HL Deb 01 July 1965 vol 267 cc1041-51

4.30 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, perhaps we may revert now to a less controversial subject than coal. I admit that when I came down to your Lordships' House, I had no intention of speaking on the Overseas Development and Service Bill, which was introduced with so much skill by my noble friend Lord Taylor, but it seems to me that this is such an important and useful Bill that it might create a false impression if the only speakers in the Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House were the two official spokesmen of the two main Parties. Therefore I should like to associate myself with the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in welcoming this Bill very cordially indeed.

The terms of financial aid to the Colonies in Clause 1 of the Bill are an immense improvement on existing terms. I think the extension of financial assistance under Clause 2 to persons other than Government employees will be of great advantage to overseas countries. I wish to emphasise, however, one point in that connection which was made by the noble Marquess. In spite of the financial inducements, young men from this country will not go out to these poor countries overseas as doctors, engineers, local authority employees, co-operators or whatever it may be, unless they have a real incentive to do so. Surely the most essential condition for a real incentive is that it should be absolutely certain that when they come back they will not be prejudiced in their own professions.

This is not at all a matter for the Government, but it is certainly a matter for your Lordships' House. I am convinced that there will be no incentive until the bodies representative of our great professions—some have done so already, but I am afraid the majority have not—make it their official policy that young men who go out overseas for a short period (and it will be a short period of not more than a year or two) at the start of their professional careers will not be prejudiced in so far as promotion or status is concerned when they return to their normal work in this country. Unless this sense of confidence is created in our younger people, the financial provisions of the Bill will not be effective, because these people will not go out to do this sort of work.

There is one thing I should like to say with regard to the financial provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill. Here, again, I would endorse the question asked by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, about the proportion of the £40 million in loans which will be provided in the form of interest-free loans, as distinct from loans at the normal Treasury rate of interest. I think it is admirable that the proportion of grants to loans is now 70 per cent. to 30 per cent. I only wish that financial aid to the independent Commonwealth countries were provided on such generous terms. But as all these small Colonies to which these loans will be made are extremely poor, I should have thought that it would be only in a most exceptional case that the normal Treasury rate of interest could be charged.

I should be glad if my noble friend could say whether his right honourable friend who is responsible for financial aid would be willing in the great majority of cases to give interest-free loans. I think this policy of interest-free loans is an admirable departure. It is a new policy, and I very much hope that it will become part of the national aid-giving policy of this country, and that any future Government will continue the policy that has been started by the present Government.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I should like to address myself briefly to Clause 2 of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne specifically referred to one or two countries within the Indian Ocean—that is, the Seychelles and Mauritius—and in view of the provisions of Clause 2, I should like to refer to another country in that area, as I am the Chairman of the Anglo-Malagasy Society, and that is the Malagasy Republic. I would echo the words of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne with regard to the question of sending out teachers. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to consider soon sending out to that country some teachers of English; and also, perhaps at a later date, some university professor could possibly be sent, with the approval of the Malagasy Government, to the University of Tananarive.

Here I should like to take this opportunity of saying how delighted I am that the Minister of Overseas Development has given her consent to four or five students starting on a nine months' course during the coming autumn at the Thurrock Technical College. This is the first time it has been done for students from the Malagasy Republic, and I hope that it will be the beginning of many more students coming from that part of the world.

There are one or two questions which I should like to ask the noble Lord. I was wondering whether the provisions of Clause 2 of the Bill will enable his right honourable friend to consult with the British Council, or provide funds or assist the British Council in any way, to set up an organisation in Malagasy, which I am sure would meet with the approval of the Government there. This is something which has been considered for a few years now, and I understand that the cost would be in the region of £25,000.

The other question is with regard to equipment being sent out to such overseas territories not within the Commonwealth. Will the funds which are required to buy equipment be provided under Clause 2 of the Bill? I am thinking particularly of milk pasteurisation plant, which I understand is shortly to be sent out to hospitals in Tananarive. I understand that this is proceeding satisfactorily. But should further plant or equipment be sent to other territories who need such technical and specialist equipment, could it be done under Clause 2 of the Bill?

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for rising to speak after my noble friend Lord Lansdowne has already spoken from the Front Bench on this side of the House, but I am encouraged to do so by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and by my noble friend Lord Merrivale. As one who has always taken a great interest in our Commonwealth and colonial development overseas, and who for a time had the privilege of speaking from the Government Front Bench for the previous Department of Technical Co-operation when it was first formed, I, too, should like to welcome this Bill.

I wish to associate myself with everything that has been said by all speakers so far, and particularly with what was said by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne with regard to agricultural development. I feel that for a long time to come the economies of the territories with which we are dealing in this Bill—not to mention many of the independent territories—must depend upon the development of their agriculture.

The second most important matter is the educational programme. These two things together will do more than anything else for the territories about which we are speaking. In that respect, I think my noble friend Lord Lansdowne brought out clearly that there is no question of pensions or compensation for people going out under the extended powers of this scheme to non-Governmental authorities. At the same time, I think I am right in saying that there was never any question of pension or compensation for contract people, and that this referred only to the original Act dealing with overseas civil servants who were continuing as employees of the newly independent territories.

That brings me to a question raised in my mind by the final paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill, where it is pointed out that the figure of some £16 million now being spent under the Overseas Service Act. 1961, is likely to diminish as instalments of compensation under the Compensation Schemes are completed. That paragraph goes on to say that the extra cost to the Exchequer in this coming year might be £500,000, and may rise to £14, million in subsequent years. Are those last figures taking into consideration the diminution referred to in the first part of that paragraph, or are they quite separate from it? It is perhaps not a very important matter, but it is one of some interest.

May I ask one or two further brief questions? The first one is with regard to a reference in Clause 1(6) to the Tanganyika Agriculture Corporation. I am not quite clear of the meaning of that when it refers to some payments arising, apparently, before 1957. Is this in fact a writing-off of an old debt? I read it in that fashion, and I think we ought to have an explanation of that point. The other point which occurred to me is that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who introduced this Bill so admirably and lucidly, said that this money could be used—I think his words were these—anywhere in the world. At the end of his speech he said that of course the bulk of it would be going to the colonial territories.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I think I had better clear this matter up straight away. What I said was that the provisions of Clause 2 could apply anywhere in the world. The provisions of Clause 1, which is the main money portion, apply only to the remaining dependent territories.


I am very grateful for that explanation. I did not quite make out what the noble Lord said. I was going to suggest that these figures would not have been quite accurate when he referred to a certain expenditure per head. I am very glad of that explanation. I welcome this Bill most heartily, and wish the development programme set out under it every success.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, I will try to answer the questions which have been put to me. First, I should like to thank the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, my noble friend Lord Listowel, and other noble Lords who have spoken, for the very kind way in which they have received this Bill. I would acknowledge at once that it is one of a long line of Bills which started, as the noble Marquess reminded us, way back in 1940 when things were very difficult indeed. Nevertheless, we did not hesitate to do what was right by our dependent territories—or to begin to do what was right—and even now, though things are difficult, we are doing more than we have done in the past.

The noble Marquess mentioned a number of territories: the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Protectorates St. Helena, Tristan and Gibraltar, among others—they are all in our minds a good deal of the time—and, of course, the Western Indian Islands, the federation of which we hope to see, though I must say that things are not quite as rosy as they were. Indeed, it will be a great help to us, and to them, if they do federate, particularly from the point of view of an efficient programme of economic development.

The noble Marquess mentioned Senegal and The Gambia. Of course, these two territories do not come into Clause 1 of the Bill, though they come into Clause 2—The Gambia certainly, and Senegal possibly, though I was careful to say that we thought, as he did, that aid to the Commonwealth must come first under Clause 2, and we could not say how much of it would be used for assistance in non-Commonwealth territories at this stage. I should like to say that I have borne in mind what he said in a previous debate about the importance of co-operation between The Gambia and Senegal, and the possibility of giving aid to encourage this. I know that The Gambia themselves are taking active steps to improve their economic relations with Senegal, and they are in a happy commercial relationship at the moment, as I had the opportunity to find out during the recent Prime Minister's Conference.

The noble Marquess asked about the question of Treasury approval in relation to the decision to make a payment under Clause 2. Under subsection (4) Treasury consent to designation may be given generally and not in relation to individual officers. Subsections (3) and (4) taken together take account of the general need of a Government Department to act in accordance with the Treasury in disposing of large sums of money. In fact, the provisions of the present Bill continue what has been done in the past. General criteria are worked out between the Ministry and the Treasury in respect of each country, and then these criteria are applied by the Ministry to individual cases without having to go back to the Treasury, unless some new point of principle arises. But when a new point of principle arises that has to be referred back to the Treasury, because it may have a wide implication. But it is only when new things arise and a new precedent may be created with a wide implication that it is necessary for the Minister of Overseas Development to go back and get a clearance, as it were, and I think this is sensible and reasonable. I went over it before the noble Marquess raised the point, and I think it is quite a sensible procedure, and should not be unduly cumbersome.

The noble Marquess and my noble friend Lord Listowel asked about what will happen when people come home from these short-term contracts. I agree entirely with what they said. First, it is vitally important that this should be a proper step in their careers, and not a backward step. Increasingly in teaching and in medicine this is being recognised as a very good thing to do; and in the case of civil engineering I know that a period of service in the tropics is a good thing to have done, because so much of modern contracting and civil engineering is done in tropical countries.

However, there is also one practical point, and that is that these are short-service contract officers. They are on a short-service contract and they normally receive a substantial gratuity at the end of their period of service which helps them over the period when they are looking around for something else, and may need help for them to settle in. We have been familiar with such people in medicine for many years, men who take short-service contracts in the R.A.F. or other Armed Forces. It is vitally important that we should watch this to make sure that they are being reabsorbed properly; and my right honourable friend will watch very carefully to see that all is well in this respect.


My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord whether the gratuities to which he has referred are paid by the employing Governments or by our Government?


My Lords, as I understand it they would be paid by the employing Government, but it would not be amiss for Her Majesty's Government to make up a portion of the gratuity in the overseas aid payment.


That would refer to the extended scheme also?


My Lords, I think I am correct in saying this, although I should really want to take advice before making any final statement. University people, whether they are working in overseas universities or in this country, are normally covered by the universities' superannuation scheme, so that wherever they are working their superannuation scheme will continue. Again, I think it is being increasingly recognised that service in an overseas university is an additional qualification when it comes to applying for jobs here. The only group of people who will definitely benefit, about which a decision has already been made, are people in universities, under the expansion under Clause 2.

The noble Marquess also asked about direct payment, and when direct payment would be made. I have two notes on this. First, direct payment has already been asked for by some of the Governments concerned. They have said they would prefer the people to be paid directly rather than to the designated officers, and it certainly will not be done except with the agreement of the Government or the employing authorities concerned. It will be the exception, rather than the rule, to make direct payment, but there may be occasions when it is desired by all parties, and we felt it should be an exceptional situation for precisely the reasons which the noble Marquess stated, namely, that it is important for these people to have loyalty to their employing authority and not to Her Majesty's Government in these circumstances. The noble Marquess also asked about the payment of the bodies as opposed to the Governments. Here, again, it would be proper, and we think it would probably be usual, to pay the bodies rather than the Governments if the former were autonomous bodies, but again with the agreement of the Government concerned. I think that has made that particular point clear.

The noble Marquess and also the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, referred to the question of the teaching of English. Of course we attach just as much importance as the noble Marquess does to the teaching of English, and indeed to the teaching of teachers of English. However, I understand, and here again I speak subject to correction, that the teaching of English is primarily and almost exclusively an activity of the British Council, and it is not part of our purpose in this Bill to assist in the teaching of English. A little while ago I described from this Box the increasing amount that is being done, and the limitation now is simply the supply of teachers of English to do the job. I can write to the noble Marquess with more information about that if he wishes.


My Lords, what I was trying to suggest was that young men and young women who perhaps had hoped to go to university but who had failed to do so might form a recruiting ground. They would not have to go away for very long—it might be for the time they would otherwise have been in university. Has that possibility been looked into?


My Lords, I would hesitate to say whether it has or not, but the noble Marquess will know that many young people now, under Voluntary Services Overseas, can go overseas and teach English in schools before they go to university. I am a little hesitant to say that the person who has failed to get into a university is automatically going to be benefited or to benefit others. He may benefit others to whom he is going to teach English, but when he comes back he will not have any skill which will fit him for a position at home, and he may find himself in a difficult situation. However, I should not like to be dogmatic about this without having checked the matter, so I will look into it.

The noble Marquess also asked about a career corps of overseas specialists. That is something to which we have been giving much thought, but we have not yet reached final conclusions and certainly it is not a matter for this Bill. We are dealing here primarily with people who will be on a short contract of service and who will be recruited not by Her Majesty's Government in the capacity of the Government recruiting to build up its own corps, but by the Government or the Crown Agents or the Government of the country concerned recruiting for the service of that country and to that country. Therefore it will be different from any career corps of overseas specialists which may emerge in due course.

My noble friend Lord Listowel referred—as did the noble Marquess—to the proportion of interest-free loans to non-interest-free loans. Here I am afraid I cannot give a figure, but I would remind your Lordships of something I stated, which was that in developing countries of the kind with which we are dealing it was likely that most of the money would be by grant in any case, because they were countries which were in considerable economic need, and the grant money is substantial here. I also reminded your Lordships that many of them have budgetary deficits which we make good, so if we lend them money at ordinary loan rates we may find ourselves paying back the interest on the loan, which is really a bit silly. So it is likely that it will not be a major portion of the money that is spent. Before the noble Earl spoke he had already asked me if I would find out about the possibility of extending the length of loans. I did so, and I am afraid the answer is that they would not normally be extended. The kind of loan which I mentioned would be for the usual period.


My Lords, I am not quite happy about this. I do not want to press the noble Lord too much, but we have£40 million available: is this going to be interest-free or not, or will the interest-free loan come from some other source?


A part of this can be interest-free and a part of the loans made to countries not in the category of developing colonial territories can also be interest-free, but it is not covered by this Bill.


I am obliged to my noble friend for his reply to that question. I do not think it is fair to ask him the question, but would he urge his right honourable friend, as I am sure he will do, and support him in doing so, to make the largest possible part of this£40 million loan an interest-free loan?


Certainly; but I would remind my noble friend that the criteria which the right honourable Lady laid down in relation to these interest-free loans and which she intended to apply whether the loan be to a colonial dependent territory or some other territory are, first, poverty, and secondly, the possibility of successful development in the area, and to its being used for productive development. She will, I know, strive to get as much as she can within the category of interest-free loans.

The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, asked about Malagasy and the teaching of English there, and I think the answer is that again the teaching of English in such a country is a function primarily of the British Council, in so far as it is a responsibility of ours. He also asked about the provision of apparatus in a country which is not within the category of a colonial territory. The answer is that it does not come within this Bill, but it is borne on another Vote of the Ministry of Overseas Development.

The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, stressed the importance of agriculture, and with that I entirely agree. Of course, it is particularly important when it comes to C.D.C. loans, where the fructification period is going to be interest-free in the future. He also mentioned the question of the Tanganyika Agricultural Corporation which is mentioned in Clause 1(6). I think he was quite correct in supposing this was the winding-up of commitments in connection with ground-nuts development in that country. I do not know whether I have covered every point your Lordships put to me. If I have missed out anything I will try to answer in a letter. I would finally thank your Lordships for having received this Bill so kindly and warmly, and I hope you will now give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and Committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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