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Commonwealth Rural Development

Volume 889: debated on Monday 7 April 1975

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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.