HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc705-8

[N o. 13]

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

Overseas aid

("The Agency may with the consent of the Secretary of State enter into and carry out agreements with the Minister of Overseas Development under which the Agency act, at the expense of that Minister, as the instrument by means of which technical assistance is furnished by that Minister in the exercise of the power conferred by section 1(1) of the Overseas Aid Act 1966; and the Agency may, with the consent of both the Secretary of State and the said Minister, enter into and carry out agreements under which the Agency, for any purpose specified in the said section 1(1), furnish technical assistance in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom against reimbursement to them of the cost of furnishing that assistance.")


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13. This clause was introduced at the request of the Ministry of Overseas Development. Its purpose is to ensure that the Agency are able to make their skills and experience available to the Governments of overseas countries, and other authorities and bodies in those countries, if they should be invited to do so. Parallel clauses, as noble Lords will know, were added to the Industry Bill and to the Scottish Development Agency Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Lovell-Davis.)

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask a question about this matter because this is a new clause and we have not discussed it here at all. It was introduced, I believe, in the Commons at a very late stage and I should like to know something more about it. I do not necessarily object to it, but it is quite an adventure, if one likes to call it such, which we had not thought of at any stage when we were discussing this Bill previously. I presume that if, we will say, there is a project in Lesotho or in Indonesia which the Minister of Overseas Development thinks might be helped by Welshmen or Welsh resources he could, with the consent of the Secretary of State, ask the Agency to deal with it. Having had experience in this field, I know that it is not always satisfactory. If you ask somebody who has no knowledge whatsoever of dealing with projects either in Africa or in Asia to deal with agriculture in Lesotho he may make a great mess of it.

All development is not necessarily good development. So much depends upon expertise. For instance, just after the war the Americans, through the UNRWA Agency, went into China and began agricultural development. They provided steam powered ploughs to the Chinese and this was an absolute disaster. So long as they were operating in the normal way it was perfectly all right, but as soon as they went wrong large parts of China were littered with ploughs because there was nobody who could repair them. If you provide that kind of aid to a country which is completely inexperienced in the use of such equipment you create very grave problems. If the plough is brought into a country which has never before used it, it is more likely to do more harm than good. You must have people with experience not only of the equipment with which they are dealing, but also of the country to which aid is being given and its problems.

One has to think only of the groundnuts scheme which was started with what expertise there was, but we all know that that was a great disaster. It need not have been disastrous if certain simple operational inquiries had been made beforehand—operational inquiries which, I may say, the Agency will probably be in no way competent to carry out. This might foreshadow a disaster. Of course, the Minister of Overseas Development will be only too glad to get things done. It is his job to provide ploughs somewhere or another and get things going. He will not point out the problems. It will be the unfortunate Agency and the people in Wales who will have to carry the can. If a large amount of money is expended on wild-cat schemes in Africa or Asia, less will go to the Agency. The farmers in mid-Wales will probably have to pay. They will not receive sufficient resources because of schemes that are supported in parts of Africa and Asia.

That is all I have to say. Having had a certain amount of experience in this field, I warn the noble Lord the Minister and the Department concerned that all development is not necessarily good development.


My Lords, I take the point which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. Perhaps to some extent this is my fault. It is a late hour and we covered the substance of the matter in our previous discussion. Perhaps, therefore, I was moving too quickly. Obviously anybody going abroad will want to know what it is all about. There are areas where the Agency will undoubtedly have expertise which can be applied. I do not mean simply in medical terms. I am referring to such questions as derelict land clearance. We have a great deal of experience of this in Wales and it may be useful to other countries to profit from our know-how.

The clause empowers the Agency, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to enter into and carry out agreements with the Minister of Overseas Development. Technical assistance provided under such agreements will form part of the British aid programme. The cost will be met by the Minister of Overseas Development within the financial ceiling for that programme. I should point out that this will not come from the Agency's fund. It simply empowers the Agency to provide assistance outside the official aid programme by entering into and carrying out, again with the consent of the Secretary of State and the Minister of Overseas Development, agreements with overseas Governments and other authorities such as international organisations. As I say, the cost in such cases will be met by the authorities concerned. I cannot imagine that we shall enter into any wildcat schemes or that we shall adopt a cavalier approach. We shall be asked to provide these skills and assistance when it is clear that the Agency are in a position to do so.

On Question, Motion agreed to.