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Bolivia: Aid Proposals

Volume 385: debated on Monday 11 July 1977

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have reached a decision on the proposed aid to Bolivia amounting to £19 million.

My Lords, the proposal to which my noble friend refers is that my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development should agree to the provision of some £19 million to assist the public mining sector in Bolivia. The issues involved are complex and no decision has yet been taken.

My Lords, is it not the case that in regard to development this mine is now under very oppressive military occupation, that 50 workers have been dismissed because they were trade unionists and that the miners' union has sent a delegation to inquire, which has reported against this aid? In view of the fact that this is a Labour Government, will they decline to make this financial provision?

My Lords, like my noble friend, I have read the report of the National Union of Mineworkers, and so indeed has my right honourable friend. It will, of course, weigh with us in our decision; but I should like to repeat that no decision has yet been taken.

My Lords, can the Minister say how many representations against this proposal have been made by Members of both Houses? Does the noble Baroness agree that the evidence which has been brought back by the National Union of Mineworkers' delegation is that the vast majority of mineworkers in Bolivia are against the giving of aid for this purpose?

My Lords, many representations have been received, from the Catholic Institute of International Relations, from War on Want and from other people, of which we are very much aware. I could not possibly say whether the majority of the miners in Bolivia have been against this. I think it would be impossible to find that out; but all these factors are being taken into account.

My Lords, can my noble friend say when a decision is likely to be reached so that, if necessary, I may put down another Question?

My Lords, my noble friend does not require any assistance in putting down Questions.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this project, which has been thought out for a long time by officials, is of great social significance in Bolivia, that a great deal of future United Kingdom trade depends on its successful outcome and that it will entail useful jobs in the United Kingdom, and that great damage has already been done by its outcome being in doubt at the present time?

My Lords, I would not accept that great damage has already been done, but of course I entirely accept what the noble Viscount says about its being of commercial value ultimately—probably not at first, but it could be—and these are other factors which will also, naturally, be taken into account.

My Lords, could I ask my noble friend whether or not the slave trade also brought great profit to this country?

My Lords, is it not the case that this is not so much a grant as a form of aid on which the interest which will fall due will be directed to projects in the plateau, which contains the most neglected section of the Bolivian economy? Is it not also the case that, in a day when we no longer have gunboats or other forms of force, we ought to make the best use we can of aid, helping those who are to receive it, perhaps not by turning it off but by insisting on proper conduct by Governments which receive it?

My Lords, it is quite true that the aid would be made available to the Bolivian Government as a grant. It would then be on-going and would be lent to the nationalised tin-mining industry, which—and we specified this in the original consideration of the scheme—would use the money for improving the social conditions of the miners both as regards safety in the mines and as regards conditions outside. Her Majesty's Government, in considering projects of this kind, always consider the social benefits which will accrue to the people involved. That is why this matter is taking a long time to discuss and to think about. It was considered by British consultants and British consultants would supervise it, so that the noble Lord's worries about where the money would go are unfounded, I believe.