Chapter 1


Introduction: Objectives, Methodology and Literature

Objectives and Methodology


The initial intention behind this thesis was to enquire into and assess the extent to which British official aid policy and practice was poverty-focussed and whether it actually helped or harmed the poorest communities of the Third World during the period 1974-90. This was the primary objective of the project. Chapter 2 explores various frameworks to help in this inquiry. Chapter 3 examines aid policy under the 1974-79 Labour Government, and Chapter 4 aid policy under the 1979-90 Conservative Government. The existence of statistics covering the period also enable, as a very much more subordinate and secondary priority, a quantitative comparison of the records of the Labour and Conservative governments on the issue of poverty focus. This is undertaken in Chapter 5. However, this was not the primary objective of the thesis. Furthermore, in the course of researching material for the chapters on Labour and Conservative policy, it became evident that it was impossible to answer the question “How poverty focussed was British aid?” without examining in some considerable detail the question of gender and aid, and also the inter-relationship between aid, poverty and the environment. Women are a massively disadvantaged majority of the Third World populations. It was necessary to assess how the ODA approached aid and gender, since women were frequently poorer than men within their communities, and since a whole number of special measures were necessary to overcome obstacles in the way of assisting them. For example, in many Third World communities, it is forbidden for women to speak to men outside the family. The importance of having female field staff implementing ODA projects became apparent in the light of this. It was necessary to assess the ODA’s consciousness of gender problems before any definitive answer could be given on the question of poverty focus.

Similarly, an assessment of the sensitivity of the ODA to environmental issues emerged as a key issue in determining the question of poverty focus. The implications of aid projects in relation to the environment are crucial since, for example, poor rural communities live and work in the local agricultural environment. Changes as a result of “development” can have disastrous results on their often precarious economic situation.

The two chapters (6 and 7) on gender and the environment were really an extension of the chapter on the Thatcher Government’s aid policies.

Moreover, it became apparent that it as not really possible to compare the Labour and Conservative governments’ records on these two questions. As Judith Hart acknowledged during an interview for this thesis, gender was not on the agenda of the ODA at all during the 1970s. While the environment may have had slightly more of a profile, it was nowhere near as critical a question to the ODA as it is today. This is largely owing to the fact that both of these questions have only really become important in society as a whole during the course of the 1980s, when lobby groups became more effective and media attention was focussed on them to a significant extent. As is pointed out below, the perception of environmental issues changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. Under Labour the ODA prioritised urban environmental issues: housing, water supply etc. In the 1980s, as global warming and forest destruction became the focus of attention, the ODA, under the Conservatives, was obliged to shift its focus also to these new global environmental issues. While even the initial comparison on general poverty questions was very much a subordinate objective of the thesis, it was impossible to compare the records of the Labour and Conservative governments on gender and environment. It would not be fair because a change of consciousness in society as a whole took pace during the period 1974-90. The governments were not responsible for this change. Rather, their records mirrored the current level (or focus) of consciousness in society generally. In any case, statistics were not available on these two issues over the whole period, making a quantitative comparison impossible.

The primary objective of the research, therefore, was to illuminate the extent to which the policies of both governments addressed themselves adequately to the needs of the very poorest communities of the Third World and the extent to which their practice lived up to their rhetoric. The comparison was necessarily limited to the poverty focus of the aid programme and was not a major consideration in this exercise, but a secondary, subordinate question. Since the issues of gender and environment only became a part of the rhetoric of the ODA in the 1980s, a comparison of Labour and Conservative records on these questions was neither fair (in the light of the absence of public awareness of these issues in society at large in the 1970s) or feasible (in the absence of statistics).



The methodology employed in this project consisted of a variety of approaches to gathering information. These included:

1)     1)     Interviews with key actors

a)     a)     Two former Ministers of Overseas Development, Timothy Raison and Judith Hart. The latter interview took place several months before she died and represents one of her last statements on her period of office.

b)     b)     Party spokespeople/specialists on overseas development: Joan Lestor and Jim Lestor. These gave some insight into the dynamics of Parliamentary activity on overseas development from the point of view of MPs interested in this issue.

c)     c)     ODA civil servants. These provided useful information on how the civil service bureaucracy saw things and how they implemented policy. The interviews with social development advisers and natural resources advisers were particularly valuable in shedding light on developments in relation to poverty focus, gender and the environment.

d)     d)     Consultants to the ODA: a number of interviews with consultants to ODA projects based at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which has a close working relationship with the ODA, gave some useful insights into problems with specific ODA projects in the forestry sub-sector.

e)     e)     Lobbyists: these included a representative of the Women’s Lobby, a freelance writer on environmental issues and British aid, as well as academics active in lobby groups.

2)     2)     Analysis of ODA statistics over the period 1974-90.
In addition to published statistics, access was gained to internal printouts of sub-sectors within project aid, programme aid and technical cooperation. This enabled an analysis of the priority given to those sub-sectors most critical to the poorest to be undertaken. A set of annual tables of British aid figures (taken from ODA statistics) published by Christian Aid also proved useful in this task. As far as possible, the policy adopted by Christian Aid of converting figures into constant prices was extended to other tables for the sake of consistency. An analysis of the two sectors which most impinge on the poorest – agriculture and social and community services – was undertaken, with the aid of the internal ODA printout, Project Aid by Sector: Allocation and Expenditure.

3)     3)     Analysis of Project Documents and Reports.
A number of “flagship” project documents were made available by the ODA in the key areas of poverty focus, gender and the environment. This enabled an estimation of the progress made by the ODA in these areas. An internal report on gender issues, however, revealed that gender did not figure in project aid generally. Correspondence between the ODA and an NGO also revealed that social development advisers are unable to monitor adequately the vast majority of aid projects. ODA Evaluation Reports were also a useful source of information.

4)     4)     Analysis of Government Publications and Parliamentary Papers on Aid and Development.
The ODA policy documents on Aid also provided an obviously crucial source of information. These included the policy documents on the environment and women, as well as White Papers on general development. Hansard was useful for following the relatively infrequent Parliamentary debates on aid and development. Reports of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the National Audit Office also shed considerable light on the efforts of Parliament to monitor government policy and practice on aid questions. The House of Commons Information service was particularly helpful in providing computer printouts of Parliamentary and Government documents.

5)     5)     Analysis of Reports of Lobby Groups.
A wide variety of development, gender and environmental lobby publications proved to be very useful in terms of contemporary issues. Their criticisms of the ODA and official aid generally were also important in terms of developing an understanding of the shortcomings of official aid. NGOs are always a potentially damaging source of criticism of the failings of official government aid because they are in the same business and have a long experience of the problems and pitfalls of aid-giving. They also have money to produce literature which could be a thorn in the side of any government aid agency. However, as is pointed out later in this thesis, they are charities, and the government can threaten to take away their charitable status if they step over certain limits. The government also gives them money through the Joint Funding Scheme. As we point out also later on, a “carrot and stick” policy ensures the NGO publications do not go too far in “biting the hand that feeds them”. On the other hand, the NGOs were instrumental in setting up groupings like the World Development Movement (WDM) and the Independent Group of British Aid (IGBA) on a non-charitable basis. They are therefore not constrained by charitable status and are free to criticise the ODA. Some of the most useful material has come from these two organisations. However, these organisations operate on a shoestring budget (unlike the bigger NGOs), and their voice is not very loud.

Another lobby group, the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), which also has an input from NGO (women) personnel, has attempted to shift the ODA on gender issues through a dialogue with ODA staff. Some of its material is very interesting. However, the ways in which the ODA can neutralise or bring about the muting of criticism from such lobby groups is evident even with these latter mentioned non-charitable groups. NAWO, for example, has been funded by the ODA for a project to help NGOs to develop gender policies.

6)     6)     Academic Institutions
The IGBA is made up partly of academics whose departments are often partly dependent for research on ODA funding (NGO officers in the group have also accepted jobs at the World Bank). This must have some effect on what is said. Another academic institution, the ODI, which provides consultants for the implementation and evaluation of ODA projects, is also partially dependent on ODA funding for research. Teresa Hayter, who is well known as a critic of official aid, was sacked from the ODI for being too critical of the World Bank. The World Bank demanded that a report she had written should be scrapped because it was highly critical of its practice. Hayter opposed this, but the ODI acquiesced to the World Bank. Nevertheless, a good deal of valuable information has been published by academic institutions. As we point out later on, it is not a question of a mechanical censorship of criticism (although the Hayter affair was pretty blatant). It is rather a question of self-censorship and understatement of the problems, not stepping beyond the limits to criticism established by the ODA.

7)     7)     Press articles.
A fair amount of material on controversies over aid came from researching back issues of newspapers on microfilm. This was particularly necessary for the period of the Labour government 1974-79. The source was mainly The Times.

The popular environmental and development press/publications were also important sources of information – The Ecologist, The Spur (WDM paper), New International, South, etc.

8)     8)     Multilateral Institution Reports.
The various annual reports of multilateral institutions proved to be very useful, particularly the UNDP’s Human Development Report, the World Bank Annual Report, UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children, and the OECD’s Development Cooperation, etc.

9)     9)     ODA Annual Report and other Publications.
An obvious source of material was the ODA’s own Annual Report and its other policy/information publications. They were only of limited value since the Annual Report and many other publications are produced more as public relations exercises and “sunshine” reports rather than as genuine informational documents. Similarly, the evaluation reports are (as a social development adviser at the ODA admitted) generally not done on disastrous projects since they are very expensive to do and the ODA does not want to spend money telling the world about its failures. A false picture is gained from reading these reports as a result of this policy.




The literature specifically on recent British aid policy and the extent to which it is poverty focussed is not vast. At the time when this thesis was begun, in January 1988, there was little comprehensive academic analysis of this subject. Most of what had been written was in the form of single chapters, articles, reports and booklets, many of them written by pressure groups rather than academics. It was therefore felt that a considerable gap existed, and it is hoped that this thesis will go some way towards filling it.

In terms of the pre-Thatcher period, some general historical background to British aid can be gained from D J Morgan's five-volume Official History of Colonial Development (London, 1979), or his earlier and shorter Colonial Development (London, ODI 1964). The more recent historical background to the establishment of the Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964 is provided by Dudley Seers and Paul Streeten in "Overseas Development Policies Under the Labour Government." in Beckerman, W, (ed) The Labour Government's Economic Record 1964-1970 (London, 1972). An idea of the motivations of the 1974-79 administration can be gained from the books on overseas development written by two of its ministers: Harold Wilson's The War on World Poverty (London, 1953) and Judith Hart's Aid and Liberation (London, 1973). The former is largely technocratic in character, while the latter contains a polemic against the anti-aid schools of both right and left, arguing strongly for the maintenance and reform of aid.

An interesting analysis of the institutional problems of implementing the "More Help for the Poorest" policy in Britain under the 1974-79 Labour Government was contained in Michael Lipton's book, Why Poor People Stay poor: Urban bias in World Development (London, 1977). This book is very much within the populist tradition (see chapter on philosophical issues). It provides an illuminating insight into the difficulties and pitfalls of implementing the "changing emphasis" in British aid policy at the time.

One of the best attempts to assess the achievements of the 1974-79 Labour Government has been made by Paul Mosley in his article: "Aid for the Poorest: Some Early Lessons in UK Experience", in the Journal of Development Studies (January 1981). This was followed by an Actionaid report: Poverty-Focussed Aid: The Lessons of Experience (London, 1987), also written by Paul Mosley. This was presented at a symposium, the proceedings of which were also published as Actionaid Symposium on Poverty-Focussed Aid: Transcript of Proceedings (London, 1987). The interesting feature of this latter document was the exchange which took place between the then Minister for Overseas Development, Chris Patten, and Paul Mosley as well as the discussion itself. The report contains a thoughtful analysis of the lessons of the poverty-focussed integrated rural development projects initiated under the 1974-79 Labour Government and the collapse of this approach under the Conservatives. Other assessments of the Labour period included Morris and Gwyer: "UK Experience with Identifying and Implementing Poverty-related Aid Projects" in Development Policy Review Vol 1 (1983), and Adrian Hewitt's "British Aid Policy and Practice" in ODI Review No 2 (1978).

The pre-1988 academic literature specifically on British official aid in the Thatcher period, despite being more abundant than the material on the 1974-79 Labour period, was still scanty and mostly in the form of short articles, reports often produced by academic/NGO-initiated pressure groups, as we have noted. The NGOs with charitable status are restricted from becoming too politically critical of government aid policy. It was for this reason that organisations like the World Development Movement (WDM) and the Independent Group on British Aid (IGBA) were set up to promote reform of official aid policy through lobbying and the publication of critical reports. The NGOs were instrumental in founding these organisations with a non-charitable status so that they could be free to criticise government policy without restriction.

The reports produced by the IGBA, and often authored by leading development academics, have been a particularly useful source of information about British official aid policy – much of it highly critical. These reports were: Real Aid: A Strategy for Britain (London, 1982); Aid is Not Enough: Britain and the World's Poor (London, 1984); Missed Opportunities: Britain and the Third World (London,1986); Britain and Tanzania: The Search for Real Aid (London, 1986); and Real Aid What Europe Can Do (London, nd – 1988?).

The first of these reports does say a little bit about the period of the Labour Government but, generally speaking, and understandably, it concentrates on the period since 1979. The policy criticisms which these reports expressed have been very much within a perspective of reforming rather than abolishing official aid. One of the members of the IGBA, Paul Mosley, presented this perspective in his book, Overseas Aid: Its Defence and Reform (London, 1987). Once again, the weakness of these IGBA reports is their insufficient integration of the critically important gender aspect of aid policy. The absence of any women members of the IGBA might possibly have had something to do with this omission.

The Labour Aid and Development Committee proposed a Programme For Development (London, 1986), which contained a critical analysis of current British aid policy and proposed some quite detailed policy reforms for a future Labour Government on a whole series of development issues other than aid. These included women and development, the environment, transnationals, energy, food aid, trade unions and development education.

A paper published by Oxfam in the late eighties, The Oxfam White Paper (Oxford, 1987) written by John Clark, was a further modest contribution which specifically addressed itself to criticising British official aid policy. It dealt with commercialisation of aid, structural adjustment, and women and development. It also made some brief proposals for reform. This was further developed in John Clark's book, For Richer, For Poorer (Oxford, 1987) which also contained some material on British aid.

An Actionaid report written by Mark Robinson, Aid for the Poorest?: UK Aid to Bangladesh. (London, 1988) was another example of the very small number of brief but useful published critiques of specifically UK aid policy. Its usefulness lay in the fact that it analysed a number of British official aid projects and attempted to assess the extent to which they were poverty-focussed.

A report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs: Bilateral Aid: Country Programmes. Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee (Session 1986-87, HCP 32) and the related Minutes of Evidence provided some interesting information: the evidence given by the IGBA was particularly illuminating in relation to the commercialisation of British aid under the Thatcher Government.

The best account of the British Overseas Development Administration (ODA) policy and record on women is a booklet written by Julia Mazza for War on Want: The British Aid Programme and Development for Women (London, 1987). This quite comprehensive critique of ODA gender policy led to considerable controversy and the adoption by the ODA of some of its proposals. As a result it is now somewhat out of date, since some of its criticisms have been taken on board. Many of the ODA policy documents and guidelines have been revised or replaced by new documents.

Since 1988, however, a number of works have appeared which have also filled in much of the gap in the literature on recent British official aid policy. In 1989 Teresa Hayter published a book largely, but not exclusively, devoted to British aid in relation to the environment and poverty: Exploited Earth: Britain's Aid and the Environment (London, 1989). This is a comprehensive source of up-to-date information about British official aid projects. It is highly critical of these projects, but does come up with some very valuable and positive proposals for reforming aid despite the fact that the author is well known for her views about abandoning aid as it is presently constituted. Some of her proposals are integrated into the programme of alternative policies presented in the concluding chapter of this thesis. However, the book concentrates largely on the period of the Thatcher administration and does not deal with the period of the Labour Government (1974-79) in any depth.

Another recently-published book dealing with the period of the Thatcher administration is a collection of essays edited by Anuradha Bose and Peter Burnell: Britain's Overseas Aid Since 1979: Between Idealism and Self-Interest (London, 1991). This is another mine of extremely interesting information on British official aid, much of it critical in a positive way of the Thatcher Government aid policy, written by some of the most well known academics and NGO officers in the development lobby. Its comprehensive span includes aid policy and the environment, the relationship between NGOs and official institutions, an excellent contribution on the role of the business lobby in relation to aid and an essay on the aid lobby. This otherwise comprehensive span, however, does not include a contribution on the crucial issue of aid and gender.

The most recent book to be published on British official aid during the Thatcher years is Morrisey et al: British Aid and International Trade: Aid Policy Making 1979-89 (London, 1993).

In relation to the environment, the most detailed critique of projects on the ground in a particular country has been by made in a booklet by S Percy and M Hall: British Aid to India: What Price? (London, 1989) and an unpublished follow-up report, British Aid to India: Turning Green? (London, 1991) written by Percy, a freelance writer who has visited Karnataka in India on several occasions. The value of these contributions is that they are some of the very few independent first-hand accounts of the progress of a number of ODA projects in India.

To Summarise: Some Key Features of this Thesis


This thesis has thus attempted to provide an overview of the period in relation to the aid priorities of the two governments under scrutiny using interviews with ODA staff, politicians, consultants, freelance journalists, women and development organisations and development lobby groups. Use has also been made of NGO publications, pressure group reports, press articles, government publications and parliamentary papers, parliamentary debates, ODA statistics (some of them internal and unpublished), political party documents, and ODA internal project documents.

A lengthy interview with Judith Hart for the purposes of this thesis, recorded shortly before she died, may now be possibly the last expression of her thoughts about the issues during her time as Minister for Overseas Development. The excerpts from that recorded interview included in the thesis thus provide a unique picture of her role in the period of the Labour Government.

Another key feature of the thesis is the statistics on sub-sectoral priorities within the agriculture and social and community services sectors of project aid, technical cooperation and programme aid. This gives some idea of human development priorities within British aid. This was possible thanks to access, granted by the ODA Statistical Department, to internal unpublished ODA sectoral statistics.

Christian Aid has conveniently published annual tables of British aid figures covering the years 1975-90, compiled by Jessica Woodroffe and Kathy Jones. Use has been made of these in this thesis. They have been converted to constant prices where they were not already in that form.

A further key source was internal ODA documents on the percentage of ODA projects of relevance to women. This revealed that, despite the best efforts and intentions of ODA Social Development Advisers, the number of such projects remains at an unacceptably low level. A picture of the attempts being made to change this situation being carried out by women's lobby organisations was also provided by access to unpublished papers of the National Organisation of Women's Organisations (NAWO) presented at meetings with the ODA.

Graphs used in the thesis are derived from tables in Appendix 1. The numbering of the graphs corresponds to the numbers of the tables from which they are derived. Sometimes more than one graph is derived from a table. A brief source is given with each graph. A fuller source reference is given with the corresponding tables.

Use has also been made of a set of tables compiled by Clark and Toye, first published in "The Aid and Trade Provision: Origins, Dimension and Possible Reforms" in Development Policy Review Vol 4, No 4 (1986), and subsequently republished as Appendix 11 to the Minutes of Evidence to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs: Bilateral Aid: Country Programmes, op cit, p195. They are included by permission of the publisher – SAGE.

Two Parliamentary Written Questions were put to the House of Commons to elicit information for this thesis. One was by Ann Clwyd MP, the Labour Spokesperson on Overseas Development; the other was by Jim Lestor MP. See Appendices 3 and 4 for the details of these questions and the responses to them.

A good deal of the information was from interviews. Two of them were with former Ministers of Overseas Development: in addition to the already mentioned interview with the late Dame Judith Hart, an interview with Sir Timothy Raison provided some useful insights into his period of office. Other interviews included ODA staff, consultants to the ODA, MPs with an interest in aid and independent writers (see Preface for full list).

A further important source of information was internal, unpublished ODA project documents. These were made available to me by ODA staff. These provided an inside view and were very useful. Further useful unpublished documents relating to ODA projects were provided by ODA consultants at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which has a close working relationship with the ODA. My thanks to all concerned are recorded in the preface to this thesis.