HL Deb 06 November 1979 vol 402 cc717-49

3.29 p.m.

Lord TREFGARNE rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Ministry of Overseas Development (Dissolution) Order 1979 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 25th October. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address to presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Ministry of Overseas Development (Dissolution) Order 1979 be made in the form of a draft laid before this House on 25th October. May I start by saying how much I regret the absence today of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. Your Lordships may have heard that the noble Lord—whom I should like to call "my noble friend"—suffered an accident over the weekend and is in hospital. I am sure that we all wish him a speedy and full recovery.

I think it is my duty to give your Lordships a full explanation of the procedure we propose to follow with this order, together with a description of the practical consequences which will flow from it. I also propose, with your Lordships' permission, to make some observations on our approach to overseas aid generally, particularly in the light of the public expenditure White Paper published last week.

We propose that this order should be made under Section 1 of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975. Section 1 of the Act gives Her Majesty power exercisable by Order in Council to provide for the dissolution of a Government Department in the charge of any Minister of the Crown and for the transfer of the functions previously exercisable by that Minister to any other Minister. By virtue of Section 5(I) of the Act, no Order in Council which provides for the dissolution of a Govern ment Department shall be made under the Act unless copies of it are first laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament and each House presents an Address to Her Majesty praying that the order be made. I should perhaps tell your Lordships that the other place agreed a Motion in identical terms to this one on Tuesday of last week.

Upon his appointment, my noble friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary assumed full responsibility for overseas aid and development, and the Ministry of Overseas Development became an Overseas Development Administration within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My noble friend's full title is thus Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Minister of Overseas Development. These arrangements have already been put into effect administratively, in so far as is possible. However, this order is necessary to make formal provision for the dissolution of the Ministry of Overseas Development and for the transfer to the Secretary of State of the functions of that Ministry.

As part of the new arrangements, my honourable friend Mr Marten, the Member for Banbury, was appointed to be responsible to my noble friend for aid and development matters within the Foreign aid Commonwealth Office, and to be in charge of the Overseas Development Administration. He was given the title of Minister for Overseas Development. These arrangements stand. They have had, and will continue to have, a number of consequences. When development matters are considered among Ministers, they are handled by my noble friend in consultation with my honourable friend Mr Marten. That is the background to this order. May I now turn to what I believe to be the main advantages of the new arrangements.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is particularly appropriate to have the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in charge of both the Government's foreign policy and their aid programme. This will ensure that all our dealings with oversea nations are conducted with consistency and, above all, represented in the Cabinet at the highest level.

The Government have responded speedily and effectively to the appalling plight of the refugees who were forced to leave Vietnam, and now to the threat of famine in Kampuchea. In Rhodesia, the future health and welfare of the people—all the people—has been in the forefront of our thinking.

As my noble friend moves to re-establish the position of Great Britain in world affairs, he will be able to ensure, within the compass of his own responsibilities, that our aid programme and our foreign policy are administered hand in hand, and that all the relevant considerations, including our ability to find the money, are brought together, co-ordinated, and finally implemented with efficiency and compassion.

It has been suggested that this order will have an adverse effect upon the reputation of our aid administration overseas. I reject that assertion completely. If the reputation of those administering our aid programme stands high in the eyes of the developing countries and of countries which share with us our responsibilities in the Third World—as I know it does—then henceforward that reputation will be enhanced. This Government have the greatest possible concern to ensure that public money is properly spent and those responsible for this task in the Overseas Development Administration will continue their former duties. The new procedures which this Government have introduced and which will be formalised by this order differ from the old mainly in that liaison between the two wings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be closer. The experienced staff formerly of the Ministry of Overseas Development, who have been widely praised, will continue to contribute their expertise.

I have explained what I believe to be the major advantages of this order and I have, I hope, allayed any doubts which may have arisen. I should like in conclusion to emphasise that the new order in no way implies any reduction in the importance attached by this Government to the problems of the Third World. We remain committed in principle to the achievement of the target set by the United Nations that the developed countries should provide 0.7 per cent. of GNP as official development assistance——

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, is the noble Lord prepared to tell us what proportion is provided at the present time?


No, my Lords, I am not. I repeat that we remain committed to the principle of contributing 7 per cent. as official development assistance, although, like the previous Government, we are not yet able to set a date for achieving it. We give full weight to development considerations in our aid programme. We are at present reviewing aid policy, but I can assure your Lordships that we shall continue to take account of the needs of the poorest.

We have had to limit the planned increase in the aid programme below the rate that the previous Government had intended, but the reductions are no more than appropriate to those we have had to make in nearly all public expenditure programmes. I must say quite firmly that the plans of our predecessors could not have been sustained. The Shadow Chancellor, Mr. Healey, has recently admitted that, had he remained at the Treasury, some cut-backs would have been necessary. Indeed, he did prune the aid programme in 1976, when he proposed reductions for the years 1977–78 and 1978–79. The amount of those cuts substanitally exceeded in percentage terms the changes we have recently announced. There will still be a very substantial and important programme—we are planning to spend around £843 million this year on aid, of which £790 million is new money, the balance being recycled from the repayment of old loans.

This order is intended to improve administrative arrangements, not to change policies radically, We are certainly not reversing the policies of our predecessors. We have already demonstrated our commitment to the relief of suffering in the case of Cambodia and, within our present restraints, we shall see that a fair share is allocated to meeting such needs in the future. We are also concerned to ensure that our policies are efficiently integrated and, accordingly, I ask your Lordships to agree to the Motion standing in my name. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Ministry of Overseas Development (Dis- solution) Order 1979 be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on 25th October.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his kind words about my noble friend Lord Brockway, whom we all miss today, who would have been speaking in this debate and who has certainly done as much as or more than any other living Britisher for the cause of the Third World. I should also like to express my sympathy with the noble Lord opposite. He has the thankless task of answering for a number of departments. Although I believe he is based at the Foreign Office, he was not responsible for the decision which we are debating on this order this afternoon. I understand from the Minister concerned that that decision was taken on May 4th or 5th; in other words, it was taken within a few hours of the General Election results being known.

We are debating the fate of what was the Overseas Development Ministry and what is now the Overseas Development Administration. This was set up in 1964 under the very inspiring leadership of Sir Andrew Cohen and with a Minister, Barbara Castle, who was at that time in the Cabinet. It was an expression of the British contribution to the concept of internationalism, of a world of justice, and it was supported in its objectives by members of all and of no party. It was indeed a reflection of the fact that members of all communities in this country recognise the emotional and mental unease that we feel at a time when we in this country are living in a state of relative affluence while for every minute that this debate takes place 25 people somewhere in the world are dying, simply through malnutrition. The particular importance of this Ministry was that it was based upon the concept of the British contribution to development and, as a consequence, members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party and members of no party supported its pioneering efforts in providing our contribution to a world of greater equity and justice.

Its special importance was that it was independent of other Ministries; it was seen to be independent and, as it grew and as its influence extended throughout the world, this independence became of extreme importance and has been imitated in other countries. It therefore had an international reputation as a Ministry. When one adds to that the work often done on its behalf by the British Council, and the work done by the World Service of the BBC, this formed a unique triumvirate of British participation in international affairs.

One can contrast the independence which the Ministry had, the ability which it had, to push for the needs of people poorer than ourselves in this country. One contrasts the example to be seen in the United States, with its disastrous record of linking overseas aid with foreign policy; and perhaps above all with France, the culmination of whose disasters has been seen very recently in the kind of support that they have been giving to the former Emperor Bokassa and other tyrants of that kind, because French foreign policy and aid policy were inextricably linked together.

Fortunately, we are now able to see that the United States has learned its lesson. The United States is moving the opposite way from this Government. The United States has now set up an international development corporation separate from the State Department, very largely because it has learned the lessons of failure in linking aid with foreign policy. The party of which the noble Lord is a member at one time believed this. Their White Paper in 1970 said that the Conservative Government recognised that the management of overseas aid is a function distinct from the general conduct of foreign affairs. Apparently they have changed their minds since those days. We have not.

Secondly, I should like to pay tribute to the work of this Ministry over the past two or three years. I believe it began, under the distinguished leadership of the right honourable Judith Hart, to add an extra dimension to the simple issue of aid as a charity. It had begun to do what the Select Committee of the other place had proposed and pushed it to do: to link overseas aid with domestic economic policy. This is of tremendous importance to the future of this country and of equal importance to the peoples of /> the Third World. It was then able to see that through the Ministry of Overseas Development the infrastructure could be built with overseas investment to enable the development of better standards of living with greater purchasing power and, therefore, with the greater opportunity to buy the goods of our country and the other countries in the developed world. Twenty-five per cent. of our exports today go to developing countries. The aid programme itself is linked directly to the domestic economy of our country by providing, according to the latest reckoning, 40,000 jobs in this country.

I hope that the noble Lord will not tell us that the Government should like to do a great deal more in the provision of overseas aid when our economy is in a stronger position. That is not the point. That is missing the point which I have been trying to make in this House ever since I entered it. The aid that goes to overseas countries is not dependent upon economic growth in this country; it is in itself the seeds of that growth. Instead of talking—as many noble Lords opposite do—about pruning the trees in the hope that they will grow higher, do they not realise that they are cutting the roots of those trees that can supply the sap of our own growth?

We are told that the Ministry is to be absorbed into the Foreign Office. This is a measure which I greatly deplore. We have seen—and I am sure the noble Lord will be the first to agree with me on this—a dedicated group of civil servants in that Ministry. In the applications for Civil Service posts a very large percentage of young people specify the Ministry of Overseas Development as their first preference. This is a sign of the dedication of the young to the contribution of this country to the concept of one world.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Would he not agree that there is something in the old adage that charity begins at home, that there are many causes in our own country that are quite as urgently in need of help as those of overseas countries?


My Lords, my answer to that is very simple: we are a trading country; we cannot look parochially to the economy of this country as though it were surrounded by a wall. In our own interests, and in the interests of solving our own social and economic problems, it is essential that we look to the market, which consists of half the world, that today is unable to buy our products.

What I should like to say to the noble Lord about what is really an apologia—and remember, my Lords, that this issue was considered to be sufficiently important in the other House for there to be a debate lasting between four and five hours —so far as the inclusion of the Ministry of Overseas Development into the Foreign Office is concerned, is that I believe that to be not just a blow to the morale of the staff of the Ministry of Overseas Development, although it is—it is much more important than that.

I wish that the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary had been able to be with us this afternoon, as he took the decision. It is a decision of policy and certain consequences flow from that policy. We now have foreign policy dominating our policy on overseas aid, and I believe that it is a bad thing. There should be tensions; often in the past there have been tensions. The noble Lord spoke about the cuts that had been made by a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let me remind him that they were restored, and that when cuts were made the Ministry of Overseas Development was given very special treatment. Let me remind him also that the last Government had already pledged themselves to make, and had made the budgeting arrangements for, a 6 per cent. increase in real terms in the Ministry budget over the next four years.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for having given way to me. I think that his right honourable friend Mr. Healey has said since he went into Opposition that the programme that was foreseen by the then Government at the time of the election could not have been sustained. I do not really think that a 6 per cent. increase, which was certainly in the last Government's original programme, would have stood the light of day.


My Lords. that may be the opinion of the noble Lord: it is not my opinion, and it is not my opinion according to experience. As I have just pointed out, when cuts have been made in public expenditure in the past by a Labour Government, the Ministry of Overseas Development has been given special preference in——


My Lords, not in. 1976. When the noble Lord and his noble and right honourable friends were in power, as I said in my opening remarks, Mr. Healey in 1976 announced cuts for the years 1977–78 and 1978–79 which were of the order of 9 or 10 per cent.


Indeed, my Lords; and I have already answered that point. Those cuts were restored, and from this year, 1978–79, the budget of the Ministry of Overseas Development was increased by 6 per cent. in real terms and it was planned to be increased by 6 per cent. in real terms over the next four years.

I want to come to the crucial point of what are the consequences of the control of the Foreign Office over overseas aid. We have already seen them; we have had six months' experience. As the noble Lord said, this administrative action was taken last May. I understand—I believe this is not denied, and I would not stand pat completely on this figure—that the programme to India is to be cut by 40 per cent. This has not been denied; but when you talk about maintaining the principle of aid to the poorest, I would point out that the per capita income of an Indian is roughly 150 dollars. The per capita income of a Turk is 1,000 dollars. Out of the reduced budget on overseas aid, this Government have managed to find £15 million for the Turkish Government. It seems to me that this is surprisingly close to a foreign policy directive that because Turkey is an important area for NATO the Ministry is ordered by the politicians in the Foreign Office to use its aid in support of Turkey, while it is being cut to many countries such as India.

One can refer to the Home Secretary's announcement that the programme for refugees in Latin America is to be wound up. One can refer to the fact that it is now admitted that the aid that has gone to Kampuchea is being hindered at least by the fact that the Foreign Office insists on continuing to recognise the Government of Pol Pot. As we see the aid programme now coming under the aegis of the Foreign Office, so that programme itself and the size of that programme come within the whole of the Foreign Office aegis. I suggest that already discrimination is being seen, Whereas we had budgeted for a 6 per cent. real increase in the aid programme this year, the present Government have budgeted for what comes down in real terms to a reduction of 5 per cent. We have seen the proposed cuts in the BBC World Service, and I need to say little more about that because so much concern has already been shown.

Let me come to the operations of the British Council, which has worked closely with the Ministry of Overseas Development, often as its agent. I understand that the British Council has been told to cut its budget this year by 11.5 per cent.: that is for the coming financial year. This, I understand, in fact, through redundancy payments and the like, is a real cut of 15 per cent. Yet the British Council is responsible for the provision of cultural opportunities and for the spreading of British culture—are we ashamed of spreading British culture?—among people who want to hear about how our institutions work. They are responsible for the teaching of the English language, of extreme value to British businessmen; for the educational services which have been provided for bringing overseas students into this country, training them, helping them to go back and again assisting them in the development of the British connection, which is so important to our overseas trade. I do not think we should neglect the fact that the British Council has also been responsible for the dissemination of the various art forms that are indigenous to this country to other parts of the world.

Finally, I want to come to a matter which is very close to my heart and which I must summarise very quickly: the running down and probable eventual extinction of the development educational programme. I asked the noble Lord in question last week whether he had read the Schlackman Report. He did not answer but I hope he has by now, because that Report shows that 64 per cent. of the people of this country believe that this country is too poor to help overseas countries, but when those people are told the amount of aid then their opinion changes. There is a great belief in this country that we just pour out aid willy-nilly, and when the facts are known opinion changes. That is the job of development education. I would remind the noble Lord also that when the Report of the Committee on Development Education was drawn up, it was approved not just by the Ministry of Overseas Development but by the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Department of Education, the Northern Ireland Office, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office. I would ask him whether those other Ministries were consulted before the decision was taken to run down to a minimal amount the involvement of the Government in development education. I would remind him also that his Prime Minister signed a document in Lusaka which included this phrase: … to improving the public understanding of the need for change in the countries participating in the interdependent international system". I would remind him, too, that the Minister he has referred to, Mr. Marten, said in another place just last week that, It is important that people in Britain should understand the problems of development and the extent of our interdependence with the Third world".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/10/79; col. 1181.] Really, this is either a hyprocritical statement or an ignorant one when, at the very same time, the same man is closing down the Advisory Committee on Development Education and running down the involvement of the Government in development education, which is essential to underpin the overseas aid programme of this country and the concept of the people of this country of the rest of the world. I can tell the noble Lord that we shall continue to press for the renewal of that involvement, and I hope that many noble Lords on the other side of the House will do so, because it is already evident that every major Church and every major voluntary organisation in this country, which the Conservative Party was so anxious to support in its Manifesto, has protested against the running down of the development education programme as a disservice to this country.

Morally, this order is wrong. I do not believe that noble Lords will support a philosophy which gives massive tax rebates on the one hand, and cuts down aid to starving people on the other.

Economically, it is wrong. It is a distraction from our opportunity to restructure the industry of this country, and to associate it in an expanding trade programme with the peoples of the world who today are unable to buy our products, but on whom we depend for many of the materials essential to this country and on whom we also depend for an expanding economy.

Politically, it is wrong. The noble Lord spoke of the efforts to re-establish the power of Great Britain, the British Isles. I do not want to re-establish that kind of power, but I believe that we have a much greater power—the power of influence—and that influence can be seen when we practise what we preach, when we see and recognise our neighbours as world citizens and when we get away from the philosophy which, at a time of professed stringency, will add 3 per cent. to our arms budget and take away 5 per cent. from our overseas aid programme.

So I hope the time will come when, having reviewed the effects of this order, the Government will return to an independent, internationally recognised Ministry, able to re-establish its reputation in this country and throughout the world. I also hope that there will be Members on the other side of the House, as there were in another place, who will support this attempt to persuade the Government that they are wrong now and that they must reverse the effects of this order.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with the two noble Lords who have already spoken in expressing the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will soon be restored to full health and to his place in this House. I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his very clear explanation of the purpose of this order, even although, like the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I am unable to approve that purpose. It seems to me that this order is an example of one of the least satisfactory characteristics of British politics at the present time. It is an example of the way in which an incoming Government undoes the work of its predecessor.

The Ministry of Overseas Development was set up by the Labour Government of 1964–70, it was abolished by the Conservative Government of 1970–74, it was reestablished by the last Labour Government and now the present Conservative Government want to abolish it again. These seesaw politics must inevitably be very unsettling and disturbing, and surely what was required was a period of continuity rather than yet another about turn. But there are other and substantial reasons why we on these Benches oppose this change.

We oppose the dissolution of the Ministry of Overseas Development, first, because we think it is wrong in principle to bring aid under the Foreign Office. Aid, we think, should not be seen as an arm of foreign policy and we feel that it is easier for Third World countries to deal with a specific aid Ministry, than to deal with the Foreign Office. Also, the principle of aid for the poorest which is supposed to underlie our aid programme may not always accord with quite understandable and legitimate Foreign Office priorities.

Secondly, we feel that there is a need for a Minister, backed by an independent Ministry, to stand up for the aid programme within the Government. We also believe that a stouter defence of that programme will be made by a Minister who has sole responsibility for it, than by a Minister who, quite rightly, is preoccupied with East-West confrontation and with the future of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. We think that relations with the Third World are so important that this Minister with sole responsibility should be in the Cabinet.

Thirdly, we think it unwise to abandon a Ministry which has established so high a reputation as the Ministry of Overseas Development has. It is not in the interests of Britain to do that. Our fourth objection is this. The aid programme has been cut. It has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that the cut is 5 per cent. in real terms, and he has referred also to the cuts in the services of the British Council and in the development education programme. I know—and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has made this point—that it is not the first time that aid has been cut. But there are suspicions—they may be very unfair—that the present Government are less enthusiastic about aid than their predecessors, and the dissolution of the Ministry of Overseas Development will tend to confirm people overseas in that opinion.

Of course, I agree that the Foreign Office must take an interest in aid, but they have to take an interest also in the overseas activities of many other Government Departments. They have to take an interest in trade, but we do not have the department responsible for trade as part of the Foreign Office. It has been argued in another place that the Foreign Office have a clearer idea of where British interests lie. But overseas aid is not primarily concerned with British interests, though of course those responsible for administering it cannot ignore them. But that is not the primary aim and the primary responsibility. So, for all those reasons, my noble friends and I are unable to express support for this order.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to intervene very quickly and shortly in this debate, simply because I should like to advance a different version of the history behind this Ministry of Overseas Development from that which has been advanced from the Benches opposite. In fact, the Ministry of Overseas Development developed from the ideas that were put forward by the Commonwealth Relations Office in about 1960, when Mr. Duncan Sandys was Secretary of State and Mr. Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister. It seemed to the Commonwealth Office at that time that it was most important that the political factor in aid should be removed, both in relation to the Colonies and in relation to foreign countries—and I suppose, as well, in relation to the increasing number of Commonwealth countries that were coming into being at that time. We felt it was wrong that the aid effort of this country should be regarded by sensitive public opinion in Third World countries, as I suppose we would now call them, as being part of the political effort of the United Kingdom. My noble friend the Minister said that one of the objects of this action was to advance the position of Great Britain in world affairs. We did not think at that time that aid was a way in which you advanced politically the position of this country anywhere. Indeed, we felt that it was one of the ways in which we could produce something which cost us a good deal of money and which was politically counterproductive.

Quite recently there has been a very good example of this. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, mentioned the United States and their policies. Not very long ago, and apparently in protest against the belief that the Pakistan Government were developing some form of nuclear weapon, the United States cut off overnight the whole of their aid programme—not only their military aid but also their peaceful aid. This has caused such resentment in Pakistan towards the United States Government and the American people generally that I am sure it has hardened any opinion that there may be in favour of the development of nuclear energy in Pakistan. So far as the United Kingdom was concerned, this was one of the dangers that we felt the use of aid for political purposes might run us into.

I say "we" because I was present at that particular time and my experience bears out a good deal of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and by the Liberal speaker. Certainly it was the Conservative view then, and so far as I personally am concerned it is my view at the present time. Our idea was not particularly original. I think the first country which tried to separate aid from politics was Canada. The Canadians had an organisation which administered the aid the Canadian people were giving to developing countries separately from their Ministry of External Affairs. When the proposal came from the CRO to the Prime Minister, and presumably to the Cabinet, it was agreed, and it was from the germ of that idea that the present Ministry developed. It should be realised, if only from the point of view of accurate history, that this was not a Labour Party idea or a Liberal Party idea. It came from the Conservative Government of Mr. Macmillan in 1960.

I suppose—and I regret it—that idealism and sensitiveness to the feelings of overseas countries has somewhat declined in this country over the last few years. The intervention of my noble friend—that charity begins at home—reflects the sort of attitude which I fear too many people have in their minds now. So far as I am concerned—and I believe that there are many people in all parties, and certainly in the Conservative party, who share this view—I do not regard this country as a pauper. I do not regard this country as ceasing to have a role—idealistic, no doubt, but important— in the world which enables us to go to the aid of people who desperately require that aid.

I am sorry, therefore, that this decision has been taken. I know very well that the Foreign Office have always resented the removal of their control over aid which existed before 1960. Now they have got it back. The CRO has gone, the Colonial Office has gone and now the Ministry of Overseas Development has gone, and we have the Foreign Office. I have the greatest admiration for the Foreign Office but I am not sure that it is always the most sensitive organisation for dealing with problems which in the past, I always thought, were rather well dealt with by other Ministries.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord has said, may I say that I had no intention of conveying the idea that our home interests are the only ones which matter. Certainly aid to countries which need it is most important; I agree wholeheartedly with that. However, there is a school of thought in this country that foreign aid is the only aid which matters. Nevertheless, there are a good many things at home which also matter.


My Lords, I know perfectly well the kindheartedness of my noble friend, and I would not in any way wish to criticise him. However, his intervention has given me the opportunity to say that this debate has gone on rather longer than I expected. I had not intended to take part in it. As I have to leave at half-past four, I hope that the House and the Minister will not regard me as being unduly discourteous if I leave then.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, once again we are surely talking about a matter far greater and more significant than administrative changes. Last week we discussed a reduction in public services to miserable and helpless alcoholics. Yesterday, in another place, there was a fiery debate on the reduction of services in the realm of education. The debate this afternoon is about the reduction of services. I am deeply disturbed and begin to wonder how much longer the Government may be able to maintain the argument that it is necessary, in the interests of economics and other matters associated with economics, to practise what does increasingly appear to a great many people to be a form of moral barbarism. I use that word advisedly. I think that in the process we are becoming uncivilised, and I intensely regret that process.

It is perfectly true that the dissolution of this particular administration does not in itself prevent the achievement of those aims which first caused it to be put into operation, and I appreciate the difficulties and problems which have already been ventilated. I speak in the presence of my forthcoming Archbishop and I think that makes a quorum. So we can say that we are united in our belief that this whole attitude towards a reduction in the public services, particularly to those who are least capable of helping themselves, is a retrograde step and that no economic condition can finally justify it. I do not believe, for instance, even on the ground of economic convenience, that it would be a disaster if these services were increased. I share with my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby the belief that to raise the standards of help to those now impoverished in the economic field may be to our advantage as well as to theirs.

However, it is not to that that I would venture to address my remarks. I would venture to speak about the British Council. The evidence of the general trend of Government proposals is already clear. The British Council has been reduced very largely in its opportunities, and the present depredations will increase next year and the year after. May I adduce two of the areas in which I believe this is disastrous.

I share with the noble Lord opposite the view that this country has a very great deal to contribute. I do not believe that we are down and out. I think that there are many who look with envious eyes at the achievements we have already attained in the field of democratic and institutional Government. I was much encouraged when the British Council found a way of penetrating the Iron Curtain by means of its production of artistic and other shows which were presented behind that Iron Curtain, for this seemed to me to be the only way, in many cases, in which people living in that Cloud Cuckoo Land would be able to appreciate something of the qualities of this country, despite its economic conditions and despite the propaganda so frequently and, in my judgment, malevolently directed against our own condition. That will go. I have evidence, with which I shall not delay the House but which seems to me to be unequivocal, that the reduction of 15 to 20 per cent. will mean that that kind of overseas communication in places where I believe it is most needed, and the kind of qualities which we should cherish and of which we should be proud, will cease.

I am even more concerned about the educational facilities, for the British Council has been able to prosper in places like Rhodesia. Here we are the inheritors of the churchmanship which provided primary and secondary education for thousands of black and white Rhodesians hitherto. It is the British Council which has been able to supplement that elementary education with opportunities for further education in which at this very moment 2,000 of the inhabitants of that beleaguered country are able to acquire the kind of dispassionate education with which I believe they can contribute to its ultimate emancipation from the troubles which now beset it.

But principally, my Lords, I cannot but register my own entire and increasing disapproval at the disagreeable and, to me, quite inhuman attitude which not consciously but inevitably categorises a government which believes that to get itself out of its economic necessities it is necessary to reduce its commitments in the civilised world in which I believe it has the most finally to contribute. Therefore, I join with my noble friend Lord Hatch and others in repudiating the underlying principle which governs this particular measure, and hoping that even at the last this Government will see the error of their ways. It would not disturb me too much if public opinion unseated them. What does disturb me is that while they are here they are, in my judgment, creating an impression throughout the rest of the world which is not conducive to their own merit and certainly does not produce the kind of advantages which even economic stringency of a most required type would demand. It is in that sense that I venture to intervene this afternoon and to hope that this kind of barbarism will cease and in its place we shall learn to be a civilised community, believing, as I do, that what is morally right in the end can never be politically wrong.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, having been one of the delegates who was responsible for organising the foundation of OECD, with its great interest in development, and having subsequently served on the Development Aid Group of OECD, I agree with a great deal of the regret which has been expressed about the inevitable cutting down of development aid. But I underline the adjective "inevitable". It is always tempting to attack any particular section of expenditure on which reductions have to be made. The bald fact is that this country has been going down hill for years, and unless public expenditure is cut it will continue to go down hill and in 20 years we shall be a real slum. I am afraid it is inevitable. I regret it as much as anybody but it is inevitable that there should be cuts right across the board. The Foreign Office is having to make some and I think that cuts in development aid (among other things) right across the board are inevitable.

But from what has been said in this debate anyone would think that aid was being turned off altogether. It is not. The Ministry of Development Aid may not be called the Ministry but there will he an administration. I know from personal experience, because I co-operated with it closely, that the Development Aid Administration in the early 70's was extremely efficient, very hard working, and forward looking. I have no doubt that a great part of it will continue and I am sure that will continue to be equally efficient and equally sensitive.

I do not think it is fair to suggest, as my noble friend Lord Alport did—I am sorry that he is not in his place—that the Foreign Service may be less sensitive to the needs of foreign countries. In my experience they are extremely sensitive. Our embassies and legations are often teased by their fellows in our service for becoming so closely associated with the countries in which they work, and I know that it will be extremely good for them to be more closely connected with aid questions.

It is a good thing that we should look at aid against the whole background of our foreign policy requirements. By that I do not mean that we should be really tough about it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that there have been certain developments in the United States of America which have been deplorable. I do not think they have treated Turkey very well. I could give any number of examples, but they have been extremely generous over the whole field and I see no reason why the United Kingdom should become unduly tough in its relations with other countries simply because we are going to have this extremely able department under the overall control of the Foreign Secretary. It is going to have a Minister of its own, and I am sure that he will have influence with our very able Foreign Secretary.

Finally, my Lords, there have been some happenings which have been hard to explain. I do not want to prolong the length of this debate, so I will give just one example. A year last August we gave an interest-free loan to Mozambique of £10 million and no repayment was going to take place until, mainly, the 'nineties. I think some repayment was going to take place in the 'eighties, but nothing very much. This was at a time when they were supporting Marxist guerrillas armed and financed by the Russians and the guerrillas were murdering nuns and school teachers, some of whom no doubt had had help from the British Council in the past. It did not seem to make any sense to give that loan. I was unable to get any explanation in this House. It went through, I think without any proper discussion here. That is just an example. I welcome the measures which are now being taken and I think the Government have been very reasonable about the matter.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I just answer the point that he has made about the loan to Mozambique. In fact, the loan to Mozambique was a loan to a friendly country, a country which had just emerged from many years of colonial rule. It was a loan for development and it has been used for development, but, so far as the harbouring of guerrillas was concerned, those guerrillas who were being assisted by the Mozambique Government were in fact fighting against the rebels who were against the Queen.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I spend a good deal of my time travelling around the world financing industrial development, and that travelling includes frequent visits to the developing countries, and I want to ask the noble Lord just what the impact of the administrative changes will be on the excellent liaison which exists between the Department of Industry and the Overseas Development Ministry at the present time. Most countries which are engaged in financing international contracts, particularly in the Third World, have very substantial subvention from their aid programmes. It is a matter of vital importance to British industry that the continued relationship between the Department of Industry, which sometimes influences aid expenditure, should be continued, because in many parts of the world British contracts are lost on account of the element of aid that is built into the bids of other competitive countries. That is a matter which I should like to see clarified under the new arrangements.

The other point is this. I am filled with admiration for the work of the Ministry which is now to be absorbed into the Foreign Office, but I must say, too, that I try to be fair about this matter. I read the report of the debate in the other place, and I recognise that during the period of office of the last Government there were times of tension between that department and the Foreign Office. There were occasions when the policies were not entirely consistent. I have also listened to the argument today and, while I would prefer to see a degree of consistency between foreign policy and aid policy, I am afraid that the transfer of the department to the Foreign Office will mean that instead of consistency there could be domination by the Foreign Office. That would be unfortunate, although, as I say, in the light of my own experience I can see something in the argument. The debate today has gone well beyond the area of administrative change; it has developed into a debate on the whole subject of aid. Perhaps that might be more appropriate for a future occasion when we have more time to expand on this very important issue.

I must say that I cannot support a Government which is concerned with the defence of democracy and proceeds to interpret that defence in terms of increased military expenditure while cutting back on aid programmes, because democracy will survive not because of the strength of its arms but because of the power of its ideas. I believe we gain a great deal more from being charitable and generous and compassionate, and showing that we are that kind of society, than by engaging in the continued expansion of armament expenditure.

I hope that the Government will think twice about cutting aid in any form. We talk about the commitment to 0.7 per cent. of GNP, and I was delighted to hear the Minister's commitment to that as a long-term aim. But, you know, at the end of the war, when this country had been bombed, when many of our resources were depleted, this country committed itself to 1 per cent. of its GNP for reconstruction and aid to people who were less fortunate than we were. This country committed itself to 1 per cent. of its GNP to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and we were morally better people and we felt better for it. I would hope that our contribution to aid will make us more proud of our demorcatic society.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to recall that after the 1 per cent. given by this country to UNRRA had been exhausted in constructive and most valuable work, a second 1 per cent. was voted by Parliament for that purpose within a year of the termination of the first expenditure.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who is to reply, has heard an almost unanimous chorus of dissent and disapproval and regret at the Government's intention to dissolve the Ministry of Overseas Development and absorb it into the Foreign Office. I am sorry to have to add another voice to the regret, but I feel that I must stand up and do so.

I had experience of the Ministry of Overseas Development in the 'sixties, and again with the administration when it was taken into the Foreign Office in the Heath Administration, and more recently when it was recreated a Ministry. I am in no position to say with proof that as an ODA, as district from an ODM, the ODA was notably swayed and influenced by Foreign Office policy when it came within the Foreign Office. What I am able to say with personal conviction is that as a Ministry, independent and separate from the Foreign Office, it was seen by the outside world to be administering aid to countries which, despite our own difficulties, were and are in greater difficulties, and doing so in an open and even-handed and impartial way. I think that a great deal of loss is incurred when that being seen to be independent and impartial ceases to be the case.

I have only one other point to make; namely, that my connection with the Overseas Development Ministry in. the `sixties came about through my being president of the Council for Volunteers Overseas. That council and the bodies which worked under its umbrella—VSO, UNA, IVS and the Catholic Institute for International Relations and other volunteer-sending bodies—recieved support and financial help from the Ministry. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the young people in this country who volunteer their help to countries and individuals in those countries who need help, do not do so because they are interested in British foreign policy. They are interested in the intrinsic troubles and needs which they hear about and in regard to which they have a basic urge to go and help.

I should like the Minister when he comes to reply to assure this House—as I hope he will be able to do—that the Council for Volunteers Overseas and its constituent bodies will continue to receive such help as the Government feel able to give, quite irrespective of the turns and twists of policies of the Foreign Office, and only on grounds of meeting that wish of young people to help other people overseas.

4.36 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St. ALBANS

My Lords, I came this afternoon to listen and not to speak, but I am provoked to intervene briefly because Lord Hatch mentioned the anxiety of all the Christian Churches about this move to wind up the ODM, which has been such a friend to many of the more progressive movements, and for the international awareness of the Churches, and also because Lord Soper has testified to the degree of Christian unity that is felt on these issues.

It is a fact that the bishops of the Church of England, associated with some other bishops of the Anglican Communion, after considerable thought and some research, took the trouble to write a letter to Her Majesty's Government during the summer appealing for the Development Education Fund, a small sum of money but of considerable significance in the generation of understanding in this nation of voluntary aid development. We also associated that with a letter written about overseas students, a matter which is in a whole constellation of issues about which there is anxiety in the Christian conscience of this country. I have to say that we do not feel that representations of this kind have been treated with the seriousness they deserve. In my own immediate experience the Development Education Fund has created a network of centres around this country and has spawned a number of projects, of quite small dimension but of that voluntary character which should presumably appeal to the commendable attitude of the Government towards people taking responsibility for their conscience. This fund seems to have been lost with the department or else seems to have been terminated.

Secondly, in order to broaden out the question, I should like to say that in the early part of this year I spent three months in Eastern Europe, and in meeting young people, particularly in the universities, one was conscious of the extent to which there was present there a group from the Third World, from developing countries, with no money problems, receiving a great deal of hospitality and real priority to their education. Along with that, one could not help noticing that when Governments spoke to visiting prelates about matters they found unsatisfactory in one's country they rated highly what they might regard as "distortion" on the BBC. I was impressed to discover that an investment in truth is still something of which this country may be proud.

Apart from that, at the type of peace conference which is promoted in Eastern Europe the question often asked is: "How much is being done to educate the people of your country, as we do in our democratic society, about the needs of the poor of the world; and how far are you able to break out of the type of charmed circle of the converted as regards international awareness?" One had a card that one could play in such difficult debates. They were prepared to listen to that point and to turn off some of the denunciations of colonialism, Zionism and capitalism because it seemed to be a valid point and one which we had some experience in developing.

Therefore, it is a great disappointment to return to this country and discover that the Christian conscience must fight for these things now and in the years ahead.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his now recognisable role as the receiver in political bankruptcy. He was the spokesman on the question of the World Service of the BBC. He had to defend an indefensible case. Today once again, he is the spokesman and the present Government have abandoned any attempt to appeal to heart and mind —they have abolished the mind by withdrawing access to it and they have forgotten the heart. This is a matter that I find most regrettable, not just as regards the high moral level to which my noble friend, the right reverend Prelate, Lord Soper, and many other speakers referred. In a sense it is much more than that because that would be unreal unless we meant what we said—that is, unless we backed it up by positive policies.

Like my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I have travelled a great deal in the Third world and I happen to know a great deal about the mistakes which have been made by multilateral and indeed our own aid programmes. However, we have learned something very profound. I wish to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that his intervention showed once again how completely we misunderstand what we are talking about. This is not charity. I am not derogating charity. This is investment in the future of the world. It is investment in the future of Britain; and investment in all the high objectives for which any Government should be standing. We are now deliberately saying—and I have said it with great emphasis when I have travelled around, and it has been demonstrated by the right honourable Judith Hart—that we did know what we were doing. We knew what we were doing—but no longer. We are blundering once again into that utterly crazy world which we have helped to produce and as regards which our motives are the wrong motives. Aid should be a positive input or transfusion into the debilitated systems of the world. If we are to put that in the hands of a foreign policy which will manipulate SALT treaties on the one hand and buy Turkey on the other, then we shall destroy not only the people for whom we have withdrawn aid, but the credibility of this country totally. We have lived on that credibility and we have benefited from that credibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that we do not, in fact, think that this country is down and out; it just looks like that because like the noble Lord over here we keep on saying that we are down and out. We are not down and out. We are a very rich country, but the use of our riches is misdirected. That is something that we must recognise beyond peradventure. Like what happened in a recent debate on the World Service of the BBC, what is happening today is that this country, this empire, is not going out with a bang; it is not going out with a whisper. Now it is going out with a whimper.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to say that I did not say that this country was down and out. I said that it had been going downhill for years. That is not quite the same thing. I share the noble Lord's view that this country is not down and out. On the other hand, I am sorry that he seems to imply that the Foreign Service cannot be trusted to deal with aid responsibly.


My Lords, of course not. What we are talking about here should be basically a disinterested service—a disinterested recognition that we must invest in order to recover on these investments. That can only happen in a real world of development. What we are doing now is to say that we are not interested and that we shall demonstrate that aid is nothing else but the manipulation of foreign policy.


My Lords, I should like to say how much I agree with those who have expressed their concern. Many Church people and others would be most concerned if overseas aid was likely to become less; in any way weaker; or not so effective. The people of Chippenham—the area in which I live—sent a petition asking that, if anything, overseas aid should be increased. Many of us believe that we can give moral and spiritual aid and we must presumably trust that so far as possible overseas aid will be used for good rather than (shall I say?) "not good" things. As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and the right reverend Prelate have said, many Church people will be concerned if this link—because that is what it is—becomes weaker and less.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I should like to make one point and I shall take only two minutes. I do not think that anyone —the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, or the Government generally—can have any doubt as to the unpopularity, in this House at any rate, of the proposal to wind-up the Ministry of Overseas Development and to absorb it into the Foreign Office. There may be, as he says, a logical reason for doing so, and I would not dispute that. But it certainly will not be a popular move. The fact is that they have decided to do it. It is going to be done, and although people here may protest we must grin and bear it. If we do not like it, it is something that is over the bridge and we must recognise that it is going to be done.

I should like to point out that two years ago we had a debate on the Berrill Report, and we criticised to a large extent what the Think-Tank were proposing should be done in regard to the Foreign Service. But we disagreed totally with them on their proposals regarding the overseas programme of the BBC, and equally totally on their proposals for economies in regard to the British Council. Recently in this House we had a very good debate on the Overseas Services of the BBC. I do not know whether it was as a result of feeling in this House, but when the White Paper was published we noticed that the Government had had second thoughts and did not propose to cut the Overseas Services of the BBC by £4 million but only by £2.57 million. I believe that it is even conceivable that, due to the considerably greater uproar in another place, they may have second thoughts and not cut the Overseas Services of the BBC at all.

But as yet in this House we have had no debate on the very substantial proposed cuts that the Government want to make in the British Council's vote. think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, who said that effectively it was a cut of 15 per cent., which would have a very severe effect on the Council's activities. As I must relate this in some way to aid, I should like to know to what extent this very large cut will, for instance, affect the aid which is being organised and administered by the British Council. Can we be assured that this proposed cut of 15 per cent. will in no way affect the aid programme of the Government?

Finally, I should like to inquire when, if at all, we shall be able to discuss the proposed cut in the British Council vote in the same way as we recently discussed the proposed cuts in the Overseas Services of the BBC. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to give me some assurance on that point.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, it was my intention to intervene in this debate at the start and raise the matter of the British Council, but in view of a number of speeches that have been made I decided not to say anything. However, in the light of the debate I still believe that the Minister must tell us precisely what will happen as regards the British Council. It is not only a question of the educational work that the British Council performs; it is not only a question of the image which it gives of this country, the achievements of this country and the background of this country; but, even from the narrow angle of dealing with our friends in the world and letting them know precisely where we stand and of our own interest in creating the right atmosphere for our trade and services, one would have thought that the work of the British Council would have continued. As has rightly been said, following on projected cuts in the BBC External Services, this seems to be the height of folly. First, it is the best way to lose possible friends and, secondly, it is the best way to lose possible trade. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance that this matter will be reconsidered.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, the order before the House this afternoon in no way relates to the total quantity of aid. It does not relate to how much money we should give to this or to that country; nor does it have anything to do with the matter so close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and indeed to the heart of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Saint Albans—development education.

The change which we seek to formalise by this order before your Lordships this afternoon is an adminstrative change. As I said in my opening remarks, there has been no reversal of policy upon the advent of this Government. The main thrust of overseas aid will proceed in the same direction as it did under our predecessors. Yes, we have had to review some of the figures that were put before us when we came to office, but so indeed would the other party if they had won the General Election. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, disagreed with the figures which I have put before your Lordships, but my information is that the cuts which were made by his right honourable friend Mr. Healey were largely sustained, although I agree that a small percentage of the figure for the 1977–78 cuts was later restored—£25 million-worth of it.

Much has been made of the fact that under the previous Administration there was a separate, special Ministry for this purpose—as indeed there was—and we were led to believe that the Minister in charge of that Department, Dame Judith Hart as she now is, was a Cabinet Minister of high rank. I should not wish for one moment to decry her skill or her performance—certainly not from this Box. She was not in the Cabinet or, if she was, it was only for a short time. She was ultimately a Minister of State, in theory responsible to Dr. David Owen, who was then the Foreign Secretary. The present arrangement is that Mr. Neil Marten is a Minister of State responsible to my noble friend.

Complaint has been made that we shall now be associating our foreign policy too closely with our aid decisions. I believe that under the other Adminstration it went the other way. Your Lordships may recall that our predecessors undertook to supply ships to Vietnam. If ever there was a case of aid policy departing too far from foreign policy—because those ships were supplied under concessional terms—that was surely it.

One noble Lord referred to aid to Cambodia. It is perhaps right that I should tell your Lordships that there are two programmes of aid to Cambodia with which we are directly concerned. First, there is EEC aid. There is now a total —and I am compressing the figures before me—of 29 units of account being made available by the EEC for food and other supplies to Cambodia. We also have our own bilateral programme. We are making a bilateral gift of the equivalent of 5,000 tonnes of wheat in the form of 1,800 tonnes of rice; I am advised that rice is more nutritious for people in that part of the world and so one does not have to supply so much to provide the same nutritional value. We also have an aircraft which has been based in Bangkok for the last few weeks and which will remain there for a while yet.

Several noble Lords raised the matter of the British Council. The interests of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the Overseas Development Administration in the work of the British Council are rather different. The former is concerned with the Council's cultural and information work abroad and the latter is concerned with its educational and training aspects. For that reason, as your Lordships will appreciate, the British Council receives grants from both the overseas representation and the aid votes; and the Overseas Development Administration within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to have direct dealings with the British Council. I cannot pretend that the British Council will be exempt from consideration in the cuts which we are making, but we shall certainly do our best to ensure that the effect of those cuts is kept to a minimum.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, asked about relations or, if I can put it another way, the interface between the Department of Industry and the Overseas Development Administration. The new arrangements will not jeopardise the already excellent relationship which exists between the DOI and the ODA within the Foreign Office. As I said earlier, we are reviewing aid matters generally and, if we identify ways of improving the relationship we shall certainly implement them.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also asked me about volunteers overseas. Again, I am not sure that that is directly related to this order, but I shall try to help him if I can. The Government fully recognise the invaluable contribution made by the Council and by the voluntary agencies generally. I can assure noble Lords that the help for such activities will continue to have priority. As I said at the outset of these closing remarks, this order is not about the total quantity of aid, nor even about our aid policies; it is about an administrative arrangement within the Government. For that reason, I hope that your Lordships will agree to it.

5 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him three specific questions arising out of his answer. First, he tried to convince us that there was no change in the policy of the new Administration so far as aid is concerned. Will he tell us whether or not the present Government believe in direct Government monetary support for development education? Secondly, he said that this was simply an administrative matter and suggested that there was no policy difference. Then he gave the instance of the ships to Vietnam, and commented on that that this was surely a big gap between the aid policy and the foreign policy. Does not this then imply that in future it will be foreign policy that decides what aid policy shall be?

Thirdly, in his reference to the British Council, he somewhat unctuously mentioned that he would try to keep the cuts to the British Council to a minimum. Is it not the case that the present cut to the British Council is 11.5 per cent., which may very well be in real terms next year 15 per cent., whereas the cut to the Foreign Office itself is a mere 3 per cent.?


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is stretching the rules of order somewhat to ask for those points "before I sit down". However, I shall do my best. May I take up the point of development education because the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, was not the only noble Lord to refer to this matter, and I know his interest in it. Of course it is important that people in Britain should understand the problems of development and the extent of our interdependence with the Third World.

The voluntary agencies, and many individuals, have for long led the way in explaining these issues, and we hope that they will continue to do so. What is in question, however, is how far this work should be boosted by Government funds. These must come from an aid programme which cannot be exempted from the general restraints that we must impose on public spending. Every pound spent on development education in Britain means one less pound available for direct spending upon aid overseas. We believe that most people would agree that our ability to provide direct help, whether for long-term development or short-term emergency relief, must come first. The previous Administration had ambitious plans to spend something like £9 million on development education over the next few years. These could not have been sustained. Our own spending will be over £600,000 this year. While I cannot say what will happen thereafter, we intend to provide enough over the next two years to allow existing schemes to come to fruition.

The noble Lord went on to complain about my reference to the ships for Vietnam. We maintain quite strongly that the decision taken by our predecessors to provide concessional facilities for the purchase of those ships by the Vietnamese Government was a mistake, and way out of line with our then foreign policy interests. The noble Lord also asked me about the British Council. I am afraid that I am not in a position to go further than what I have said already, except to say and re-emphasise that we shall do our best to see that the cuts which may inevitably have to be made in the budget of the British Council are kept to a minimum. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to:

Ordered that the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.