HC Deb 02 February 1971 vol 810 cc1453-6
Ql. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the economic matters discussed at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers at Singapore.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

We had discussions on a number of international economic issues. Details are to be found in the Final Communiqué of the Conference which was circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT on 26th January.—[Vol. 810, c. 336.]

Mr. Sheldon

But, since the Prime Minister has been prepared to go so far as to jeopardise the very existence of the Commonwealth in order to sell arms to South Africa, surely some estimate of the value of these arms has been made by the Government. In the interests of more open government, will the right hon. Gentleman give these figures to the House?

The Prime Minister

These figures were not discussed at the Commonwealth Conference to which the hon. Gentleman is referring; neither was this matter discussed during the day-long discussion on economic matters of an international nature. The Heads of Government concentrated on other very important matters of aid, special drawing rights, investment, trade, development and the special Commonwealth programmes.

Mr. Farr

Did discussions take place on the problems of Commonwealth fruit exporters, particularly of those supplying bananas to this country?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; this was one of the subjects which was raised in the general discussions in the economic debate, and it was also one which I had the opportunity of discussing outside the Conference with some of the Caribbean Prime Ministers.

Mr. Thorpe

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there was any discussion of the Basle Agreement? Is it not a fact that this comes up for renewal this year and that one of its most important aspects is that our sterling depositors voluntarily restrict themselves as to the percentage of their deposits which they convert into dollars? If that restraint is to be renewed, is it not a fact that unanimity will be required by all the sterling depositors? Is the right hon. Gentleman, finally, aware that the sale of arms to South Africa would gravely impair the chances of obtaining that unanimity, with a damaging effect on sterling, which would in turn damage and weaken our bargaining position in regard to the European Economic Community?

The Prime Minister

This, again, was not a matter discussed in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. It was not raised by anyone there, because the Heads of Government knew that it was a matter to be negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, correct to say that the agreement comes up for renegotiation this year, but it is also well known, I think, that the arrangements affect different Commonwealth countries in a variety of ways. It is entirely a matter for negotiation with them.

Mr. Longden

Did my right hon. Friend find a great welcome among Commonwealth countries for his speech to the United Nations last October, when he said that this country would do its best, as soon as possible, to achieve a 1 per cent. target of transfer of net resources to the developing countries?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; I found a very warm welcome for that when I made the speech in the United Nations, but it was true that the speeches at the Commonwealth Conference in the economic day's debate re-echoed those sentiments. I also emphasised that if we were to reach the target of 1 per cent. by 1975, this would, of course, include not only governmental aid and technical assistance but also private investment. It is a matter for each individual country to decide whether or not it wants private investment, but if it does, I suggested that then the right climate should be created for it, in which investors could have confidence, and that by far the best form of private investment is that which is made in partnership with the people or the Government or the organisations of the country in which the money is being placed.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As immigration is basically an economic matter, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the Government's new immigration Bill was discussed with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in view of the fact that the details of the Measure are being discussed with race relations interests in this country?

The Prime Minister

This was suggested as an item for the agenda, but the Heads of Government did not agree that immigration should be placed on the agenda for the Conference. It was not, therefore, raised at any of the Conference discussions. However, talks on the subject were held outside the Conference.

Mr. Sandys

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his insistence on Britain's right to pursue its own policies and his refusal to be pushed around has given wide satisfaction in this country?

The Prime Minister

I think that this position is now recognised throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr. Prentice

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the 1 per cent. aid pledge to which he referred would carry a lot more conviction if the Government's official aid figures took us nearer the United Nations target for official aid, instead of towards the figure of 0.5 per cent., which is what his statistics indicate?

The Prime Minister

I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that it is rather more than that, In any event, it has always been clear, from the United Nations Development Decade reports, from the Pearson Report and from everything that has been said on this subject, that the 1 per cent. target can be reached only if there is a combination of private investment, whether by firms or by individuals, and Government assistance.