HC Deb 17 April 1975 vol 890 cc660-3
Q3 Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his Chequers conference on poverty in Great Britain and the developing world.

The Prime Minister

Following the meetings which I held with representatives of national voluntary organisations on 10th May last year and 24th February this year, I undertook that the Government would do further work on the ideas which the representatives of the voluntary organisations had put forward and would hold a further meeting to discuss the outcome with them, probably at Chequers, during the summer.

Mr. Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and I welcome very much the initiative he has taken. Does he envisage as a result of the Budget that our overseas aid commitments will be diminished in any way, and what overall assessment has he made of the impact of the Budget on the poor in Britain, particularly the impact of further increases in nationalised industry prices?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and the reasons for that have been explained both before this week's Budget and during it in connection with the prices of the nationalised industries. One of the encouraging things about these meetings was that the charity organisations, as they have been called, were equally insistent on help for dealing with poverty in this country and abroad.

Because of the reasons spelt out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, provision for overseas aid will not now represent quite as big an increase as we had hoped. The reduction of £20 million to which my right hon. Friend referred, spread over 1975–76 and 1976–77, means that the aid programme for 1975–76 will still be in excess of £450 million after that reduction, as compared with the programme for 1974–75 of about £350 million.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that some of the organisations that he saw or were represented are not charities within the strict meaning of the law because one of their objects is to change legislation? Is he aware that since 1881 they have enjoyed certain tax provisions which for the first time have been taken away from them by the capital transfer tax? This will threaten a tremendous part of the donations to organisations like the One-Parent Family Group. Will he give this matter sympathetic consideration?

The Prime Minister

When I used the term "charities" as I did at these meetings, I did not mean it in the legal sense, still less in the condescending sense in which it is sometimes used, but in the strict biblical sense where charity is defined in a well-known passage. [Interruption.] I was speaking to those who understand these matters, not to the disciples of Chairman Mao where, I think, the book I have just quoted is banned in favour of the Red Book that the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) brought back from China a year ago.

Representations have been made to me and I have seen something of them. These matters are being considered.

Mr. Spearing

Will my right hon. Friend note that many who are concerned about poverty in the developed world welcome his statement but that this question is important for trade as well as aid, and that his speech at Leeds was widely welcomed? If he were to take up the theme of trade agreements for raw materials at the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in Jamaica, would not that show that Britain's concern for the underdeveloped world is best exercised through the Commonwealth and through aid links as my right hon. Friend envisaged in his speech?

The Prime Minister

What my hon. Friend has said is true. I regret that as part of a general reduction in expenditure the aid programme has been affected, even though it earlier received one of the biggest increases in provision and it is still a very big increase. I am always careful— am sure that my hon. Friend will be careful—to avoid identifying aid too much as the source of trade for our own country. Of course, it is a fact that this can happen, but aid must be considered on the merits of the aid programme itself, as I am sure my hon. Friend would be the first to agree.

On our initiative on commodities, which will certainly be put forward to the Commonwealth Conference at Jamaica—[Interruption.] Hon. Members of the Opposition used to take a lot of interest in the Commonwealth at one time, but not now. This will, I believe, provide a very valuable initiative for developing countries and others which are very much concerned about the boomand-bust history of commodities over this period.

Mrs. Bain

On the issue of poverty, will the Prime Minister take note of the recent Department of the Environment report, based on census statistics, which indicated that urban deprivation in West Central Scotland was at a level equalled nowhere else in the United Kingdom? Will he use his influence to make sure that when the Scottish Assembly is set up it will have revenue-raising powers over Scotland's oil, so that that Assembly can succeed where successive Westminster Governments have failed?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the hon. Lady's question, yes, of course I am aware of that report by the Department based on the census figures. She will be glad to know that this formed a very significant part of the discussions between my right hon. Friends and myself and many others with the Scottish TUC when we visited her country not very long ago. I do not, however, accept the conclusions that the hon. Lady draws from these important and serious facts, which all of us in the House are trying to remedy. I do not believe that her solution for them in terms of leaving the problem to the people or some putative government of Scotland is the right answer. nor do I believe that the people of Scotland want that to happen.

Mr. Fairbairn

Appreciating as I do that the greatest fool can ask more questions than the wisest man can answer, and appreciating that I and other hon. Members fall into the former category and that the Prime Minister inevitably falls into the latter, may I nevertheless ask him in future at Question Time to accept the advice which Dr. Johnson gave to the Scottish Highlander: "Answer me yea or nay, sir, if your barbarous language permits of so subtle a distinction"?

The Prime Minister

I am delighted to feel that before addressing the House the hon. Gentleman has taken off his Jaeger dressing gown. I shall, of course, study the eminent quotation which he has delivered to the House. I seem to remember—I may, perhaps, have got his constituency wrong; he nearly did that himself—that, as he has referred to Prime Ministers, he succeeded a former Prime Minister, and the result of his following his own advice was that he scraped home with a majority of about 40 or 50.