HL Deb 31 July 1974 vol 353 cc2358-64

12.53 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Overseas Development. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I would like to make a statement on the Ministerial Conference in Kingston, Jamaica, of the E.E.C. and the 19 present Associates and 25 new Associables of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The negotiations were concerned with the Community offer, set out in Protocol 22 of the Brussels Treaty of Accession, to sign a new Convention of Association, The present Yaoundé Convention is due to expire on January 31. The Conference covered a number of subjects. A major concern to us was the need to safeguard the interests of the new Commonwealth Associables, and I had to have very serious regard to the dependence of a number of them on their exports of primary products, particularly sugar. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is due to expire on December 31 next.

"In the event, the President of the E.E.C., M. Sauvagnargues, was able in his second statement to the Conference to make it quite clear that the British Government has a firm commitment to the import of 1.4 million tons of sugar into the Community. On the other hand, he made it clear that the other members of the E.E.C. cannot accept this commitment until the Community sugar regime has been settled. It was agreed that the Commission of the E.E.C. will seek the views of the A.C.P. countries—the Associates and Associables—on this question. At the end of the Conference, by agreement, Britain issued a unilateral declaration on the subject of our total commitment on this question. I am placing the relevant documents in the Library.

"In the light of the President's statement, the Conference was able to proceed to discussion on a number of issues of great importance to the 44 (the Associates and the Associables), and to make the following progress.

"It recognised the importance of industrial co-operation. This will be the subject of a separate chapter in the Convention.

"It exchanged views on the size of the European Development Fund, and on this point discussions are to continue.

"It agreed to proceed with further work on access for agricultural products, on non-tariff barriers and on rules of origin. The A.C.P. countries attach considerable importance to these points.

"In my view the most important agreement reached concerned the establishment of a scheme to stabilise export earnings. The exports of developing countries associated with, or planning to be associated with, the Community have been subject to substantial fluctuation of price and quantity, particularly the exports of primary products. It is, of course, extremely difficult for developing countries to formulate or implement development plans when they are deeply uncertain about the future level of their export earnings. The Commission will now immediately begin talks with the relevant producer countries.

"The Conference gave the opportunity for a full and frank dialogue between the countries of the E.E.C. and the A.C.P. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr. Michael Manley, and the Foreign Minister of Jamaica, Mr. P. J. Patterson, who was the Chairman of the Conference, greatly influenced its success. The negotiations will, of course, continue in the coming months."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

12.55 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having repeated that Statement. It is an important Statement for those countries in the Caribbean, and especially for those whose economy depends so largely on sugar. They live in an era of inflation like everyone else, and they have the conflicting interests of the long-term guarantees which were supposed to help them and the rocketing world prices for some of their commodities. I am glad to see that the United Kingdom said that they still regard as a major concern for us the need to safeguard the interests of these new Commonwealth Associables. I heartily endorse that comment. We shall have to study the documents which the noble Lord has placed in the Library, in order to see the full content of his Statement. But there are one or two points that come to mind.

The noble Lord said, At the end of the Conference, by agreement, Britain issued a unilateral declaration on the subject of our total commitment … and is one to infer from that that there was no uniformity of view between the United Kingdom and its associate members? Can the noble Lord give an assurance that the combined Statement which was issued in June, 1971, after a Conference between the participating countries and ourselves, on our view over the commitment of Europe to the Commonwealth, still stands? The Statement then said they regarded the E.E.C.'s offer as a firm assurance of a secure and continuing market in the enlarged Community on fair terms for the quantities of sugar covered by the C.S.A. in respect of all the existing developing Member countries. That was important. It will be a great help if the noble Lord will confirm that we still stick to the commitment which we then accepted.

At the bottom of the second page of the Statement it says: The Commission will now immediately begin talks with the relevant producer countries". Am I right in believing that the talks with regard to the sugar commitment of the producing countries and Europe will be particularly between the representatives of those countries and the Commission, and that we will not be participants to those talks? Are we able to influence the outcome of these discussions in any way in the European Community? If I remember correctly, the discussions will only be between the participating countries and the Commission. If that is so, how will we be able to influence Europe to make sure the commitments which we entered into on behalf of the developing countries at the time of our entry negotiations are fulfilled?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said. We would certainly rest on the 1971 Declaration; indeed, we would hope—as no doubt another Administration, if it had come to power this year, would have hoped—to improve on that if possible. On the related question of our participation in the discussions between the Commission and the producer countries regarding sugar, I would expect that in one way or another we will be participatory in these talks. I agree it is an important question and, with the noble Earl's permission, I will look into this and let him know precisely what we think the position will be. It is of great importance and I am sure that my right honourable friend will recognise this.

On the question of our unilateral declaration, this was a re-statement of our intention to seek to import 1.4 million tons. It must necessarily still be a unilateral statement. We found it neces- sary and helpful to make this repeated assurance at the conference to the countries concerned that were there. They welcomed the repeated statement of the British intention. It does not mean that any of them were at variance with what we said; indeed, they strongly welcomed it. As to the Community position in relation to a unilateral declaration of trading intention by this country, one must accept that the Commission will have to look at the total position, bearing in mind its own production which is somewhat different in quantity—although I will not say quality. The difference between beet and cane is probably subject to much better jargon than I am able to command at the moment, but I am sure that the noble Earl knows what I have in mind.

The E.E.C will naturally need to bring into consideration when they formulate (shall I say?) their sugar policy their own concern about their own production. Nevertheless, we find it extremely satisfactory that the French President of the Commission, who was there, made a declaration stating that they noted the British unilateral commitment without criticism. It is fair to assume that in so doing he was giving as much encouragement as he could to both the Associates, the Associables and to us to do all we can to safeguard and improve the position in regard to sugar as between those countries and ourselves. I must repeat in fairness to the Commission that they will need to have that and their own Continental position in mind when they formulate their final sugar policy.

1.7 p.m.


My Lords, I had a question on this matter on the Order Paper to-day. The Minister said that he would be repeating a Statement made in another place. I am very grateful to him. First, I want to welcome the agreement in principle for the establishment of the stabilisation of export earnings from the developing countries. This is tremendously important particularly for the developing countries which largely have one-product exports, for they are the poorest. I hope that the acceptance of this in principle will be immediately followed up.

I want also to welcome the United Kingdom's unilateral commitment to the 1,400,000 tons of sugar to come to the Community. I regret that the other Members of the Community have not immediately taken the same view. I understand that this is largely because of the sugar shortage in the world, and that the argument is being put forward that the Commonwealth countries have not fulfilled their quota to this country. Is that not due to their difficult position because of the oil prices, where they had to sell sugar in the world market, where they could get larger amounts? Is it not also the case that they have promised us that they will fulfil that agreement?

I was in this House—and I refer to what the spokesman from the Opposition Front Bench has said—at the time of the 1971 negotiations, when we all had the impression that a very definite commitment had been made by the European Community to our Commonwealth countries in the Sugar Agreement. In another place, Mr. Rippon, who was engaged in the negotiations, used the rather unusual phrase of "bankable assurances". I hope that the unilateral action which our Government have taken will be followed up by the other Members of the Community.

There were a number of issues which were not settled. One was the European Development Fund for these nations. There is a big margin between what the nations are demanding—400 million—and what the European Commission at present has accepted—175 million. There are continuing discussions on a number of other subjects. As I understand it, they will be renewed in November; but can we have an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will do their utmost to bring about agreements so that the trade and aid arrangements which are due to cease in February may be continued for the benefit of the developing countries?


My Lords, I can give the assurance for which my noble friend has asked. He has made a number of points which I greatly welcome. I will not deal with them in any detail; they have been covered by the Statement and by one or two things that I have already said. However, on the question of the so-called development fund, which has been raised by him in particular, there is of course naturally a large gap between the applicant coun- tries and the donor countries. It always happens in these cases. The applicant countries have put forward a request for a new E.D.F. of something like 8,000 million units of account. This is far in excess—and this must be said and repeated—of what is at all likely to be granted by the donor countries. Nevertheless, every effort will be made to bridge the gap so far as possible.

As to the other points which my noble friend raised, he will find on sugar and the Stabilisation Scheme—which, like him, I particularly welcome, because of the fluctuations which cause havoc with the finances and the economy, including the employment of men in these countries—that the Statement I have just repeated will repay study. If, despite the rising of Parliament, he or any other noble Lord would wish further elucidation of these very important points and would apply to me in another place (if I may so refer to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the moment), I will do my best to be helpful.