HC Deb 12 March 1980 vol 980 cc1381-400 5.55 pm
Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the problems arising from the excess of expenditure on Class II, Vote 7—overseas aid. I am particularly grateful for the presence this afternoon of my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. I assure him that I shall not detain him for as long as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office was detained in the previous debate.

An important point of principle is at stake here, arising from the defence of, and justification for, the excess of expenditure offered in the statement of excesses on the Supply Estimates. I refer to House of Commons Paper 435, where the explanation is to be found at page 7.

On the face of it, we are talking about an excess of £16 million. In these days of cash limits, that sum should not be regarded lightly. Without being in any way malicious, I think that the position is rather worse in accounting terms. The excesses on the year's expenditure to which we are referring do not total £16 million in gross terms. The gross excess was more than £52 million, offset—we are told—by savings of about £36 million.

In other words, the complications of the overseas aid budget being what they are —I have some experience of them—we have reached a point where about £88 million is adrift, if my simple arithmetic has brought me to the right conclusion, on one sub-head or the other. It behoves us to look at the state of affairs that brings that about. If we accept £88 million of inaccurate accounting, that is considerably more than 10 per cent. of the net aid budget, in terms of the net aid flows.

Therefore, I invite my hon. Friend to consider ways of achieving an improvement in the method of running that budget. I do so recognising that this is by no means the occasion to go into more fundamental issues involved in our aid budget. This is not the occasion to discuss the Brandt commission. We shall no doubt shortly have an opportunity to debate it. The commission has a certain amount to offer our thinking in this general area, but it has some banal attitudes and rather challengeable assumptions.

I should like today to offer a few comments on the present administration of the aid scheme, rather than on a method of the North and South living together in economic terms, as what we might consider to be a more desirable and more effective way of achieving the objective set by Willy Brandt and his colleagues. They are entirely laudable objectives, although the proposed methods of achieving them are challengeable.

I offer my thoughts on the following basis: for approximately the first 10 years after the formation of the Ministry of Overseas Development I had some involvement, in various capacities and to varying degrees, in the operation of our aid schemes in various parts of Latin America, Southern Asia and the Far East. My last overseas posting was in Bangladesh, where I spent two years. That country is high in the league of recipients of aid, not only from this country but from multilateral agencies and other members of the development aid committee of the OECD. My experience has led me to believe that the complications that we face can be avoided.

In the document "The United Kingdom Memorandum to the Development Aid Committee of the OECD," produced in 1979, there was a reference to the problems created for the United Kingdom, as for other donors, by increasing lead times, and it referred especially to the problems of rural development—the objective of a major new policy of orientation.

I accept that a certain happy event occurred on 3 May last year and that to some degree in offering the advice that I am presuming to offer to my hon. Friend the Minister I may be pushing a door that is already steadily opening. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that there is some point in airing these issues on the basis of the accounting discrepancies to which I have already referred. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends are dedicated to using our public resources to the maximum advantage, and we must, therefore, be dedicated to operating a system of cash limits in the public sector. Overspending is a matter of serious concern, but underspending should concern us also. Every decision on budget forecasts means that some other budget has to suffer, and the whole system goes out of kilter if we move too far above or below the Estimates.

The problem of getting the accounting right has become increasingly difficult, because of the complexity of the method of operating our aid programme. Regrettably, the increasing complexity of operating that programme seems to have increased in direct proportion to the ineffectiveness of not only our aid programme but the aid programme of the whole of the developing world.

Since 1964 our aid programme has reached about £10 billion. In terms of the world donor community as a whole in 1979–80 we are talking of between £120 billion and £140 billion. Therefore, in terms of North-South transfers—to use the current jargon—we are discussing a matter of fundamental importance. If, as I fear, the disbursement of that aid becomes even more complex, and therefore more ineffective, it will be a matter to which we must pay careful attention.

In that process of complication, one reason for the excesses is that anno domini has set in among the aid administrators—and none of us is exempt from that. When the Ministry of Overseas Development was formed in 1964—it emerged from that Department of Technical Co-operation—it was fortunate to have at its disposal a corps of people very experienced in the realities of the developing world. I refer primarily to former members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, who worked for many years in Africa, the sub-continent of India and the West Indies. Those people lived in the villages as magistrates, district officers, or whatever the titles of their particular regimes may have been. They knew what a paddy field looked like, and they knew how to grow sugar. They lived in the countryside and acquired a fund of practical experience.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Is that the bunch who produced the famous or infamous ground nuts scheme?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) or other hon. Members presently in the Chamber were here earlier when I gave a ruling. This is a very narrow debate, in which we can discuss only the reasons for the excesses. It is to that that we must confine ourselves.

Mr. Whitney

I am most grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, which I accept. I am trying to show that some of the problems that have led to the excesses have been the complication of our aid scheme and the steady withdrawal of the administrators of that scheme from the reality of the developing world. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) referred to the ground nuts scheme. However, I accept that you, Mr. Speaker, will not allow me to pursue that point.

We have developed a Parkinsonian position, which must happen in bureaucracies. It is a natural phenomenon against which we have to guard—not only the bureaucracy but the Ministers in charge of those bureaucracies. That was fortified by the particular phenomenon pertaining in the Ministery of Overseas Development and other development ministries in other countries. We suffered because we had such a good start with our ex-imperial administrators, who, unfortunately, steadily left the scene.

We have now bright young men and women who study economics at university and then specialise in development economics. They occasionally take foreign posting to Washington, where they are loaned to the World Bank. Occasionally they visit Dacca or Zambia, but given half the chance they work their way up through the hierarchy in Eland House. I accept that I am being a little cynical about that. However, a career pattern has been established. There are very few officials who have had, or who could have had, the sort of direct experience that was so valuable in the first 10 years of the existence of the Ministry of Overseas Development.

I believe that the new officials have become increasingly imbued with a grand desire. Whereas the imperial administrator knew the village and the simple economics of increasing crop yield, the new breed of officials are in danger—I put it no higher—of wishing to plan grand designs and concepts. I should be happy to quote a number of examples, but they would not fall directly within the ambit of the discussion, and I would be ruled out of order.

I am sure that the manifestation of the excesses this year is a repeat of the sort of thing that I began to experience during the period 1973–1977. Development economists get exited about planning. They go to the recipient country and meet other development economists who have been to the same universities—they have all been to Sussex university. They go to seminars at Harvard and they are very excited about planning big projects and about State bureaucracy and patronage. That is the game that has developed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that it is on the decline, but it has been a phenomenon that has led to the excess on the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Waltham Forest)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that if there were fewer administrators of various sorts supervising the operation of our aid programme overseas that would be a better means of controlling expenditure and thus keeping it within the original Estimates? It does not logically follow that if there are fewer supervisors a programme will by itself somehow be brought into the sort of control that I imagine the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Whitney

I am arguing that, and very shortly I should like to come to that point. I understand that what I wish to suggest may be a new concept, particularly to Labour Members who have their own views on the role of the State and of Socialism here and abroad. One of the natural corollaries of the process that I have tried to describe is that it can be said that the sort of aid pattern and programmes that have been built up are a means of exporting Socialism.

The hon. Gentleman and I will have differing views on the value of doing that. I submit that the examples of Socialism as practised in Tanzania and, perhaps, India—both of which have been large recipients of aid—do not suggest that that is the way in which the people of the recipient countries can best benefit from that aid.

We now operate a system that leads to these great problems for the Overseas Development Administration over the lead times, particularly on the rural development projects. There is massive overspending and massive underspending, but there is also a system that puts grit in the machine—

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The Foreign Office.

Mr. Whitney

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Ministry of Overseas Development, which is what it was at the time that I am describing.

Our young men go to the recipient country with great ideas, which they want to put into operation. In my experience, far from improving relations with the recipient country that makes them more difficult. The other day we were discussing the "nannyist" State, which, sadly, has grown up in this country but is now—I hope— being rolled back. We have exported our nannyism to the re-recipient country, that makes them more political problems are created, in addition to those of an accounting nature. It is highly questionable whether any political leverage is produced.

Therefore, I wish to suggest a simple scheme to avoid Socialism, nannyism and the complex accounting procedures that lead years ahead. My hon. Friend the Minister probably finds that he is committed to a programme for the next two or three years and that he has no room for manoeuvre. I therefore suggest that year by year we should offer the recipient countries balance of payments support up to a certain level and after that leave it up to them. Of course, it would be tied, but that and the question of local costs are a detail. As a general principle I would offer a line of credit, up to a limit. The countries would make their own decisions, and if they wanted advice, consultancies and training they would be provided on an economic cost basis. We would tell them that when they wanted to buy their equipment for their projects they would buy it from us.

That would lead to far greater flexibility. The job of accountant in the ODA would practically disappear. Each year we could invite the country in question to tell its people that it was getting, say, £20 million from Britain. We would know that the money was going into the country. Progress would be jointly reviewed each year on the basis of that country's performance—whether it had been helpful to us by way of trade, or in political terms. Let us not beat about the bush. Many elements of the dialogue mean that we have to keep our North-South relationship going, but the major element must be national interest, hov— ever broadly we define it. The recipient countries understand that.

There must be a radical look a: our aid programme along these lines before we get involved in the fundamental considerations arising from Brandt and the North-South dialogue, and it would release a lot of valuable manpower—expert economists and others—for other work. It would obviate the need for the ODA to ask the House year after year to approve excesses over its budget.

6.18 pm
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The House is indebted to the hon Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) for raising this matter, because the question of excess spending or underspending on the overseas aid Vote has been a problem for many years and has exercised the minds of many people. I think that his solution would make the Treasury's hair stand on end—although I can hardly say that of the Minister. If I understand the hon. Gentleman aright. he is proposing a massive handout of aid that is totally untied—

Mr. Whitney


Mr. Hooley

I do not understand his proposition any other way.

Mr. Whitney

There is no reason why the aid should be untied. There are already elements of untied aid that may or may not be open to discussion, but I did not suggest, as part of the package, that it should be untied.

Mr. Hooley

Perhaps I had better not go into the hon. Gentleman's rather weird proposal, since he has not had the time to spell it out in the necessary detail. However, I find it difficult to see how his system would operate unless it was with a global sum, free of any close control over how it was spent.

To be fair, in considering the question of overspending or underspending on aid we must examine the problem that the ODA has in dealing with between 80 and 90 independent Governments who benefit in one way or another from our aid distribution, quite apart from the numerous multilateral bodies, such as the European Development Fund, to which we contribute.

The countries concerned vary enormously in sophistication and skill. They range from countries such as India, with a population of 500 million and a highly sophisticated civil service, to a small territory such as Tuvalu—which has recently become independent—with a population of around 9,000 people. We must bear that in mind if we are to criticise excess spending by the Ministry. We must also bear in mind the enormous difficulties and complications that arise from the disbursement of between £700 million and £800 million of public funds for a huge variety of objectives.

There has been pressure on the ODA to avoid underspending, and it has reacted to that. The pressure to avoid under-spending was proper in the light of cuts that have occurred in the aid programme and the abandonment of proposals for a steady increase in that programme with a view to achieving the 0.7 per cent. target that has been internationally agreed.

Incidentally, I think that the ODA will find it more difficult to avoid an excess of this order—or of any order—in the light of the massive increase in overseas students' fees, which will pose severe problems if Governments are to meet their existing commitments, let alone new commitments within their budgets.

It is proper that we should discuss this excess spending problem, as it has been presented to us in the statement of excesses.

It is important to look at the precise information given under Class II, Vote 7. It is stated that while there were excesses on 10 sub-heads—I am not quite clear what those sub-heads were—which amounted to £52 million, there were savings on another 42 sub-heads amounting to £36 million. By a strange argument, the hon. Member for Wycombe has aggregated the two, and he says that it amounts to mistakes of £88 million. Presumably he is also saying that it amounts to mistakes to within 52 heads of accounts. That is an extraordinary argument. In normal personal expenditure people take it for granted that here and there they may be a bit out on the top side but that there may be the odd saving on the other side. I do not see the logic of aggregating the two figures and saying that the net figure has run to an excess of £16 million. Therefore, it is right to say that the real error was £88 million, a combination of the overspending and underspending. In that respect I find the hon. Gentleman's logic peculiar.

We are entitled to a little more information from the Minister about the overspending and underspending sub-heads. I am intrigued by the statement that there was some saving—that apparently cannot be applied to the overspending—on international subscriptions. I should have thought that in that field—unless, perhaps, it is an exchange rate problem—we would have had a fairly accurate idea of the commitment. Perhaps the Minister will explain that when he replies.

I also understood that in the matter of excess spending or underspending—it happens to be excess spending this year—the Treasury had agreed, two years ago, on a certain amount of latitude on the carry-over from one year to another because of the intricate problems of managing a Vote that had to be negotiated in terms of expenditure with 80 or 90 independent sovereign Governments whose sophistication in matters of public accounting varies considerably. It would be unfair to have a debate on an excess that amounts to 2½ per cent. of the total expenditure without taking into account the enormous problems of dealing with so many Governments over whom we have no jurisdiction or control. We can negotiate in good faith, but at the end of the day what they do or do not do is their business, and we cannot control it.

Another interesting aspect of the statement of excesses is that it refers to exceptionally heavy drawing against bilateral capital That is a reasonable explanation of the reason why we are faced with an excess this year. Capital projects—we have had the experience of Concorde, and so on, in Britain—are notoriously difficult to forecast in terms of cost and escalation of cost, time of starting, length of period to carry them through, and so on. I cannot see why there should be any serious criticism of the ODA on capital outlay. It might find that in any year our commitments—that we are clearly bound to honour—run somewhat higher than was estimated. Revenue is difficult enough to control, but compared with the control of the cost of capital projects in these days of inflation—in Britain it is running at about 20 per cent. and in some other countries at about 100 per cent.—and with widely fluctuating exchange rates, it is not unreasonable to expect that an excess of such a small amount as £16 million in terms of public expenditure may occasionally occur.

The hon. Member for Wycombe produced a plan for avoiding that, but I shall not attempt to go further into it, because it has all sorts of ramifications. However, other plans have been produced for helping to finance overseas aid. A worldwide progressive tax on a sliding scale related to national income, a levy on international trade, a levy on arms production, and revenue from international property, such as sea-bed minerals, have been suggested. They are interesting ideas, which the House should explore carefully in order to find out whether we can, in this way, finance more effectively and generously the flow of resources from North to South.

In case the Treasury is alarmed about the suggestion that there should be any sort of automatic transfer of resources over which it would not have immediate or special control, I remind the Treasury that, unhappily, this situation already exists in the transfer of resources from Britain to the richest countries in the world through the various levies that we have to pay to our partners in the Common Market. The idea of some form of automatic progressive tax or levy to finance overseas aid is well worth exploring.

For the purpose of this debate, I should be interested in the nature of the excesses on these 10 sub-heads. Why did we fall short on international subscriptions? What examples can the Minister give of the large capital programmes that led to heavy drawings rather late in the financial year and gave rise to this modest and, to my mind, worthwhile excess on this Vote?

6.30 pm
Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

I apologise—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This may save time. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was present when I gave my ruling about speaking to the excesses.

Mr. Emery

I was, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Emery

I have been in and out of the Chamber. I was about to apologise for not having been present for the whole of the debate.

I shall detain the House for only a short while. We are considering the cash limit aspect of overseas aid. I want to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development the fact that on 4 March this year an entirely new factor concerning overseas aid fell on the Government. Zimbabwe, now an independent country, will need a great deal of assistance in dealing with the ravages of war.

Appendix 1, from page 28 onwards, deals with the amounts and types of aid that have been underspent and overspent. Will my hon. Friend consider the problem that will arise in Zimbabwe when we are dealing with future cash limits? The 1977 White Paper estimated that £1½ billion, over five years, would probably be necessary for all aid. That is an impossible figure within the United King- dom's cash limits. Therefore, will my hon. Friend consider—as I suggested to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday—making an appeal to the Heads of Government within the Commonwealth, to America and to the nations of Europe, that a fund be set up to deal with the major resettlement of more than 200,000 refugees in Zimbabwe by providing finance for low-cost housing, which is the greatest requirement, and water supplies for the development of native agriculture? Such schemes are outlined in the Estimates, but it will be impossible for the British Government alone to meet the cost.

Can my hon. Friend give any hope to the new Government in Zimbabwe that the British Government appreciate the immense requirements of that country and will look outside their own boundaries in an effort to organise international aid so that Britain does not have to enlarge on the cash limits?

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to make a five-minute intervention.

6.35 pm
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Neil Marten)

First, I propose to answer the question raised in this debate, which, as you said, Mr. Speaker, is limited. I shall then take up and reply to the engaging points that have been made.

The excess Vote referred to occurred in respect of the overseas aid programme for 1978–79 when I, and the Government of which I am a member, had no responsibility for it. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), who was then responsible for it, is not here to make the speech that I have to make. However, I assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) that I shall do my best to be absolutely fair to the right hon. Lady, because we are now talking about a departmental rather than a party political matter.

It is unfortunate that, despite very tight control by ODA officials over expenditure—I know from my limited experience that it is very tight control—an excess over net estimate occurred of just over £16 million. In fact, the overspend on the overseas aid cash block was rather lower at £8.9 million—I understand that in Government language "cash block" equals "cash limits". This represented an error of only 1.2 per cent. in relation to the net aid programme for 1978–79 of £722 million. I wonder how many commercial firms with a turnover of that magnitude would get anywhere near 1.2 per cent. on an overspend or underspend. Nevertheless, it is not right for Government Departments to do it when they are not allowed to do it under the Queensberry rules of government.

As I have found since taking office, there are peculiar difficulties in managing our overseas aid programme. This is where, in a way, I come to the defence of my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Lanark. It involves a large number of Governments—more than 120—most of whom, are now independent and we no longer control them. It also involves a number of multilateral bodies and domestic organisations with which we are happy to work, but over which I have no direct control as Minister.

Payments to the International Development Association are made by deposited promissory notes. The drawings on those promissory notes are not at regular intervals or on regular occasions. Therefore, it is difficult to get them into line with our own financial year.

A number of payments are made through the good offices of British embassies and high commissions overseas, an uncertain proportion of which are not brought into account until well after the close of the financial year on 31 March. That is not their fault. It is the fault of the Governments to whom they are accredited. So it is impossible to predict with strict accuracy just how closely out-turn will match the resources voted by Parliament, and some allowance must always be made for margins of error.

It was with these difficulties in mind that nearly 10 years ago the Select Committee on overseas aid recommended the introduction of special arrangements to allow some roll forward or roll back between financial years in respect of an under spend or over spend.

Exceptional arrangements of that kind were introduced in 1971 with the agreement of the Treasury—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) said that it was with the agreement of the Treasury, and I now underline that point—and the House was duly informed of them. At present, I have discretion to roll forward to the next financial year but one up to £15 million of any underspend and, similarly, with Treasury agreement, to set off an overspend of up to £15 million in one year against the provision agreed by the Cabinet for the next financial year but one. So it follows that from 1980–81 we shall, in effect, repay the £8.9 million by which our cash block was overpsent in 1978–79. These arrangements, of course, are subject to the approval of Parliament.

The degree of expenditure which can be acheived in any particular financial year within the overseas aid programme depends very heavily on the extent of the commitments entered into in previous years, a point to which the hon. Member for Heeley referred. This is because most of our bilateral Government-to-Government aid tends to be slow-spending, and there is often a considerable lag between agreement on our part to support a project and implementation by the overseas Government.

There is always a danger that, in an attempt to over-correct tendencies towards underspending—the overseas aid programme was almost invariably under-spent in the year prior to 1978–79, the year about which we are talking—too many new commitments may be taken at once, so taking up too large a share of the resources likely to be available in future years. I think that that is what happened in 1978. Indeed the figures in respect of commitments which appear in the recent edition of "British Aid Statistics" for 1978 confirm that view. For example, whereas total bilateral commitments entered into over the years 1975 to 1977 varied only a little—between £400 million in 1976 and £416 million in 1977—the total bilateral commitments entered into in 1978 amounted to nearly £850 million. This represented a sizeable and extraordinary jump and no doubt contributed to the pressure against the approved resources which built up at the end of March 1979. It is because of the substantial commitments entered into in 1978 that much of the action we would like to have taken since coming into office last May in respect of overseas aid has had to be severely constrained.

It is true that there would have been greater flexibility had we adhered to the previous Government's proposed levels for the aid programme in 1979–80 and 1980–1981. But the targets set for those years were clearly over-ambitious, having regard to the economic state of the country as we found it when we took office. It was for that reason that my right hon. Friend found it necessary in June of last year to cut the planned overseas aid programme for 1979–80 by £50 million.

Since then my officials have been monitoring expenditure—

Mr. Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (Norfolk, North-West)

I wonder whether I am correct in inferring from my hon. Friend's last remarks that had there been "greater flexibility"—to use his phrase—he would like to have seen the aid programme cut more substantially than he was able to cut it?

Mr. Marten

That is a wrong understanding of what I said. I said "flexibility" and I meant it. What I meant was the flexibility to move an aid programme from here to there or to give a little more here or a little more there. That is the kind of flexibility I had in mind.

As I was saying, since then my officials have been monitoring very closely expenditure against commitments and we have had to take some painful decisions, not least the reduction of some bilateral programmes to countries which we are anxious to help. We shall clearly have to continue to examine with particular care all expenditure proposals within the aid programme for some time to come, having regard to the weight of forward commitments entered into under the previous Administration.

I would, however, assure the House that officials are doing all that they can to keep expenditure within their control. Some of our monitoring techniques were out of date, and since I took over as Minister I am glad to say that we have engaged management consultants to carry out a study on ways of improving our management information system. The results of this study should enable us to monitor expenditure more effectively in the future.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

More expensively.

Mr. Marten

I said "more effectively" in future. I am not an expert on managing accounts nor on management consultancy, but I felt that this was something that we had to do. In view of the report on overspending, we wondered whether we were monitoring these accounts in the best way.

The hon. Member for Heeley raised the question of subscriptions to international organisations. He was quite right when he said that they were usually commited in dollars and that the exchange rate had had its effect on the actual payments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), who initiated this short debate, referred to anno domini—I will come later to his reference to me in that context—in relation to ex-colonials, many of whom are now reaching the age when they are retiring from this line of business. I meet such people as I travel around. They have been wonderful servants both of the Empire and of independent countries after those countries gained their independence. We regret that they are retiring. The position is well known and we are trying to deal with it as best we can. We shall never regain the wonderful experience that those people had to offer to independent countries when they became independent.

The Overseas Development Administration and its predecessors benefited from the experience of members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. We were able to recruit from this source, and most of the original staff members of the Department of Technical Co-operation were from the Colonial Office. We now seek to ensure that administration staff have overseas experience. We have a strong team of professional advisers, including economic advisers, most of whom have pursued overseas careers and who have key roles in decision taking. We also draw heavily on the knowledge of our specialised units—for example, the Tropical Products Institute—which operate at home and overseas.

The young administrators—this, I think, is the important point—have opportunities to serve in our development divisions and some key aid posts in missions. This does not mean the short visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe mentioned. Sometimes they spend three to five years in a development division in, perhaps, Asia or Africa.

Mr. Whitney

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that four years' service in Bangkok in a South-East Asian development division is in any way the equivalent of field experience?

Mr. Marten

I did not confine it to serving in a development division. I was simply giving one example. Sometimes they go out to missions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe did, and give aid direct from the embassy or high commission to which they are attached.

These young administrators have opportunities to serve in our development divisions and in some key aid posts. The professional advisers, who usually have a geographic specialism, travel extensively to retain their familiarity with developments in the countries with which they deal. We regret the passing on—not away, but on—of our ex-colonial servants and we are doing our level best to give experience to new members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, made another point with which I shall deal. I think that what he was trying to get across was that we are exporting Socialism.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

To Rhodesia.

Mr. Marten

I am not certain whether my hon. Friend used those words, but that was the implication of his remarks. Personally, I doubt whether it is a good thing for the world as a whole to export Socialism. What I would not mind seeing is the export from this country of the practitioners of Socialism.

Mr. Dobson

In a rowing boat.

Mr. Marten

I shall not enter in to that discussion at this stage of the evening.

Aid has to respond to the priorities of the recipient countries. They often want external finance to support investments and infrastructure, such as dams, roads, power stations, and railways. Most of these requirements would not attract primary capital any more than they would in the United Kingdom or most other Western countries. Of course, the effect of this Government money being used for these infrastructure purposes in developing countries is to produce the generated power or the roads and communication systems which result in essential benefits to private enterprise when it eventually plucks up the courage to set up business in those countries.

Now that we have raised exchange controls, there is nothing to stop private enterprise doing that. I hope that private enterprise will be encouraged to get out there in the developing countries and invest and help the people there. But Government-to-Government aid can also be channelled through local parastatal organisations, including the development corporations which provide investment capital for small private ventures. The example is aid provided to the Botswana National Development Bank which makes loans to small farmers—for example, to individual cattle farmers to assist rehabilitation after the effects of foot and mouth disease some two years ago. We also do this sort of thing in India and Pakistan, and in other countries.

A further channel is the Commonwealth Development Corporation. This body, funded from the aid programme resources, promotes economic development by investing in a variety of projects in association with other public or private funds.

So those sorts of example are not exactly exporting Socialism, and certainly the Commonwealth Development Corporation is not doing that.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but he is importing something else. He is widening the debate to the whole question of overseas aid, and the same rules must apply to him—that he justifies the excesses, and does not exceed that.

Mr. Marten

I apologise if I was wrong, Mr. Speaker, but I was answering points raised during the debate and I assumed that they were in order. Perhaps I may continue, and if I go wrong, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will correct me.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of trying to save a lot of money by giving developing countries balance of payments support and saying to them "Here is the cash. You get on with it and make your own decisions." But I really cannot see that that followed through in any logic, because we are here dealing with money which is taxpayers' money being voted by Parliament. To my mind, just to say to a developing country "Get on with this lump of money" would be a most irresponsible way to treat money voted by Parliament.

My hon. Friend said that we must use aid more in our national interest. I think that this comes out in the statement that I made to Parliament on 20 February: We believe that it is right at the present time to give greater weight in the allocation of our aid to political, industrial and commercial considerations alongside our basic developmental objectives."—[Official Report, 20 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 464.] In that respect, I think that we are doing what my hon. Friend wants.

I come finally to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) about Zimbabwe. He got that in very cunningly. I think that you will agree with that, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It was not so cunningly. I was a very tolerant Speaker.

Mr. Marten

What my hon. Friend was really saying was that the job of aiding the revival of Zimbabwe is so colossal that it cannot be done within our cash limits. That is where he was cunning to get it in. I absolutely accept that point, particularly when one looks forward to the next two or three years and at our cash limits. The question of aid for Zimbabwe must be an international effort. A colossal effort has to go into it, but once it is there and has been there for two or three years I think that Zimbabwe has a great future for recovery and could do without aid, perhaps, altogether.

I think that my hon. Friend had it in mind that we would take a lead in raising this money. One has to look at that matter. I am answering this oil the cuff. I should have thought that the best answer would be for the Government of Zimbabwe, when it is totally independent, to call together—and we could certainly act as whips, as it were—the countries which are likely to give the money, and have a meeting on the spot in Salisbury, under the chairmanship of the Zimbabwe Government. This may well be a way in which they can get pledges of aid of the magnitude which. as my hon. Friend rightly said, will be needed.

I dealt with the debate in the earlier part of my speech, and, with those few remarks, I hope that the House will be satisfied with the answer which I have given.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that the following two topics afford themselves of a wider debate, where policy may be involved.