HL Deb 17 July 1984 vol 454 cc1386-9

6.16 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th June be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the International Tropical Timber Agreement is part of the UNCTAD integrated programme for commodities. The main element in the agreement is the establishment of an International Tropical Timber Organisation; an effective focus, it is hoped, for co-operation and consultation between tropical timber producing and consuming countries. The agreement was laid before the House on 5th June. It was signed by the United Kingdom on 29th June.

The International Tropical Timber Organisation will seek to promote the expansion and diversification of world trade in tropical timber. The organisation will propose, approve, and seek finance for research and development projects in tropical timber, and will encourage forest industry and management. Furthermore, it will provide a forum for the dissemination of market information among producers and consumers.

The agreement contains no economic provisions, and the organisation, therefore, has no power to intervene in the market in order to influence the price of tropical timber.

The International Tropical Timber Agreement requires that the organisation be granted legal personality by all participating members, and that is the sole purpose of the draft order before your Lordships. It grants no other privileges, nor any immunity to the organisation. It is however, a necessary step towards enabling us to ratify the agreement.

The draft order before your Lordships does not relate to a headquarters agreement. The United Kingdom has offered to host the headquarters of the organisation, which is still to be established. Although it is likely to be some time before a decision on the location of the headquarters is taken, we need to ratify the agreement before 1st October 1984, when it is due to come into force. Our ratification of the agreement will help demonstrate our commitment to international co-operation in this area. I very much hope that your Lordships will approve this draft order, thereby signifying your recognition of the important work to be performed by the International Tropical Timber Organisation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th June be approved.—(Baroness Trwnpington.)

Lord Oram

My Lords, this is clearly a desirable order since the organisation to which it gives legal powers is clearly a desirable organisation. Many a time in your Lordships' House I have called attention to the importance to third world countries of trade in raw and processed materials, and increasingly it is important that these countries should not only export commodities in their raw state but process them before export and thus get the benefit of the added value. It seems to me that this new international organisation is designed to help the third world countries in that regard.

If the International Tropical Timber Organisation is successful in achieving the objectives set out in Article 1 of the agreement under which it is established, there is little doubt that tropical countries will be able to extract increased wealth from their forests as a result of the work of the organisation. I am glad to see that both in the list of objectives to which the noble Baroness referred and in the description of the projects which it is expected that the organisation will undertake, the development of forests and reafforestation take their place together with such activities as harvesting, logging and wood utilisation. I am also glad to see that one of the three committees of the organisation will be concerned specifically with reafforestation and with forest management.

I could not help feeling as I read through the agreement that the work of the organisation is going to be more concerned with cutting trees down and sawing them up and shipping them abroad than it will be with growing more trees and preventing the denuding of forest lands, which is a serious problem. I have seen it estimated that an area of forest the size of Austria and Albania combined is being lost every year and that, at this rate, by the year 2000 the forest land in the tropics will have shrunk by some 10 to 15 per cent. Therefore, that side of the problem to which the organisation will need to turn its attention is very important. This problem needs as much attention and as much research as does the problem of finding more efficient methods of utilisation and processing.

I hope—and I think we can expect—that a proper balance will be kept between the two aspects of the work of the organisation. I should therefore like to ask the noble Baroness for an assurance concerning the relative priorities that are likely to be given to different kinds of projects. This matter is dealt with briefly and in general terms in paragraph 8 of Article 23 of the agreement, but I wonder whether the noble Baroness can assure the House that it is likely that as much priority will be given to projects for reafforestation as is given to projects for harvesting, wood utilisation and processing. I hope that a balance will be struck between those two kinds of activities.

That is the only note of hesitation that I need to strike in connection with this order which, as I said at the outset, is a desirable order and one to which from this side of the House we give our general support.

6.25 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, we too, welcome this draft statutory instrument as a step towards ratification of the International Tropical Timber Agreement which I understand will take place in August. If I may, I will dwell on the agreement rather than the order itself which merely gives that legal personality to the organisation which Article 17(1) of the agreement requires. As the noble Baroness has said, the agreement is part of the UNCTAD integrated programme for commodities. Previous agreements in this series have included those on rubber, tin, cocoa, coffee and jute. Unlike previous agreements, with the exception of jute, this one does not include any provision for buffer stocking in order to stabilise the market. It is very largely a non-interventionist agreement.

However, we agree with its objectives and particularly those dealing with reafforestation (to which the noble Lord, Lord Oram, rightly attached such importance), the conservation of tropical forests and the maintenance of ecological balance in those regions. We welcome the provision of an effective framework for consultation and co-operation on this matter between the producer countries and the consumer countries and we hope that this cooperation can be extended to cover wider aspects of world economic policy, as we feel that such cooperation is quite essential for the future wellbeing of the planet we happen to live on. On a slightly less important note, we very much hope that the invitation to set up the headquarters in this country will be accepted; and we rather like the suggestion of the honourable Member for Hamilton that it should be in Edinburgh where the Forestry Commission have their headquarters.

There are, however, one or two questions that I should like to ask. First, do the Government intend to make a voluntary contribution to this special account; and, if so, how much? And will it come out of the existing overseas development budget? Secondly, can we assume that the non-interventionist nature of this agreement meets with the full approval of the producer countries? If so, presumably it will be on the grounds of practicality. Lastly, what other steps, if any, are the Government going to take to try to bring about a more stable commodity trade to the benefit of North and South alike, such as, for example, a speedy renegotiation of the sugar agreement?

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, before my noble friend answers, might I point out that we do give quite a lot of help for reafforestation through overseas aid, for instance, in Malawi and that most of our aid actually goes to afforestation. I have been all over the forests there. They are extremely well managed. I quite agree with what has been said, that reafforestation, especially in the tropics, is extremely important.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Oram, and the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for their welcome for this measure. In answer to the particular question of the noble Lord, Lord Oram, the decisions on priorities will be taken next year after the agreement enters into force. The United Kingdom considers reafforestation to be one of the most important aspects of the agreement and will certainly be pressing for projects in this area to be given as much priority as those in the other areas mentioned by the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, asked a question about the siting of the headquarters. London is one of the seven candidates being considered for the location of the headquarters of the organisation. If our offer were accepted, we should need to negotiate a headquarters agreement with the organisation. This is common practice, as the noble Lord will know.

With regard to funding, funding for the implementation of the agreement is expected to come largely from the second account of the common fund when this comes into operation. The direct cost to the United Kingdom will be confined to the annual membership contribution to the administrative account. Provisions have been made for this contribution, estimated at less than £20,000 per annum, by Her Majesty's Government through the DTI.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, for his comments about reafforestation. I am sure I have already made clear to your Lordships the importance which, naturally, we as a country attach to this measure throughout the world. I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on buffer stocking. I feel it would be difficult for me to answer any other remarks because it would be premature before the organisation is set up, but I feel sure the producer countries are in agreement, because they stand only to benefit.

On Question, Motion agreed to.