HL Deb 18 March 1975 vol 358 cc606-8

2.52 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, bearing in mind the ACP/EEC Lomé Convention and the desirability of Euro-African co-operation, what conclusions can be drawn from the recent Summit Conference at Bangui in so far as this country is concerned as a co-signatory to the Agreement, and whether they will make a Statement.


My Lords, the conference at Bangui on 7th March was essentially a Francophone affair, at which Her Majesty's Government were not invited to be represented. As a signatory of the Lomé Convention Her Majesty's Government welcome those passages in the final communiqué which affirm the need for discussion and solidarity between developed and developing countries.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his Answer, I should like to ask him whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the French are not endeavouring to build up or consolidate a closed shop sort of political association with Francophone Africa, bearing in mind, too, the decision taken at Bangui that these discussions should be yearly? Secondly, would not the Minister agree that if we are to keep to the spirit and the letter of the Lomé Convention we should seek development of our relationships with and knowledge of Francophone Africa, not only economically but also culturally?


My Lords, at a Press conference at the end of the Bangui Conference the French President made it absolutely clear that the objective of the French Government was not to seek to create a zone of influence. On the second point, I can give an unqualified affirmative answer.


My Lords, is it not the fact that the representatives of the ex-French Colonies have taken the initiative to secure co-operation with other colonies in Africa which were under other régimes and it is on their initiative that a united conference has been held to make proposals in regard to this subject?


My Lords, that is substantially so and indeed the response from our own partners in the Commonwealth, of English-speaking African States, was equally strong and marker. We must not, however, minimise the role which this country has played at Kingston and at Lomé in making it possible for the association of both Francophone and English-speaking States in Africa to play a part in relation to the EEC, which will lead to greater exchange of expertise and trade between the EEC and the whole of Africa, including the Francophone and the English-speaking States.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it is no more surprising for the members of the old French community to meet together occasionally than it is for the British Commonwealth countries to meet together occasionally?


Not at all. Indeed, I see that the Bangui Conference decided that there should be annual meetings of the Francophone African States with France, very much as we increasingly arrange meetings between Commonwealth countries, both in New York and in other locales.


My Lords, could my noble friend tell us the main reason why no invitation was made to Her Majesty's Government to attend this particular conference which has raised so many questions, one from the Liberal Benches and one from the Conservative Benches?


My Lords, I welcome that question which, as usual from my noble friend, has real point to it. I am quite sure that there was no particular reason for this except that the traditional relationship of the French Republic with the former Colonies, now the successor Francophone States indicated periodic meetings to discuss common questions, very much as we have with our own former colonies in the Commonwealth. But I can assure my noble friend that we in no way discern in the lack of invitation to us to attend the Bangui Conference any kind of animus or discrimination.


My Lords, following the previous question which was put to the Minister, would he not agree, though, that we should be concerned or involved to a greater extent with discussions of this kind? The main problems that were discussed at Bangui were economic and financial and were concerned principally with energy and raw materials, certainly subjects in which we too are involved and interested.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord's suggestion is included in the new arrangement whereby the EEC will now have discussions with all successor States which are in a difficult position in regard to their exports. It is a new departure, and one of the positive results of the EEC is that both Francophone and English-speaking countries in Africa will now deal jointly with EEC. From this I expect there will be great advantages, both to Europe and to Africa. There will be an export of European expertise to these countries. There will also be an expansion of trade, because certain aspects of the Lomé Convention, as the noble Lord knows, are preferential.