Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th April 1970.

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Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East 12:00 am, 14th April 1970

I intervene briefly to express the deep concern we on this side of the House feel over this delicate and difficult situation. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is right in saying that there is no precedent in the history of Commonwealth relations for the extraordinary decision of Her Majesty's Government to suspend aid to a friendly country and to refuse recognition to its Government, so that, in effect, diplomatic channels are closed and it is not possible for any communication to take place. If there is one thing that we should have learnt it is that we cannot turn off the tap of aid without doing serious harm to a developing country's economy; taper it off, by all means, but not cut it off altogether.

The right hon. Lady will recall how the Government were criticised for cutting off aid to Tanzania for political reasons. I am glad, as I think the whole House is, that they have since reversed that decision, and rightly so.

As I understand it, the financial year in Lesotho has just come to an end. Discussions took place with Her Majesty's Government last December on the aid programme for the next three years, and now the country is cut off from any assurance of support at a time of acute difficulty. One is bound to ask, therefore, whether it is the purpose of Her Majesty's Government to precipitate economic crisis and collapse in Lesotho in order to attain certain political objectives? Such a suggestion is not fanciful. The Government must be aware that widespread drought has not only been sweeping Lesotho but is affecting the southern regions of Rhodesia, the whole of Botswana, parts of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. No rains were experienced up to the end of December, and since then very little rain has fallen and the main maize crops have been very hard hit. Those farmers who planted early in October will harvest a little, but the majority of the African farmers planted later than this, many of the fields are a complete write-off. I understand, too, that maize stalk borer damage is also severe in the later planted plots. The situation is already causing very grave concern to the people in Lesotho, and it is almost certain that there will be widespread starvation among the people.

My hon. and gallant Friend has asked how long it will be before a decision is taken on resuming aid. It is surely wrong that this human consideration should be bound up with the question of recognition. At this moment the Government and the people of Lesotho have not the faintest idea what lies ahead for them. It seems clear that this policy if unchecked will have exactly the same result as the policy of Her Majesty's Government on Rhodesia of driving Lesotho into the arms of South Africa, which can hardly be in the interests of its people, of the Commonwealth or of this country. I shall await with interest to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say.