HC Deb 15 March 1976 vol 907 cc915-8
6. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he proposes to attend the forthcoming UNCTAD.

Mr. Shore

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful for that brief but appropriate reply. Will the Secretary of State say what use he thinks the conference will be to the United Kingdom? When he attends the conference, will he ensure that the interests of the British textile industry are fully understood by the Third World?

Mr. Shore

The textile industry and its interests have been the subject of prolonged international discussions and agreements in respect of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement which was reached at the end of 1973. Since that time there have been agreements, under a broad mandate, with individual countries. On the broader question, involving the purpose, hopes and expectations in regard to UNCTAD, it is too early at this stage to judge the situation, but there are many matters of major importance to this country and to the Third World which can be usefully discussed.

Mr. Higgins

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it will be most unfortunate if it is necessary for UNCTAD to discuss the kind of competitive exchange rate depreciations which bedevilled trade in the 1930s? Will he give an assurance that this is no part of British trade policy, and publish an explanation why the minimum lending rate was cut after sterling went through the two-dollar barrier?

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman should address that question to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, given the broad spectrum of matters to be discussed at UNCTAD, I have no doubt that everything relevant to trading policy can appropriately be dealt with.

Mr. James Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the textile industry there is considerable anxiety about these matters because, according to the President of the British Textile Confederation, 50,000 people lost their jobs in the industry in the first nine months of 1975—twice the number directly involved in Chrysler?

Mr. Shore

I sympathise with my hon. Friend, but since we joined the EEC the pace and timing of negotiations are no longer matters to be decided by the Secretary of State for Trade. Nevertheless, I am glad to say that a whole series of negotiations and agreements have been concluded in the past year. I hope that the situation for our textile industry will be significantly easier in 1976.

17. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will publish a Green Paper on Her Majesty's Government's views and proposals for the forthcoming meeting of UNCTAD IV, in so far as they relate to matters within his departmental responsibilities.

Mr. Shore

It is not normal practice to publish Green Papers on our approach to particular meetings of United Nations organisations. However, the Government welcome the views of interested persons or organisations on the issues with which we shall be dealing at the UNCTAD conference.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is widespread interest in this subject among many individuals and voluntary bodies, some of whom are extremely well informed? Is he aware that they are becoming rather uneasy at the lack of a clear, published Government policy towards UNCTAD? Will he reconsider what he has just said?

Mr. Shore

I shall consider further what I have said. I understand very well the widespread interest in this subject, but it is an enormously difficult area to bring under any kind of reasonable intellectual discipline. The preliminary agenda of the conference covers the whole relationship between the developing and the developed world. It is a difficult matter to present in an orderly way.

Mr. Tim Renton

As the months go by, does it not become clear that, with or without EEC co-operation, the Government will have fewer and fewer policies to announce at the forthcoming conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister opened his mouth too wide at the Kingston conference, raised expectations too high, and thus caused greater disappointment at the lack of a positive outcome?

Mr. Shore

I certainly do not agree. I thought at the time, and have considered even more so since the conference, that the Prime Minister's initiative was extremely well timed and entirely relevant. It concerned a matter that is likely to be the dominant and central issue at the UNCTAD conference—the future regime for raw materials and commodities. I reject entirely what the hon. Gentleman said about my right hon. Friend's initiative. I cannot anticipate the outcome of the conference, but I am entering into the preparatory stages with a good deal more confidence than the hon. Gentleman seems to have.

Mr. Spearing

I accept that the Prime Minister's initiative was well timed and the conference agenda is very wide, but if the Commonwealth alone wishes to advance on these lines, rather than on multilateral arrangements through UNCTAD, will this country be able to conduct such arrangements on its own, without reference to a higher authority?

Mr. Shore

I think I know to what my hon. Friend is referring. There are many fora in which we shall be trying to reach a general consensus on the major issues on the UNCTAD agenda. These fora include not only the EEC but the OECD, and we shall be anxious to maximise any agreement we can get within the Commonwealth as well. I would not rule out an interchange of views between all three organisations making a valuable contribution to our thinking and statements at the conference.