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1997 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in Manikganj

Below is the text of Mr Major’s doorstep interview in Manikgank, given on Saturday 11th January 1997. BRAC is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.


QUESTION:

Were you impressed, Prime Minister, by the contribution Britain has been able to make to this project and many others?

PRIME MINISTER:

Britain has made a substantial contribution and I shall be increasing that contribution again this afternoon so that B.R.A.C. can carry on this sort of work. I think it is astonishing the degree of self-help and the way in which the sums have been used; relatively small amounts of funds in some cases have been used by B.R.A.C. to very great effect and I think we have seen that this afternoon.

QUESTION:

How much is Britain contributing? It is, after all, just a drop in the ocean to us, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

In terms of Bangladesh, Britain contributes something over £53 million a year at the moment, it is one of our larger aid programmes and has been for some time and I would imagine it will continue to be so.

QUESTION:

And how much more are you able to give?

PRIME MINISTER:

There will be another few million today specifically for health programmes for B.R.A.C.

QUESTION:

Overall, though, the aid budget has gone down, hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not in direct aid to countries that are poor, no. There are elements of the aid budget that have fallen but we have protected that consistently and you have seen this afternoon why - because this is aid going to people who are in very distinct need. Relatively small amounts often go a long way and there is not only the question of the direct provision of cash resources, there is also the provision of expertise and help and we do protect that part of the aid budget and I think anyone who has been here this afternoon can see why.

QUESTION:

Can we have an election pledge then that you will put it up?

PRIME MINISTER:

We look at it every year, Michael. You must get elections off your mind, you must concentrate on other matters, I am not here considering that. I have just given some more money now and you mustn't ask me to deal with next year's public expenditure round but don't think one is unmoved by what you see on these occasions. Even you hard-bitten hacks look to me as though you have learned something this afternoon, I think it is a very worthwhile trip.

QUESTION:

Do you see lessons for the work of the ODA in general in what you have experienced of the B.R.A.C. project here?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have seen it here for the first time but of course the ODA haven't, the ODA have people resident in Bangladesh. I was speaking to ODA officials earlier today, they are very familiar with B.R.A.C. We are one of the larger donors to B.R.A.C. and have been for some time and will continue to be in the future so ODA are very closely involved with what has gone on. B.R.A.C. was established I think nearly a quarter of a century ago and you can see the astonishing work that has grown out of what in the beginning was one man's dream of what could be done.

QUESTION:

But, Prime Minister, we do not tell people back home about this.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we do a fair amount but of course it isn't often that sort of news that catches the headlines and catches people's imagination. Certainly we do a lot but I think more important than telling people at home what is being done is making sure that there is the capacity to continue doing the work in future and that is what the ODA is about, it is why it distributes its resources in the way it does.

QUESTION:

How does the aid programme work in with the trade and investment programme that you are also running here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, trade and investment has its own impact upon people's living standards. If trade increases, if investment increases, jobs are created, if jobs are created people have money to spend, if they have money to spend that has a trickle-down effect even down to the smallest of rural enterprises. This afternoon we have seen the rearing of chickens, some of them for sale some of them for consumption, we have seen the spinning of silks. That trickle-down effect of trade and investment provides a market, provides opportunities and provides jobs so it is very important and the overall impact of increased trade and investment not just in Bangladesh but in other countries as well probably cumulatively dwarfs the sum total of overseas aid whether from the United Kingdom or all countries combined so it is very important and that is the principal reason why we keep arguing for free trade, why we keep arguing that the western democratic nations, the relatively rich nations of western Europe, should open their markets more and not keep them so closed. I think, frankly, there is something immoral in western Europe and the large wealthy countries providing aid resources with one hand but closing their markets to those countries with the other hand. If they opened their markets, then a great deal more good could be done and that is very much what Britain wishes to see.

QUESTION:

Isn't the European Union to a degree [indistinct]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sometimes but we argue for virtue within the European Union and will continue to do so.