HC Deb 21 February 1983 vol 37 cc660-2
38. Mr. Tom Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the report of the Brandt commission, "Common Crisis".

49. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the conclusions of "Common Crisis" by the Brandt commission.

50. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action is proposed on the Brandt second report "Common Crisis" recommendations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is in the Falkland Islands at present and has asked me to reply.

The Government welcome the Brandt commission's timely memorandum. It will be carefully and constructively studied. We share the concern of the Brandt commission about the very serious economic difficulties facing developing countries.

Action in the areas covered by the memorandum will be under active discussion at a number of international meetings in 1983. We shall approach these meetings constructively with the aim of agreeing practical action where appropriate.

Mr. Clarke

Does the Minister agree that his statement and the report are worthy of the widest possible debate, including an early debate in the House? Does he further agree that such debate would improve the editorial appreciation of the report by such newspapers as The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, those are matters for the Leader of the House, but I understand that he is sympathetic to a suggestion of that kind, and no doubt the matter will be pursued in the usual way.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not a fact that Willy Brandt has returned to this issue because Governments, including ours, have done nothing about it? Would not helping the poorer nations of the world help us too, because they would then be able to afford our goods and provide jobs for our unemployed?

Mr. Rifkind

The second Brandt report contains a number of detailed proposals, a considerable number of which have already been accepted by the United Kingdom Government and by several other Western Governments. We acknowledge the importance of the report and there will be opportunities at several conferences this year—for example, the economic summit at Williamsburg and the UNCTAD conference—to consider the matters in greater detail.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will the Government seek to implement the recommendations of the second Brandt report, having done very little about the first report? As both reports refer to the massive arms expenditure in the world, with £600,000 million being spent in preparation for war, while 800 million people are living on the borders of starvation, why can we not divert the arms expenditure to help the underdeveloped countries?

Mr. Rifkind

Concerning arms expenditure, the best advice that the hon. Gentleman could give would be to the Governments who seek to purchase arms. If their perceived needs for arms were reduced, no doubt their resources would be available for other purposes.

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom Government have not responded to the Brandt recommendations. With regard to the recommendations in the second report, the IMF has recently doubled the useable resources available. The United Kingdom has waived aid loans to developing countries. We have already ratified the common fund on commodities. We are already a member of six commodity agreements and we have supported the proposal for a World Bank energy affiliate. Those are examples of Brandt recommendations that have already been accepted by the United Kingdom Government.

Mr. Bowen Wells

I congratulate the Minister on his constructive response to the second Brandt commission report—perhaps we may call it "Son of Brandt". Is he aware that the report recommends that global negotiations should be started as quickly as possible at the United Nations? Is he also aware that our ambassador to the United Nations said, at a meeting in this House, that those negotiations were virtually dead? Will the Minister do something to revive those negotiations, in accordance with the Brandt report recommendations, and help them to get under way at the earliest moment?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend about the desirability of global negotiations going ahead. The only thing that prevents it happening at present is that certain detailed amendments have been suggested by Western countries to the G77 group of developing countries. If they felt able to respond on some of the few detailed points that remain outstanding, there would be nothing to stop global negotiations beginning.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Do the Government intend to increase substantially their contribution to IDA at the earliest possible opportunity, and will they support even larger resources being made available to the IMF?

Mr. Rifkind

The United Kingdom was the first of the major donors to release its full contribution to the IDA sixth replenishment. That shows the importance that we attach to this form of international assistance.

Mr. Hooley

Will it be the policy of Her Majesty's Government to support the creation of special drawing rights and to allocate them particularly to developing countries?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, that matter was on the agenda of the recent meeting of the interim committee of the IMF, chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at which important progress was made.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Has the Minister seen the figures showing that more children die every three days from starvation than died at Hiroshima? Does he agree that that shows the enormous amount of work to be done to capture the understanding and concern of the people of Britain and the rest of the world? What are the Government doing to make the facts clear to our people, and what can the Brandt commission do to make those facts known to the rest of the world?

Mr. Rifkind

I am sure that measures to combat child deprivation would command support on each side of the House. For the forthcoming year we are giving the greatest amount we have ever given to UNICEF, and that will he an important contribution to dealing with the problem.

Mr. Guy Barnett

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are very encouraged by the speech that the Foreign Secretary made in response to the Brandt report, and also by the remarks that the hon. Gentleman is making this afternoon? They are in considerable contrast to the complacent response to the first Brandt report. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, after three years of delay, "Common Crisis" regards the present world situation as a matter of emergency and believes that we shall be facing catastrophe unless action is taken fairly quickly?

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed a considerable shift in thinking on economic policy within the United States Treasury? As a consequence of the hon. Gentleman's encouraging remarks, can we expect a considerable shift in the economic and financial direction of the British Government?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, at least for his earlier remarks. I think that the Western countries have responded and that they have recognised the urgent need for action of the kind suggested. In the North-South dialogue, the North consists not only of the Western countries but of the Socialist countries from the eastern part of Europe, including the Soviet Union, where the contribution towards assisting in the North-South dialogue has been very poor.

The Williamsburg sun-unit will provide an opportunity for the West to develop further some of the aspects of the Brandt recommendations.

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