The Brandt Commission Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:52 pm on 18th April 1983.

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Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood 10:52 pm, 18th April 1983

My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) ended by saying that we are one world. That is very much my own feeling, as I represent a constituency with a great many problems. Indeed, Brixton has become a byword for problems. It is a multiracial constituency with high unemployment and very poor housing. Yet none of those problems makes assistance to the Third world irrelevant or alientates it. On the contrary, they bring it closer. I am often struck by the way in which my constituency and its problems are closely linked with and indeed reflect some of the problems of the Third world. Of course, the problems that we face are as nothing compared with those of developing countries.

I realise that our problems reflect the problems elsewhere. The denial of opportunity in the Third world may result in the denial of opportunity in my constituency. For example, it seems insane to close down places of further education and to deny people the opportunity of education at multiracial polytechnics in my constituency while at the same time denying the know-how and expertise so badly need by the Third world.

I could give many examples. My constituency, Britain and the world seem to be in a state of economic insanity. It is as though a group of people see on their doorstep enough resources to feed and house themselves, but sit about arguing that they do not have the right kind of constitution to match the existing resources in the constituency, the country or the world to the needs that exist there. That is a form of collective insanity.

Britain now has a greater responsibility than ever before to provide aid to the Third world, as such aid helps us, by generating trade or industrial orders. Moreover, we are now an oil surplus nation. That does not mitigate what has happened in the past, but the fact that we now have a substantial balance of payments surplus because we are an oil exporting country means that we have the money and foreign exchange to increase overseas aid. We ought to give a lead to other oil surplus countries to provide assistance. We have not only a moral but an economic duty to provide an example to the rest of the world.

I shall deal with three practical aspects of overseas aid. The first concerns ecology. Anyone who has visited sub-Saharan territories will have been struck by the extent of the catastrophe that is creeping in on those countries and which has been caused substantially by the cutting down of trees. It is not that massive financial resources are needed by those countries. They need the simple techniques to preserve woodlands and earth cover to ensure that there is continued rainfall and that water tables remain at a sufficiently high level.

It is the simple technologies that can be most useful. A solution to that problem would involve finding a substitute for charcoal. It might be coke, coal or the type of gas that campers use which could be distributed easily. If a substitute for charcoal could be found, that simple step and the establishment of a distribution network could be responsible for saving forests and the affected countries from a shortage of rain, drought and the rest. I am not for a moment arguing for a cut in other forms of overseas aid, but there are many areas in which simple technologies and simple education could be used to prevent ecological damage.

With regard to the second aspect of overseas aid, I endorse wholeheartedly the call in Brandt for more urgency about the effectiveness of aid. This also is not an argument for reducing aid, as I am entirely in favour of increasing it. Recently I talked to some people who are engaged in setting up maize milling plants in a developing country. They told me that the problem has been not so much the shortage of foreign exchange for buying milling machinery as the difficulty of preserving the milled maize from contamination by water, as a result of which it becomes rancid. In those circumstances, they need not only a combination of machinery and resources, but knowledge of effective techniques for managing the food and materials that are used in the mill.

We are especially good at providing management skills. We have often fallen down, but we are good at distribution techniques. We developed techniques for franchising in this country. I have often thought that it would be possible to solve some of the problems of food distribution and manufacturing in some developing countries if the franchising system were used. Everyone engaged in the food distribution network would then have a stake in preserving the product. I am sure that imparting our management techniques through short training courses which prepared people in the use of distribution networks, storage, the distribution and maintenance of spares and so on, would be one way in which to increase the effectiveness of aid.

Anyone who has been to west Africa will have been struck by the number of pumps that have been stripped down and are beginning to rust in the humid conditions or by the number of Land Rovers or other vehicles that have been cannibalised because of the shortage of spare parts and the inability to maintain a spares distribution system. A great deal could be done and it would not be costly. We could train people here to ensure that aid is distributed much more effectively.

My third point concerns the population explosion, about which something must be done. One cannot buy population control, or pump sheaths, coils or pills into a country and think that that will solve the problem. It is a sociological problem. One way in which we might increase the effectiveness of birth control programmes is to give more dignity and emancipation to women, who are often the great sufferers in the Third world—much more so than men. If we can convey values, dignity and self-government to women in the developing countries, perhaps the combination of values and resources will bring about the control of the population.

The world needs moral and economic rehabilitation, and Brandt offers us the opportunity to make people richer in values and in material prosperity. We cannot often feed the body and the soul together, but Brandt gives us that chance. I am glad that the House has wholeheartedly endorsed that proposition.