before we are forced to reform by outside people who take an interest in our doings.

I turn to the Estimates which the Minister is presenting to us, and I am con- cerned only with those which are accounted as part of the aid programme. I think I am right in saying that those amount to just under £4 million. I say "I think I am right" because the first difficulty is to find out whether one is right. The Estimates are presented in a manner which does not make it easy to compare them with the public expenditure White Paper. I have constantly argued that this is madness and that it should be possible to identify which estimates belong to which public expenditure programme, but that cannot be done. One has to wade through 130 pages to find all the aid items.

When I wanted to do that last June I had to ask the Minister for Overseas Development—I am sorry he is not able to be here today and I quite understand why—to list for me all the items within those Estimates that fell within the aid programme. As an offshoot of that it was discovered that one item amounting to £500,00 had been booked to the aid programme which should not have been booked to it. Whether that discovery was made because I raised the matter I do not know, but that is the sort of thing that is likely to occur if there is a committee which is taking an interest. In reply to my question whether he could not find an easier way of doing it in future, the Minister said: I am considering how best to provide similar information in future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June 1972; Vol. 838, c. 393.] That was on 14th June 1972, and I have not heard another word about it. What is happening? Why cannot there be a table in the Estimates which allows me to find out which estimates are booked to the aid programme and which are not? It should not be for me to wander through all the pages to find the items.

In the Estimates before us today there is one Vote which is entirely booked to the aid programme. There is another Vote in which only one item is booked to the aid programme. One has to know one's way about the Estimates—as by accident I do—to find the other one, nearly £4 million, which is also booked to the aid programme. One does not have to be an administrative genius to overcome this difficulty, and if the Minister does not find a way of getting that information into the Estimates by the next time the aid Estimates come before the House I promise to table 50 Questions a day from then on until he finds a way of doing it. He knows that I can find enough Questions to suit his answers. There is no reason why this should not be done, and I resent having to ask twice for it to be done.

The House is given insufficient background information on the aid Estimates presented to it. For example, we have no background information on the Estimates presented today. The Minister for Overseas Development maintains that he wants to supply the House with as much information as possible about our aid programme. He then chooses to put out information in a manner which could not be better designed to ensure that hon. Members do not know about it. Each year the Overseas Development Administration produces a printed version of its annual report to the Development Assistance Committee. If that were produced as a Command Paper, we should all know about its existence, but since the Department chooses to produce it as a departmental paper, it involves a great deal of research to discover its whereabouts. The Library staff often do not know of its existence, nor does the Department. Will the Minister ensure that documents which form the background to the Estimates are circulated publicly so that they may come to the attention of hon. Members.

On this Vote discussion is limited and I shall not seek to deal with the entire aid programme. I would draw attention to the very large item on pensions which is set out on page 126 of the Estimates where it is stated that the figure exists because of … unavoidable delays in completing Exchange of Notes with overseas Governments". What are those unavoidable delays, and may we be given the background?

There has been a small increase in the amount of British grant-in-aid to the British Solomon Island Protectorate. I do not object to this in principle, but I feel that we need to be told something about the trend of Britain's grant-in-aid to the Protectorate in relation to its revenue. The trend up to last year was that the British grant-in-aid represented an ever-increasing proportion of the total revenue of the territory. The function of the Development Assistance Committee should be to ensure that a territory becomes free from budgetary assistance as soon as possible. It often happens that such assistance rises markedly, but we should be told whether the British aid programme in the Protectorate is of such a character that it is hoped that the development of the territory will create less need for future British grants-in-aid. This should be the principle on which the ODA plans its development assistance.

There are several items in the Estimates relating to Ugandan Asians. We have increased our contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by £250,000. There is also an item of £41,000 to the Inter-Governmental Committee on European Migration. Lastly, we see a token vote for payments to certain Governments for assistance in placing United Kingdom passport holders from Uganda.

Since these three items hang together may we be told why they are classified as aid? I sympathise with the policy of reducing aid to Uganda in the light of the policies which are being pursued by Uganda, but surely this can be done without diminishing the total amount of normal aid. Indeed, I see no justification for treating money expended on placing British Ugandan Asians as aid, nor for treating any part of our contribution to the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees as aid.

There are two items in respect of smaller payments which require explanation. I refer to items D19 and E6 in the Estimates. The first relates to payments incurred by certain overseas Governments, and only token provision is made. May we be told which Governments ate included in this item and how many refugees are involved? Has the item of £41,000 for the Inter-Governmental Committee on European Migration anything to do with the Ugandan Asians? It looks to me as though it has nothing at all to do with them. It appears to relate to the placement of British Ugandan Asians in Latin America, but the countries concerned are not identified. Which countries are concerned, how many refugees are involved and what kind of body is it that is being paid £41,000 of public funds?

The Government should explain their current policy on Uganda. In the middle of the crisis we were told that the Government proposed to review their total policy towards Uganda following the removal of the Asians so as not to prejudice their safety. We have heard nothing about that review, nor have we heard anything about suspension of Commonwealth preference or the use of other sanctions which could be exercised against Uganda. I hope the Government do not envisage a British representative sitting down at the table with Amin or with an Amin representative at this year's Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference. I hope the Government will say that they intend to take the initiative in respect of the Ugandan Government whose actions have given rise to the payments which we are now considering. I hope that they will propose to the other Commonwealth Governments that Uganda should be suspended—I repeat "suspended"—rather than expelled from membership of the Commonwealth as long as it continues to pursue its present policies and to continue under the kind of thuggish Government that is now in power.

I have raised a number of detailed matters which are not matters to be considered on the Floor of the House. These matters should be dealt with in a committee. There is no machinery for dealing with these details, and yet they are most important. It is high time that the procedures were improved for the scrutiny of expenditure proposals which are put to the House by the Government.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) and I served on the same Committee last year which considered the need to ensure the continuation of private investment overseas and forms of aid.

I support what the hon. Gentleman said about the setting up of a Select Committee on overseas aid. I also welcome fthe fact that it was a decision by the Labour Government, under the aegis of the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart), who was then the Minister for Overseas Development, which topped up, or rather took over, the pensions of overseas civil servants. This decision has made an enor- mous difference to many people who have served the Crown for many years in great loyalty overseas. But for that decision they would be wondering where the money on which they have to live would be coming from. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have urged successive Governments for quite a long time on this matter. It is making a great deal of difference to many people that they can now feel assured that their pensions will be paid.

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West takes a slightly different line from me over the importance of public aid versus private aid. Many people say that more ought to be given by way of public aid, especially for infrastructure. I think that more people will be employed if more private enterprise can be undertaken in partnership with local people.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we could experiment. We have started an experiment under the new Overseas Investment and Export Guarantees Act. Although the method of insurance is undertaken by the ECGD, under the Department of Trade and Industry, the liaison between it and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be considerable. Possibly when my hon. Friend winds up the debate he will tell us how this is going on. I believe that the more private aid that can come, possibly the less need for public expenditure.

I should like to know how many pre-investment studies have been undertaken, how many applications have been made for insurance, and how many agreements have been signed. It is now on a 1 per cent. basis. I suppose that sooner or later we shall have variable premiums in countries such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South-West. However, I believe that this matter needs very careful liaison between my hon. Friend's Office and the DTI. As the hon. Gentleman said, the object of aid is to get territories off aid.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) that the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) has done a great service by raising the question of parliamentary control over our overseas aid programme.

The hon. Gentleman cited the example of how the German Parliament controls its overseas aid programme. I have in mind the way that the American Congress controls its programme; the annual aid debate is one of the great set pieces of the congressional year. We may not perhaps look forward to that happening in this House, but I hope that we may at some time move a great deal further in the direction of the American practice. It is true that in recent years Congress has used the occasion of the annual aid debate to make substantial cuts in the programme put forward by the American Administration. However, I do not think that would necessarily happen in this House if we were to have more debates on that subject.

I can think of two items on which I should be pressing the Government to increase expenditure. One is the relief of famine in Nepal. The situation there is becoming critical. Some of the inhabitants of Nepal are being reduced to eating grass. This famine is striking sharply in those areas where recruiting for the Gurkha regiments has been most strong. I am sure that if we could have a proper debate on this subject there would be pressure on the Government from both sides of the House to increase our assistance to Nepal. Perhaps that will happen soon.

The second item concerns aid to Vietnam in view of the cease-fire that is coming into effect there. In the past I have made critical remarks about the size of our aid programme to Vietnam. Now that peace is finally coming to that country we have an opportunity to play a substantial rôle in reconstruction there. I am glad to see reports in the Press that we are thinking of increasing our assistance from about £300,000 a year now to £2 million to £5 million a year. If we could have a debate on this subject I am sure that there would be pressure from both sides of the House for increased generosity to try to alleviate the suffering in Vietnam.

It would be churlish not to thank the Government for some of the increases shown in the Supplementary Estimates. I have in mind particularly E.9, the increase in the North Atlantic Assembly Vote. I grant that it is an increase of only £1,560, but I am glad that the Government have increased the sum that we allot to the North Atlantic Assembly budget.

When the value of the pound fell as a result of our policy of floating it, so our contribution to the North Atlantic Assembly and, indeed, to other parliamentary assemblies in Europe was cut in value. As these assemblies work on tight budgets, this was a substantial burden to them.

I can understand the Government's reluctance immediately to say "We will step in and make up the difference." No doubt they had one eye on Mr. Mintoff in Malta. If it was felt right to step up the budget of the North Atlantic Assembly, no doubt Mr. Mintoff would have noted that.

In Opposition, many of my hon. Friends repeatedly pressed the point that we ought to be less niggardly in our approach to the budgets of the Council of Europe and the North Atlantic Assembly. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State raised his voice on this point, as I recall. Therefore, I am glad that there are some increases in the Estimates to take care of the decrease in the value of the pound following the floating of the rate.

I turn now to the grant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the extra £250,000 to assist in the work of resettling stateless Asians from Uganda. The United Nations Specialised Agencies are of variable quality. I do not think that many observers would put the organisation that assists the High Commissioner for Refugees at the top or the bottom of the list, but in recent months it has not been capable of dealing with a major emergency. Can we expect the United Nations High Commissioner to offer much assistance if other African countries start to expel stateless Asians or Asians with British passports? I do not think that we could expect much assistance from the High Commissioner if he were to give him not just an extra £250,000, but an extra £2,500,000 or even an extra £25 million.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has made a statement saying that there will be no more mass emigration to this country even if other States begin to expel their minorities. Despite the fact that my right hon. Friend has made that statement, it seems that we still have some responsibility for Asian passport holders. As I see it, we are not required to admit them to this country, to Beckenham, Mitcham or Stroud. However, we have to find some haven for them. Fortuitously, the Supplementary Estimates make provision for extra expenses incurred in the Seychelles and Solomon Islands. I hove that in both the Seychelles and the Solomon Islands we shall press ahead with plans to build reception camps in case British passport holders should be expelled in the future from Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi or even Zambia. If they are thrown out of the communities in which they reside we shall have to find somewhere for them to go, and somewhere in territories that we control. The Solomon Islands, in particular, seems to be a place where we could build a camp to provide a temporary haven until such time as their turn came up in the quota to come to this country or until India decided to admit——

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) is raising an important point but I am not sure whether he has examined it as fully as he might. The Asians in question, particularly those from Kenya, a country of which I have personal experience, are well versed in administration and commercial work. Before the hon. Gentleman's idea is advanced too strongly before the Government, steps should be taken to find out the possibilities in the Solomon and Seychelle Islands for occupations of that kind. Otherwise, with the best intentions in the world, I am sure that the idea would not get off the ground.

Mr. Goodhart

I am not suggesting that one should use British aid money to resettle Asian refugees in the Solomon or the Seychelle Islands. All I am suggesting is that we should use some of the substantial sum of £126,000 that we are finding for the administration of the Solomon Islands in the setting up of transit camps.

I am not suggesting that the Asians should live permanently in the Solomon or the Seychelle Islands. First, there is not the physical space, and, secondly, there would not be anything there for them to do. I am suggesting, however, that there is space available to provide transit camps, on Butlin camp style, where they could reside for months or years until the United Nations High Commissioner, perhaps along with us, could find some permanent place for them to go.

Finally, is any provision made in the Supplementary Estimates for extra payments to the British aid personnel who have had to cut short their careers in Uganda because of General Amin's action? I am sure that the whole House would be united in thinking that we should be no less generous to personnel who have had to cut short their careers than we have been in providing assistance to other British passport holders who have been forced to leave that unhappy country.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

The matters raised by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) are of great interest. However, I would rather the Government consider them in perhaps a different way. First, the hon. Gentleman agreed with me that it is not possible to exploit these people in a commercial or administrative way in the Solomon Islands. If we add to that the fact that there is considerable unease in Kenya, which I know from personal experience, we might be faced with a situation which has been properly outlined by the hon. Gentleman.

I suggest—I offer my suggestion tentatively and certainly in no dogmatic manner—that it would profit the Government if they looked first to India, the Asians' home country, of which I have some experience. People with administrative experience would be of substantial value to India. Instead of paying out our money in a fashion that very often results in its uneconomic use, I suggest that the Government should examine with India the extent to which the experience of these people can be used to advantage in a different direction and in a different way than has been the case previously. It seems that that is one way of dealing with the problem that might easily descend upon us in the near future.

4.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Kershaw)

I first express my thanks and, I am sure, the thanks of the House, to the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) for raising this important subject. I am aware that we sometimes do not seem to have an opportunity to discuss aid in the way in which some of us would like. However, the comparatively few right hon. and hon. Members present seems to prove that we have not a great market for aid debates.

I know how difficult it is to look through these Estimates, but we are talking not about £4 million but about just under £3 million. There is £2 million for the pensioners and the rest of the items total approximately £400,000.

Mr. Cunningham

I reached my figure of £4 million by taking the items marked as falling within the overseas aid programme total on page 127. The hon. Gentleman will see that the figure given there is £3½ million. I then added to that the much smaller figures mentioned earlier in the book. I realise that the figure involves a two-way flow.

Mr. Kershaw

Perhaps the matter is not of great importance. It does not detract from—in fact, it reinforces—the hon. Gentleman's point about how difficult it is to thread one's way through the Votes. What we are discussing is Vote 2 of Class 11 on page 15, amounting to £250,000, Vote 5 of Class II on page 18, amounting to £165,000 and the pensions items amounting to £2,290,000, making a total of £2,705,000.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that Professor Parkinson said that the British accounts and estimates were made in this way to conceal the fact that Charles II was spending the Navy Estimates on his mistresses—and even for that purpose it was not specially effective. But, further to the assurance which the hon. Gentleman was given last June, we are still studying how we can effectively present the Votes for aid in one Vote. We should like to do that because it would be much easier to follow. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that a number of Departments would have to be consuited and other considerations taken into account.

Mr. Cunningham

There are two points involved. I have stressed on another occasion the desirability of presenting all the aid Votes as one Vote. But that was not the point I am making today. What I am asking for now relates to another point which I have hammered before, namely, that whatever votes they appear in I want an extract of all those booked to the overseas aid programme so that I do not have to work through a publication of 130 pages. It does not take six months to work out a way of doing that.

Mr. Kershaw

The hon. Gentleman's point has again been noted and we shall get in touch with him about it.

The hon. Member mentioned the Account of the British Air Programme we give to the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, which does not have a Command Paper number. I see no reason why we should not give it a Command Paper number so that hon. Members have it drawn to their attention when it is published each year.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not deal with the question whether we should deal with this matter by a system of Committees or on the Floor of the House. That is a general question which the House will wish to consider. But I share the hon. Gentleman's feeling that we do not discuss aid questions often enough. We have a very good story to tell and it is desirable that we should have more oportunities to tell it. Nevertheless, there are some opportunities. It is open to the Opposition to give a Supply Day for discussing the question of aid. That has never been done by either party.

Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)

The last major debate which we had on a subject related to developing countries—the subject of UNCTAD III—took place last April on an Opposition Supply Day.

Mr. Kershaw

I stand corrected.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

Wrong as usual.

Mr. Kershaw

But it was a good try. I could not be sure that the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) would be here. I accept what she said. Clearly the UNCTAD III conference was an extremely important conference and the House would have wished to debate it. However, the ordinary machinery for discussing the question of overseas aid has not been used in that form except on that occasion.

The White Paper on Public Expenditure, Cmnd. 5178, will, I suppose, be debated soon by the House. Furthermore, as hon. Members have pointed out, we are to have a Select Committee on the question of overseas development. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has agreed that such a Committee should be set up. How it will work and what the system will be is a matter for the House and, I suppose, for the Select Committee. No doubt we shall be able to discuss it.

These matters of overseas aid can also be raised in the form of parliamentary Questions, but I am the first to admit that the House has not been very fortunate in this respect recently. In November, only one Question, which was taken with another, was reached. Questions on this subject were not reached at all the day before yesterday. When we come in at No. 30 on a day when the Prime Minister is not answering Questions at 3.15 p.m. and our questions are not reached, both sides of the House should perhaps look at their respective performances. I dare say we are all to blame.

The Supplementary Estimates do not provide extra money to be devoted to aid during the year. They provide money which could not be precisely quantified in the main Estimates because perhaps the last disbursement was not known or because an unforeseen contingency had occurred.

Turning to the various items in the Vote, the first one which the hon. Member for Islington, South-West mentioned was pensions. The reason why it appears and keeps on appearing in these Votes is the great delays which we have experienced in trying to finalise the arrangements with the various countries. They have their own procedures and it has proved very difficult for them to come to a conclusion and to pass the necessary legislation. Nigeria is a case in point. That is one reason why the expenditure on pensions appears, sporadically in these Votes. However, the pensions are now being paid in the proper way by the British Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said, this is a very satisfactory state of affairs.

The small amount of £133 appearing in Vote 5, Class II is a technical accounting matter about which the House will not, I think, wish to be delayed.

It is the case that the grant in aid for the British Solomon Islands Protectorate has been rising recently. That is partly because of inflation, partly because of currency revaluation as the currency is now linked to the Australian dollar, and partly because of setbacks for the islands due to climate and prices. During last year the islands suffered from two bad hurricanes which did a great deal of damage and harmed the revenue. Copra prices have been low for some time—they have hardly given a return to the grower—although I am happy to say that they are rising slightly now. That aspect of the matter looks more hopeful. In the last year, because of world conditions, timber output, which had been rising very rapidly, did not increase. Therefore, that area was also depressed.

But there are bright aspects in the British Solomon Islands. The palm oil experiment, which has been going for eight years, is coming on well and oil is beginning to come into production. The experiments with fishing are going well and the catches are increasing sharply. I had the pleasure of visiting the islands and I can vouch for the fact that there is an air of activity and hope in the place. I have no doubt that before very long they will be able to move out of the grant in aid position and will have a sound economic as well as political future.

I was asked what the £10 payment was to other countries for United Kingdom passport holders. These are payments made to other countries for looking after the passport holders for the time being until they wish to come here. In fact, the only country concerned is India where the amount involved is £3,000.

The Inter-Governmental Committee on European Migration undertook to take, and has taken, a number of United Kingdom passport holders to Latin America and, on a reimbursement basis, we have paid them £41,000. That is our share of their expenditure.

The hon. Member raised the general problem of whether payments of this type should be a charge on aid at all. This is a substantial question. One can argue that the payments have been made for the benefit of people from the less developed countries. One can also say that no developing country has lost aid by what we have done in this regard. The House will notice that £20 million—£10 million last year and another £10 million this year—has been added to the aid programme for the benefit of Bangladesh. Therefore, the developing countries do not suffer. We take into consideration the benefit which these payments give to their citizens in the circumstances which surround them. No doubt this is an interesting subject which the Select Committee will discuss.

Mrs. Hart

I should not have raised the subject had the hon. Gentleman not touched on it. Given that £20 million has been added to the aid programme on account of help to Bangladesh, can the hon. Gentleman fit that in with what I can only call the minus signs for future years which one finds in the White Paper on public expenditure, which seem to indicate that the total level of the aid programme will have to be less than it otherwise would have been in the years ahead because of extra expenditure of this kind?

Mr. Kershaw

The right hon. Lady is referring to the predicted expenditure. The payment of £20 million and certain other switchings have been authorised from later years to this year, and these have made the rise in the percentage expenditure seem lower. If we spend more now, we change the relationship between this year and the next. On average, the rise in our expenditure will be just under 8 per cent., although the actual figures given in the votes in this volume show a rise of only 4.2 per cent. This is because of the accelerated payments and switchings that have taken place in this year, so that to some extent it falsifies the average expressed as a percentage.

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West referred also to our general policy on Uganda and the Commonwealth Conference to be held in the summer and asked whether I could say something about that. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would not be appropriate for me to embark on a general debate on this matter. All I say is that we regret that it has become progressively more difficult to operate our aid programme in Uganda.

Mr. Cunningham

I accept that this is not the occasion for the hon. Gentleman to embark upon a long policy speech on Uganda, but surely he is prepared to tell us where things stand on the review of policy towards Uganda that was promised by the Foreign Secretary about two months ago as something that would proceed apace and come to fruition some time after the Asians had all been expelled and therefore no one could suffer. We ought to be given some indication of where things stand.

Mr. Kershaw

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we announced that we were not able to extend to Uganda the £10 million loan that we intended to provide. Expatriates—experts, teachers, doctors, and so on—who decide to come back and have to break their contracts are being looked after financially. That is a payment which, under the circumstances, has to be made from the aid programme. Those who are there are being paid or are having their salaries topped up, and such development work as was undertaken has not been cut off. It is being continued and will, we hope, be brought to completion.

Mr. Cunningham

Is that the great review of policy?

Mr. Kershaw

I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is remarkable to withdraw a £10 million undertaking. It has never been done before, and I hope very much that the situation will not arise in which it has to be done again. I think that what I have said deals with the aid programme towards Uganda, and that is what my right lion. Friend said would be done. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not notice it at the time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree asked about the private sector and what kind of liaison there was with the public sector and whether this had been working properly. The organisational side is growing, as is the liaison between the two sectors. I understand that there have been about 20 applications for co-operation between the private and public sectors. Three have been agreed, and I understand that the ECGD has received a number of applications in this matter, though nothing has yet been signed.

Mr. Tilney

Has there been any advertising of this service? It is important that private enterprise should be aware of the possibilities of insurance in this way.

Mr. Kershaw

I shall look into that and write to my hon. Friend about it. It seems fairly well known.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) referred to Nepal. We realise the great difficulties in Nepal, and from answers to Questions on Monday my hon. Friend will have noted that we are making donations. I am happy to say that recently we have been able to increase quite sharply our donations to Nepal, and a further sum of nearly £400,000 will be sent.

Mr. Goodhart

Has authorisation been received for the use of Royal Air Force aircraft to distribute food? As I understand it, there is a major distribution problem.

Mr. Kershaw

I shall look into that and let my hon. Friend know.

On the question of Vietnam, from answers which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave on Monday to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) my hon. Friend will have seen that we are in touch with the International Red Cross to find out which it most wants. We have sent medical supplies, and we are helping the Save the Children Fund with medical supplies and facilities generally in Indo-China. We are also in contact with the United Nations Oganisation about this, and we stand ready to do more when we know exactly what is wanted.

I noted and was glad to hear what my hon. Friend said about the North Atlantic Assembly. It does not come within the matter of aid for which I have responsibility, but I hope my hon. Friend will agree that it is a pleasant and useful assembly. We are glad to do what we can for it.

On the question of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we shall in the very near future have an opportunity to discuss with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan how his organisation is coping with these constant crises. He is coming to London, and I have noted what my hon. Friend said. My hon. Friend will no doubt bear in mind that recently, largely due to pressure from Her Majesty's Government, disaster machinery has been set up within the United Nations. It has started well and should be of great help in this sort of event in the future.

My hon. Friend talked about camps for those who might be displaced later in the Seychelles and Solomon Islands. I approach that matter with a certain amount of misgiving. I should not wish to give the impression that we expect our nationals to be expelled. We have good and friendly relations and workable schemes with the countries concerned, and we have no doubt that they, like us, wish to adhere to what we have undertaken.

Furthermore, my hon. Friend will bear in mind that although the Seychelles and the BSIP are not yet independent, they have a large measure of internal self-government, and that includes control of immigration. I doubt whether they would be anxious to receive large numbers of people coming to them for unknown periods. The Solomon Islands did indeed offer to give space for one United Kingdom passport holder. They needed a lawyer, and I have no doubt that whichever lawyer goes there he will find himself in an extremely happy position. It is a pleasnt place, and I am told that the salary of the Solicitor-General is adequate to live on.

We are also making extra payments to the people who have lost their contracts and for the time being have lost their possessions in Uganda and have had to come home. We are helping them with a special operation. The money is not mentioned in these Estimates because there was not time to put it in. If necessary it will be in the Spring Estimates.

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones), who has had to leave us, asked that we examine with India what could be done about United Kingdom passport holders and others of Indian origin. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we are in the closest touch with the Indian Government about this. We have had great help from them, and our relations on this matter are very intimate and cordial.

That is all I have to say about this very complicated matter of aid. I hope that the new Committee will be able to make a fundamental examination of the principles and practice. I look forward to its being of the greatest help to us in the House in our study of these matters.