HC Deb 25 June 1997 vol 296 c827
1. Mr. Love

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development in what ways her Department has been supporting co-operatives and other forms of group enterprise through overseas aid; and what new initiatives are planned. [3850]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we are actively encouraging the creation of co-operatives, especially to manage a communal resource, share risk, or increase the power of individuals in the market. We are seeking new opportunities to support the co-operative ideal, for example through micro-finance schemes. I recently met the president of the International Co-operative Alliance to discuss how we can learn from experience in other countries.

Mr. Love

I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. I welcome the Government's support for the ethos of co-operation. Does my hon. Friend agree that co-operatives are people-centred organisations that are able to balance the need to make a profit with the social objectives of their members? If he does, will he take the opportunity to reverse the considerable decline in recent years of support for co-operatives by the previous Government? As part of that process, will he enter into dialogue with co-operative organisations both nationally and internationally to help him to achieve the Government's objectives for the third world?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right. Co-ops balance profit-seeking with social goals. As I have said, we met the president of the ICA and I also plan to discuss development with the Co-operative college in Loughborough and with the Plunkett Foundation in Oxford. Co-ops represent a good middle way between centralised state control and free market idolatry, and we shall do all that we can to encourage them.

Mr. Rowe

Is the Minister aware of organisations, such as the Australian-based Maranatha group, which make small loans to small companies? Is he further aware that such loan-making companies have an extraordinary repayment record, which is sometimes as high as 85 or 90 per cent? Will he do everything in his power to encourage that kind of highly cost-effective assistance?

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his positive encouragement. It is not often that we get that from the Opposition. He gives a good example, and there is also the example of the Grameen bank in Bangladesh, which has had good repayment, especially by women who have been given small loans. That is exactly the kind of thing that we shall encourage, because it will encourage the development of the poorest of the poor.

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