Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1967.

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Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West 12:00 am, 20th July 1967

I join those who have congratulated the Foreign Secretary on what I thought was a most imaginative introductory speech. Anyone looking in retrospect at the recent Middle East crisis can see that, once again, the United Nations has demonstrated its indispensability. The fact that we have recognised this only at the eleventh hour is another factor of international crises too frequently repeated. I am glad to note that the Foreign Secretary is still determined to put support for and strengthening of the United Nations at the centre of his foreign policy. There is only one observation which I wish to make on his remarks in that respect. Perhaps he will be able to give higher priority in the allocation of his tame to visits to the United Nations, because we can see from his presence at the United Nations that he has won immense respect from the community of nations there represented.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), in discussing the crisis in the Middle East, referred to the Early Day Motion on the Order Paper dealing with the possibility of a United Nations presence in Sinai, with United Nations control of that area. There is a great deal to attract one in this proposal, but we should caution those who support it by commenting that at this juncture it could too easily be interpreted by the Arabs, whom we are desperately anxious to bring to the conference table, as another hostile attitude of the world community.

I should like to say a word or two about what I felt was the most courageous speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams). I believe that we have a direct responsibility to ensure that if we withdraw from areas where we at present carry special responsibilities, such as in South-East Asia, we do not just mouth platitudes about international security arrangements to take the place of our presence but actively get down to the job of constructing meaningful international security arrangements. I fear that there is precious little evidence that we have done much about this.

In looking at the past year—and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that we had had 10 debates on foreign affairs—I am a little disappointed that the Labour Government have not found time this year for a major debate on overseas aid and development policies. I wish to concentrate my remarks on this vital aspect. In a way it is perhaps fortunate that I can do it in the context of a foreign affairs debate, because it may give me the opportunity of stressing that this sphere of activity should receive a far greater degree of importance within our overall foreign policy.

A few statistics taken almost at random emphasise the size of the problem. Thirty per cent. of the world's population has 60 per cent. of the world's foodstuffs. Average earnings in Europe and North America are 10 times those in Asia. A young Briton starting out on employment would think that he was earning only modestly if he were receiving £10 a week. A farmer in Africa may still expect to earn £10 per annum as his total income. The West, collectively spends seven times as much, or 700 per cent. more, on armaments or preparation for the negative containment of violence should it occur as it spends collectively on a positive attack on the causes of conflict—hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance, which are the festering grounds of revolution and violence.

One of the stark realities is that this gap is growing daily. Furthermore, it is a gap underlined by race. When some of us, in a sense of relief welcome indications of a reconciliation between the Soviet Union and the United States, we do well to remember that within the Communist bloc there are differences developing on racial grounds as serious as those which exist in other parts of the world. We would do well to remember that if through this widening economic gap we are to see an emphasised difference between the wealthy and the poor nations of the world, there will be an increasingly powerful China standing by ready to lead the revolutionary situations when the opportunity occurs. We all surely agree that the possibility of direct confrontation between the great Powers in the international community is remote, but the possibility is always there of indirect confrontation which could occur as the result of a local revolutionary conflict growing out of control.

If we learn one broad lesson from history, it is that almost without fail, when the majority of the population in any community have become aware that the privileged minority are in control of the wealth and influence which is their prerogative and that these are not being shared by the community as a whole, it is only a matter of time before change must come. Where those in control have been blindest to this truth, the change has been most violent.

I see no reason to believe that that truth in the history of the nation-State will not be translated also into the national community. I am not arguing—it would be naïve to do so—that we are likely to see in the near future a direct and simple race war. What I am suggesting is that out of this situation, an era of tension and danger could develop which could make the worst days of the recent cold war look mild by comparison.

Faced with the magnitude of that problem, it is reassuring that while still in opposition the Labour Party was able to commit itself by categorically stating in an official publication that A Labour Government will give a new impetus to the war on want. We see it as part of our Socialist obligations to intensify the struggle against world poverty. It was reassuring to see that theme taken up in the election manifestos of both 1964 and 1966.

If I may quote from those manifestos, I take first 1964. The Labour Party said firmly: We believe that the Socialist axiom 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' is not for home consumption only. It went on to argue that a full-fledged Ministry of Overseas Development was needed. In dealing with that sphere of activity, it said that An increased share of the national income devoted to essential aid programmes, not only by loans and grants, but by mobilising unused industrial capacity to meet overseas needs would be a priority of the Labour Government.

At the following General Election, the manifesto was still able to concentrate on that sphere. It said: A Labour Government will mobilise increasing resources in money, expert advice and voluntary effort to make war on want. To support that collective viewpoint—and we know that in an election issues always become a little over-simplified—we have on record the personal commitment of a whole range of party leaders; the Prime Minister himself had a written commitment to that theme; the Minister of Transport had committed herself on many occasions in the House. The Minister of Education had also committed himself—to mention only three.

In referring to the higher priority that should be given to these policies, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport said in the House on 3rd February, 1964: To begin with, therefore, it would help to get the world development authority launched if we had a Ministry of Overseas Development in this country, with the same co-ordinating function as a Ministry of Planning and with Cabinet rank to show the importance which we in Britain attach to the challenge of the Development Decade." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1964; Vol. 688, c. 846.] Three days later, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister repeated that same conviction and said: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we need. A full-scale Ministry of Overseas Development, under a Minister of Cabinet rank, to take over all responsibility for all Commonwealth and other overseas development; to assist and co-operate with voluntary effort in this country…and to take responsibility for our representation on the U.N. specialised agencies."—[OFFiciAL REPORT, 6th February, 1964; Vol. 688, c. 1382.] That promise was followed by speedy action after the election of a Labour Government in 1964. The Ministry of Overseas Development replaced the Department of Technical Co-operation. We saw a Minister of Cabinet rank. Very quickly, we saw an imaginative White Paper and a great deal of work was begun on the rationalisation of aid programmes.

Almost immediately, however, counter-pressures became evident. There was the five-year plan which paid lip service to the principle of aid but which seemed to say in a rather tired way that we had, perhaps, been doing more than we could afford as a nation. It was a five-year plan which more disappointingly, when commenting on how wealth should be distributed in the future, when we had created the extra wealth by 1970, said nothing whatever about a large and significant increased share of the cake for our civil policies overseas.

More recently, in 1966, as the result of the freeze, despite exemptions made on social services at home, we saw the swingeing cuts on the overseas aid programme. We saw a cut of 10 per cent.—£20 million—on a minimal programme of £225 million, a reduction to £205 million; cuts far greater in proportion than those elsewhere. Some of us who were disappointed by that were even more crestfallen when the Government decided later that they were bound to increase the fees for overseas students.

At the start of this year, when we were already depressed enough, there was the still more depressing news that the Minister of Overseas Development, about whom such tall claims had been made in earlier speeches, was ejected from the Cabinet.

All this has to be seen against the background of one halfway mark in the United Nations Development Decade.

I will be forgiven if I remind the House briefly of the objective of that Decade. We remember that it was simply to see a mere 1 per cent. of the gross national product contributed by the Governments of developed countries to development. It was hoped that through this policy a modest 5 per cent. growth rate could be achieved in the developing countries.

To those who might say that that is too ambitious, I would stress that a 5 per cent. growth rate, allowing for a 3 to 3½per cent. population growth, would mean a per capita income increase of only 1½to 2 per cent. a year in the developing countries. It would take 35 to 50 years to double living standards in the developing countries. That would leave the people of India after 35 or 50 years with a per capita income of still only £50.

Halfway through that Decade, all is not well. Aid from the developed countries, far from increasing, has levelled off since 1960 both absolutely and as a pro- portion of the gross national product. No less an authority than George Wood, President of the World Bank, said last year that Unless the Development Decade, as President Kennedy christened it, receives greater significance, it may in fact recede into history as the decade of disappointment. We should not underestimate the difficulties inherited by the Government from their predecessors. The Government see a strong base in the British economy as essential if we are to do all we want to do in Britain and abroad, but I make several criticisms basically of the faltering policy—of the negation of the original aims in overseas aid and development policies—which we have seen in the past year.

First, it demonstrates a sad lack of political courage and leadership. Just as we said that there were certain urgent social priorities at home which must be exempted from the full impact of the economic crisis, likewise the Government should also have said that their Socialist principles demanded that the same should apply to aspects of their policy and work overseas.

Secondly, it has been misleading to suggest to the House and the nation that there is a proportionate relevance in the cuts to the balance of payment problem. When I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development earlier this year what was the saving to the balance of payments of the recent cuts in overseas aid programmes, he replied: While it is not possible to calculate an exact figure it would be reasonable to suppose that if aid is reduced by £20 million a balance of payments saving of the order of £7 million may be expected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 97.] Answering another Question, he assured me that for every £ contributed to the International Development Association, Britain secured 30s. worth of orders.

The next criticism is that it smacks of traditional charity when, because we are in economic difficulties, we say that we cannot afford to do as much as we were doing. We must recognise that the economic growth of the world community as a whole is very much in our interests —that just as, since the Industrial Revolution, economic growth in Britain has been sustained by the increased purchasing power of the working classes, so also our national expansion can now only be sustained if the purchasing power of the developing nations is increased.

Further, we are not recognising the strategic importance of aid. We are failing to recognise the political interdependence of the world community as a whole and, that if we care about peace in the most positive sense, we must give priority to programmes of this sort. The best guarantee of human survival is to be found in increased world prosperity based on practical partnership.

What action do I suggest? I am sure that the Government will not have failed to notice that already 60 of my hon. Friends have signed Early Pay Motion headed, "Support for war on world poverty". Those who signed it would like to see, as a first priority, the Minister of Overseas Development put back in the Cabinet, where he belongs—put back there on grounds of Socialist priorities and Socialist planning.

We should also like to see restored quickly the original targets for overseas aid development programmes. Equally, we want to see an increased concentration on multilateral programmes. We must recognise that, in a developing country, a host of different agreements with different countries of origin ensures economic chaos as the country tries to develop. Co-ordinated international help will lead to cohesion in such areas and I hope that there will be increased support for United Nations development programmes led by that great practical internationalist, Paul Hoffman, at the United Nations.

Priority should be given to agriculture and literacy. We want to see Her Majesty's Government giving more attention to the indicative world plan of the Food and Agricultural Organisation and committing themselves more fully to U.N.E.S.C.O.'s World Literacy Programme to combat the growing rate of illiteracy in the world. It has been estimated that there are now 700 million to 1,000 million illiterates.

Her Majesty's Government should give increased support—some support is already being given—to the various international family planning programmes. Equally, the Government should say more about their plans for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. It was the last conference of U.N.C.T.A.D. which gave the developing nations their first real hope for economic maturity and self-sufficiency. We would be churlish not to recognise the outstanding record of the last Conservative Government in their performance at that conference. I hope that the Socialist Government will be able to go on and do even more in this respect.

In considering U.N.C.T.A.D., we must recognise that long-term price guarantees for the primary producing countries are essential. At present, wild fluctuations in the prices of primary commodities—sometimes fluctuating as much as 12 per cent.—can wipe out in one year the progress made in several years. We cannot pretend that all this will not necessitate changes in our pattern of industry, but at a time when the Government are claiming that they are endeavouring to streamline the industrial pattern in Britain, it would be absurd to ignore the international perspective.

We must also regard the problem of world liquidity, from the point of view of the developing countries, as something requiring high priority. We in Britain are ourselves directly concerned with this matter and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister care desperately about these problems. The International Development Association of the World Bank estimates that the developing countries could absorb £1,000 million more each year quite effectively. Barbara Ward, the international economist, commenting on this situation, suggested: …it might be possible to evolve a scheme in which part at least of the world's reserves were provided not by gold, nor by currencies, but by some controlled creation of credit on the part of the world's embryonic central bank, the International Monetary Fund. She said: If each year it were empowered to issue credit certificates to the value of, say, 5 per cent. of world trade, and these were placed with the near-liquid assets of the World Bank. the Bank could then transfer an equivalent amount of capital to its subsidiary, the International Development Association. for investment in the developing world. Alternatively, to make such a proposal respectable to banking opinion, it could follow the French suggestion that new credit issued by the International Monetary Fund should be given to developed nations in the proportion to which they give aid to the underdeveloped. If the developing countries are to achieve sound economic development, the right balance between the infrastructure, which is essential, and the spreading of economic progress throughout the community in that country as a whole must be secured.

In this respect, I believe that the Government could give more attention to the work of Dr. Schumacher and his Intermediate Technology Group. This Group has done some extremely interesting research recently on relevant policies for development in developing countries. Speaking to an Africa Bureau meeting last year, he summed up this theory in a few neat sentences. He said: If you want to go places, start from where you are. If you are poor, start with something cheap. If you are uneducated, start with something relatively simple. If you live in a poor environment, and poverty makes markets small, start with something small. If you are unemployed, start using your labour power; because any use of it, any productive use of it, is better than letting it lie idle. Replying to the criticism that intermediate technology is second-best, he said: Well, is it? For whom is it second best? Is a bicycle second best for someone who has got nothing? No, it is the best for him, and the gift of a car would ruin him. Is a computer the best thing for the illiterate? Certainly not! The success of his Group is indicated by inquiries which have been received from all over the world. I will quote only one, which stated: Some twenty or thirty years ago there existed a bit of equipment which one could purchase for £20 to do a particular job. Now it costs £2,000 and is fully automated, and we cannot afford to buy it. Can you help us? Her Majesty's Government have an opportunity to lead the world by supporting the work of this Intermediate Technology Group.

In conclusion, the principles and philosophy on which we base our policies here at home cannot be forgotten at the English Channel or even at the Mediterranean. They have a universal significance. The rapid development in recent years of world communications—the capacity that has been developed by mankind for his total self-destruction—illustrate that we can no longer afford to regard peace in its most positive sense as a romantic pipe dream. It is an urgent, practical necessity. To achieve this, in our attitudes to Europe, to the Commonwealth and to the United Nations, we must accept our large and special responsibility for, and give the necessary priority to, the economic and social development of the world community as a whole.