HL Deb 21 November 1974 vol 354 cc1123-6

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what conclusions were reached by the World Food Conference in Rome and what proposals were made by their representatives.


My Lords, the conference passed a series of resolutions on the best methods of increasing food production in the developing countries. It made plans for improved food aid and for enhancing the system of world food security and the exchange of information on harvest plans and prospects. It passed a resolution on the improvement of trade in agricultural products, particularly from the development countries. Finally, it recommended the setting up of a new agricultural development fund and a World Food Council to co-ordinate work on food matters and to facilitate the implementation of the Conference's decisions. This Council would report through the Economic and Social Committee to the General Assembly of the United Nations. It would meet in Rome and its secretariat would be provided within the framework of FAO.

The United Kingdom delegation played a full part in the Conference and assisted in bringing it to a successful conclusion. All the decisions of the Conference were taken without voting and without dissent.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply and while these conclusions will profit us all in the long term (and no doubt we shall be able to debate them fairly soon), may I ask whether it is not the case that little was done for the immediate needs of millions in Bangladesh, India and elsewhere? Is it not also the case that between 8 million and 12 million tons of grain are needed immediately, together with 1¼ million tons of fertiliser? Is it not also the case that Canada alone made a commitment on this proposal, and would Her Majesty's Government do something, despite our economic difficul- ties, to make an immediate contribution towards the cost of food and fertilisers?


My Lords, I quite agree that the longer-term problems were discussed at the Conference and not the immediate difficulties which confront certain areas of the world. I accept what the noble Lord says about the inadequacy of it from that point of view. As for immediate aid, we agreed to send 5,000 tons of fertiliser immediately and we have promised a further 20,000 tons. We shall consider any further demands. We have accepted the 20 per cent. voluntary limitation in imports of cereal from the United States and we are, of course, considering the matter in other ways.


My Lords, since the Russians must bear a large proportion of the blame for the present world food crisis, because of their wheat purchases in 1972 and 1973, what pressure have the Government put on the Russians to make a contribution to the new Fund, and what success have they had?


My Lords, I am not sure I would accept the implication of the first part of the noble Earl's question. To my knowledge, no pressure has been brought to bear upon the Russians.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, so far as the Agricultural Development Fund is concerned, the only country that was committed to pay money to it was Iran?


My Lords, I cannot say anything about Iran. What I have said is that we are prepared to consider making a contribution in the light of pledges given by others.


My Lords, may I ask whether at this Conference in Rome the question of providing more protein for the starving population of the world by fish farming was considered and discussed?


Not to my knowledge, my Lords. It was discussed adequately in a debate in this House some few months ago.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that most people in this country including many noble Lords in this House, eat far more than is good for them, and that one of the contributions that we can make to the solution of this desperate world problem is to consume less in this country so that more is available for other people?


My Lords, in this context every man and woman must speak for himself or herself.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the conclusions he read out are almost identical with the conclusions of the 1963 World Food Conference held in Washington, when I had the honour of leading the United Kingdom Delegation, and that since then little has happened as a result of those conclusions? Will the noble Lord assure us that something more is likely to happen now?


My Lords, I am sure that the conclusions to which the noble Lord helped the 1963 Conference to come were sensible ones. This is a matter which should give us cause for hope. As for the possibility of taking firmer or more positive action this time, one merit of the Conference was that it brought home to all of us how great is the need. The chances of the world looking at it as a world problem are greater now than a few years ago.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that although we have so far had no debate on fish farming, I hope we shall have one in the New Year?


My Lords, I refer the noble Baroness to the excellent speech that she made and to the reply that I gave to her.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government be represented at the conference next week of the exporting grain countries and other countries in consultation with the FAO? If Her Majesty's Government are represented there, will they urge that more generous contributions be made to meet the immediate needs of those who are starving?


My Lords, my understanding is that we shall be represen- ted. I will see that what my noble friend says is taken into account.


My Lords, in view of the great public interest in this Question, would the Government consider producing a White Paper on this Conference?


My Lords, I will certainly bear that in mind. There is a need for a fuller statement than that which I have made. A number of the amendments to the resolutions were not received until late; they were received in manuscript form and they have not been properly assessed. It would be useful to have the Government's reactions set out at greater length. Whether a White Paper or some other way is the better method is a matter for consideration.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that even if all the admirable resolutions of this Conference are carried out, they will in the end be completely frustrated unless more direct action is taken in many parts of the world to arrest the truly frightening increase in world population which threatens us in the next quarter of a century?


My Lords, what the noble Lord has said is of course right.