With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.
I informed the House on 20th July that I intended to lay before it a White Paper on the work of my Department. This is available in the Vote Office today.
This is not a moment at which it would be right to announce plans for a significant increase in the aid programme. At a time when we are taking steps to restrain public expenditure and when we must have particular regard to our balance of payments there are limits to the amount of aid we can provide. This makes it all the more important to ensure that our aid is well managed and provided in the most effective forms.
The White Paper is designed to inform the House how I intend to achieve this. Our purpose is to help the poorer countries to tackle the problems of development and indebtedness. These problems have, if anything, become more acute in recent years. The commitment to give aid for overseas development is, therefore, a long-term one.
The White Paper starts with a discussion of the motive and objectives of our aid policy, followed by an analysis of the economic progress of the developing nations. This makes no attempt to minimise the grave tasks facing these countries, to which I have referred, nor does it underestimate what has been achieved in recent years through their own efforts in co-operation with the industrial countries and international agencies. I trust that this analysis will lead us to the conclusion that we must not shrink from accepting our share of responsibility.
In Chapter VII of the White Paper I have indicated the main guide lines which we propose to adopt in our future aid policies. In Chapter VIII our new policy on interest-free loans is explained. In Chapters XI to XIII I have dealt in some detail with technical assistance, to which I attach special importance.
Since the formation of the Ministry we have systematically reviewed our operations in technical assistance, and as a result I have some important new initiatives to announce. These relate, in particular, to the recruitment of British men and women for key positions overseas and to high-level training in this country of specialists in development and administration. I will not lengthen this statement by going into detail.
Mr. Speaker, I conclude as I began, by pointing out that we are publishing this White Paper at a time when we ourselves are experiencing serious financial difficulties and are taking important measures to correct them. I am sure that the House will agree that, however much these difficulties must limit what we can do at the moment, our preoccupation with them should not allow us to forget our responsibilities in overseas aid, which forms an increasingly important element in international relations today.
I sympathise with the hon. Lady in her having to make a statement when there is really nothing to tell the House May I ask her three questions? I have had only a few moments to look at the White Paper and I cannot find these figures. First, can she tell us how the rate of disbursements this year compares with the rate last year?
Secondly, does the Minister realise that, even if she is able to maintain the volume of Government aid at approximately the same figure as last year, the total of British economic assistance to underdeveloped countries is bound to fall far below the 1 per cent. which was agreed generally at the U.N.C.T.A.D. conference as a result of the Government's deliberate decision to discourage private investment overseas?
Thirdly, is it not a fact that the new Ministry has merely increased overhead costs without increasing aid? Is it not clear that the hon. Lady and her Department have proved to be nothing but a costly piece of political window-dressing?
The right hon. Gentleman can keep his sympathy for himself; I have certainly no need of it. When he has read the White Paper he will find that there is contained in it details of important policy changes and advances in this field which are quite remarkable and outstanding for a period of nine months' economic difficulty in this country. Particularly in the field of technical assistance, we have achieved in nine months what the Secretary for the Department of Technical Co-operation in the previous Government was unable to achieve ever since its formation in 1961.
Disbursements for this year, of course, are not in the White Paper for the simple reason that they are not complete for the year, but I anticipate that they will be higher than in last year's out-turn. As the right hon. Member knows, we are running above the 1 per cent. calculated by U.N.C.T.A.D., which includes private investment and there is no reason to expect that we shall fall below that target at any time.
Paragraph 22 of the White Paper stresses the shortage of professional and technical personnel in the poorer countries. How does the right hon. Lady reconcile this with the Government's latest policy announcement, which is to allow such personnel to come into this country without impediment while gravely decreasing the number of unskilled personnel who could come here from the poorer countries of the Commonwealth? Has this policy been agreed with the poorer countries of the Commonwealth? Have they accepted this decision to encourage these professional people while putting a severe limitation on the number of unskilled persons who may come here?
Neither my Department nor the Government have done anything to encourage the inflow of this personnel; they have been coming for years. Many have come for a form of post-graduate training and advanced experience and have then returned to their own countries. No representations have been made to my Department on that point.
Some unskilled persons will be coming in. In the White Paper we have set out the action we are taking to improve training facilities in this country. In particular, we are really tackling the problem of industrial training for many people who have come over here sometimes for technical training and then have not been able to get the practical experience in industry necessary to complete their course. In conjunction with the Industrial Training Councils we are tackling this problem for the first time.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who have followed the work of her Department since it was set up warmly welcome the scale of progress today and the plans for the future? Is it the intention to set up a careers service, associated with her Ministry generally? Is it accurate to say that there is to be no cut in overseas aid despite the economic difficulties at home?
The levels of aid expenditure will be contained in the national plan. That is why they are not in the White Paper, but I repeat that I anticipate that disbursements this year will be to a marked degree higher than last year.
We are proposing to establish a careers service in my Ministry for a corps of specialists in the direct employment of the Ministry who normally will be on loan overseas. We are also setting up an Overseas Service Pensions Fund to provide pension rights for persons serving in jobs overseas for which such provision is not at present made. These provide improved elements which have been missing in security of employment which we must offer if we are to recruit the people needed for these highly skilled jobs overseas.
In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) the right hon. Lady said that expenditure this year would be higher than last year. Has this extraordinary state of affairs been agreed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the difficult balance of payments position?
Anyone who knows anything about overseas development knows that aid programmes are continuing programmes which cannot be turned on and off like a tap. They are commitments which we make over varying periods to countries which have to make development plans. We would produce world chaos if we were tempted to go back on the series of solemn commitments made as part of Britain's long-term programme of aid.
The corps of specialists will be on our payroll and part of our staff and they will be loaned overseas for whatever professional jobs they are required to do. If, in relation to universities, my hon. Friend is referring to those overseas, we have extended the Overseas Service Aid Scheme to enable us to cover universities in particular as well as Government services.
I suppose that we should be grateful that in overseas aid, unlike everything else, there is not to be an actual cut. May I ask the right hon. Lady whether her goal still remains 2 per cent. of the national income, as she pressed on us in February, 1964? Can she tell us why her Department has been upgraded to Cabinet rank when apparently she has no more aid to disburse than my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) had?
I am absolutely confident that if the previous Administration had got back into power, and inherited the economic difficulties we had to face, aid would have been savagely cut.