HL Deb 21 July 1976 vol 373 cc909-40

5.59 p.m.

Lord BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude towards the Third World's proposals for a new World Economic Order. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. During the last few years there has been a series of conferences dealing with environment, population, food, employment, the status of women, UNCTAD and habitat. These conferences are of historic importance. For the first time in history nations have got together to consider basic human problems. All of these conferences came to the same conclusion: that none of their specific problems could be settled separately from the dominating presence of the poverty of two-thirds of the world and the gulf between the rich North and the poor South on our planet. This destitution of millions is the unifying cause of all the other evils.

One need not dwell upon the facts; they are too well known. I draw attention only to two of them. First, North America, Western Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan command over 70 per cent. of the earth's wealth for the benefit of less than one-quarter of the earth's population. Secondly, the expectation of life of an individual in the poor South is half that of an individual in the rich North.

Representatives of 77 nations of the South met four years ago to consider how this fundamental cause of the world's ills could be remedied. They concluded that there must be a restructuring of the world's economy. The present economy was established at Bretton Woods 30 years ago, before these countries were politically independent. They—more than half the world—had no part in the shaping. It was weighted heavily on the side of the rich against the poor.

With great thoroughness and expertise the representatives of the 77 countries formulated the conditions of the new international economic order which would go far to establish equality of opportunity between rich and poor, and progressively end the destitution of two-thirds of the population of the earth. They recognised that they themselves had some responsibility for the poverty of their peoples. They acknowledged that it was not all due to unfair international practices.

In the forefront of their proposals for a new international economic order they emphasised the need to reconstruct their own economies with prior emphasis on rural development, incidentally restricting the drift to the towns, with its fatal unemployment. Rural development would be followed by the processing of the natural products in agriculture and minerals in their territories. The best of the 77 countries, though not all, insisted on the redistribution of wealth. As Barbara Ward said in her speech at the Habitat Conference, in many countries in the Third World economic growth in the past two decades has been almost entirely appropriated by the wealthy 10 per cent., of the people. The exploitation of the few in the Third World is similar to the exploitation of the few in capitalist nations.

But even the internal development required a changed relationship with the economic giants of the world. It meant a right to transfer ownership of the natural resources, including mineral wealth, from external monopolies to the peoples of the territories. It meant control of the multinational companies, whose activities would be co-ordinated with the economic reconstruction planned. It involved mutual arrangements with the developed nations for the provision of modern technology.

It is not possible to outline the details of the proposed new international economic order. The Manila Declaration, which formulates the proposals, is thousands of words in length. But there are three issues which are relevant to our discussion. They have become controversial with the leading countries of the industrial North—the United States of America, Great Britain, West Germany and Japan.

The first issue relates to the prices paid by the developing countries for goods imported from the developed countries, compared with the prices which the developing countries receive for their exports to the developed countries. These prices are at present determined by international financial agencies dominated by the West. The Third World propose that these prices should be indexed, and the prices of exports related to the prices of imports.

Secondly, they propose the establishment of a Common Fund to stabilise prices, balancing bad years with good, and to enable buffer stocks of goods to be created, particularly in food, as a safeguard against drought and famine. Thirdly, they suggest that there should be an international conference to come to an arrangement about debts. The amounts are colossal. Every year the Third World countries are required to pay at least twice as much to the developed countries as they receive from them. In view of the benefits that the colonial Powers received in cheap foodstuffs and raw material for two centuries, I urge that we should meet these demands sympathetically. The authors of the new international economic order suggest that the debts of the least developed, the landlocked and the island countries, should be cancelled altogether.

These issues arose particularly at the recent UNCTAD conference. I was pleased to hear the Minister, at the end of our debate on UNCTAD, say that the Government supported the compromise decisions reached at the end; namely, agreement to stabilise prices for 18 commodities and to adjourn discussion for reconsideration of the Common Fund, although on debts the Government insisted on bilateral discussions rather than a general conference. I welcome the statement of the Minister, but I was intrigued by it.

My Lords, I had disturbing information which I did not reveal during the debate, because I received it confidentially from Nairobi. I am now able to refer to it because of the article by Judith Hart, contributed to Socialist Commentary. There was a point in that conference where the delegates of the United States of America, Britain, West Germany and Japan decided to stand firm on their original intransigent attitude, and to reject compromise. This was strongly opposed by six of the nine EEC nations, and it was only then that the delegates of the "Great Four" agreed to refer the matter to their Governments. Both London—I believe Mr. Callaghan personally—and Bonn prohibited the proposed rejecting statement. The result was that the delegates of Britain and West Germany accepted the final compromise although the delegates of the United States of America and Japan remained silent. This is very disquieting. It suggests that greater care should be taken in appointing our delegations to these international conferences.

I want to ask the Government to reconsider their attitude on the Common Fund and on the debts. The Common Fund will be realised whether we participate or not. The Third World countries, backed by some oil wealth, and the assenting countries in Europe—France, and particularly Scandinavia—will join the Common Fund. It may be unfortunate for our relationships with the Commonwealth if we continue to boycott it.

I also urge a responsive attitude to the reconsideration of debts, particularly those of the less developed countries, sometimes called the Fourth World. I cannot refer, even superficially, to many of the other proposals of the new international economic order. They include Third World representation in the world's financial agencies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They also advocate international monetary reform. They propose a world economic authority under the United Nations, equal in status to its political arm. These are profoundly transforming suggestions, and require a new Bretton Woods Conference. The proposals were motivated by a burning desire to lift from poverty a deprived two-thirds of the world, but it is now evident that changes in the world economy are needed also for the maintenance of the standard of life of our own country and the other developed nations. Our unemployment, our inflation, the threats to our housing, schools and hospitals will be overcome only in an international pattern. Raise the standard of life of two-thirds of the world's population, and you create demands for our exports which will absorb our unemployed. I appeal for the Government to respond.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, sits down, may I ask him two questions? My first question is, has he heard of OPEC? Secondly, has he calculated what percentage fall in the average real income in wages in this country his proposals would entail?


My Lords, first of all, of course I have heard of OPEC.


My Lords, there was no—


Order! Order! My Lords, may I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, is out of order in speaking from the Bishops' Benches.


My Lords, of course I have heard of OPEC. If the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, had listened to my speech, he would have noted that I made reference to the oil countries which will contribute to the proposed Common Fund. As to the extent of the changes which will be brought to our standard of life if these proposals are carried out, I cannot possibly say. Not even an economist of the calibre of the noble Lord himself would be able to answer that question.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for bringing this profoundly important question before your Lordships' notice. Having got no very encouraging answer to the Question he asked Her Majesty's Government almost exactly a month ago on the Common Fund, proposed at Nairobi during the last meeting of UNCTAD, the noble Lord now seeks to establish the Government's intentions in a wider field, and has asked a Question and in part suggested in measured tones what the answer to it should he. The noble Lord entered into no great detail, and I do not propose to follow him even to that level of the nuts and bolts of the question, because I think in this Chamber, at this juncture, what should concern us is the attitude of mind in which the answer to his question should be formulated.

The noble Lord asks his question at a time when the attitude of the Government to the developing world is a matter of close and critical interest to a very wide audience. I believe it is subject to a far closer scrutiny abroad than it is at home, and I fully expect that the reply from the noble Lord will be read with greater attention and by more people overseas than it will be at home. That audience was soured and rendered disillusioned, rightly or wrongly, by the role our representatives played in Nairobi. I hope I can persuade him to reassure them in his reply.

My Lords, the smallness of the audience at home may be a sad commentary on our preoccupation with our domestic difficulties, but it should not deter the noble Lord from a forthright answer. What he says will fall upon ears which, although they are distant, are far from deaf, and far from few. The policy which he will enunciate is a matter of moment, not only to a great number of people in distant lands, but also to our own people in the not so very distant future.

My Lords, to many of your Lordships it will seem that the serious economic difficulties in which we find ourselves make this a bad time at which to consider overseas aid and other aspects of our relationships with the underdeveloped world as a subject, let alone the larger and graver matter of a new world economic order, which naturally follows upon it. When our own ship is leaking so badly, who are we to throw a line to anyone else? Yet the true qualities of a people are shown at times of stress, and our ship has a great deal more freeboard than many others that are, if I may so phrase it, equally at sea. At a time like this, in a debate like this, there is a great danger that we will stand too close to the canvas, see too much of the detail of our own immediate predicament, and so mistake entirely what is our national tradition and role.

My Lords, there is a kind of symmetry in history. For every great movement there is an echo, an answer or a continuation. I believe that we now stand at the conjunction of one such movement, one such arch, if you like, in our own national history, and the parabola which is its proper counterpart. Many of your Lordships will share with me a pride in the achievements of our forefathers. They went out into the world as explorers, as merchant venturers, as privateers, as soldiers and sailors, and they built an empire. It is not fashionable to take pride in this now, but that is partly out of a proper wish to avoid wounding the pride and the sensibilities of those nations whom once we treated with harshness and little respect, and it is also because people enlightened and intelligent in all respects but this, and in this sense wrong-headed people, persist in judging the deeds of the past by the moral standards of the present, by the highest moral standards at that. It took courage, as well as cupidity, to establish for the first time a trade with the East Indies, in ships in which we would not today trust ourselves to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight. It took dedication, as well as arrogance, not merely to build up but to maintain the successor State to the Mogul Empire in India. I will not offer your Lordships a treatise upon the history of the British Empire. I will merely say that a great many of those who built it, and who built it very often in the teeth of furious armed opposition from the evolved European military powers, were by the standards of their contemporaries humane. By any standards a lot of them were heroic, and, furthermore, quite a number of those who subsequently administered it, in humble as well as in exalted office, were men seriously dedicated to serve as well as to rule.

But all that, my Lords, is gone, and bears inevitably and rightly a very different complexion when seen through the eyes of those whose forebears lived and often suffered as its subjects, just as it looks very different through our own eyes opened over the generations by Wilberforce, by the philanthropists, and even by Lord Durham who stood at the junction of old Empire and new Commonwealth. It may give little solace but will serve none the less to put things in truer perspective if I say simply that the English chimney boy was by and large treated a great deal worse by his English master in London than many of his contemporary Indian bearers were treated by their English masters in Delhi. The comparison does not diminish the sufferings of either, but it gives a common denominator to the sufferings of these various peoples. It is the times that have changed, and we with them.

Whatever our judgment of those events—and they do colour our approach to this issue in political terms, I regret to say—it does not matter whether the chapter was one of unsullied glory, as a few still believe, of unrelieved exploitation or, as I believe, an amalgam of the two. The fact is that from these small islands the British people went out and by trade, by conquest, by exploration, by diplomacy and by war, whether by means fair or foul, they became the rulers of a great part of the world. They went out, they took, they built, and latterly they withdrew. That is the first great parabola at whose end we stand. Like the parabola of a boomerang, it soared outward only to return to our native soil, but the pattern is not complete. We stand now at a crossroads, and at a loss. For the first time at the end of two titanic world wars, separated by a period of desperate economic and social insecurity, there is nothing to distract us from the fact that we have lost an empire and replaced it with nothing. I do not believe that that nothing, that preoccupation with parochial difficulties or even with the birthpangs of Europe, represents our true destiny.

The parabola which I have described lays upon us a duty to complete its counterpart. We have taken and we must give. We who want out in our ships, our armies, our commissions and our companies right around the world, should know better than any other what the needs of that world are. The chapter of empire is over, but if we now close the book, what a sad if glorious waste it will all have been. We went out, we built, we returned, but let us not abandon the lands where the bones and indeed the hearts of so many of our countrymen's ancestors are buried. We more than any nation on earth know that we have it in us to build, and to build not just at home but worldwide. We have learned much also about the common humanity of man. I do not believe that the pattern of history will be complete or our destiny fulfilled until in the fullness of time we have gone out again and helped others to build a world that is founded on justice, the only secure foundation for the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, upon it depends the standard of our own lives as well as those of the under-developed two-thirds of the world.

This does not mean—and I do not wish to be misunderstood in this—that we should instantly drain the coffers of the Bank of England. That would ruin overnight our capacity to contribute to a new order. Nor does it mean that we should transfer overnight the bulk of our manufacturing capacity or even of our technological knowledge abroad. That would have the same result, and a resort to either policy would in addition lead to the downfall of the Government who proposed it. But it does mean that we must recognise two things. The first is this. If we do not treat the developing nations—the nations in which a drought does not just mean that you cannot wash the car or water the garden, as it does here, as we have recently discovered, but where it means that you cannot graze your cattle or even feed your children—with common humanity and fairness, if in effect we say, "Let your people die", then one day their children may say those same fell words to ours. And in a world subject to a conflict of ideologies between the super-Powers, in which nuclear weapons proliferate, in spite of international treaties, among their hangers-on, that is a terrible legacy to leave to children in any or every country. Let us remember that first. Let us remember next that by and large nations get a good deal of what they deserve. Whether a man be a pacifist or a militarist, it is very hard for him to deny that what makes a nation great is in the long run moral fibre, the courage to act upon principle even in the face of adversity.

I said at the outset that this might seem a bad time in economic terms to discuss a new world order. But I believe that it is in fact a good time. What is required of us now is no great deed of heroic self-sacrifice, it is merely the resolution to take one small step in the direction of a just and stable world. It is not for a revolutionary but for an evolutionary step that I ask, which symbolises our willingness to continue along that path which leads to security in economic terms for the poor South and hence also the rich North of the world which we inhabit. To go any great distance down that path requires the support not only of your Lordships, not merely of politicians; it requires the support and the understanding of the British people as a whole. This it will take time and effort to secure, and I believe that politicians are not properly the only people to secure it. There is need for what is somewhat dauntingly called "development education", and resources should be found from within whatever budget can be made available to this end. The Government should not abandon the voluntary agencies to this task but offer them such council, such assistance and such finance as they can afford within committed resources. We are talking now in terms not of millions but only of tens of thousands of pounds. We are talking of allocations, if need be, within existing budgets, money to finance the education of opinion in this country. That is a small, but I believe a seminal expenditure which I would welcome.

But that alone is not in the long run enough. We need, as I say, a small but a significant and a symbolic step on the world as well as upon the domestic stage, and the time is ripe for the first. The earnest of our good intentions would be seen by the rest of the world, and by ourselves, in the priority which Her Majesty's Government accord in their review of public expenditure to our overseas aid programme in comparative terms. Whether in cash or in other resources, be it remembered, that represents the degree of our commitment to a cause which may be unpopular in the short term but will be vital—and I use the word advisedly—in the long. We have reached a cross-roads. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, with the rest of the Government, stands upon it. I hope they have the courage and good sense to take the right turning, and, by acting in concert with Europe, to multiply the force of what they plan to do.

6.30 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I must apologise for inflicting two speeches on your Lordships in one afternoon, but I hope that this one also will be a short one. I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in the Question he has asked, because to my mind it is, as he rightly said, one of the vital matters that must be decided, in this country and in the world, for our future, and the sooner we can get a clear declaration from the Government of their policy the sooner will the clouds begin to clear.

First, with all humility, I should like to question one point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. He did not use quite the same words on this occasion, but on the last occasion, on 22nd June, he said at column 262 of the Official Report: With extraordinary unanimity, the developing countries have now prepared an integrated plan for a new world economic order. With all humility, can we really call it a plan? I have read a good deal of the voluminous document that came from Manila. Objectives were expressed in rather general terms, and those objectives have been refined to some extent at Nairobi. But how to achieve those objectives, whether it is possible to achieve those objectives, are matters still to be discussed and determined. As I think all noble Lords will agree, these problems are extraordinarily difficult. If I may express a personal view, I should have thought it almost impossible to solve them in enormous international conferences. But at any rate we must see what can be done.


My Lords, would the noble Viscount allow me to intervene? He referred to statements made at Nairobi and elsewhere. I wonder whether he has seen the very detailed and constructive plan which is in the Manila Declaration, which has been signed by these countries?

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I have the Manila Declaration. I think it must be the same one. It was held in Manila on 7th February 1976. No, I am sorry, that is the date of circulation. Anyway, I think it may be the same document.


My Lords, I think my copy is much larger.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I will confer with the noble Lord afterwards. May I refer to something that the noble Lord, Lord Oram, said at the last debate on 22nd June, which I liked very much. He said at column 283: As I have said, someone has to look at the paths rather than at the stars, … I like that expression because it brings us down to earth. Translating these objectives into a workable plan will, I am sure, need all the ingenuity and skill that men can apply from their different standpoints, and indeed from all quarters—a spirit of goodwill and a determination to find a solution.

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, comes to reply he will be able to confirm that the Government have that good will towards the proposals—and this is echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said—and also that the Government will be ready to contribute constructive help in the discussions which will follow. We are all aware that we are not, as a nation, as rich as we were, but we have in our public service an accumulation of knowledge and experience that can surely be of use in these difficult discussions. Perhaps, as one of the great colonial Powers of the past, we have in this respect a special measure of responsibility too.

I believe that for those better off to help those in a worse position is a moral duty. In spite of the troubled times in which we find ourselves, we must recognise that we are still infinitely better off than those people about whom the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has been speaking this evening. Not only do we have a moral duty, but we would also, I think, show political wisdom in doing this because the problems of the Third World, unless they are solved, will leave a terrible legacy for our grandchildren.

I should like to mention the words of President Nyerere in an address which he gave to the Royal Commonwealth Society towards the end of last year. He spoke of the demand of the Third World countries on the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, set out so clearly. He said: As far as we are concerned the only question at issue is whether the change comes by dialogue or confrontation. If we, as the developed nations, fail to find an acceptable solution to these problems by discussion, we shall inevitably come to a confrontation, the consequences of which none of us can possibly foresee, but we can be quite sure that they will be disastrous for us and for many others in this world.

If then it is, as I believe it to be, both politically wise and morally right to offer from our comparative richness help to those who are in a much worse plight than ourselves, then Government and Parliament have a heavy task ahead of them. Here I take up a point that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made. This heavy task is to lead, to persuade, to educate the people of this country on the need to forgo some advances that we might otherwise make in our material standard of living so as to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

There is no alternative. We must face the fact that we cannot give any worth-while help in this direction unless we hurt ourselves, and we have to face up to that. Just soaking the rich, if there were any more scope for that in this country, would not provide the tiniest measurable fraction of what is needed in even one of the many countries that are in distress, so it is no good looking in that direction. We have to face the fact that if we are to do our duty—and, as I have said, I believe it is politically wise to do so also—we have to face, if not an immediate reduction in our standard of living, at least forgoing some advantages that we might gain in the future.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, suggested that if you could once raise the standard of living of these millions abroad this would create new trade upon which, in due course, our employment and our prosperity would increase. But I think that the timing here is extremely difficult, and I should have thought, although I did not completely follow the interjection of the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, that what he was getting at is, how do the sums work out. This is one of the many matters which we shall have to study very carefully, and which I hope the Government will study.

I should like to make one more quotation in this context from President Nyerere. He was speaking on this very subject when he said: Without hesitation or apology I assert that if the wealthy nations still have an ambition for material growth and greater consumption, then they need to ask themselves whether they are serious in their desire to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries and to eradicate poverty from the earth. We should contemplate those words very carefully. Let us not think that we can make any worthwhile contribution to the needs of the poor and under-privileged without feeling it. Do the Government accept the need to do all we possibly can to help the nations in what I think Lord Brockway called the Fourth World, and even those in the Third World, the nations which are so much poorer than ourselves, recognising that it will hurt us to do so and that we will have to give up something that we might otherwise have liked to do in order to do what is our plain duty?

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I ask for the indulgence of the House as this is the first time that I have spoken to your Lordships. I rise to protect the Third World from the usurpations of it which the First and Second Worlds have produced. The Third World is the world; the First and Second Worlds are the cold war and our first duty is to the Third World. Our duty is to keep it fed and thriving. Once you get this idea into your head and your policy treads nimble-toed back to a solid stance, you are on your feet again. Really, in conscience, we shall not have fulfilled our duty to the Third World until we have spent as much annually on feeding it as we at present spend annually on defence. Helping it with investment, so far as development goes—where this is desired by the Third World—is likewise our duty.

You are not telling me that Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union cannot together feed India and Pakistan, because they can. Why, then, are they not doing so? Give the Ministry of Overseas Development a world buyer of food surpluses who can travel round wherever there is a food surplus with funds to purchase it and give the food surplus concerned either to the Third World Government concerned or to Oxfam and World Aid to remove famine. It is in the power of the First and Second World Governments to remove famine and to end hunger as a menace to man. Let them do so, let them not hesitate and let funds be supplied for this purpose. You need a food buyer for the United Kingdom, a food buyer for the European Economic Community and a food buyer for the dollar area and the fate that you do not want is the fate you have visited on the Argentine. A few years ago the Argentine had a beef surplus. You left it unbought. The Argentine, as a result, suffered inflation and economic stagnation and, as a result of those, it suffered its present near-Fascism. You should not have abandoned the Argentine or its beef surplus. You should have bought it for the underdeveloped nations.

I have said enough to indicate what ought to be the defence of the Third World so far as economic policy is concerned. It is for you to walk in the way of truth and righteousness and support that policy. Remember, you will not have done so until you spend as much on feeding the Third World annually as you at present spend on defence—as much on feeding people as on killing them. Defeat the usurpations of the First and Second Worlds against the Third World, feed the human race and end the cold war and then your feet will be treading the path of the right policy; your policy will have virtue and will prevail. Neglect the Third World and continue with your present policy of nonsensical cold war competitiveness and you will never get anywhere—nor will the human race. End these nonsensical competitions and spend on food rather than on killing people.

There is enough food in the United States and Russia to feed India and Pakistan. Let them do so. Let them give up their hostilities and feed people, and all the parts of Africa where there is endemic famine could be fed as well. Concentrate on food and not on war and you will win; show that Lord Boyd Orr did not live in vain. Use world food surpluses to feed starving nations and do not stop until you have done so. Let your food buyer roam the world with funds at his disposal and you will win. Now heed the Third World's requests economically. Do not brush them aside. Let us hope that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the Third World proposals for a new economic order is friendly and that attention is paid to the Third World. Let the First and Second Worlds be brushed aside, end the cold war, concentrate on food and not on killing, and you will win.

A great prize stands to be gained; the abolition of hunger. Make for it and do not stop until you win the prize. Then, when you have won it and when more is spent annually on feeding people than on defence, you will be able to congratulate yourselves and shout "Huzzah!" at the edifice of the international welfare state which you will then have constructed. After all, these proposals amount to no more than the construction of an international welfare state—the extension of the Welfare State to the international sphere.

I have said enough to indicate where the right path is. Let us hope that Her Majesty's Government have the strength to walk it. All that we can do is urge them to do so; urge them to spend money on a food buyer who carries with him funds equal to the funds at present spent on defence, funds which he spends on food, food which he gives to the Third World nations, thus ending famine everywhere. He should not leave out Latin America, where there is much famine, just because people ordinarily think of the Third World as India and Africa. He should spend as much on ending famine in Latin America as he spends on ending it elsewhere. He should not stop until his task is done.

As I have said, give the Ministry of Overseas Development a world buyer of food surpluses who can travel around the world buying them. Open the grain stocks of Chicago and its meat supplies to India and Pakistan. Do not stop until everyone is fed. Cause Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union to cease to be the First and Second Worlds and cause them to side with the Third World first. Then the cold war will go and the world will return to itself. The Third World will no longer be so styled but will be called "The World", which it is. The First and Second Worlds will then have disappeared and there will remain the Third World, which is The World. Let us hope that Her Majesty's Government will heed it and not stop heeding it. Let us hope that they will give themselves no peace until they have heeded the Third World. Let us hear no more of neglect but only of fulfilment. Let us see famine and hunger banished from the world; we have the power to see that happen. Do not stop short but go on until the food buyer appears everywhere and until the national estimates annually on defence are totally eclipsed by the estimates for what is spent on food, food for the Third World countries.

If Italy and Greece should be called Third World countries, then listen to them. Let your policy be strong, useful and consistent. Let it be a continuing policy of feeding the Third World and let us see it done in practice with enough publicity to allow the public to know that something is being done, and properly. Then people will have confidence in your Third World policies, because at present they have very little. By continuing diligence and effort, Her Majesty's Government could recover our confidence and could show, by appointing a food buyer, that they intend to get something done. Then we will know that there will be prompt famine relief wherever famine occurs and that Her Majesty's Government have the situation well in hand. Then we will have confidence that the Government have indeed heeded the Third World. It remains for me only to move that the food buyer be appointed. I do so move.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on his maiden speech, the sentiments of which I fully endorse, and I hope that we shall hear him speak on many occasions in the future. I wish to follow, as invariably I do, the line taken by my noble friend Lord Brockway in the powerful arguments which he put forward. However, I will not repeat or recapitulate the points he adduced, but simply point out that we are looking tonight for a statement of the Government's position so that we may at least have an idea of what our real posture is.

As Lord Brockway pointed out, there have been great inconsistencies. For example, I believe that in our overseas aid programme we are behaving very sensibly. I feel that we have now reached the point, which we should have reached many years ago, of directing our overseas aid to the poor, to the poorest of the poor in most cases, and to seeing that, by raising standards at the bottom levels of countries, we are at least removing the kind of thing that was developing and which may have produced the disenchantment with aid policies in general, where the profits of development were manifestly going to the rich and were not fulfilling their objective of removing the destitution of the poor. On that, Her Majesty's Government have been very sound indeed, and what aid we have available, and which I hope will be maintained—I hope it will not be cut in the present processes—should be directed wisely in that direction. This situation we applaud; at the same time we applaud our initiative in the Lomé Convention and, above all, we applaud the position which was taken by my right honourable friend Sir Harold Wilson in Kingston, Jamaica.

I want to know, as I am sure do all of us, what happened between Kingston and Nairobi? Where did we lose our way? Whatever the facts behind the scenes may have been, and whatever issues may have been discussed or have failed to have been discussed in something we call generically "the Government", why did we have a situation in which we came up with a policy which put us wrong in the eyes of the people we should be trying to impress? We should not only be doing so in terms of the recognition that we are a great country and have a great past, with the responsibility which goes with that, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out. This is not somewhere where we should be walking out on our destiny. It is a moment when we should be thinking out the nature of that destiny. I have said before, and I repeat, that I have been anti-colonial and anti-imperial all my adult life, but I do not stand in this House as the pall bearer of the British Empire. I stand, as I hope we all stand, as the trustee of the heirs of that Empire, not reproaching ourselves with our failures, but making sure not only that we help to indemnify them—that is always a provocative suggestion—but that we help them to fulfil their own true destiny.

One thing is manifest in all our treatment of overseas problems. One cannot achieve the objects one is determined to achieve with the best intention in the world—and here I grant ourselves and the Government good intentions—if one is not seen to be doing it; that is to say, if one is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Even in the rhetoric of this debate, one cannot. So what we failed to do at Nairobi we redeemed in some part during the latter stages, but not enough to impress those who were disillusioned and disenchanted. But we did achieve something. Believe me, I am not impeaching my colleagues on the Front Bench, both of whom I know to be as completely devoted as anyone to what I am saying, including Fenner Brockway and myself; but can we get from Her Majesty's Government an answer to the question, why are we inconsistent in our position? The posture which we are trying to define here tonight is very important because it means that not only will we not be able to reinforce the developing countries and the Third World by anything we do, but also that we shall not have the influence with which to do it. We have lost the initiative. If we have been dragged at the chariot wheels of the United States, Japan and West Germany, heaven help us! Heaven help us in our relations with the developing countries! This is the last position we should be in.

As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, while John Boyd-Orr may not have lived in vain, he appears to have done so for the simple reason that everything he was saying 30 years ago is what we are saying now. He said it without any equivocation and it was as clear as any of the arguments put up at Manila. It was exactly the same proposition. It was the new economic order but seen as something which, demonstrably, could be done in direct influence and with the momentum we hoped we had from the common cause among the allies. Everything he said and everything which came out of discussions of the World Food Board, which was the control of the kind of commodity and revolving fund situation which the new economic order is working for, was possible and feasible. It was shot down by the conventional economists who have been shooting this down ever since. We lost our way because we could not see that our best interests lay in so organising the world that one could have exactly what we have been talking about. One could have had the buffer stock, controlled prices, regulated incentives to producers everywhere, including peasant producers in the developing countries, not merely the big corn growers in the United States. One could have had all that. It was all there. It was all spelt out as clearly as anything in the Manila Declaration.

We are 30 years after that. Where did we lose our way with this momentum and with the capacity that we apparently had at least to envisage, to direct and to lead the developing world? We lost the opportunity because we could not understand where our best interests lay. The death of the World Food Board was simply a result of the fact that we, as a consumer country, thought that we could buy cheaper and that the world food situation would improve. The United States calculated that world food prices would rise and that they would make a profit. The result was that we had no control, no buffer stocks, no means of a basis of commodity direction. Both of us were wrong. The world food situation and the 30 years in between demonstrate that we were wrong. The conventional prophets were basically wrong. The greedy people were wrong, whether in the interests of people in general as consumers or in the interests of profit-making on the side of the producers.

We have had this before us for 30 years. The situation now is that we are seeing things as they are seen through the eyes of the Third World. They are coming up with the proposals which we could have initiated, supported and sustained throughout these years. One must not misunderstand: this is hindsight with a terrible sense of prophetic judgment. If we have been that wrong over the last 30 years, heaven help us if we enter the next 30 years as blindly as we have done here!

I agree to some extent with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that the new economic order is a rhetorical document. But it is being spelt out. The Manila Convention was a great advance on what we heard at the original six special Conferences of the United Nations. This is being spelt out by the people who make up the Third World. They are growing up. That is what I am trying to emphasise. The new countries are growing up. They know where their best interests lie. At the seventh special Conference there was no rhetoric, no invective, no neo-colonialism. They talked about the concrete problems with which they had to deal. At Nairobi this time we had a snub in the sense that what they see is something with which, manifestly, we should have been prepared and on which we should have been ready to negotiate. We eventually agreed rather grudgingly, as has been pointed out. We should have seized the opportunity with both hands, because this was the developing countries' approach to us. We should have responded to them.

If we miss this crossroads where we are now, we shall be in a very serious situation. The question was raised, who is to pay for it? This is not—if I may say so in the absence of my noble friend Lord Balogh—something to be looked at in conventional, old-fashioned economic terms. This is not the moment to say, "Yah! OPEC!" OPEC is involved in this, however they resolve it with OPEC, however OPEC resolves it with us. It is all there for discussion. It ought to be, and we shall be very unfortunate if we fail now at what I feel—and on this I follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton—is a real moment of truth and, above all, something which is not just a question of looking back on a glorious history, maybe with some repentance. It is not a question of recrimination; it is a question of enlightened foresight in which we know we have to survive in a world in which we had better count our friends and count them quickly.

7 p.m.


My Lords, I am in a very fortunate position in that much of what I wanted to say has already been said, and therefore I shall not delay the House for long. I must thank my noble friend Lord Brockway for introducing this Unstarred Question and I wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on his very effective maiden speech. I look forward to our hearing much more from him; I like his philosophical approach to things.

I intended to ask the question which my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has in fact asked of the Government. Among my friends—I do not mean only among my Third World friends, but also among my Labour Party rank and file friends—the question was being asked: Was the Party really back-sliding on this issue? I put my name down on the list of speakers in order to ask the Minister that question quite straightforwardly, because when all is said and done the evidence is quite clear that the world is being divided further, rather than that the gap is closing. In fact, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider, not narrower, and so the old system had failed. There was this new suggestion from the Third World which it was expected a Socialist Government would grab. Many of the methods suggested are the methods which we are using internally to bridge the gap.

It occurred to many people, certainly to many of my rank and file friends in the Labour Party, that it is inexplicable that we cannot get from our Government a straightforward acceptance of the kind of things which are being asked for by the Third World. Therefore, I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder asked the question which I had in mind and so I do not need to ask it myself. However, I wish to ask the Minister to explain something to me. If it is right and proper for us to get together to pool our labour in order to get the right price for it, why is there anything wrong in people who merely produce (and therefore that is what they are selling) coming together to get the best price for it? Again, there is the question of tying prices and wages, which is what we are trying to do. We are saying, "Let's keep prices down in order to keep wages down. If that is right in the national field what is wrong with it in the international field, and therefore what is so wrong with indexation?

Again, there is the question of the use of the collective fund in order to make sure that we keep the farmers' wages up while we keep food prices low to the consumer, as we used to do in terms of agricultural policy before we joined the EEC. If that is right in the nation, what is so wrong with it internationally? These are the kind of questions on which I should like some answer. It strikes me that somewhere or other either I am not following the philosophy properly or the philosophy is not being translated into action in the proper way. These are the kind of questions I want to ask.

In particular I want to ask why, when we initiated something at Kingston and there was a committee of experts which came out with reports signed by one of our members (because we had a representative on it), we appeared not to be on that side but on the other? These matters are difficult for ordinary Party members to understand, and I hope that when he replies the Minister will be able to reassure us.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate and I am most grateful, as are all noble Lords, to my noble friend Lord Brockway for once more giving us an opportunity of retreading this question. There was an exhaustive debate on all these matters three weeks ago, and today we have heard much in repetition of that debate. A number of speeches have been addressed to the Government to express their good will towards the objective of narrowing the gap between the developed and the developing, the rich and poor, nations. Indeed, one or two noble Lords have positively beseeched one to assure them of this. But it does not need to be said; it is so easy to express good will in general philosophical terms. Compassion is not enough. We must deal with the computers.

As my noble friend said in reply to the debate three weeks ago, plenty of people will stare at the stars. We need people to look at the paths, the practical avenues, to do something effective to help the impoverished millions whom of course everybody wishes to help. I have been asked to express good will. I do so. It is the easiest part of my task. I have spent my life working for it, and to be challenged as a Member of a Government as if we were villains in the dock, is a little hard to take when it is a country and a Government who have refused to sign, easily and freely, documents which will put you in good with these millions, but on the other hand insist that the hard thinking and the hard work needs to be done by somebody; and I shall come to some of the practical points in a moment.

I was asked by the noble Viscount: do we accept the need to do all we possibly can to help the developing countries? Of course we do! We do more than that. We have worked harder than anybody else on the practical difficulties of really advancing in this complex and difficult field. Then there was the statement that of course we must all be ready to sacrifice and to hurt ourselves. I say "Amen!" to that. I hope we mean it.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made an admirable maiden speech which I did hear although I was momentarily transferred to the developing world in the experts' box. The noble Earl made a concrete proposal that we should spend on aid as much as we spend on defence. I think I quote him correctly. Does the noble Viscount agree? Does the noble Lord, Lord Elton, agree? That was the one firm, clear suggestion as to how much we should do in implementation of this fine philosophy which, nevertheless, cannot be effected by assertions of good will, by a readiness to do everything we can. It is time that we realised that an ounce of practical work on these matters is worth a ton of idealistic asseveration. The latter feeds nobody in the impoverished world.

My noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder in an excellent speech, as usual, was fair to this country and to this Government. However, he asked the question: what went wrong—if I quote him rightly—between Kingston and Nairobi? Nothing went wrong. Indeed, if your Lordships are prepared to stay here for some considerable time I might refer to a list which I have here of the things—practical things—that were done between Kingston and Nairobi. There is the transfer of real cash and asistance that is now happening as a result of Kingston, on the initiative of the former Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson; of the former Foreign Secretary, now Prime Minister; and of the Commonwealth. If there is no time, I shall retain this useful note and make it available to any noble Lord who wishes to consult the actual record.

My Lords, major elements in our Kingston proposals were in fact carried over into the position adopted by the developed countries collectively at Nairobi, and were incorporated into the commodity resolution adopted by that conference. The very success of the Kingston initiative limited the room for the United Kingdom proposals at Nairobi; and it should be borne in mind, by the way, that the proposal for a Common Fund—and I will deal with the question of a Common Fund in a moment—which the developing countries pressed at the conference, did not figure in the Kingston ideas. There was no going away from the Kingston ideas. Indeed there was the promotion of them at Nairobi, as anyone will see if they take the time and patience to read the record, and not pick up headlines here and there and toss them about as though they were the true interpretation of what happened at this conference.

My noble friend Lord Brockway presented a dramatic scenario of the UNCTAD conference, representing the four delegates of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan as the defendants. I am glad to reassure him that at no stage did the British delegates decide to reject the compromise. Indeed, they sought it energetically throughout, and much of the credit for achieving it goes to them. They referred home for instructions. This is normal and natural. I would hope that delegates to any conference, and certainly one of this import and importance, would at any point of option refer home for clear instructions or confirmation. The answers on the Common Fund, taxation and debts were as I propose to give them now. May I at this point make it absolutely clear to the House—I have been asked for reassurances—that the United Kingdom intends to play a full and constructive part in the forthcoming discussions, both on individual commodities and in the programme of preparatory meetings in advance of next year's conference on the Common Fund.

Of course, as a responsible member of a conference that we assume wants to do something rather than make diplomatic gestures towards the suffering world, we had practical reservations, and it was right that we should express them. It is much better for the developing world that the real difficulties of restructuring the world economy—it is no less—should be made absolutely clear. There is not a national economy in Western Europe, the most sophisticated part of the world, which is not having its serious difficulties about restructuring itself, let alone the world economy; so it is no service to the developing world to trot out these resounding idealistic slogans and to connive at a feeling of expectation, so that when you get down to the worktable you are confronted with people who have been talked into unreality, the unreality of expectation.

This deeply worries me. As I have said, I have spent my life promoting precisely these policies, but in the last five to ten years the task has been made immeasurably more difficult because of the propaganda, the confrontation, the ideology, the philosophising, the endless theorising, about this. We know that Bretton Woods proved to have its deficiencies, but for a long time it has made it possible for the strong to help the weak. I agree with my noble friend that its genesis, of course, was in the world as it then was, and that it had to be replaced with something better, but at least Bretton Woods was a practical arrangement. It was based on practical thinking and practical organisations. This, my Lords, is what we must do to replace it.

Now may I go on to the three main points that my noble friend Lord Brockway quite rightly raised and to which others have also referred. I take first, following the order in which they were raised, the question of commodities. The question of commodities was in fact the central issue before the conference, and the conference adopted by consensus a resolution establishing an integrated programme for commodities, and named them. The main elements in this programme are a series of preparatory meetings followed, where appropriate, by negotiations on particular commodities of export interest to developing countries, and preparatory meetings on a Common Fund to be followed, hopefully, by a negotiating conference on such a Fund. It would not help the realisation of a credible and working arrangement that everybody should stop expressing their informed reservations about how this should be done in case they should offend a number of countries diplomatically. This is the wrong sort of diplomacy. The true diplomacy is one of frankness.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade indicated in his Statement in another place on 8th June, the United Kingdom Government very much welcome the proposed programme of action on individual commodities. This has been said; it was said on 8th June. Not only has it been said, but we have moved to practical action on it. The products selected as the subjects for early discussion were chosen by the developing countries themselves in the Manila Declaration. I am now reading: The United Kingdom will play a constructive role in this practical programme of work in fulfilment of the Kingston initiative on commodities". It is a matter for very close discussion how you do this, whether it be in terms of a Common Fund, a central fund or guarantees as to buffer stocks. That is a matter for practical, frank discussion, and we shall not shie away from it. We may be accused of dragging our feet. It is better to face accusations of that sort than to go into major discussions of this kind without having done the necessary homework.

On commodities and the Common Fund, my noble friend said on 22nd June that of course we have our doubts about the Common Fund as so far described. We do not underestimate the importance attached by the developing countries to the concept of a Common Fund, but we continue to have questions about the claimed objective benefits which a single Common Fund would provide and we doubt whether the case for such a fund can be effectively evaluated before the financial needs of individual commodity agreements can be more clearly foreseen. The resolution adopted in Nairobi recognised that there are differences of view on the objectives and modalities of such a fund. These differences of view exist among the developing countries—I repeat, among the developing countries—no less than among the industrialised nations.

It is the fashion, rather a kind fashion, not to mention this kind of thing. But, sooner or later, it must be faced that there are something like 150 countries, developed or developing, involved in this kind of discussion, and within both sections, developed and developing, there are wide varieties of views as to how these things ought to be done. The United Kingdom is one of them. It has from time to time its own views based on not inconsiderable experience and not a poor record of exertion and achievement in this field.

As to debts, after commodities indebtedness was one of the most important topics discussed at UNCTAD 4. The consensus resolution that came out of the conference avoids the earlier proposals for generalised measures of debt relief and for an international debt conference. I have every respect for Lord Brockway's advocacy of an international conference on debt. I know that he will listen very carefully to what I have to say on this matter. We are not convinced that this is the right way to go about this massive problem of debt among the developing countries. The circumstances vary so much. In my former incarnation at the Foreign Office I had, as a penalty or a pourboire, the task of engaging in the re-scheduling of debts owed by certain countries to this country. No two cases were the same—and I had a great many. It was fascinating in its way and also fearful in that there did not seem to be a kind of generality of technique that one could evolve in dealing with one case after another.

I join with what my noble friend Lord Oram said when he replied to the debate three weeks ago as to how we should deal with the question of indebtedness. To my noble friend Lord Brockway I would say this. The developed countries have pledged themselves, and we with them, to give quick and constructive consideration to individual requests by developing countries suffering from debt service difficulties—in particular the least-developed and the most seriously affected developing countries. I think that if one looks more carefully at the debt position one will see a kind of league table of disservitude and an across-the-board approach under a general "threshological" umbrella. It is not only impracticable but indeed unserviceable in this direction. There are some countries which need fairly immediate attention in regard to their debt position. That is what this means. It is common sense. Let us translate it into common action as soon as possible.

In addition there will be further international discussion to determine features of past debt operations to go with relevant aspects of the present situation which could provide guidance for the future in dealing flexibly with individual cases. In short, there is at the moment no case law. We must build one up. When we have done that I think we can tackle this question of indebtedness, linking with it a sensible system of priorisation.

I pass now to indexation—blessed word!—if I may requote it in the company of a certain number of civil servants. My noble friend Lord Pitt was very eloquent about this. I know him well enough and I am so friendly with him that I am going to speak very firmly to him. Indexation, once more, is a kind of slogan. It looks so simple. You guarantee prices; you index them and you do that for the primary commodity countries in particular. You extend it to whatever developing countries produce or make. This is the end of it. The developed countries will be able to pay the indexed prices. However, the developing countries also buy those goods and would have to pay the indexed prices. Can that be overcome? Of course. But not like that.

If I may address myself to my noble friend directly, it is not quite enough to cry "Indexation" in this field. You need to look round the corner and see what the effect of that would be, not on the prices which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I, in this kind of country, would be prepared to pay, but the effect of it on the external balances of some of the very countries that we are seeking to help. Now indexation, in one form or another, may be the answer. It figured in the Kingston statement. Let us look at it. We related it more to Stabex. I hope that the House will forgive me for using this acronym. The resources of the English alphabet must be exhausted by now. I wish I had time to look at Stabex—stability of prices rather than precisely their guarantee. There is a difference. But it needs our best minds, our best endeavours, to get the right approach to this; otherwise we may do as much harm as good. I have dealt with that.

My Lords, although I am tempted to do so, I will not go into the field of technology. I will say this. Here again I join hands with my noble friend Lord Brockway. I always have. Figuratively, I have sat at his feet. Occasionally, now I have grown up, one or other of his feet is raised and I get a good kick when I reply from this Box. Well, that is the law of life. He has taught me a great deal and I reply to him in a spirit that I hope he will regard as being responsive. He is right about the transfer of technology, of machines and know-how. And with it, in the first stages at least, the men and women who know how, is probably as much at the heart of this as the transfer of cash. Both must be done. There is no simplistic option between the two; there is a mix that is necessary. I have always thought that the "deeps" of the problem are best tackled by creating, through a transfer of technology and technicians at least for a period, the means of viability for these developing countries.

The debate on technology at UNCTAD IV was notable for the amount of constructive work put in by both sides and the high level of agreement reached. Most attention was given to the international market for technology and the scope for international action in influencing the terms on which technology is transferred and, in particular, the role of a code of conduct. UNCTAD IV looked at this, not only at the need to transfer technology but to be very careful to see what happens to technology when it is transferred.

We have a picture of the starving millions. We have a number of examples of developed countries responding by a transfer of nuclear technology for the purpose of building up the standards of life of those toiling millions. We know for a fact that that technology was not so used. Dare we say it? We must say it! This is the basis of equality: that you speak out, otherwise you do not get anywhere. I put it to my noble friend—I know he agrees—that this role regarding a code of conduct will be very difficult indeed, especially in the nuclear field which is a field at least as susceptible of peaceful development as it is of destructive development. It was agreed at UNCTAD IV that work should go ahead with the drafting of such a code, with a view to its adoption by a United Nations Conference by the end of 1977. This country was very much in evidence in promoting that.

My Lords, I have kept the House too long. I hope that I have answered the central question put to me—which I was surprised to hear—as to whether Her Majesty's Government really do wish to do everything in their power to help the developing world. The answer is a simple and sincere, "Yes, of course". But I would be less than frank with the House if I did not enter here a necessary caveat. We cannot quarrel with the facts of the economic situation in this country. Thankfully, all the economic indicators show that this country is pulling itself up, gradually ascending the scale. In some respects it is overtaking comparable countries.

Given a little good will among ourselves and a little less unnecessary knocking of the achievements of this country, a little more real patriotism, speaking well of one's own sometimes, there is no reason why this country should not once more achieve a powerful and beneficial position among comparable countries in the world. Until it does, it must measure very carefully how it disposes its resources. We are engaged now in a further exercise to see where we can prune—not expand—public expenditure. Everybody of course is in favour of the reduction of public expenditure in general but never in particular. If we really mean to put this country on a firm financial and economic base we must face the fact that a reduction of expenditure across the board is necessary. I join with the noble Lord in agreeing with him that there is a kind of "most favoured purpose" clause involved here. I can make no commitment because it is not in my power to do so.

I have listened with great sympathy to what has been said about the moral and practical need. I take the point that it is not only a moral duty that the "haves" of the world should spare more than a tear for the "have-nots"; it is also practical, good economic sense. My noble friend could give us endless examples where aid in fact not only benefits the receiver, but provides work for the country that gives it. I well understand the morality and practicality of this when joined together to make a policy, and that, I assure the House, is the policy and purpose of the British Government.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down at the end of that admirable and lucid speech, and at the risk of spoiling the symmetry of it, may I ask him whether he took the points which I asked him by inference to reply to, that there is a great weight of persuasion to be done on the people who keep Governments in power and enable them to spend money; and whether he will look with favour to giving resources to voluntary agencies which pursue this aim in a responsible manner? I have an interest only in that I look with favour on these agencies; I hope that he does too.


My Lords, I fully agree that a tremendous amount of education remains to be done to persuade us all. None of us is over-sophisticated about this. When it comes to the point it is necessary to persuade everybody that there is an element of sacrifice here. The noble Viscount said that he did not believe that we could raise the necessary money by soaking the rich. I presume that he was not absolving the rich from sacrifice. Of course not. No true Liberal brought up in the traditions of 1908 or 1911 would for a moment adopt that attitude. Nobody can be absolved.

It is necessary, as the noble Lord has said, through our schools, universities, the media—some of the best things produced on the broadcasting and television media have been on this kind of subject—to put the point graphically and cogently. I take the point. I do not represent a Department, as the noble Lord knows, which has the disposal of educational resources. I used to. However, in expressing genuine sympathy with the purport and purpose of what he said, I can engage in the commitment to have further talks with my colleagues about this obvious necessity.