HL Deb 08 June 1976 vol 371 cc495-502

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade. The Statement is as follows:

"The fourth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development met in Nairobi, Kenya, from 5th to 31st May.

" The Conference adopted resolutions by consensus on a number of matters including commodity policy, developing country debt, the transfer of technology and certain institutional issues. In addition, a resolution was adopted by majority vote on transnational corporations, and a resolution on the development of international mechanisms to facilitate resource development in developing countries, including the proposal to consider the establishment of an International Resources Bank, was rejected in a vote by a narrow margin.

" The major achievement was that consensus was reached on a resolution on commodities, the central issue before the Conference. The resolution provides for a programme of negotiation, within a defined timetable, on products which have been identified as of particular interest to the developing countries. I welcome this decision, which I sought in my opening statement for the United Kingdom at the outset of the Conference. It will give concrete shape to proposals put forward in Kingston a year ago by my right honourable friend, the Member for Huyton.

The resolution also provides for preparatory meetings in relation to a common fund for buffer stock financing, to be followed by a negotiating Conference, not later than March 1977, which will be open to all the members of UNCTAD. It is clearly right that this proposal should be studied further. The resolution recognises that there are differences of view on the objectives and modalities of a common fund, and in common with a number of other developed countries we have made it clear that our acceptance of the resolution is on the basis of that understanding.

" I am glad to say that consensus was also reached on debt on the basis of a proposal which we had put forward in the course of negotiations. The resolution adopted by the Conference confirms the willingness of the developed countries to consider quickly and constructively requests for help from any individual developing country finding itself in difficulties. It also provides for work to be done internationally in existing fora to establish from past and current experience what features might give flexible guidance for future operations.

" We approached the Conference with a full recognition of the serious problems which face the developing countries and of the contribution which the Conference could make in seeking ways to alleviate those problems. Despite the differences of view which remained on certain points, I believe that the Conference has made a substantial contribution towards that objective. For our part, we shall play a full and constructive role in the programme of international work which the Conference has set in hand.

" An account of all the issues dealt with by the Conference will be published in a White Paper as soon as is practicable this summer. And I am placing in the Library the text of the various resolutions which were adopted by consensus or voted on together with an explanatory statement made by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Overseas Development, on the resolution on commodities."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement, and I think we should sympathise with Her Majesty's Government over the difficulties of negotiating in a Conference that is preorientated to a solution which we may not feel the best of the alternative solutions to the predicament of the underdeveloped countries. However, we must note that the group of 77, who have a political spectrum ranging from Chile to Tanzania, managed, as a result of the Manila declaration, to maintain a united front, whereas the " B " group countries, including ourselves, were unable to produce a negotiating basis at all until the last Thursday of the Conference. Our own contribution was the EEC position in which we and Germany had reserved positions.

Therefore, it must be a subject of regret that we have not kept up the impetus that was reached at Kingston under a previous Prime Minister, that there has been so little progress on access which should be on the EEC agenda and that the Statement tells us that there are friendly views towards debtor countries. But in regard to all the agreements which we arc told have been made we are told the subject and not the content; so we cannot be jubilant about those. We should like to know more about the transfer of technology, for instance, and we are surprised that there is no reference to the OPEC countries who hold a crucial role in the situation vis-à-vis both the developed and the undeveloped countries. If we are to proceed apace, I should have thought that we would take the lesson of Manila and try to agree a position before we proceed further.

Finally, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that if we do not take seriously our plain duty to alleviate in some measure the lot of the least fortunate of our fellow men, we shall be endangering the stability and security of our own people within the span of a generation. We do not have to open either a soup kitchen or a cornucopia in order both to fulfil our obligations and to win the good will of those who are at present open to recruitment into hostility and envy against us. The alternative is to sit like the fat boy in front of the larder door until those hungrier and more numerous than we, armed with hostile political doctrines and possibly hardware as well, shoulder us aside, possibly permanently.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place. We on these Benches are glad that the Conference did not end in failure, as Press reports suggested was likely to happen, but I am not clear how far we can say that it was a success. I wonder whether the noble Lord would agree that nothing really positive on commodities has yet been agreed. There is an agreement to negotiate on certain individual commodities, which is to be welcomed as far as it goes, and to hold meetings to discuss a common fund for a buffer stock arrangement, on the usefulness and nature of which there are, as the Statement emphasises, considerable differences of opinion. I should like to ask why the Government have had such hesitations about a common fund and whether as an alternative a development of the STABEX arrangement as incorporated in the Lomé Agreement was considered.

Finally, I am bound to deplore the disunity which was displayed by the EEC countries during the Conference. It seems to have been a long way off the united front in dealing with the developing countries which was advocated by Mr. Tindemans in his recent report.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, began with an admirable summary, as I saw it, of the difficulties of negotiating vastly complex matters of this kind within the compass of a large conference in the course of a month, but he finished with what I thought was rather too simplistic a summing-up of the United Kingdom Government's attitude to the developing countries. We are not any fat boy sitting at any door. We have an aid programme towards the developing countries of which we are proud and when recently, regrettably and unfortunately, certain cuts in public expenditure had to be programmed we were able to exempt from those cuts our aid programme. I think that is a better exemplification of this Government's attitude to the developing countries.

The noble Lord regretted, as indeed I think we can all regret, and as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, regretted, the fact that there were divisions within the councils of the developing countries. This is clear and it is true, but I can say that at no stage during the conference were we in any way isolated, either from the European Community or from the Group B countries as a whole. So the divisions, although obviously there, were not of such a fundamental importance.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, also suggested that in Nairobi we had failed to carry forward the initiatives that were taken by my right honourable friend Sir Harold Wilson at the Kingston conference a year ago. Rather do I see that as being an initiative, valuable results from which have appeared in Nairobi. There has been preparatory work on the basis of the Kingston initiative, which came out successfully in the concluding resolutions of the Nairobi conference, and the programme for consideration of commodity by commodity arrangements is one of the substantial achievements.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, asked whether I could not agree that there had been no agreement on commodities. In one sense this is tale, if what lie was looking for was very precise, businesslike, detailed agreements about the handling of any particular commodity or group of commodities, but I have attended a number of these conferences and it is my experience that it is asking for the impossible to expect that sort of result. What was achieved, and with great success and as a result of the initiative taken by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade, was the establishment of a timetable which is contained in the Statement which I repeated, and a timetable is a very effective instrument in these matters.

Therefore, I think the attitude of those noble Lords who have attempted to criticise what went on is a little out of place, although with them I will fully accept that of course we would all wish to see greater and more rapid progress. But in the statement which I repeated was the United Kingdom Government's determination to play a full part in the coming months to see that further progress can be made.


My Lords, although it was brief, the Statement is of fundamental importance and rather than making comments without having seen the resolution and ultimately having a chance of reading the White Paper, may I ask whether that White Paper will be published before we go into Recess, so that we may gather voices and experience in this House to discuss the White Paper, and see what the feelings of your Lordships are at that time?


My Lords, the statement indicated that we hope the White Paper will be published this summer. When we go into Recess I am not sure, being a newcomer to this House, but I should think that would meet my noble friend's wishes. In any case, I would draw his attention to the fact that my noble friend Lord Brockway has an Unstarred Question to put on 17th June which will give us a good opportunity of carrying these matters further forward.


My Lords, I should like to join with the spokesmen of the Opposition Parties in expressing their gratitude to the Minister for repeating in this House the important Statement which has been made elsewhere. I appreciate that particularly because it indicates the importance of this subject in the minds of the Government. In this short exchange we cannot possibly deal with these issues in detail. I hope the fact that we are to have a certain debate next week will enable us to deal with these matters more fully.

I must honestly say this: Despite the rather favourable impression given at the conference at Nairobi by the Minister, the reports which I have received from those who were actually present at Nairobi indicate that the wide and deep differences between the developing countries and the industrialised countries still remain. The spokesman for the official Opposition i referred to the Committee of 77. That Committee now represents 113 developing countries in the world and they are unanimous in their support of a new world economic order, determining the relations between the industrialised and developing countries. At Bretton Woods 30 years ago these nations were not represented, and the structure of international economic relations was heavily weighted on the side of the industrialised nations. They are now becoming a political force in the world and it is due to them and their proposals for a new world economic order that these issues are being raised.

I want to pay my tribute to the past Prime Minister for the initiative he took at the Kingston conference. These matters have now been discussed at the Commonwealth Conference, the United Nations, the meeting of the Finance Ministers of the Commonwealth Countries and on two occasions at UNCTAD. As Her Majesty's Government are looking back at what has happened at Nairobi I want to ask them to look at this position with new eyes, understanding that we are in a new world and, if we are to deal with the appalling poverty of the millions who are in the developing countries, new economic arrangements must be made giving them equality of opportunity and fair representation on international organs. I urge Her Majesty's Government to go even further than they have at Nairobi in meeting these demands.


My Lords, may I say just a few words in sharp contradiction to the speech we have just heard. I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the caution with which at this large conference they have approached the question of commodity policy. Commodity policy is not a new idea; it was first launched on the world as an official programme by the Coalition Government at the Hot Springs Conference, at which it was my duty to lead for Her Majesty's Government. I assure your Lordships that the policy put forward at that time by the Coalition Government was a spacious and generally conceived policy, largely owing its origin to the fertile imagination of the late Lord Keynes. That policy ran on the rocks because of the attitude of certain underdeveloped countries. I assure your Lordships that there are very considerable dangers in pursuing that line without the greatest caution. I am not—I repeat, not—against giving aid to underdeveloped countries, but I am certainly against entering into commitments which might lead to a pronounced turn in the terms of trade of this country at a time when we can ill afford an adverse turn in the terms of trade.


My Lords, I would not wish to dissent at all from the anxiety expressed by my noble friend Lord Brockway about the polarisation in this conference which we have come to recognise in recent years, characterised by the Group of 77, on the one hand, and Group B, on the other. It is a feature of international conferences which I personally deplore. At a number of conferences I have seen it as being an obstacle to the achievement of practical results. Therefore, I think we should constantly be looking for means of reducing that polarisation both in the attitudes which we, the United Kingdom, adopt at these conferences and also perhaps by institutional means as well. I have in mind the Commonwealth as being a particular community capable of acting as a bridge, because the Commonwealth includes within itself both developing and developed countries. I know that in future, as in the past, conferences, consultations will take place with Commonwealth partners in order to see what positive role the Commonwealth can play. Indeed, consultations were constantly being held at Nairobi in relation to the recent conference.

I would welcome the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in the sense that the noble Lord asked us to he cautious and perhaps pragmatic in these matters in the light of years of experience. It is true that the negotiating of commodity I agreements has been a long and difficult process. If that has been true in relation to individual commodities, we should not he too optimistic about getting a global agreement in one single conference covering a whole range of commodities. But although one is inclined to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said, nevertheless I think we must still have in mind the concluding sentences of my noble friend Lord Brockway about the duty of the developed world towards the poverty-stricken countries. We must remember that the behaviour of prices of world commodities is absolutely fundamental to the economic welfare of the developing countries. It is perfectly natural that they should put high among their priorities the achievement of greater success in these matters than hitherto has been possible. My Lords, having regard to the fact that there is to be a White Paper, and that we are to have a short debate on the subject in a few days' time I hope that now we may be allowed to leave the matter there.