HC Deb 16 February 1976 vol 905 cc934-5
44. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Minister for Overseas Development what are the reasons for the delay in appointing rice agronomists to the experimental rice farm at Rokupr, Sierra Leone, under funds already earmarked by his Department for this purpose.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. John Grant)

Scientists of the specialisation required for these two posts are few, but since the agreement with the West Africa Rice Development Association was concluded in January 1975 one post has been filled and I expect that the second will be filled shortly.

Mr. Whitehead

I am glad to hear that. I must apologise for the mis-spelling on the Order Paper of the Rice Agency of Rokupr by one letter. Nevertheless, does my hon. Friend agree that the delay of two years in filling these posts on the ground that British subjects could not be found for them—that is what was alleged to myself and other hon. Members on our visit—vitiates the rather generous aid that was earmarked and that some of the aid must have lost its real value due to the delay?

Mr. Grant

I think that that is an over-simplification of what happened. From the time that the original funds were earmarked there was difficulty, first, in identifying suitable projects and, secondly, in agreeing on the coverage of local costs. We eventually agreed to make an exceptional payment in that respect. It was subsequent to that that we ran into the further difficulty of finding specialised staff.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the Minister bear in mind that what he has said is very unsatisfactory? It appears from the private inquiries that I have made in this country that private consultants such as Lugg and Gould have people available. There is even a Canadian man who is suitable for the job. It is very much regretted and resented that the Government have delayed in making an appointment.

Mr. Grant

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's comments. As far as I am aware, he has not been in touch with us to give us the information which he has just supplied. I shall consider what he has said, but it does not tally with the information that I have.