HC Deb 11 June 1973 vol 857 cc1127-9

10.25 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Balniel)

I beg to move, That the International Cocoa Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd May, be approved. This order is needed to give legal personality to the International Cocoa Organisation in accordance with Article 21(1) of the International Cocoa Agreement 1972. We cannot ratify the agreement unless this order has been made. I shall briefly explain the background.

The United Kingdom has long supported the concept of an international agreement on cocoa. We played a prominent rôle in the lengthy negotiations which led to the conclusion of an agreement last autumn. On 15th November 1972 we became the first country to sign it.

This agreement aims, by the use of export quota and "buffer stock" arrangements, to reduce excessive fluctuations in the price of cocoa and to ensure adequate supplies at prices fair to both producers and consumers.

The agreement should be of benefit in helping to stabilise the economies of countries such as Ghana and Nigeria which depend on cocoa for much of their export revenue. Cocoa is of course well-known to be vulnerable to extreme fluctuations of price. Most cocoa-producing and consuming countries—with the exception of the United States—have joined, or are expected to join, the agreement. It will enter into force by the last day of this month provided sufficient countries have by then ratified it or applied it provisionally.

The International Cocoa Organisation is the body which is being established to administer the International Cocoa Agreement. Despite the title of the order, which follows the precedent of similar orders made under the International Organisations Act, it will only confer upon the organisation the legal capacities of a body corporate. Broadly speaking, this means the capacity to enter into contracts, to acquire and dispose of property and to take part in legal proceedings. The order confers no additional privileges and immunities. We have, however, offered London as a head-quarters and we hope that the organisation will be established here. If it is, the approval of the House will be sought for another order to confer upon the organisation, and persons connected with it, appropriate immunities and privileges. The scale of these would be a matter for negotiation with the organisation but we would expect them to be similar to those enjoyed by the other commodity organisations in London.

Perhaps I should also mention that another step which has to be taken before we can ratify the International Cocoa Agreement is to enact legislation in order that we can give effect to one of its economic provisions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expects to be introducing a short Bill for this purpose tomorrow. This is a separate issue, however, and not something with which I am concerned today. What I am commending to the House is that it should approve this order so that the United Kingdom can, when the time comes, ratify an agreement for which we have worked long. In doing so, the House will be demonstrating its support for an agreement which is likely to be of considerable benefit to the developing countries concerned.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I do not think I need delay the House on this order. As the Minister of State said, it is addressed entirely to the question of the conferment of corporate status on the International Cocoa Organisation, and if and when the question of diplomatic immunities and privileges were to arise there would be a separate order.

One hopes that, as in the case of other commodity organisations, London might prove to be centre of this organisation, too. The Opposition certainly hope that negotiations will be conducted to that end. London has a reputation for efficiency and for being able to produce the highly qualified and rather rare personnel to operate this kind of institution.

The present order flows from an agreement which in turn flowed from the work of the UNCTAD, and successive United Kingdom Governments have taken a lead. The object of the agreement—an agreement which has commended itself to all Members in this House—has been to try to stabilise and maximise the export trade of underdeveloped countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria, whose wealth is almost completely confined to one primary product. It is a long haul to get the right sort of arrangement to help these countries to help themselves to generate from what resources they have the capital necessary for their accelerated development. The cocoa agreement, like one or two other commodity agreements discussed by the House recently, is a case in point where real benefit has accrued and will accrue in the future to such countries.

I welcome very much the right hon. Gentleman's explanation and his assurance that, if we succeed in attracting this organisation to London, he will give us a more extended explanation of what will follow, namely, the much—debatedand still in the future to be debated—question of the extension of special diplomatic immunities and privileges.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the International Cocoa Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd May, be approved.