HL Deb 12 June 1972 vol 331 cc584-8

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Trade:

"The Third United Nations Conference on Trade and Development met in Santiago, Chile, from April 13 to May 21, 1972. It reached agreement on a number of guidelines that will be important in future work in other international organisations as well as in UNCTAD.

"In my opening statement for the United Kingdom I made an assessment of what could be realistically expected from the Conference. Our delegation put all their efforts into promoting agreement where this was possible. I believe that this constructive and realistic role was the most valuable one possible in the circumstances of this Conference. In the event the assessment which I presented was proved to be largely accurate.

"The most important expectations for the Conference were on monetary matters. Agreement was reached that the International Monetary Fund be invited to ensure the effective participation of the developing countries in international monetary reform by the establishment of a Special Committee of Governors. The Fund, as part of its consideration of monetary reform, is also to pursue its consideration of the possibility of a link between Special Drawing Rights and development aid.

"In the field of trade it was agreed that all developing countries should be enabled to participate fully and effectively in the multilateral trade negotiations expected to start in GATT next year, and that the UNCTAD and the GATT should co-ordinate their activities in assisting the developing countries to prepare for these negotiations.

"In many instances, notably over the development of the generalised preferences scheme and over special measures for the benefit of the least de-developed among the developing countries, the Conference set guidelines for the future work of its permanent organisation. We shall continue there the active and constructive role which we played in the Conference.

"Details of these and all the matters dealt with by the Conference will be published in a White Paper as soon as is practicable this summer."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for repeating this Statement. I presume that it is being made as a consequence of the interest that this House has shown in UNCTAD. I can only presume that is the reason because, if I may say so, this is a pretty pathetic Statement. I cannot imagine that a Government would have voluntarily sought not only to impose themselves upon the time of this House but to make a Statement that seems to have so little relation to what actually happened at the Conference if we were to take the sense of the leading articles of The Times newspaper, the Manchester Guardian and other periodicals that have taken an interest in this matter. I see that the Minister referred to his own role. I gather that he made a speech and I think was there a few days. I see that The Times refers to his speech as a "flat" speech. In other leading articles it was said that Her Majesty's Government had no proposals to make to the Conference at all. The noble Earl might like to tell us what proposals Her Majesty's Government did make at the UNCTAD Conference.

Would not the noble Earl agree that the general sense of that Conference was that it was a near-failure? Did not the leading article of The Times refer to the "present selfishness", and to "future terrorism"? Did it not also draw attention to the fact that the Conference was able to agree unanimously on only one resolution, namely, on tourism, which I should not have thought would present a great deal of difficulty? Was it also a fact that the Conference basically failed, mainly because of the attitude of the United States, and, I suspect, the Government of the United Kingdom, to make any real advance in the field of trade and monetary reform? Will not the noble Earl agree that these developing countries continually have less share of world trade and fall every year more and more into debt? Can the noble Earl really be satisfied with the position? Can he really be satisfied with the role of Her Majesty's Government at this Conference? Furthermore, can the noble Earl give us an assurance that at the next Conference, whether it is UNCTAD IV or another conference to be called in order to give assistance to the developing countries, this present Government, if unfortunately they should be in office, will at least try to repair some of the damage they did at Santiago?


My Lords, while following the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in thanking the Minister for repeating his Statement, I should like to add that the Government's efforts and sincerity of purpose at UNCTAD III are clearly recognised on these Benches, though in terms of realistic assistance to the Third World we must conclude that it has been as limited as the Statement implies. Our first reaction is to ask the Minister whether he believes that a meeting such as UNCTAD is the right vehicle for organising such assistance where the political differences in the aid-giving or aid-receiving are over-emphasised by all parties, to the detriment of those whom it is intended to help, the under-privileged. Would the Minister therefore consider a less public and more practical approach to aid giving in order that it may be more successful than UNCTAD III obviously was this time?

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, takes such a negative view of what was achieved, and particularly of the role of the United Kingdom delegation played in UNCTAD III. Our delegation played a very full role. It participated in all the committees and the working groups set up by the Conference, and particularly in the smaller contact and drafting groups which were attempting to reach agreement between the developed and developing countries on draft resolutions. Our voting record on these resolutions that were not agreed unanimously is very similar to that of the other major developed countries, and it is not true that we had the least liberal voting record of the Conference. Except on two important issues—official aid and insurance—our voting position was shared by most other developed countries. In some cases developed countries had a less positive position than did we.

The noble Lord referred also to the question of trade. As is well known, it was not possible to accept a series of principles which the developing countries wished to guide the forthcoming GATT negotiations, but the agreed resolution represents an important step forward in recognising their interests. GATT is now asked to devise rules which will enable all developing countries to participate in the negotiations. It was agreed that the UNCTAD Secretariat should assist the developing countries in their preparations. It is, however, for GATT to decide the arrangements for the negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned the work that can and should go on outside UNCTAD. This point, of course, is extremely clear, and it has always been the view of Her Majesty's Government that too much can easily be expected of these UNCTAD meetings that take place once every four years. We believe that progress is made as often, and perhaps more readily, outside these Conferences, and it is indeed our view that these should be treated with great seriousness.


My Lords, I am afraid that what I am going to say may make me very unpopular, but may I express the view that some of us, at least, who wish the developing countries well are apprehensive lest the demand that the issue of Special Drawing Rights be made the vehicle of aid to developing countries should upset future arrangements for a rational monetary organisation of the world. I myself believe this to be an ignis fatuus and one which in the end would only lead to more inflation.


My Lords, on the question of international monetary reform, our delegation played a conspicuous part in securing unanimous agreement on this resolution. The proposed special Committee of Governors of the International Monetary Fund will include nine representatives of developing countries. The Government approached the question of a link between Special Drawing Rights and development aid with sympathy, but we are not prepared to come to a conclusion on this, one way or the other, until a full study has been completed by the International Monetary Fund. The danger to which the noble Lord drew attention is I think very much in mind here.


My Lords, the noble Earl keeps referring to the Government's conspicuous efforts at the Conference. Could he now answer one of the questions I put to him? What specific proposals did Her Majesty's Government make at Santiago?


My Lords, none of these resolutions was promoted by Her Majesty's Government as a new initative, but what I referred to as a conspicuous part was the part we played in securing unanimous acceptance of the monetary resolution.