Douglas Hurd – 1974 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

It is a great honour to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and to ask indulgence as a new Member speaking for a new constituency.

Mid-Oxfordshire includes part of the old Banbury division, and part of the old Henley division. It would be impertinent to comment on my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), as he is very much with us, but it is right that I should say something about Mr. John Hay, who represented Henley for 24 years before standing down at the last election. He very kindly came to support me during the campaign, and it was immediately clear how much respect he enjoyed among the people in Wheatley and the surrounding areas, whom he represented so well for so long.

Mid-Oxfordshire is one of those constituencies which look a good deal more rural than they really are. It contains a successful farming industry, but it also includes many thousands of people who go to work in the city of Oxford every day. It has a good deal of industry tucked away in rather improbable places behind old Cotswold facades. For example, the town of Witney has made itself famous for one industry. It is no good talking to my constituents about an energy policy which is based just on coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. No energy policy will satisfy the people of Witney unless it includes maximum support and encouragement for the manufacture and use of blankets.

My constituency also includes the town of Burford. I was reminded of the town when the Secretary of State for Employment was fascinating us yesterday with his description of Cromwell as one of the great forerunners of Socialism. It is true that in the seventeenth century there were in this country Socialists, or Levellers. On Burford Church can still be seen the bullet marks where Cromwell lined up the Levellers against the wall and shot them. The Secretary of State for Employment is lucky to be separated by several centuries from his hero, the Lord Protector.

In the two years I have known them the constituents whom I represent have shown a keen interest in the affairs of the outside world. That is particularly seen in the degree of support which now exists for a foreign aid programme—something that has impressed me very much.

Before I say something about that, I should like to deal with a matter of great personal interest to me. I shall try to do so in an uncontroversial manner. As you may remember, Mr. Speaker, I spent four years in a humble capacity in the British Mission to the United Nations in New York. I should like to say a few words about the appointment of the British representative there in the past two weeks. During the four years that I was there under the late Sir Pierson Dixon—the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Dixon)—I came strongly to the conclusion that the top permanent job there was one for a professional diplomat. The reason is simple. He does not have to deal with just one Government, with one set of Ministers or officials. He now has to deal with a hundred missions almost in perpetual motion, as well as with the Secretary-General and his staff. If the skills of professional diplomacy are needed anywhere, they are needed in New York.

That is borne out by the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, who went there with a great reputation, which he still enjoys, great eloquence and great experience of the United Nations. Yet I wonder whether that experiment was a success. It seemed to me that Lord Caradon was constantly arousing, through no fault of his own, expectations which the Government at home were not always able to fulfil. Now the experiment has been repeated in different, and perhaps less promising, circumstances. The new representative will replace a respected professional diplomat who has been there for a few months and who has worked himself into the job. He will go as the political appointment of a minority Government, with all the uncertainty which that involves. I wonder whether, through no fault of his own—this is no criticism of the distinguished person who has been appointed—he may find himself in a rather difficult and sad position.

The decision to hive off the Ministry of Overseas Development from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a repetition of what was done in 1964. I am a little puzzled why this should be done again. It seemed to me that the foreign aid programme fared pretty well under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) and also under my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home). Indeed, it survived, better than had been usual in the past, the attacks of those wishing to economise in public expenditure. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the head of the Department was a member of the Cabinet, whereas in future that will not be the case.

The argument has been that one needs a separate Department so that one can have a consistent long-term aid programme which is not bedevilled by the short-term comings and goings of foreign policy. That is an essential part of the case. Yet immediately we are up against a controversy over technical assistance to Chile and the suggestion that we should cut off that programme for short-term political reasons. This is the real problem, and it also affected the Conservative Government in respect of Pakistan and Uganda. This is what happens when one comes up against Governments whose actions are in some respects offensive to public opinion in this country. However, aid programmes are supposed to benefit people, not Governments. They are long term, and must be left to the long term if they are to be successful. If they are constantly messed about because of changes in political opinions in this country or in the receiving country, they are not likely to succeed. This is a genuine problem which has faced Labour and Conservative Governments, and I am sure that it is a topic which the Minister for Overseas Development would like to consider.

I make one final point about the aid programme. It is common ground that most Government expenditure programmes depend on public support. It is also true that in terms of the British foreign aid programme a good deal of progress has been made in recent years, thanks to the efforts of all parties—but support arises only if the programmes, as part of the foreign aid effort, are based on the real world and on what is happening in it. There have been massive changes in the real world in recent months. We now have before us a group of newly-rich States in oil-producing countries. Some, like Iran and Nigeria, have large populations on which to spend their money, but there are others which do not have large populations and which will face difficult problems when dealing with the resources to which they have suddenly become heir. Their decisions have sharply affected the prospects for developing countries, particularly those with no resources of their own. Therefore, it is reasonable that these newly-rich States should be encouraged to share the burden now borne by the aid-giving countries—a burden which we have been carrying for so long. I hope that the Government, either alone or through the EEC, in the dialogue with the Arabs to which the Foreign Secretary referred this afternoon, will make this point to them as strongly as they can. The oil-producing countries should be brought to recognise that with their new riches they carry new responsibilities. This is an important point if we are to continue to maintain progress in this country in persuading our fellow citizens to continue to bear part of the burden.