HC Deb 28 July 1960 vol 627 cc1831-3
17. Mr. Braine

asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations what are the functions and purpose of the Commonwealth Economic Committee; what active steps it has taken to carry out the directions of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, held in June, 1957, and the Montreal Economic Conference, held in September, 1958, in regard to Commonwealth development and its financing; and what reports, or studies, it has published in the intervening period.

Mr. R. Thompson

The Commonwealth Economic Committee, on which all Commonwealth countries are represented, provides economic and statistical services on subjects affecting Commonwealth production and trade, and in addition examines and reports on any economic questions which Member Governments refer to it.

The Commonwealth Prime Ministers in June, 1957, invited the Committee to submit proposals for the expansion of its scope and functions. This was done and among a number of these approved by the Commonwealth Trade and Economic Conference at Montreal was a recommendation that the Committee should provide information designed to have a popular appeal on the progress of development in Commonwealth countries and its financing. This is a complex matter. I understand that work is in progress, but no report or study has so far been published.

Mr. Braine

Is the hon. Member aware that this organisation, which many of us hoped would be a major instrument for facilitating Commonwealth economic development and finance—a view which the Government themselves advanced—has been a grievous disappointment? Is it not a fact that only one major report of any significance—the Material Resources Survey—has been published in eight years? Has this Committee yet got a chairman? Will my hon. Friend ask his colleague to present to Parliament a full statement about this Committee, in respect of which Parliament has now been kept in ignorance for a long time?

Mr. Thompson

It is important to remember that the Committee is not a United Kingdom body; it is a Commonwealth body. My hon. Friend ought not to conclude from the absence of published material that no work is being done. For instance, a new section of the secretariat has been recruited for the new work on Commonwealth development and financing, and a sub-committee of the main Committee has been set up under Sir Gilbert Rennie to supervise the preparation of the report. The form and scope of the inquiry has been determined and work on it is in progress. The Committee naturally depends upon information supplied by member Governments, and the drafts of its reports have to be cleared back with them.

Mr. Marquand

Is the Committee inquiring into the possible effects of the European Common Market on the Commonwealth countries of Africa? If so, when may we expect its report?

Mr. Thompson

That was not the Question that I was asked.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I would respectfully draw your attention to the fact that after more than half an hour's Questions we have dealt with only seventeen, which must be a record? As this is almost the last effective day for asking Questions, would it be possible to advise Ministers to shorten their answers?

Mr. Braine

Can my hon. Friend confirm that no major report other than the Material Resources Survey has been presented to any Commonwealth Government? Further, can he say how long this Committee has been without a chairman? If it now has a chairman, who is he?

Mr. Thompson

The Committee has a temporary chairman. As for reports of its work, I can give my hon. Friend a list of some of them if he wishes, but it would take some time.

Mr. Callaghan

Does not this record of activity show how right the Prime Minister was to transfer Lord Home to the Foreign Office?