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Overseas Development

Volume 889: debated on Monday 7 April 1975

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European Community Developmentcouncil

24.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement about her latest meeting with the Development Ministers of the EEC.

31.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next proposes to meet the other Development Ministers of the EEC.

The Development Council last met on 22nd January and I reported to the House on that meeting on 28th January. A further Council meeting was to have taken place on 20th March but it was cancelled. The date for the next meeting has now been tentatively set for 13th May, but this has to be confirmed.

Does the right hon. Lady recall that when she reported to the House on 3rd February on the terms of the Lome Convention between the EEC and 46 developing countries she described the convention as historic and said that we could not have achieved such a good agreement from the point of view of the developing countries if Britain had not been a member of the EEC? As no Commonwealth country wishes us to leave the Community, does not the right hon. Lady think that the developing members of the Commonwealth in particular will regard with dismay and incredulity her stand on membership of the Community?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper about implementation of the Lomé Convention. I have little to add to my earlier statement to which the hon. Gentleman referred. He will have noted the last paragraph of that statement.

Why is the right hon. Lady in her attitude towards the Community trying to destroy her own handiwork in the Lomé Convention and throw the Commonwealth back into confusion? Is she not going back on everything to which she has so steadfastly set her hand during the past year?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments. I ask him to study precisely what I said in the House in my statements on this subject. I regard the Lomé Convention as an extremely good achievement for the one-quarter of the Commonwealth countries which are associated with the Community.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of Government supporters congratulate her on her forthright statement in which she made it abundantly clear that, notwithstanding the many efforts that she had made in negotiations with the Common Market on the Lomé Convention and on other matters, she had not been as successful as she wished?

The essential point, which I have made clear in a previous statement to the House, is that the Lomé Convention concerned a number of Commonwealth countries. By that convention we were able successfully to protect their interests. Nevertheless that left out of account, as I said quite clearly to the House in my statement in January, the interests of those Commonwealth countries of Asia which are not associated and are therefore not involved in the Lomé Convention.

While we recognise the right hon. Lady's difficulty in separating her personal views from those which she is required to hold as a member of the Government, may I ask whether she agrees that among the most valuable things that have happened in recent years to underdeveloped nations, particularly those of the Commonwealth, are the series of agreements providing free access for their commodities and the substantial capital aid agreements that have been made in the Community? How can she personally have negotiated these matters and put her signature to them knowing privately all the time that she was about to campaign in favour of this country having nothing to do with them?

I must ask hon. Gentlemen to study more carefully than they seem to have done what I said to the House on these matters. I have made it clear throughout that the Lomé Convention represented our efforts to protect as far as we could—I think we have done so successfully—the interests of those Commonwealth countries associated with the Community. I have made it equally clear that one of the major objectives of our renegotiations was to seek to protect the interests, both in aid and in trade, of the Commonwealth countries outside association, which means primarily the Indian subcontinent. I can only refer to what I have already told the House.

Mozambique, Angola Andguinea-Bissau

26.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement on British aid to Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau.

30.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement on British aid to Mozambique and Angola.

I hope to begin an aid programme for these countries as soon as possible. I have already made contact with the authorities concerned in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. I envisage that these should be followed by visits to the countries by my officials.

We have already provided some emergency help to Mozambique in co-operation with UNICEF in airlifting medical supplies and blankets for the flooded areas in the Limpopo Valley. £10,000 has also been contributed to UNDRO towards the cost of seeds from Tanzania to replace damaged crops.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for her excellent reply, may I also draw her attention to the need for long-term aid for these countries now that they are reaching independence? Does she agree that the United Kingdom has a specially important role to play in these other countries, particularly in teaching, because if these developing countries are to play their full part in the African continent and in African affairs there will be a premium on their ability to communicate with their English-peaking neighbours?

What I hope will shortly happen is that my officials will be able to discuss in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau what would be the best formulation of a long-term aid programme for them. I am sure that it will need to include a good deal of technical assistance. Language teaching may well prove to be one of the most valuable ways in which we can help.

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind the fact that Mozambique and Angola have been used by the illegal Rhodesian regime for sea and rail transport and that there will be a loss to these countries as they move to independence if they support our Government's action in seeking to bring an end to the Rhodesian regime? Will she, with the United Nations, help these countries because this might bring nearer the end of the illegal Rhodesian régime?

This is one of the factors that comes into the picture. We have primarily to understand that Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in Africa. It has few resources. Angola has slightly more resources, so we may have to differentiate a little between the two. Mozambique is certainly in the most urgent need of all the aid we can provide.

Commonwealth Rural Development

27.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement concerning the Commonwealth conference on rural development.

32.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she will make a statement on the Commonwealth rural development conference.

The Commonwealth ministerial meeting on food production and rural development was held in London from 4th to 12th March. The meeting elected me as chairman. The most rewarding outcome, from my point of view, was the solidarity of conviction amongst Ministers present that the improvement of living conditions and productivity in the rural areas of the developing Commonwealth should be a prime objective of the national Governments directly concerned and the aid-giving members of the Commonwealth. Our detailed conclusions are to be found in the report of the meeting of which a copy is available in the Library of the House.

The House will wish to know that my Ministry now has a new Rural Development Department.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for her statement, may I congratulate her on raising the issue of the conference and having been chairman of what is the most practical conference on aid? Can she tell me a little more about her division and whether the Commonwealth is likely to pay greater attention to this matter, particularly through the Commonwealth Secretariat?

The Commonwealth Secretariat was asked to debate some new initiatives and in particular to increase its advisory and training role through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. It is now proposing to set up a new division concerned with rural development. Within the Ministry I have felt that it was essential to have a Rural Development Department to co-operate with those desks in my Ministry concerned with particular countries so that we can achieve a much more positive promotion of the many aspects of rural development which range wide—from water and power supplies to land reform and a number of other issues. We can more successfully achieve an expansion of Ministry work in rural development by having this department.

Will the right hon. Lady say when she expects further conferences to be held and how far they will be linked up to make a continuing series?

The Commonwealth Ministers did not ask that there should be a continuing series. They proposed, almost unanimously, that there should be a further and similar meeting before too long. They also asked that their conference report should be included high on the agenda for the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Jamaica.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is one feature common to all the African States irrespective of political complexion, namely, that the people in the bush are foot-loose and are on the move to the towns, where they are living in fearful shanty conditions? Is it not important to keep people on the land? Would not the best thing we could do be to enable expert bodies to go out and give technical information and advice, since we are the one nation that has administered these territories in the past and knows what the game is all about?

I agree that one of the great problems is the drift from the rural areas to the towns. Nevertheless we have to be clear that 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of the world's poor population is trying to scrape a living from the land. It is help for the development of rural economies and increased food production that can be of the greatest benefit. That is where I hope we can direct more research.

Overseas Students

29.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether action will be taken by her Department to help students from developing countries studying in the United Kingdom to pay the increased tuition fees in universities and colleges recently announced by the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development
(Mr. John Grant)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said in a Written Answer on 18th March, my Department will pay the increased fee in respect of those students whom we assist as part of the aid programme, including those who secure awards under the Overseas Students Fees Awards Scheme.

Will there be any possibility of helping students from developing countries who are currently being assisted under the scheme mentioned by my hon. Friend?

While the scheme is under review it is intended to allow for some increase in the numbers assisted under it. An increase in tuition fees is, in any case, only a small proportion of the cost to an overseas student of a course of study in the United Kingdom. We would expect the financial sponsors of such students to be able to meet the comparatively small extra cost involved. We will make a statement shortly about the revision of the Overseas Students Fees Awards Scheme.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is some apprehension over the fact that there seems to be developing a form of technical and scientific brain-drain which invoves capable people from the subcontinent coming to this country and some other parts of Europe to earn a living? Is not this something to which my hon. Friend should turn his mind to see whether these people can be helped to make short stays in this country and then return to the subcontinent, where they are urgently needed, to make a major contribution?

I think that there is a serious problem for all the developing countries concerned. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it. The real answer to the situation lies with the developing countries themselves. It is for them to take steps.