Ministry of Overseas Development

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th November 1964.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Mr Richard Hornby Mr Richard Hornby , Tonbridge

To ask the Minister of Overseas Development what functions her Department has taken over from the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, respectively; and whether she will make a statement.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 45.

The Ministry will be responsible for carrying out the Government's policies for development overseas. It will take responsibility for:

  1. (a) The Aid Programme as a whole, and its make-up as between bilateral and multilateral aid and between capital aid and technical assistance.
  2. (b) Terms and conditions of capital aid and the principles on which technical assistance is granted.
  3. (c) The size and the nature of the aid programme for each country.
  4. (d) The management of capital aid and technical assistance.
  5. (e) Relations with international aid organisations.
  6. (f) The United Kingdom interest in United Nations programmes of technical assistance.
  7. (g) Liaison with voluntary bodies operating in the same fields.
In dealing with these matters the Ministry of Overseas Development will work in harmony with the policies of the Overseas Departments and other Departments concerned. The purpose of the new Ministry, in close co-operation with Overseas Departments, will be to help promote the progress of the developing countries, bearing in mind our special ties with Commonwealth countries, including the dependent territories.

These functions have hitherto been discharged by the Treasury and the Overseas Departments; the Department of Technical Co-operation has been absorbed into the Ministry of Overseas Development. The functions originating in the other Departments mentioned are in process of transfer. The Ministry will be responsible for the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

The Ministry will have general responsibility for co-ordinating British policy in respect of the aid and development work of the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies and for aid questions arising from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. In addition because of the importance of aid and technical assistance in the activities of U.N.E.S.C.O. and F.A.O., the Ministry will assume the prime responsibility for relations with these bodies from the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, respectively.

The Treasury will continue to deal with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in close consultation with the Ministry of Overseas Development.

Photo of Mr Richard Hornby Mr Richard Hornby , Tonbridge

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me notice that she wished to answer this Question. Would she not agree that the proliferation of Ministries almost inevitably gives rise to dangers of duplication of effort in some cases and of divided counsels very often in others? Will she please tell the House whether it is her intention to work through the overseas Departments—and I include the Board of Trade, for instance—who have a great deal of experience in overseas territories? If she does not intend to do that, does she intend to set up overseas offices of her own in some of the countries with which she will be concerned?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

The hon. Member is quite right that the proliferation of responsibility for aid matters in the past led to overlapping and to lack of any proper planning of aid and, therefore, of its most effective use. The whole aim in establishing the Ministry of Overseas Development is to try to end that situation. But, of course, I can discharge my responsibilities in the interests of the Government as a whole only if I work in the closest consultation with the overseas Departments concerned and with other departments concerned, and that I certainly intend to do.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

May I ask the right hon. Lady what will be the rôle of the Foreign Office? Will it continue to judge and allocate aid on the basis which it has been adopting as between a variety of overseas countries, because the Foreign Office has very particular capabilities in this direction?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

No, Sir. The responsibility for negotiations on the straight question of aid will be transferred to my Ministry, but, there again, the closest consultation will be maintained with the Foreign Office. Except in those cases where there are special considerations—for example, highly sensitive political questions may be predominant where it may be desirable for another Department to take the lead—the Ministry of Overseas Development will take the initiative. But, I repeat, it will be in harmony with the policies of all the overseas Departments.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Does the Minister realise that many people will see it as a mistake to alter the balance of responsibility between the overseas Departments and the right hon. Lady's Department? They will regard it as a mistake to divorce from the policy-making Departments, which have the overall view of external policy, the responsibility for one field of that policy—namely, the allocation of aid to those countries which in the opinion of those Departments ought to receive it in the light of their general policy?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

The right hon. Gentleman's experience is not mine. On the contrary, since assuming this position I have been astonished to find how many people of different political views and wide responsiblity in these fields have asserted that this change was long overdue and that this rationalisation ought to have taken place a long time ago. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we appreciate that the Colonial Office has special responsibilities in the field of budgetary aid, and it will continue to be responsible for that as an integral part of its functional responsibilities. But as far as development aid is concerned, I have found that all expert opinion is agreed that we cannot make the maximum use of our limited resources in this field without a planning unit of this kind being formed.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

In view of the implications of the two questions from the Opposition Front Bench, will my right hon. Friend resist the temptation to attach ideological strings to aid? Secondly, when she refers to liaison with voluntary bodies, may I ask her whether she is thinking primarily of what one might call charitable bodies, such as Oxfam and War on Want, or whether she is referring also to V.S.O.—Voluntary Service Overseas?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

Certainly, the purpose of my Ministry will be to approach the question of aid from the development angle—what we can do to speed up and maximise the development of the underdeveloped countries of the world. It will be this kind of economic consideration which will be predominant, always, as I have said, in harmony with the policies of our overseas Departments. In referring to the voluntary organisations, I was referring not only to bodies such as Oxfam, with whom we have had working relations, but also to such voluntary organsations as V.S.O. and I.V.S.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

Will the right hon. Lady tell us where the responsibility now lies for the scientific work overseas formerly undertaken by the Overseas Research Council? Does that rest with her?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

Yes, Sir. This will be a part of the technical assistance side, with us.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

I wish the right hon. Lady success in this vitally important job. Will she tell us something about the relationships with the United Nations agencies? Will these be through Lord Caradon's office, or through representatives in her own Ministry? Secondly, does the creation of this Ministry indicate an increased contribution to the United Nations Development Decade? Thirdly, will she consider trying to investigate the possibilities of a joint Commonwealth investment in developing countries within the Commonwealth so that other parts of the Commonwealth can play their part in raising the standards of living in those countries?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes and his realisation that the Government's purpose in setting up this Ministry was to enable this country to play a more effective part in the very great challenge affecting the whole world in the growing disparity between the rich and poor nations of the world and the failure of development to keep pace, as it should do, with rising standards in the West. I am grateful for his support on that point.

Answering his question about relationships with the United Nations Special Fund and the aid side of the United Nations work, our contacts will be through Lord Caradon. We shall work very closely with him on this matter. We are certainly anxious to increase and extend Commonwealth co-operation in all these aid fields.

Photo of Mr Francis Noel-Baker Mr Francis Noel-Baker , Swindon

Arising out of the reply which the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), can she say what new machinery will be required for maintaining relations with and stipulating and co-ordinating the activities of the voluntary bodies? Will her Department be directly in touch with, for example, O.E.C.D. in connection with the work of that organisation in giving aid to developing countries?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

The question of voluntary organisations is at this moment under active consideration in my Department and it may be possible for an announcement to be made before too long. We will certainly be maintaining contact with O.E.C.D. on aid matters.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

The Minister said that it was the intention of the Government to make aid more effective and to maximise its effect. Can she say whether it is the Government's intention to allocate more money for this purpose?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

This is certainly one of the developments in our policy and one which is very close to our hearts. However, I would not feel justified in recommending to the House, particularly in our difficult financial circumstances, any increase in the amount of aid until this necessary rationalisation work has been done and so that we may increase the more effective use of the aid that has already been voted.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. We cannot pursue this matter further by way of supplementaries.