HL Deb 25 October 1973 vol 345 cc776-801

4.27 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: What conclusions were reached at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference at Ottawa? The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to begin by expressing some appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, for her cooperation in enabling this matter to be discussed this afternoon. It was extraordinarily sympathetic on her part. She has had a week of Questions and Statements and interrogations nearly every day. Many of us in all parts of the House appreciate not merely the courtesy with which she answers, but the quite extraordinary knowledge and efficiency with which she covers so vast an area. I regret that, after the burdens of this week, I have imposed upon her the duty of taking responsibility for answering this Question this afternoon.

However, I make no apology whatsoever for raising this Question. The Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference met in Ottawa during the Recess. It represented the Heads of State of 32 countries in the Commonwealth. It meets only every two years, and the importance of its discussions, not merely in relations between Commonwealth countries and this country but in their contribution to the affairs of the world, can hardly be exaggerated. I put down a Question on this matter on the first day the House met after the Recess. I withdrew it because it was indicated to me that a Statement on the Commonwealth would be made on the succeeding day, and also that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, had put down an Unstarred Question for debate. Therefore, while I apologise to the noble Baroness, I make no apology at all for raising this issue before the House rises. It is one of tremendous importance, and I think it would have been a little undignified if the House had ended this Session without some discussion of the conclusions reached at the Conference.

My Lords, I want to express some disappointment at the attention paid by the public media to the Conference in Ottawa. The reports in the Press, even in our so-called "high-brow" newspapers, gave no impression at all of what was discussed there. I make this criticism not only of the attitude of our Press towards the Ottawa Commonwealth Conference but also of their attitude to the succeeding Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in this country. Representatives of all the 32 Commonwealth countries came to London, and important speeches were made by Foreign Ministers and others representing the Commonwealth; yet there was hardly any reflection of that in our newspapers at all. This indicates what I regard as a very distressing development in the approach of the public media, and even of Parliament, to Commonwealth affairs.

I acknowledge at once that I have had the greatest difficulty in discovering what happened at the Commonwealth Conference. I have had to go to Canadian papers, I have had to have talks with the delegates to the Conference as they passed through London; I have had to rely on specialist journals—I pay a particular tribute to The Third World, published by the Fabian Society—in order to discover what happened. It is only by that kind of wide and detailed research that one has been able to know what occurred at the Commonwealth Conference at all. There was a valuable communiqué at the end of it, but, as is the case with all communiqués at such conferences, it did not indicate the issues or the controversies that were raised.

So far as the British Press was concerned, one would have imagined that the main effect of the Conference was to rehabilitate the image of the Prime Minister of this country. Nearly all the newspapers emphasised the fact that while Mr. Edward Heath, at the Singapore Conference two years ago, had come into strong confrontation with the other Commonwealth nations, on this occasion he had displayed more understanding and more tolerance. From all I have heard from the delegates who were there, I believe that to be true; and they welcomed it. But there is also the fact that there was much more tolerance on the part of the representatives of the Commonwealth countries themselves. I think that those of us who now have some knowledge of what happened at the Conference will agree that there was a real desire to reach a consensus of opinion.

My Lords, while that is true, the most extraordinary fact about the Commonwealth Conference was that there was an astonishing unity of purpose between nearly all the attending Commonwealth countries from outside the United Kingdom, including the old Dominions, and the Asian, the African and the Caribbean countries, but that while there was this unity on the one side, on many of the issues the British Prime Minister was in an isolated minority. He was against the views and the consensus of opinion of the Commonwealth countries.

This unity shown by the Commonwealth countries was largely due to the fact that we have had changes in the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. They have now become Labour Governments, and for the first time they have identified Australia and New Zealand with the Commonwealth Governments in the Third World; and in addition, on many of these issues one has seen support from the Liberal regime in Canada. We are therefore now facing a new fact in the Commonwealth. It is the British Government who are isolated and in a minority against the views of the Commonwealth Governments as a whole. In thinking about the Commonwealth we should remember that, out of its 32 Governments, 28 are in the Third World.

I could take many issues to indicate this difference of opinion between Her Majesty's Government and the almost unanimous opinion of the other Commonwealth Governments, but I am going to take only four as an illustration. The first is the relationship between the Commonthwealth nations and the European Community. I am aware that discussions are now proceeding between the E.E.C. and the Commonwealth Governments. These discussions are mostly taking place regarding whether there should be preferences for the developing countries. as there have been with Britain in the past. My Lords, in a world of equality there could be equality in reciprocal trading arrangements, but in a world of inequality there can be an advance towards equality only when advantages are given to the less-developed countries. Britain, like all the old Colonial Empires. has an extraordinary responsibility in this matter.

Over the years, from the middle of the last century, under occupation we used the colonial territories primarily to obtain our foodstuffs and raw materials. The consequence is that those territories are left with unbalanced economies. I hope very much that in the discussions which are now taking place the British Government, despite their obligations in having joined the European Community, will support the claims of the Commonwealth countries. In the proceedings at Ottawa the unanimity of opinion on this issue was simply amazing; the old Dominions, Asia, Africa and the Caribbeans were all absolutely united. Her Majesty's Government will fail utterly to represent the interests of the Commonwealth countries unless at the E.E.C. they press very strongly their claims. The problem applies particularly to sugar; the sugar-producing countries may be ruined under the present agricultural policy of the European Community. But it applies not only to them. One hope was raised- and I trust that the noble Baroness will give this some attention—when the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Swaran Singh, suggested that the Commonwealth countries should establish preferences between themselves. It will be a distressing turn of historical events if the rest o the Commonwealth were to make t; tiding agreements between themselves which excluded Britain. I hope that that situation will not arise.

My Lords, the second issue et the Commonwealth Conference to which I want to draw attention was the domination of the economies of the Common. wealth countries by the great multinational corporations. The multi-national corporations are now dominating the world; their revenues are greater than the revenues of individual Governments; they are becoming more powerful than Governments themselves; they are determining the lives of millions of people throughout the world. The vast economic power of these great international corporations exists in America, in this country, in Europe and in Japan. They are now becoming the real Governments of the whole of the world.

At the Commonwealth Conference, Mr. Gough Whitlam, the new Labour Prime Minister of Australia, argued that control of these corporations is essential to the preservation of the independence of the Commonwealth nations. He reported how in Australia 60 per cent. of the mining is controlled by these corporations; in Canada of how 60 per cent. of the oil is under their control. In the Caribbeans, in Africa and in Asia, not only the mining and the oil but even the retail trade is under their control. Our Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference dismissed the speech of. Mr. Whitlam as "economic nationalism". Does he suggest that resistance by Governments to external economic domination by a world-wide consortium is to be condemned as reactionary nationalism, while the domination of those Continents by the boards of a few hundred millionaire directors is healthy internationalism? The British Government should begin to appreciate that Commonwealth Governments both within and outside the Third World are determined to resist this domination. They are themselves acquiring 51 per cent. of their industries so that they may resist. Very many of their countries are making their object the creation of Socialist societies which may be able to oppose this new exploitation by capitalist imperialism. But there is not only that. They are now seeking regional and international links to combat the influence of the financiers of Wall Street, of Zurich and of our own City of London who use these new corporations as their instruments of control. The Commonwealth countries are determined that their economies shall be controlled in the interests of their own peoples.

My Lords, the third issue which was raised at the Commonwealth Conference and to which I want to refer was the need to control nuclear testing. This was raised by Mr. Norman Kirk, tile Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, whereupon our Prime Minister actually uttered the warning that France should not be condemned because of her tests in the Pacific lest France he prejudiced against the Commonwealth countries in 'their negotiations with the E.E.C. I regard it as appalling that commercial bargaining should be urged as a factor when this great human issue is at stake. Again, our Prime Minister was in a minority; the majority were determined to be heard.

My Lords, lastly I turn to the issue of Rhodesia. When this was raised in the Commonwealth Conference, there was absolute unanimity between the old Dominions, the African countries, the Asian countries and the Caribbean countries—extending even to Canada—as to how the problem should be faced. They proposed two items. The first was that a constitutional conference representative of all Rhodesian peoples should be held to determine the future of the country, and that independence should be recognised only when majority rule had been established. The second proposal was that a Commonwealth force should be sent to Rhodesia after a constitutional agreement had been reached in order to guarantee that it be implemented. The extraordinary thing during these discussions was not merely the unity of opinion but also the strength of the feeling: and there are some indications in the communiqué that the British Prime Minister recognised this. He accepted the statement: The British Prime Minister welcomed the constructive suggestions made and undertook to take them into account as the situation developed. My Lords, a vague phrase it may be, but the Commonwealth countries intend to see that it shall mean something. They demonstrated that they were in a deadly serious mood and not likely to accept quietly the ignoring of their views.

There was a feeling after the Singapore. Conference, two years ago, that little was done to implement the decision to appoint a committee to examine defence needs in the Indian Ocean and the suggestion that the Indian Ocean should be neutralised. Nothing was done. But something did happen at the Singapore Conference. The effect of the protest there made meant that Her Majesty's Government modified their intentions regarding the supply of arms to South Africa. I am now hoping that the Government will take notice of Commonwealth views, not only about Rhodesia but also about the other issues to which I have referred. My Lords, this was a British Commonwealth. It became a Commonwealth without British designation. If Britain does not seek to co-operate with the other members in their economic emergence, and in their political determination for human rights and peace, the Commonwealth could become a Commonwealth without Britain.

At the Singapore Conference a magnificent declaration of the purposes of the Commonwealth was adopted. It declared for personal rights; for the freedom of peoples; for racial equality; for the end of colonialism: for support for the United Nations, and peace. I recognise that many of the other Commonwealth countries have not kept those pledges. It is one of the deepest disappointments of my life that personal liberties have been denied in new African countries. But I say to Her Majesty's Government that in their opposition to the proposals made at the Ottawa Conference to which I have referred, they themselves are denying the principles of the declaration of the Commonwealth. I am hoping that this will change. I am hoping that after the next Election we may have in this country a Government like the Governments of Australia and New Zealand—indeed like the Government of Canada—which will become identified with the rest of the Commonwealth in standing for the principles of justice, equality and peace.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. One becomes accustomed to the very great interest which he always displays in these matters concerning the Commonwealth. One knows the sincerity with which he speaks and the industrious manner in which he devotes himself to the problems which in his opinion face the Commonwealth. The noble Lord has conveyed to me an impression that he is disappointed with what took place at the last Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. I cannot follow him all the way in his assumption. But he may have carried out a far greater investigation into these matters than has been possible in my case. I had a feeling that a great deal was achieved at the Commonwealth Conference, not perhaps in a spectacular way but in other ways which were probably far less spectacular. The noble Lord. Lord Brockway, has seen fit to criticise certain attitudes of our Prime Minister and I find myself in some difficulty because this is the first time that I have heard any criticism of the Prime Minister in that regard.

With reference to the economic difficulties and problems to which the noble Lord drew attention, and which he considers threaten the Commonwealth, I have always understood that these countries were now free and independent nations with full powers to set any course which they cared to in respect of economic development in their countries, and I find it difficult to follow the noble Lord's arguments in that regard.

I am in entire agreement with what he said about the Press and the media. If I were asked what came out of the last Commonwealth Conference, my first reaction would be to ask whether it is not too early to look at the Commonwealth from that angle. But the fact that these conferences go on gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction. These emergent nations meet together to discuss their problems; nations which extend and have extended, and will extend, over a quarter of the globe; a vast area of people which could be and in my opinion will be a tremendous influence for good. They meet as equals, and I feel that it is inconceivable and unthinkable—in spite of the war which occurred between India and Pakistan—that in any general sense any one member of the Commonwealth would go to war with another member of the Commonwealth. I believe this to be a tremendous achievement and I believe that implicitly.

Then, my Lords, there is the informality of these conferences. Representatives of the various countries take the chair in turn; there is no domination by one country of another. In view of the events to-day, has not Russia something to learn from this? I bring that point up only in view of the gravity of the reports which we have received of the events occurring at the present time. I believe that in our own way we of the Commonwealth show an example of how different peoples and races should conduct their affairs and how the world should settle down. I believe that our example will be followed, and that all this will come to be accepted by nations in due course, because I cannot conceive that there is any other way in which people in the modern world can conduct their affairs with one another.

My Lords, in view of what I have said, what a comfort for the world, what an inspiration to everybody, that this association should exist. As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway said, we shall have to make every effort and exhibit every act of statesmanship we can to see that the Commonwealth goes on and succeeds. If the Press and media ignore the Commonwealth in that sense, I think they do a disservice to our past. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has championed the underdeveloped world and I think he has been completely right to do so. He has always stood up for people who were suffering, for people's aspirations and for the minorities, who were perhaps to some extent controlled, if I may put it that way, by those with greater power.

When the history of the Commonwealth comes to be written, I hope that credit will be given to those people who served the Commonwealth in the post-1945 years, who propagated the ideals which came out from your Lordships' House of self-government and self-determination, and who worked constructively for that issue over a long period of time. I think the fruits of that are about to be seen in the present era.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and also a privilege to speak on these matters in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords who will follow me all have an intimate connection with the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Garner, and his office inspired many people, of whom I was one when I served overseas. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has, I know, made various visits to different parts of the Commonwealth—and knows Malaya and the Far East very well. Finally, there is my noble friend the Minister of State, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie. I sometimes think it is forgotten that her husband is the son of John Buchan, who was once Governor-General of Canada. The way she conducts hereself in this House in answering questions on the difficulties with which the Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Office is faced at present fills us with admiration. My noble friend acquits herself with great ability and charm.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene on this last item of the Session with a certain lightness of spirit, induced perhaps in my case by what I would regard as the extremely happy atmosphere that was engendered at the Conference in Ottawa. Atmosphere at these conferences, as I know very well, can vary extremely. I attended most of the Prime Ministers' meetings for a period of some 20 to 25 years. Some are extremely constructive and one is left in an exultant mood. Some of them alas! have been depressing, and one felt at the end that friction had been caused and perhaps more harm than good had been done. In my view, from all the accounts that I have received, this was certainly not the case in Ottawa. I do not know what went on behind closed doors, but all the accounts that I have received from my friends point to a friendly and constructive Conference. I think that was so because, as I detected, there was definitely at Ottawa the will to succeed; and this may well have been induced by the rather unhappy experience of the previous conference at Singapore, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, pointed out. At Ottawa, I think everyone had learned the lesson from Singapore and was anxious to avoid a confrontation, and perhaps that applied not less to the British delegation itself.

My Lords, up to that point I would largely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. But I am afraid, from the accounts I have received, that 1 must distinctly part company with him when he draws a picture of Britain, and particularly the British Prime Minister, as being in a position of total isolation from the rest of the Commonwealth. That has not been borne out by anything that I have heard. Indeed, I was surprised that the noble Lord referred to Rhodesia, and then went on to quote the conclusion, and used the words: The British Prime Minister welcomed the constructive suggestions made, and undertook to take them into account as the situation developed. I am bound to say that I know nothing whatever of what went on behind those closed doors, but it does not seem to me that there was total opposition and total isolation between Britain and the rest of the Members of the Commonwealth. I admire the noble Lord greatly, and I know his heart is always in the right place, but from my information I think the picture he has given this evening is not a true one; nor do I think it is a helpful one from the point of view of the Commonwealth.

My Lords, as a former—I do not quite know how to describe myself, but perhaps as a member in the "prompt box" at various of these Conferences, I should like to say a word in praise of the Commonwealth officials who were given a special remit before this Conference took place. There was a conference of officials in Ottawa in October of last year. We all know that the problem was, how to organise a meeting of no less than 32 or 33 members so that the discussion would be friendly and constructive and not hostile; so that the important things were kept confidential and no public abuse was hurled about; that there existed an informal, easy atmosphere, and not a fixed atmosphere, with country after country taking up rigid positions which had been fixed well in advance. That was the problem, and a variety of recommendations were made. I clearly deduced from the communiqué that those concerned must have done their work extremely well, because the communiqué reports: The meeting was positive in tone and constructive in its approach. Having agreed to new procedures"— and these are the procedures that were no doubt recommended by this earlier body— designed to ensure informality and free discussion, the leaders put aside set-piece speeches and addressed themselves directly both to each other and to the pressing questions before the Meeting. When unanimous agreement was not possible, mutual understanding of conflicting viewpoints was achieved. It was agreed in this regard the Meeting established a most useful precedent for future Commonwealth consultations. The Commonwealth had been greatly strengthened by the event and Heads of Government were heartened by this. That seems to be a very encouraging result.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, complained that there had been no publicity. Here I would largely agree with him. I have a slight disagreement with him in reference to the attention paid by our Press to the British Prime Minister. From reading the Press at the time, I thought that what they were really interested in was not whether Mr. Heath was going to be able to get to Ottawa or not, but whether he was going to be able to get to Cowes or not. I think that question occupied quite undue space in British newspapers. On the other hand, I have the feeling very often that the less publicity, the better. The sad fact—and I agree it is a sad fact—is that the media are not interested when things go well, but are more interested when things go wrong. If there had been this total isolation by Britain, and this was creating a very tense atmosphere in Ottawa, then the newspapers would have been full of it. The fact that there was so little publicity, in some ways could be regarded as a good thing. I would also recognise, of course, that the Conference—which I maintain was most successful—was successful without achieving any great dramatic decisions or hitting the headlines with some quite new developments.

That brings me back to something we were discussing before the Recess, a point about the arrangements for the holding of the Conference. On that occasion m) noble friend (if I may so call him) Lord Shepherd mildly upbraided me for not hitching my wagon to a star. No doubt there is something in that point but, on the other hand, I like to feel that at least my feet are firmly on the ground. It is the fact that in the Commonwealth —and it seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, hinted at this in his own remarks—there are inevitably great differences between attitudes, and so on, and one needs to tread with skill and tact. Certainly to my mind, previous Conferences have shown that if you try to process things to the extent of getting total agreement all along the field the great danger is that you may merely emphasise the differences and end up with a less constructive result than might be hoped for.

It seems to me that a meeting of Heads of the Commonwealth is really at its best when dealing with the broad issues, on which each Prime Minister, or Head of Government, can make his own unique contribution from, among other things, his own experience, without necessarily expecting to convert all the other members round the table to his own particular point of view. It struck me that in some way, though the analogy is not complete, a Prime Ministers' meeting nowadays is not altogether unlike the proceedings in your Lordships' House, because I believe that this House sometimes plays its most valuable role not when it is recording a vote or a decision, but when focusing attention on a major issue. I was, again, fascinated to read in the Communiqué that— Heads of government welcomed the opportunity to exchange views on comparative techniques of government. They had a lively and useful discussion which included consideration of such subjects as the determination of national priorities; the problem of ensuring effective implementation of Government decisions; fostering communication between Government and people; the redress of economic disparities; and the problem of correcting economic imbalances as between urban and rural areas. I am bound to say that all those are extraordinarily fit subjects for one of our Wednesday debates when, by custom, a Motion is normally withdrawn. The real value of the Commonwealth to-day—and I think this was demonstrated in Ottawa—lies not in seeking to achieve complete and utter agreement (which very often may only mean writing something down to the lowest common denominator) but in the ability to share experience and to spread the areas of understanding and tolerance, so that all may go away with a clearer view of the attitudes of others.

Finally, my Lords, I would just draw attention to what has been happening while we were in Recess. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association gathering; but during our Recess and within a relatively short period there was the Heads of Government meeting in Ottawa, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting here, the Association of Commonwealth Universities Meeting in Edinburgh and the meeting of Finance Ministers in Tanzania. I am bound to conclude, for those who are doubtful or who despair of the future of the Commonwealth, that a body which can stage in such a short period such first-class and, in each case, highly successful meetings obviously still has considerable vitality and very considerable value. May I end by saying how much we look forward to anything that the Minister is able to add by way of enlightenment as to what went on at the Conference.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, need make no apology for having raised once again the question of the Commonwealth and, in particular, the Prime Ministers' Conference in Ottawa. I intend to be brief, for two reasons. First, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, hopes to catch a train for Somerset in the early part of this evening and, secondly, my noble friend Lord Brockway has dealt with the four main parts of the Conference; and those are the parts to which I would otherwise have spoken. I am in broad agreement with my noble friend on those parts, though I would perhaps put some different emphasis on them. However, I always know that my noble friend speaks with burning passion in his fight for the Colonial territories and the Commonwealth, whereas I have perhaps been too long on either of these Front Benches to be able to generate the same fire.

The noble Lord, Lord Garner, referred to the life and strength of the Commonwealth, and he mentioned in particular three conferences. I am very surprised that he overlooked the Commonwealth Conference of Speakers, which took place in Lusaka, Zambia, in September. I believe this was the first time this particular conference has been held in black Africa. My impression of the Ottawa Conference was that it was a success. I think much of this success was due to the great sensitivity of the Chairman, Mr. Trudeau. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brockway that little information was available in our national Press and on the media. It is also true that there was even less information relating to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, to which the noble Lord, Lord Garner, referred. I thought the Conference was particularly stimulating and important, because here one was participating with, as it were, the life-blood of the Commonwealth—the ordinary Members of Parliament of some 32 Common-wealth countries. The noble Baroness will not forget the criticism—because I know she entirely agreed with the speech by the lady from West Samoa in her criticism of the Prime Minister and a Canadian senator who was speaking at a dinner—that both of them have not understood the joys and satisfactions of being a husband; to which was added a strong recommendation that all Prime Ministers, in fact all Ministers, required an outrigger. That, to me, was one of the Conference highlights because it showed very much the mood of the Commonwealth.

I feel that the Conference was important because it was the first Con. ference following British entry into the E.E.C. If there was any sense of dissatisfaction, I think it was that none of the Prime Ministers present was in a position to understand how our entry will in the end affect the other, or what new relations will be open to them within the new E.E.C. I have no doubt that the Government recognise that the decision of the E.E.C. in relation to sugar will be the point at which the Commonwealth or, for that matter, the developing countries, will decide whether the E.E.C. intends to be an outward looking organisation or, as some fear, an inward and selfish society of rich nations. I read with great care the speech made in another place yesterday by Mr. Joseph Godber, the Minister of Agriculture. So far as it went, it was satisfactory. The only question—an important question—that was not answered was on the point that while it may be within our understanding that if Britain were permitted to import some 1¼million tons of sugar this would be carrying out our obligation, if the E.E.C. countries were then to become a much bigger exporter of sugar, to a figure commensurate with the amount of cane sugar imported here, it would have a disastrous consequence on the price of sugar throughout the world. Clearly this would place a very severe economic burden on the developing countries and those particularly dependent upon sugar. No doubt the noble Baroness has been primed that this subject would be raised. I do not know whether she could go further as to what the Government themselves have in mind here.

The other matter which is to some extent satisfying, but I am not entirely sure about, is our continued ability to refine cane sugar in this country. In one of the debates on the Common Market I posed the question that an undertaking given by the Government in regard to cane sugar would have no reality whatsoever unless we had the ability to refine it in this country. One did not get an answer then, and one becomes perturbed at the attitude of the Council of Ministers, and the French Government in particular, on the differentiation that is to be permitted for cane sugar refining as opposed to beet sugar, because at the end this is the real answer to whether we are going to have a continuing refining capacity to honour the obligation to the cane shipping islands of the Commonwealth.

I agree with my noble friend regarding multi-national companies. I do not believe that dependent territories have the solution: certainly nationalising by 51 per cent. or 95 per cent. is completely immaterial. This is borne out by such events in the copper mines of Zambia, where as a consequence of nationalisation the revenue has fallen disastrously because the multi-national companies merely altered the books and the profits are made somewhere else. This is a matter which needs to be considered by the big countries who themselves are directly affected in this problem. I do not think there is enough appreciation of the strength and power of the multinational companies. I suspect that we know little about how multi-national companies operate; but this is clearly something to which careful attention will have to be given in the coming years.

I have always had a criticism of large organisations and countries who have gone in ostensibly to provide aid but in practice are seeking raw materials. I should like to sec a greater understanding by the E.E.C. countries, and to see them assisting and encouraging companies which are now extracting raw material for final consumption in their own territories to process increasing quantities of that material in the country from which the raw material is being extracted. I am thinking particularly of countries who have oil. There is no point in shipping crude oil to Britain or Europe, to be processed not only into petrol and benzene but into the various by-products for the plastics industry, when much of that could be done ill the country from which the oil is being extracted. From my understanding, it would have very little effect on shipping rates and the cost of freight. This process would be more helpful to the developing countries who have raw materials than much of the aid that is given.

I thought the speech of Mr. Manley, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, was very significant. I have never heard it put in these terms before. He said of the 1969 Lester Pearson aim of the 1 per cent. of gross national product for aid that to-day this would represent some 50 tons of sugar for a tractor, whereas some ten years ago the amount would have been only 10 tons. I think he said that 1 per cent. meant in the United States about 12 dollars per head per annum as compared with 180 dollars per head per annum at that time. That is a good illustration of what has been said in the House on many occasions—the developing gap between the rich nations and the poorer nations. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brockway that the Government could have taken a far greater lead regarding the nuclear testing by France in the Pacific. I find it extraordinary that they could not understand the feelings of Australia, New Zealand and our other friends in the Pacific at the recent nuclear explosions close to their own countries.

There was much else at the Conference; but the point that came out to me was best illustrated in a phrase in a monthly magazine called the Commonwealth, issued by the Royal Commonwealth Society, when it referred to the "third Commonwealth". First of all there was the Commonwealth, the tightly knit white club of many years ago. Then we went through the second Commonwealth, which was largely a confrontation between the old members and the new, each sizing the other up as to what its intentions were. Now there is a third Commonwealth in which the atmosphere is very relaxed; members meeting as equals. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brockway that that is a Commonwealth that could continue, and I believe would continue, even if the oldest member of it felt it had to leave. I do not believe that will happen. I believe that the Commonwealth is strong enough to withstand all the strains and stresses which divide nations. This was an illustration of how mature the Commonwealth has become in the past 12 months—certainly since 1967.

My noble friend criticised the Prime Minister. It is not for me to defend him, and it is not often that I can do so, but on a previous occasion I begged the noble Baroness to convey to the Prime Minister my plea that despite the attraction of Cowes he would remain at Ottawa and would see the Conference through. My Lords, having been rather critical on that occasion, I think I can, or should, be quite open and say how pleased I was that the Prime Minister remained to the last day but one—and for that I think even the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth forgave him. I believe that the Conference in Ottawa is one that augurs well. I am glad that from all the signs we are not likely to have another Prime Ministers' Conference in London for quite a few years, because it now seems to be the accepted fact that it should move from one country to another. I see it guessed that it may be going to Kingston for the next occasion, in which case I have no doubt that it will be successful if for only one thing: as in Canada because of the sensitivity and vision of Mr. Trudeau, such matters will be matched by the new Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr. Michael Manley.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank first of all the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for his generous and friendly remarks in the opening part of his speech. I very much appreciate them. I am delighted that he has given us this chance this afternoon to debate this very important Commonwealth Conference. I realise that he put down a Parliamentary Question on the first day we resumed after the Recess, and I understand that the reason there was no Statement, as he expected, was that the Prime Minister himself had a Question on the subject and answered it that day.

Of course, the Ottawa Conference was a very important Commonwealth occasion, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that it was a very successful one. Among the reasons for the success were the excellent arrangements made by our Canadian hosts, and the very able chairmanship of Mr. Trudeau himself. I should also like to recall the presence in Ottawa during the first four days of the Conference of Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and as Queen of Canada.

In his Question, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asks "what conclusions were reached" at the Heads of Government Meeting? But, of course, Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences are not held to take decisions. As an association of independent countries it has never worked in that way at Summit Meetings, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Garner, knows well with his many experiences of these conferences over the years. A Communiqué is issued but it is in no sense a record of agreements made; it is really an account of the matters that are discussed, and where a view is expressed it is really a consensus.

With 32 independent Governments represented at the Conference, each with their own problems, I venture to suggest that intimate meetings of this kind between Heads of Government must be the envy of the rest of the world. There. fore we have to say to ourselves: did the Conference help improve international co-operation? I believe that it did. I think it did so in a number of interesting ways: first because of the frankness and intimacy of the exchanges and the personal contacts. I would support the noble Lord, Lord Garner, in his tribute to all those behind the scenes who helped to create the conditions which made this one of the most informal Heads of Government Meetings ever held. It is much easier for Heads of Government, Ministers and other members of the delegations to do business with each other, as they continue to do between conferences, when they know each other's minds and can therefore meet as personal friends.

Here I must come to the position of our own Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, sought to criticise him. I would say how glad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, supported the Prime Minister in all he tried to do at this Conference. I can say that the Prime Minister certainly appreciated very much the opportunities there were for these informal contacts and I think he made, if I may say so, a great many friends in the process. I would agree with Lord Gridley that the Prime Minister was in no way in isolation. I also thank my noble friend Lord Gridley for his encouraging remarks to myself, which I very much appreciate, too.

What the Prime Minister sought to do when the Heads of Governments considered the major developments which have taken place since the last Conference two and a half years ago was this. The Prime Minister in fact opened this particular discussion which was one of the main events, and he drew attention to three major events which have occurred since the last Meeting: the new relationship between the United States and the two leading Communist States; the new opportunities created by the enlargement of the European Community, and the partial breakdown of the world trade and monetary system. He offered the conclusion that there is now a greater and more direct responsibility on the medium and smaller Powers, too, to prevent local wars and to bring about this economic co-operation which we are all seeking to achieve. The Prime Minister went on to suggest that the Commonwealth Association was already there to be used as a means for contact and discussion before the technical and necessary consultations take place throughout the rest of the year.

In speaking of the Commonwealth I should much like to support the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Gridley about the very constructive work which has been done over a long period of time in preparing our territories for self-determination. This work is still going on. After all, this year the Bahamas entered the Commonwealth, and next year we hope to welcome Grenada. There has been a lot of careful work done in the preparation for Independence.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, this was the first meeting of the Heads of Government to be held since Britain's entry into the European Community, and there was I understand a very good discussion; the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in particular drew attention to this. There have of course been developments since Ottawa. The Protocol 22 negotiations began with the mini sterial meeting in Brussels on October 17 and 18; and I would agree that one of the most remarkable achievements of those who are considering association has been the unity which they have shown, whether they happen to be English or French speaking nations.

I had the chance, luckily, to go to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' meeting in Dar-es-Salaam with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like to read what the Communiqué said on this question of association, because those who have spoken said that they hoped that Her Majesty's Government would do what they could to ensure that the negotiations on behalf of the Commonwealth members were successful. The Communiqué read like this: Ministers noted with appreciation the assurances given by Britain that as a member of both the Commonwealth and the Community she would do all that she could to ensure that the arrangements which may be established between the Community and these countries (the associables) will adequately safeguard the interests of the latter. In the Community's preparations for that meeting we have sought to ensure in particular that close attention is given to the views of the developing countries on the whole question of non-reciprocity in trade in their relationship with the European Community.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to sugar, which was not in fact considered at the Ottawa Conference, but which is certainly of major concern both to the Caribbean countries and to certain Asian countries, apart from their participation in the Protocol 22 negotiations. As I said yesterday in the Statement on the Council of Ministers' meetings in the European Community, we know very well the importance of sugar to a number of developing Common. wealth countries, and we are as firmly committed as ever to the assurances given to the sugar producers during the Lancaster House meetings of June, 1970, and also the assurances given in March of this year.

As I explained yesterday, the Commission have put forward a proposal which would fully honour these assurances with the suggestion that 1-4 million tons of cane sugar should be imported into the Community. It is our aim that the Community should take early decisions on this matter—this is what we are working for—because we want it to play a part in the re-negotiation of the International Sugar Agreement and we want ii to join the Agreement as a net importer. This will mean, of course, some limitation of the Community's production of sugar beet. This is why there has been a good deal of very vocal opposition to the proposals throughout the Community, and even in this country; but I think it will be a test of the Community's concern for the problems of the developing countries. I do not want to go into detail at this hour to-day of all the matters which my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food dealt with yesterday, hut I should just like to reassure the House that we think that in the end we shall in fact be able to get this 1.4 million tons imported into the Community.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke about the multi-national corporations with considerable distaste, and I would only say to him that where we have experience of these companies—and, incidentally, I think they prefer to be called "international enterprises"—


I am not surprised, my Lords.


—we find, my Lords, that in this country, as they do overseas, they give more employment, they introduce new methods of technology and they bring growth and stability. Of course one would expect them to conform to all the laws of whichever country they happen to operate in and to accept the responsibilities which come, I believe, with very great international corporations. I believe they have a responsibility, both in the conditions which they grant to those who work with them and indeed the way in which they operate in the countries concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke about the question of nuclear tests.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene before she leaves that point. She used words like "one would expect" and "they have a responsibility" May ask her whether she really feels that her expectations are realised and whether the responsibilities are undertaken?


My Lords, as in all life, some are good and some are bad. think one can find examples of excellent personal relationships within a company and between that company and the country in which it operates. One can equally find the opposite; but the more opportunities are given, particularly in debates such as this, to make it clear that companies of that size have a responsibility the better. I think that gradually creates a climate which is understood and we hope followed, if not altogether at the same time, at any rate it is understood that this is what is expected of them. I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that I think his sweeping condemnation of great international companies is entirely unjustified: some are good, some are bad.

The noble Lord also raised the question of nuclear tests in the atmosphere. At Ottawa, as we have often done before, we said we hoped that all those nations which have not yet acceded to the partial test ban treaty would do so—and this of course is very well known, not only to France but also to China. That is why the meeting—wisely, in my view—decided not to go beyond a general declaration which reaffirmed the principles of the Treaty, and they appealed to all Powers to help reach a new agreement which will achieve the end of all nuclear weapon tests.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke about Rhodesia. There I think he recognised that there had been a much more welcome tone in the communiqué, a much greater understanding within the Commonwealth, of the problems which concern Rhodesia. Certainly, as I understand it, the tone of the discussion was not critical: it was really very constructive; and a number of suggestions were made which the Prime Minister undertook to take into account as the situation develops. In particular, we were very pleased that everyone at Ottawa recognised the need to seek a settlement in Rhodesia by peaceful means; and we were of course glad of the unanimous recognition in the Conference cornmuniqué that we, in this country, are working on the right lines. As the communiqué records, everyone at Ottawa was agreed in their opposition to apartheid and to minority rule in Southern Africa, while recognising all the same that there are some very difficult problems involved. I think it was a good thing that the conference was able to discuss quite frankly the real issue which confronts Southern Africa, which is the choice between peaceful evolution and consent or change by violent means.

The noble Lord, Lord Garner, spoke of the four Commonwealth meetings during the Recess, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned that there was one more, so that makes five during the Recess. From what I saw of the conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in London, I thought it had a very happy atmosphere indeed. I certainly have very happy memories of the C.P.A. conference I attended in Malawi last year. And, when I had the chance to go with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Dar-es-Salaam, to the meeting of the Commonwealth Finance Ministers on the 19th and 20th September, what struck me most was the way we could all sit round a table together without, I may say, the Press being present—and as to whether that is a good thing or a bad thing I make no comment. We felt free, not only to make speeches but indeed to debate together, to discuss together, to intervene, to have laughter and teasing and checking of points. It was a very good atmosphere and a really friendly meeting. There were difficult questions; of course the Chancellor of the Exchequer took all the difficult ones concerned with international monetary affairs and I took the two subjects of relations with Europe and of overseas aid.

Therefore I think I can say that from my experience of Commonwealth meetings—because I went also to the one held in London last year—and in the C.P.A., and from what I have learned of the atmosphere at Ottawa, it is quite remarkable that a Commonwealth of 32 independent nations is prepared to listen to, and to understand, their colleagues' point of view. I believe our differences are often much more these of approach rather than of anything really fundamental, and where at Ottawa there was a real difference in attitude it was stated quite clearly; but whenever it was possible to reach a compromise, it was reached.

Therefore in conclusion I would say that Commonwealth Summit Meetings surely provide a most valuable chance for the leaders of a quarter of the world's population to exchange ideas. This must of itself bring a greater understanding of each other's thinking, and without doubt that influences the policies which Governments subsequently adopt. This is how the Commonwealth works.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to say one thing. In the first place, I will not reprove her for taking the liberty which ladies often do, of slightly twisting what the opposite sex may have said. That is not the point I wish to raise. What I had intended to do was to echo what my noble friend Lord Brockway said in paying a tribute to the noble Baroness for her work over the last two weeks. She has carried an extraordinarily heavy burden and we have been not only delighted with the way she has done it but also deeply conscious of the way in which she has approached not only the subject matter but all the detail which is behind it. She had rendered very great assistance to your Lordships' House. I think I ought to echo what my noble friend said. I am happy to do so from this Front Bench, just at the moment before the noble Earl moves that this House do adjourn during pleasure. I look forward to it.


My Lords, as I was not apparently firmly sitting in my seat while the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, intervened. I should like to thank him very much. It is a great encouragement. I feel there is a great responsibility when addressing this House, because whenever a subject is raised there is nearly always someone who is an expert on it.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until approximately 10 p.m.

Moved, That the House do adjourn during pleasure until approximately 10 p.m.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.