HL Deb 17 July 1979 vol 401 cc1271-3

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will increase the proportion of overseas aid which is applied to projects in rural areas; and what role they envisage for co-operatives in achieving sound rural development in developing countries.


My Lords, while we do not regard it as realistic to set overall targets for particular sectors, the Government accept the need for assisting rural development, in accordance with our wish to direct aid to the people most in need. It is for individual developing countries to decide on the appropriate institutional framework for development, and where this includes co-operatives we shall continue to assist them within the limits of our resources.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask whether there are not two major aspects of co-operative societies which make them particularly appropriate as instruments for rural development? First, are they not particularly suitable for the small-scale labour intensive and locally controlled projects which are so much needed in the rural areas of developing countries? Secondly, since it is an important principle of co-operatives that their control is democratic, on the principle of one member one vote, are co-operative societies not an important training ground for the conduct of democratic government?


My Lords, I think both those points are very true. We shall certainly bear them very much in mind when deciding our priorities.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he will pay special attention to this proposal: Is it not a fact that a great deal of our grants to these countries goes to an élite, through Governments, and never gets to the poorer sections of the community? Is it not possible to make it a condition of these grants that they should go to the great majority of rural workers and their very successful co-operatives?


My Lords, we certainly hope that our aid does not go to the élite only, as the noble Lord suggests, and we will certainly bear the other points very much in mind.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is possible to treat co-operatives as non-governmental organisations within the meaning of that word in the Commission?


My Lords, I do not think that is necessarily the case. The noble Lord is generating certain fears in my mind with that expression, I must say, but I think he has a point.