HL Deb 12 April 1983 vol 441 cc95-7

2.43 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what provisions have been made for further discussion of the proposals by the non-aligned nations for the establishment of a new international economic order.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the economic declaration issued by the recent non-aligned summit in New Delhi contains a number of proposals that are likely to be raised by non-aligned countries at UNCTAD VI, which meets in Belgrade in June. The non-aligned summit has requested Mrs Gandhi, as chairman of the movement, to arrange further contacts with the Governments of industrialised countries as she sees fit.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. May I ask whether he would not agree that the decisions at the new New Delhi conference should be very seriously considered, in view of the fact that they affect nearly two-thirds of the population of the world? In view of the comparative deadlock in the discussions between North and South over a period of 10 years, leaving 30 million people annually dying from hunger in the third world, would the Minister not agree that it is necessary to supplement the policy of aid with new economic relationships? In view of the fact that such relationships were decided on 40 years ago at Bretton Woods, before the new nations had their independence, is it not desirable to seek relationships based on partnership, rather than those weighted on the side of the industrialised nations—partnership which would include control of the financial institutions?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord asked me, first, whether the proposals put forward at the non-aligned summit do not show the need for a new international economic order. My answer to that is that I think that the present international economic and financial institutions have served the world well. The international financial institutions have coped with the recent strains in the world economy, and the Government believe that the present system should be strengthened and adapted to meet changing requirements as they arise. Uprooting the institutions which we already have would not, we believe, be in the interest of developing or industrialised countries. Secondly, the noble Lord asked me about the relationship between North and South. I very much hope that UNCTAD VI will not result in unproductive confrontation between North and South. I give the noble Lord an assurance that the British Government will certainly be ready to discuss proposals in a constructive and realistic manner.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that Her Majesty's Government believe in strengthening the existing agencies. Would the noble Lord not agree that one of the most important steps which could be taken would be to strengthen the IMF debt facility? Will he confirm that the facility has recently been strengthened, though only by a very small amount? Will he also confirm that the third world debt at present stands at about £626 billion? Can he say whether or not Her Majesty's Government are intending to make specific proposals at Belgrade to strengthen the facility, and can he also say whether this matter will be on the table at Williamsburg as well?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I must say that I am not sure that I would entirely agree that the IMF facilities have been increased only in a small way. My understanding is that IMF quotas are to be increased by 47 per cent., and the general arrangements fund—which I think is sometimes referred to as the GAB—is to be made available to non-industrialised countries if there is a threat to international financial institutions. I think that both of those things are valuable. So far as further moves on the IMF are concerned, this point must wait until we get to Belgrade for UNCTAD, but I give the noble Lord an assurance that we are now thinking very carefully indeed about how to approach the UNCTAD meeting, and of course we shall bear in mind what he has just said to me.

Lord Oram

My Lords, in regard to these matters, will not the Williamsburg conference be even more crucial than the UNCTAD conference, and will not all these questions of international economic policy be on the agenda at Williamsburg? Can the Minister say what will be the position about British representation at Williamsburg, if, as now seems likely, the conference coincides with a British General Election?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the state of the world economy and prospects for lasting recovery will most certainly be on the agenda for the Williamsburg summit. Any question of an Election taking place at that time is a matter for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, in wishing the Minister good fortune on his forthcoming visit, may I ask him whether the Government have reached a decision on the proposal which Mrs. Indira Gandhi has made to the British Government, and other governments, that Heads of State should meet at the United Nations' General Assembly in September to consider the world situation and review the decisions made at the UNCTAD conference? Will the industrialised nations consider this proposal when they meet at Williamsburg?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have no doubt that it will be considered, but we are full of meetings. We have the OECD ministerial meeting, UNCTAD and the Williamsburg summit. That is quite a lot to be going on with.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Lord consider two propositions and respond to them? Will he agree that the future influence of Britain in the world may very well be determined by our willingness to work with, instead of against, the non-aligned countries? Secondly, will he agree that one of the ways in which this country can emerge and dig itself out of the present recession is by working economically much more closely with the developing nations than it has done in the past?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the premise of the noble Lord's first question. I have already given Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos the facts, as I understand them, about the IMF. In addition, the World Bank is discussing a special action programme to speed up disbursements and, through structural lending, to enable developing countries to do more to improve their own economies—a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in the House about two weeks ago. Her Majesty's Government, whatever the party in power, play their part in the IMF and in the affairs of the World Bank. The finger cannot be pointed at the United Kingdom for failing to try to do its best through the international financial agencies. As the noble Lord knows very well, about 68 per cent. of our overseas aid goes to the poorest of the developing countries. That is as it should be.