HL Deb 03 February 1975 vol 356 cc678-86

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development, which reads:

"With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the conclusion of the Protocol 22 negotiations between the Community and 46 developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, in which the sugar negotiations had a vital role to play. I told the House in my Statement on 31st July, after the Conference in Kingston, Jamaica, that a major concern to us was the need to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth countries concerned. I am glad to be able to report that I believe that our joint British and Commonwealth efforts have succeeded. In Brussels on Saturday morning we agreed the text of a Convention which, after submission to ACP Ministers in Accra on 11th February, will be signed in Lomé the capital of Togo, on 28th February.

"The Agreement has rightly been described as historic. In its detail, it embodies a new economic relationship between the developing countries concerned and the industrialised nations of the Community. It is my hope that it may, in the longer term, contribute towards a new international order in the relationships between industrialised and developing countries, for example, in influencing the conclusions of the UNCTAD next year.

"The Agreement provides for the free entry into the Community market of industrial products, and almost complete free entry for agricultural pro-ducts from the developing countries."

Satisfactory arrangements have now been made on sugar.

"I should mention particular points of concern to Commonwealth countries which have been satisfactorily resolved: beef, which is important to Botswana, Swaziland and Kenya; and bananas, and white rum, which are important to the countries of the Caribbean. A most important new element in this Convention is that there is no requirement for reciprocity except a provision for at least Most Favoured Nation treatment to Community exports in the markets of the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The Community has thus taken a valuable major step away from the requirement of reverse preferences which was built into the previous Convention, and towards the kind of trade relations for which UNCTAD has called.

"A further most important innovation, for which the groundwork was laid in Kingston, is the new scheme of stabilisation of export earnings for commodities. It will cover such commodities as cocoa, coffee, cotton and copra; and one, but only one, mineral, iron ore. This scheme was one to which the developing countries attached very great importance.

"In relation to aid, the Community offer of approximately £1,600 million (including payments on commodity stabilisation) plus a further £200 million of softened loans from the European Investment Bank has been accepted by the ACP countries, although it is less than they would have wished. They made it clear, however, that they regarded development as being essentially a matter for them, and that they did not wish to bargain on the figure.

"I am glad to report that on one major question of great concern to the ACP countries—the title of the new Convention—it was possible to reach agreement. The concept of Association is to be dropped. The new Convention will simply be known as the ACP/EEC Convention of Lomé. To some extent this is a symbolic change. But it reflects a new relationship, which replaces paternalism by co-operation. I cannot pay enough tribute to the role which our Commonwealth countries and their negotiators have played in securing this. I have been very glad to be able to understand and support them in so much that they were seeking to achieve. I would also like to express my own personal warm appreciation of the steady and consistent contribution made by Sir Michael Palliser and his staff in securing such a successful outcome to these negotiations. There are, of course, many details of the new Convention which the House will wish to know. I pro-pose as soon as possible to make the text available to the House.

"As far as British renegotiation objectives are concerned, the position is that, following the agreement in Brussels on Saturday, a great deal will now depend on a successful conclusion to the meeting of Development Ministers to be held in March, when I will be seeking to ensure that Commonwealth countries not covered by the Convention receive their due share of EEC aid."

My Lords, that I am afraid was a long Statement and I am sure your Lordships will agree an important one.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating to the House that important Statement which we on this side welcome. I also want to congratulate her right honourable friend on so successfully participating in these negotiations which began some eighteen months ago when we were in Office. However, the Statement gives rise to certain questions. What, for instance, will happen to the Convention, our obligations under it and the benefits granted to the forty-six developing countries—some of them members of the Commonwealth—if Britain attempts to pull out of the EEC following a negative result in the Referendum? Since the new Convention does not come into effect until the end of the month, are there any plans to carry over the pro-visions of the Yaoundé Convention and the Arusha Agreement which finished at the end of January? In relation to the agreement on trade, what does the Statement mean by, "almost complete free entry" and how does this fit in with the provisions of the Common Agricultural Policy?

I personally welcome the virtual end of reverse trade preferences. Furthermore, what is the estimated cost of the new stabilisation scheme and at what level will it operate? Since the level of Community aid has now been settled at approximately £1,600 million, what will be the percentage contributions of the EEC Member States to the EDF? Lastly, can the noble Baroness give the House the assurance that there will be no reduction of existing aid, as a result of this agreement, to those developing countries within the Commonwealth that are not associated with the Community?


My Lords, I wonder whether the House would forgive me, as it is such a very technical subject, if I answered those seven appallingly difficult questions before the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, speaks. In the first place, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, for his extremely generous tribute to my right honourable friend. She has had a wonderful success and it has taken eighteen months and a marathon twenty-four hour sitting to achieve it. I shall pass on the noble Earl's comments to her. As to the noble Earl's hypothetical question about what happens if we leave the EEC, it will be up to the ACP countries themselves—all forty-six of them—including those in the Commonwealth, to decide what form they wish to retain links with the United Kingdom. That is the best answer I can give the noble Earl.

As regards the question about what the Statement meant by "almost free", as I think he knows this refers to the agricultural products. Broadly, I think I can explain that where the ACP's interests overlap with the Community's interests there is not always free entry. But I should like to underline the major triumphs secured on beef and sugar, both of which overlap Community and Commonwealth interests, so that the remaining ones are very much less important. I think the noble Earl asked about the level of the stabilisation scheme. I was not quite sure what he meant by that, but I think I can say that if any of those countries are dependent for more than 7½ per cent, of their export earnings on 11 specific commodities, then they will be eligible for help; if those earnings then fall below more than 7½ per cent. they will be made up by the Common Market. Of course for the less developed 24 countries it will be 2½ per cent. below their average level. The noble Earl also asked about the level of contribution. The United Kingdom will be contributing 18.7 per cent., and Germany and France, for instance, will be contributing 25.9 per cent. I hope that those answers have more or less satisfied the noble Earl.


My Lords, we should also like to thank the noble Baroness for making the Statement, and to congratulate her right honourable friend on the negotiations on this subject. I should like to repeat and emphasise what the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, said, that this surely shows what a terrific advantage it is for this country to be a Member of the EEC. There is one other point which I should like to raise and it is an agricultural one. While in no way trying to jeopardise the interests of the Commonwealth countries concerned over sugar, may I say that the deal that was done the other day will mean that cane sugar will cost nearly twice as much as the British farmer is paid for his beet sugar. Could Her Majesty's Government try to bring the British fanner slightly more into line with the Common-wealth producers, as charity sometimes begins at home?


My Lords, I agree about charity beginning at home and I am quite sure that the noble Earl will be stumping the country during the Referendum putting his views on the Common Market. As to sugar, I should not like to deal with specifically domestic issues, as this is a question about overseas countries, the Commonwealth, and their relations with the EEC. But, broadly, what the Sugar Agreement has secured is that it gives the Commonwealth producing countries an assured future and it gives us an assured supply.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this is another example of the Common Market chickens coming home to roost? This country has been faced with a shortage of sugar and with paying a vastly increased price through the negotiations carried on by the Minister of Agriculture, and I certainly do not congratulate him either on the result, or on the competence with which he has carried them out. The situation which faces this country is a direct result of the incompetence of the Conservative Government, which is normal so I will not underline it. Is the noble Baroness also aware that the object of the policy here is ultimately to get this country and all the countries in the EEC relying upon beet sugar produced on the Northern plains of France, and that if we do not mind out we shall once again find this country short of sugar and paying a vastly increased price for what supplies we do get?


My Lords, while agreeing with my noble friend about the incompetence of the previous Government, I do not agree with him about the incompetence of Her Majesty's present Ministers.


My Lords, am I right in assuming from what the noble Baroness has said that the Common-wealth Sugar Agreement has now totally lapsed?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, as the Minister is aware I put down a Private Notice Question asking for this Statement, and therefore I welcome it very much I am not sure from the news in this morning's papers, or even from the full Statement which the Minister has made, that we yet understand the significance of this Agreement. In my view, the decisions which have been reached will alter the whole relationship of the developing countries with Europe and with this country. I want to express my appreciation of the service which the Minister of Agriculture has rendered, and more particularly for the remarkable contribution which the Minister for Overseas Development has made in reaching this conclusion.


My Lords, it is not often that on this Bench we receive praise from my noble friend. It is therefore all the more welcome. I most heartily echo what he says. Coming from a man of his experience of the developing countries, it is worth doubly much.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that this Agreement is both a tribute to the unity of the 46 ACP countries and also to the flexibility of the Community, particularly as they did not insist on reverse preferences? Could the noble Baroness say a little more about sugar? As I understand it, despite the Sugar Agreement this country will still be nearly three-quarters of a million tons short of our needs. Could she say whether further negotiations are going on with the sugar producing countries through the EEC, which will involve a subsidy to the United Kingdom if the price is not to rise?


My Lords, I should not like to answer the last part of the question about the subsidy, because I have not really been briefed on it. However, I can assure the noble Baroness, as I am sure she knows from her past experience, that these negotiations go on all the time. As to the immediate supply of sugar to this country, which we all know was a very real problem, I think we can say that that difficulty is almost completely solved.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the short-fall in supplies of cane sugar is attributable to the negotiations which were started to take this country into the Common Market? One found the extraordinary situation in 1972 that in Jamaica, a prolific sugar producer, there was a complete absence of sugar for sale in the shops. The curtailment of supply will continue and will get worse, unless there is a guaranteed market, or an alternative market. There is an alternative market already arising in the Soviet Union. One of the reasons why I assert that the negotiations have not been carried on very competently is that a price has been determined at the point when the countries behind the Iron Curtain have been heavy buyers of forward sugar.


My Lords, I think that I had better answer this point before the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asks a question, not that I could answer adequately without making a very long speech. I do not think it is true to lay all our sugar troubles at the door of the Community, and I should like to echo what the noble Baroness said about this whole Agreement being such a tribute to the unity of the ACP countries, which has not been seen before, and to the flexibility of the Community.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that had it not been for the Community we should now be paying far more for our sugar? Secondly, would she also agree that the allegation which we too often hear nowadays, to the effect that the Community is in some way inward-looking, is totally disproved by the recent agreement in Kingston, Jamaica?


My Lords, the House will not expect me to agree with all the views of the noble Lord on the EEC, but in this particular case I am bound to say that I find myself astonishingly on his side.


My Lords, while welcoming very much the signature of the ACP/EEC Convention of Lomeé and the fact that Her Majesty's Government will be contributing 18.7 per cent, towards the European Development Fund, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she would agree that we should have closer contacts with the Francophone countries of Africa —in effect, the 19 countries of the Yaoundé Convention, the AASM countries? From a Written Answer that I received on 30th January, it would appear that we have had very little contact over the last four years. Do Her Majesty's Government not feel that greater contacts are desirable, and that there will be increased opportunities for this? We also shall be subscribing to funds which will be going to those countries, and therefore it is in our interests and those of the developing countries that we should get closer together in the months and years to come.


My Lords, I am in entire agreement that it is of special importance that the Francophone countries and ourselves should get together, and that the Community provides a good platform for this to be done. I must admit that I think that the Lomé Convention is a very much better one than the Yaoundé Agreement, and I am glad that we have substituted it for that. I know that the noble Lord will be glad to know that Mr. Ba, the Senegalese Foreign Minister, played an active and able part in these negotiations. This is precisely the kind of thing that we want to see.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness not realise, in her anxiety to excuse or pay tribute to the flexibility of the Common Market, that it is a simple economic fact that price tends to the level at which supply and demand will equate? In 1970 it was clear that this country, regardless of its well-being, would be forced into the Common Market, and it would lead to a curtailment of the production of cane sugar throughout all those countries that were producing that commodity. The consequence is that as it is a seven-year cycle the shortage is bound to get worse, and the price will rise.


My Lords, one of the things which contributed to the shortage of cane sugar was the fact that as the countries who produced it became more prosperous the people did not go out and cut the cane, and who can blame them? My noble friend is one of the greatest and best advocates of good employment and not degrading and harsh employment, so I should have thought that he would be glad about that. I shall now wear my other hat as Chief Whip and say that I think that we have had a very good run on this Statement. We have a lot of business today, and if your Lordships agree with me perhaps we may pass on.