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Overseas Development

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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United Nations University


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what plans Her Majesty's Government have for British involvement in the development of the United Nations' University.

During the consultative meeting of the United Nations' University held at the Royal Society on 25th and 26th October 1976, which was opened by one of my predecessors, the rector and other senior members of the university were able to make contact with several British institutions. One such institution, the Tropical Products Institute, which is a part of my Ministry, has now entered into an agreement to accommodate United Nations' Universities fellows for studies concerning food loss and food conservation.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. How can the Government reconcile their frequent statements of sympathy for the developing countries with their refusal to give any financial support to what is both an imaginative and practical project that would be of great value to the relevant countries?

I am not aware that we have made any such refusal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very anxious to help. The position is that the liaison most directly occurs with the universities in Great Britain and our own specialist ODM institutions of which there are several. We shall maximise cooperation in every way we can.

Government Aid


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she is satisfied with the level of aid given by the British Government to developing countries.

The present level of overseas aid is not as high as I would wish. Future levels will be considered in the next public expenditure review, having regard to the Government's acceptance in principle of the United Nations target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, which does not altogether surprise me. Does she agree that one way of avoiding fluctuations in the level of aid to overseas countries would be to set out immediately a plan for Britain to contribute a certain percentage of its GDP each year? Beyond that, will she tell us exactly what was agreed in terms of the common aid fund, which was left so vague at the Summit Meeting?

A number of considerable and important expressions of good will were made at the Summit Meeting at Downing Street. I am talking about expressions from other countries—for example, the United States. I think that this is important. We shall have to wait a little time to see how they express themselves in material terms. I am sure that in the public expenditure review this summer we shall be taking into account the atmosphere of the Summit Meeting at Downing Street and the precise statement that emerged from it.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister said that the Government were always willing to give humanitarian aid to the liberation movements of Southern Africa? How vigorously is the Department carrying out that policy? Will my right hon. Friend publish details in the Official Report?

I shall be glad to publish details in the Official Report. I think that it might help considerably to clarify some of the matters that have been in doubt. I believe that there is a Written Question to be answered later today, so I cannot go too far into detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Cambodia?"] If one is allowed to answer interjections, I hope to say something about the Cambodian question before long.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her original reply to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) sounded a little strange as in announcing his economic measures last December the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were going to reduce the money available for aid by £50 million in the current financial year and by a further £50 million in the next financial year? Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government, or has it been altered as a result of the Downing Street Summit Conference? If it is still the Government's policy, when is the right hon. Lady planning to announce the details of where the cuts are to be made?

I have already answered questions in the House about the effect of the cuts at the end of last year. I should be delighted to welcome the hon. Member as a recruit to the cause of resisting cuts in public expenditure.

Since President Carter and all of us in the West are deeply concerned about relations with other countries, can my right hon. Friend say what aid is being given to countries such as Chile and Indonesia? Such countries have Governments not renowned for their concern for civil rights and liberties. What studies are being carried out by her Department to develop ways of assisting countries that need aid and that could also assist development areas in this country?

We give a limited amount of aid to Chile—not to the Government of Chile, but to agencies. In particular, we give aid to the Catholic Church in Chile to help oppressed and repressed people. It is a limited amount of aid. I hope to increase it. There is a later Question about that on the Order Paper.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I am instigating studies in that area at the moment. It is important that we relate our aid and development programme to the needs of British industry. I believe that it is entirely possible to integrate the two more effectively than we have achieved so far.

Alternative Energy Sources


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what percentage of the British aid programme is devoted to assisting developing countries in projects related to wind, wave, solar or geothermal energy.

There is no specific allocation for such projects. My Ministry is, however, very ready to help in these fields. We have undertaken geothermal exploration programmes in certain countries, and we have made a small beginning in research on wind and solar power.

I welcome the beginnings that have been made, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the oil crisis has hit a great many developing countries far more savagely than it has hit the Western world? Does she accept that it is of paramount importance for such countries to develop alternative energy policies if their economies are to take off?

I entirely agree. I hope to pursue this matter within my Department. We have a number of expert advisers who specialise in the relevant aspects. I hope to pursue this problem with them, in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Energy.

United States Proposals


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what study she has made of the recent proposals of the Carter Administration in the field of overseas aid and development.

Last month I had very useful talks in Washington with Governor Gilligan, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. The development aid appropriations sought by the Carter Administration for the United States fiscal year 1978, which begins on 1st October 1977, represent, on a comparable basis, an increase of 6 per cent. over the former Administration's request for that year. The United States Government, like our own, is party to the declaration of the Downing Street Summit that

"we shall work to increase the flow of aid and other real resources from the industrial to developing countries."

May the House take it from that answer that the Minister will be pressing her colleagues to do everything possible to emulate President Carter's example in this respect? In particular, will the Minister seek to ensure that there is no mismanagement and inefficiency in our existing aid programme and that we get the best value for money, to which President Carter attached great importance in his statement to Congress?

From consultations with Governor Gilligan and his staff, it is fair to say that there is no doubt that our aid programme is extremely effective and efficient. Therefore, we do not need to feel guilty in that respect, although of course we shall keep a close eye on these matters. I do not like to use such phrases, but we must ensure that we have a full, frank and free dialogue with the Carter Administration on these matters. That is what I tried to do in Washington three weeks ago. I hope that we can help each other.

During my right hon. Friend's discussions with the Carter Administration did the question arise of co-operation over the provision of aid to countries that deny elementary human rights to their citizens?

During my discussions in Washington I had conversations with Governor Gilligan and the lady whom President Carter has appointed to be responsible for human rights issues. We had considerable discussions about the problems of deciding exactly how one relates an aid programme to human rights. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are great problems in that respect. We certainly began an interesting discussion on that matter.

Would the right hon. Lady please answer my previous question? Is she going to implement the cuts in aid in the current year and the next financial year which were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last December? Alternatively, has there been a change in Government policy on aid as a result of the meetings at the Downing Street Summit?

I thought that the hon. Member was familiar with the process. The cuts announced in the last White Paper are being implemented this year. I have already indicated that although this will cause considerable difficulties in the aid programme—and I do not underrate them—we hope that we shall not have to cut any country's allocation. The hon. Member will be equally aware that in the public expenditure review that takes place this summer we shall review all future years. I should be very happy indeed if Opposition Members supported the idea of resisting cuts to the aid programme in the context of public expenditure.

Departmental Staff (Dispersal)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she now expects the plans to relocate her Department in Scotland to be finally implemented.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, said in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 25th April that he would announce a revised timetable as soon as possible. I am unable to give further information at present.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in addition to the new Department in East Kilbride, the Ministry of Overseas Development is still considering alternative office development in Scotland to provide several hundred extra jobs? Is she aware that the Central Regional Council, in my area, has proposed several sites of office development, which I should be delighted to show to her on her next visit to Scotland?

I shall be happy to take up my hon. Friend's invitation. The location for the major part of the Ministry of Overseas Development dispersal has already been settled. We are now waiting for plans. There are a number of real problems concerning the second element of the dispersal. I welcome my hon. Friend's proposition.

Is the Minister aware that the slippage in this timetable is causing concern, because people in Scotland feel that fraudulent claims have been made about jobs being redistributed to Scotland? Since part of the Ministry is to move to East Kilbride, and since Stone-house no longer exists—knowing that the Minister shares my interest in new towns—will she consider the good claims for the cartography section to be established in Cumbernauld?

I appreciate the feelings of the hon. Lady. The East Kilbride part of the dispersal is now settled. The other element is causing genuine problems. The question of siting is open to consideration.

Crown Agents (Fay Committee's Report)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will publish the Report of the Fay Committee on the Crown Agents when she has received it; and if she will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. I shall certainly publish the report, and I shall make a full statement to the House when the report is published.

In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend instruct the Crown Agents, as one of the creditors of the fallen Stern group, to sue for bankruptcy, as is usual with most other people who are involved in bustups of this kind? Does the Minister think that it was wrong for the Bank of England to lean on the First National Bank of Chicago not to sue for bankruptcy against Sterns? Will she give assurances that if none of the 32 creditors is prepared to sue for bankruptcy against the William Stern £110 million property empire, she, as Minister responsible for the Crown Agents, will see that that action is carried out?

As I think my hon. Friend knows from previous exchanges, there is a lot of background to this.

The Crown Agents have been concerned to protect what they can of their own investments in this situation. However, my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Crown Agents informed me towards the end of last week that the formal steps necessary, prior to the institution of legal proceedings that could ultimately lead to a bankruptcy petition against Stern, have now been taken.

Sugar Cane (Fiji Meeting)


asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement concerning the outcome of the recent African, Caribbean and Pacific nations meeting in Fiji, with particular reference to the future of sugar cane imports to the United Kingdom.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 38.

The Community delegation to this second meeting of the ACP/EEC Council of Ministers was headed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, representing the presidency, and I led the British delegation. The meeting was considered to be a success by both the Community and our African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners in the Lomé Convention. There was frank discussion leading to genuine co-operation and mutually acceptable solutions for the major outstanding problems. The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include a number of new products, and concessions were extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho.

I took the chair at a financial working group, which worked out a resolution to define the policy for financial co-operation under the Lomé Convention. The resolution conceded an ACP request for a separate ACP/EEC sub-committee to examine the special problems of the least developed, landlocked and island countries. It was also agreed that the Seychelles and Comores should be added to the list of least developed countries in Article 48 of the Lomé Convention.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to certain products from the ACP States and to hold joint talks on others. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs.

In response to a request from the ACP States, the Community announced that it would restore the original sugar export quotas of certain ACP countries which had not delivered their full commitment in the preceding year and whose quotas had consequently been reduced. In reaching this decision we recognised that these countries might have encountered special difficulties in implementing the sugar protocol for the first time, and the Community made it clear that the decision should not be seen as a precedent for future years. The Council agreed to consider requests from Zambia and Liberia to accede to the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention.

It was agreed to refer for consideration by officials an ACP proposal for the establishment of a joint ACP/EEC centre for agricultural co-operation. I have arranged for a copy of the Press communique made after the meeting to be placed in the Library, and I shall circulate further details in the Official Report.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply to this most important international conference, which, I think she will agree, is more important to long-term world relations than perhaps certain appointments or non-appointments. Will she tell the House whether the future of sugar imports into the EEC and Britain is a long-term assurance, whether there is a one-way ratchet mechanism which is now operating for just one year, and whether the renegotiation of sugar in 1980–81 could threaten the future of the cane sugar industry in this country?

As my hon. Friend will recognise, before and, indeed, during the renegotiations on our entry to the Market and on the first sugar arrangements that were made, these matters are in one respect matters for the discussion within the context of the Lomé Convention and in another respect matters for discussions within the Agricultural Council of the EEC. It is true to say that nothing that was decided in Fiji bears very strongly on the discussions still to take place in the Agricultural Council.

Is it or is it not the policy of the Government to press for the continued import of cane sugar in substantial quantities from these Third World countries?

The meeting in Fiji was concerned with the operation of the agreements that have already been reached. Quite honestly, it would be better if that question were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of some progress at Fiji there also seems to have been disappointment by the ACP countries that they have not had real success in improving the importing of products like bananas, beef and rum, which would considerably assist in their prosperity?

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that in Fiji we agreed to refer the question of bananas and rum for further study and we shall get a further report on that. But I emphasise that the results of the Fiji meeting were recognised in the communiqué by the ACP countries as being a considerable success. It is true that at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted for almost a week, there were doubts whether it would be successful but at the end of the week it was agreed that it was successful. Certain questions were referred for further study. Those are the ones to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Was there any discussion about the operation of the European Development Fund, and did the developing countries express satisfaction or dissatisfaction about its operation so far?

There was a very lengthy discussion in the working party that I chaired. That helped a great deal, because there were a number of questions from the ACP countries about the way in which the EDF was operating. The discussion that took place helped clear the air a great deal and was generally helpful.

With regard to continuing imports of cane sugar from Commonwealth developing countries, do the present Government accept the undertaking given by the previous Government, which took us into the Common Market, about bankable assurances?

Our position with regard to the need to safeguard the interests of the cane sugar producing countries in the Commonwealth stands exactly as it was. The question that now arises concerns the detailed negotiations in the Agricultural Council and how that has to be implemented.

Since there are jobs involved on Merseyside, in Scotland and elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the position on the import of sugar has not worsened and that the Government are doing their best to ensure that we get further imports of cane sugar to look after the jobs of the workers concerned?

There is no doubt about that at all. Our objectives are absolutely clear. All I am trying to explain to the House is that on this question, as is so often the case within the European Community, there is more than one forum of discussion. I am trying to explain that the forum of discussion with which my hon. Friend is now concerned lies with the Agricultural Council during the course of its discussions in the near future. There is no doubt at all about our concern to protect the interests of the cane producing countries of the Commonwealth, which equally match the needs of workers in the cane processing industry in Britain.

The further details are as follows:

The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include vanille, cloves, pyrethrum, gum arabic, ylang ylang, wool and mohair. The concession under the scheme, which grants eligibility to exports to all destinations, rather than solely the Community, was extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho. The Community also pledged that where exceptional events may distort the trade figures that are used to calculate the financial transfer the Community will seek a solution through a favourable interpretation of the existing provisions of the scheme.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to tomatoes and melons from the ACP States. Joint talks with the ACP countries are to be held on the questions of rum and bananas. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs. Community aid for trade promotion is to be expanded to include improvements in the training of personnel and in the marketing of ACP products. Temporary derogations from the Rules of Origin have been granted to Kenya and Malawi for one year to enable them to use third country fish-hooks in the manufacture of artificial fishing flies to be exported to the Community. These derogations are intended to give these countries time to establish Community sources of supply. A joint working party is to be established to identify and assess the effects on ACP exports of the generalised preferences granted by the Community to the developing world as a whole.