HL Deb 02 August 1978 vol 395 cc1295-7

11.19 a.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 what plans they have to help to stabilise commodity prices.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we are playing an active part in the programme of work now under way in UNCTAD on the scope for international action to stabilise prices on a commodity-by-commodity basis.


My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the British Government have a special responsibility in this matter, in view of our Commonwealth commitments and also in view of the fact that low commodity prices not only impoverish the producers but also reduce British exports? Also, is she aware that as long ago as April the Secretary of State for Trade promised Commonwealth Ministers that the British Government would remove the obstacles to the Common Fund. What has been done since then?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, so far as the Government are concerned, we have consistently supported international efforts to stabilise commodity prices on a product-by-product basis, wherever this action is feasible or economic. This was the basis of our own initiative at Kingston as long ago as 1975. We welcome the international work programme on individual commodities that was set in hand at UNCTAD IV. So far as the Common Fund is concerned, we are hoping that there will be a further round of talks and discussions between the two groups of nations and we are hoping, tentatively at the moment, that that might be held in the latter part of November of this year.


My Lords, arising from the Minister's reply, may I ask whether the Government are now supporting a proposal of the Common Fund to stabilise prices, and particularly whether they are now in favour of governmental contributions to meet its cost?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, so far as the Common Fund is concerned, we stand by our commitment, already given, to establish it. We want to see the negotiations to this end resumed and, as I have said, we hope that they will resume in the latter part of November. So far as the question of whether we are prepared to make a direct financial contribution is concerned, we think that the commodity producers and consumers in international commodity agreements must remain the prime source of finance contributed by Governments to the fund. We consider that further international work is needed to establish whether any element of direct financing could be compatible with this principle which we have already accepted.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that this country, within the Community and therefore within the Lomé Convention, played a prominent part in introducing the first workable scheme for commodity price stabilisation in the form of STABEX? Does not the noble Baroness agree, contrary to what is inferred by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, that the responsibility lies with the Community, and ourselves within it. rather than with ourselves in relationship to Commonwealth countries in bilateral agreements, and does she realise that we accept the importance of commodity-by-commodity agreements, as vindicated by STABEX, as the basis for further progress?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords. I am delighted to have the noble Lord's support on this, and I agree with what he has said.


My Lords, supplementing what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, would the noble Baroness agree that as long ago as 1943 the Coalition Government in those days put forward a scheme for the stabilisation of commodity prices, a scheme rejected with contumely by the producing countries?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is so, and this Government have played their part in trying to establish this all through the years. We are still hopeful that we can make much more progress. It is an interesting sign that the Secretary-General of UNCTAD has now undertaken to reconvene the conference in November. Perhaps after November we shall have something more exciting to report.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the proposals put forward some years ago by the eminent and veteran economist, Mr. St. Claire Grondona, have never had an adequate answer from any British Government? In view of their great potential, would my noble friend undertake to have his proposals re-examined, since they may reveal a basis for a new kind of British initiative on these questions in international fora?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is certainly a very interesting suggestion, and I shall see that it is brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.


My Lords, in view of the intervention from the other side of the House, is my noble friend aware that, without in any way denigrating the Lomé Agreement, there are many very important commodities, particularly minerals, that have been excluded from the STABEX Agreement?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us who had the honour to sit on the commodity prices review—and we spent nearly two years upon it—paid particular attention to the Grondona proposals and gave them full discussion? If any Member of this noble House desires to see it, he can obtain a copy of the Blue Book from the Printed Paper Office.