§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Young rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to secure the long-term political and economic future of the Caribbean.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity this evening to introduce an Unstarred Question on the Caribbean. I had the good fortune, when an FCO Minister, to have ministerial responsibility for the Caribbean and, after many visits, came to know something about the region and to have made a number of friends. Since leaving office I have been a vice-president of the West Indian Commission and have maintained my interest.
§ Perhaps I may say right at the beginning how delighted I am that so many of your Lordships are 866 taking part in this Unstarred Question this evening. We all of us look forward particularly to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner.
§ This is the first time that the Caribbean has been debated in your Lordships' House, yet it is an area which has strong links with the United Kingdom through the Commonwealth. through its ties of history—for the Caribbean, despite other claims, was known as "the jewel in the crown"—ties of trade and, more recently, the fact that thousands of people from the Caribbean have come to live and work in the United Kingdom. With the English speaking Caribbean we share a common language, a common belief in democracy and the rule of law. There are still five dependent territories in the Caribbean—and after all, we all play cricket!
§ I want to talk today not only about the English speaking Caribbean, but about the wider area of the Caribbean where great changes are taking place. We should not forget that 62 per cent. of the people of the region speak Spanish; 20 per cent. speak French; 17 per cent. speak English and 1 per cent. speak Dutch. So when I refer to the Caribbean I mean all the islands, as well as Belize, Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana. In the longer term the American definition of the Caribbean basin, which also includes all the central American republics, may be more appropriate.
§ I believe that the debate comes at the right time. First, there is a real danger that the Caribbean will be marginalised. The ending of the Cold War has meant the disappearance of the strategic pressures on the United States Government to involve themselves in the Caribbean. At the same time, world attention has been focused on the future of Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union; of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia and the Middle East. Thus, because the Caribbean does not make the headlines the danger is that it will be forgotten. Yet the Caribbean has the capacity to produce the unexpected crisis —Grenada, for example.
§ There is the problem of the very small size of many of the states. Within the English speaking Caribbean there are nine independent countries which have populations considerably less than a million people. There is the instability of Haiti, and who knows what lies in store for Cuba? Those are political concerns. Overhanging all the Caribbean are the obvious dangers of the drug trade. Drug traffickers use the Caribbean islands as staging posts.
§ The second reason for the timeliness of the debate is the fact that the Caribbean is changing rapidly. Over the region as a whole there has been a spread of democracy, deregulation and trade liberalisation. For example, nobody can visit Puerto Rico without being impressed by its enormous economic growth and prosperity. In my view it compares, in terms of economic success, with the countries of the Pacific rim. Not everyone realises that United Kingdom trade is increasing faster with the Dominican Republic than with anywhere else in the region. We also have to recognise that, however it occurs, change in Cuba will bring about a significant shift in the balance of economic activity within the Caribbean region. It will 867 almost certainly lead to a reassertion of Hispanic identity, thereby marginalising within the Caribbean itself much of the English speaking Caribbean. At the same time, all the countries of the Caribbean will be affected by the two great trading blocks—that is to say, the North American free trade area (soon to be a reality) and the European Community.
§ The third reason why the debate is timely is that I believe that there is an important message that friends of the English speaking Caribbean need to make. It is this: if the United Kingdom has found it essential to join the European Community and to stay with it, however stony the path may be at times, how much more important is it that the countries of the English speaking Caribbean should move economically and politically closer together and that all of them should move closer together to the wider Caribbean.
§ I turn first to the English speaking Caribbean because that is the part where we have the closest ties and with which people are most familiar. I touch on four issues. First, the five remaining dependent territories as they are a direct responsibility of the British Government. I believe that although all five territories wish to retain their present status, they seek a more advanced relationship with the British Government who recognise that each country has an elected legislature and Ministers. I therefore welcome the initiatives of the British Government in reviewing their policy towards the dependent territories.
§ As I understand them, the key to the proposals is the need to support good government. That means increased diplomatic support for governors, support for the police and customs services, as well as the regulation of offshore finance. Those policies must be right as all five territories depend on offshore finance and tourism for their economic prosperity.
§ The Ministerial board of management, chaired by my honourable friend in another place, Mr Lennox-Boyd, will ensure greater co-operation in Whitehall of all departments and agencies with an interest in the Caribbean, and all will be represented in it. A new secretariat will co-ordinate all official funding. If that leads to better use of what money is available, then so much the better.
§ There is not time to do justice to all the proposals, but I am concerned that there may well be confusion over the role of governors and the management board; and more importantly, whether the dependent territories will feel that their aspirations of direct dialogue with the British Government are being met. They would like one Minister to be responsible for all the political, aid and trade relations with the dependent territories. It will be helpful if my noble friend can say something on that particular matter. They would like a relationship based on partnership. The dependent territories are not sure that their concerns about their relationship with the European Community will be met, let alone that with their regional neighbours.
§ Turning now to the independent countries of the English speaking Caribbean, I should like to touch on three issues. The first is the outcome of the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal. 868 The commission was set up in 1990, fundamentally because I believe CARICOM, established in 1973, had been widely criticised even in the Caribbean, for its lack of dynamism. CARICOM was intended to promote economic integration, the more efficient operation of common services and, eventually, closer foreign policy co-ordination among its 13 member states, all members of the Commonwealth.
§ The West Indian Commission was set up to advance the goals of CARICOM through a process of consultation. Its interim report was published in July 1991, but recently there has been a special meeting held at the end of October to consider it in detail. The report contains about 200 recommendations covering a wide range of measures on economic, political, commercial and social fronts. The main recommendation is the establishment of a CARICOM commission by 1st January 1993, comprising a President and two commissioners with powers comparable to those of the EC Commission. Its main tasks would be to further the process of integration among CARICOM members and to develop relations between CARICOM and the wider community of Caribbean countries.
However, I understand that although the majority of the decisions were welcomed by CARICOM heads of government, the main recommendation to set up a CARICOM commission was not accepted. Instead the heads of government opted for a CARICOM bureau with,
competence to initiate proposals, update consensus, mobilise action, and secure the implementation of the CARICOM decisions in an informed and expeditious manner".
The communiqué from the fifth Europe/Caribbean conference held some two weeks ago in Curacao said that many delegates were disappointed at this outcome and doubted whether it would prove to be an effective alternative to the proposed commission. This seems to me to be a very serious matter and a most unfortunate outcome to the West Indian Commission's deliberations. I wonder whether there is anything that we in this country can do to help this essential process of integration.
§ No one today can speak about the Caribbean without saying something about bananas, an issue particularly important to the Windward Islands, Jamaica and Belize. The problem is easy to state, but difficult to solve. Broadly speaking, after 1st January 1993 the European Community must introduce a single market for bananas. This requirement runs counter to its obligations under the Lomé Convention. African, Caribbean and Pacific producers of bananas believe that they are just as efficient as dollar producers. Nevertheless, largely for geographical reasons—the countries are small and mountainous—their price is higher. There is therefore a real danger that ACP bananas will be driven out of the EC market post-1992.
§ We may well ask: does that matter? I believe that it does because bananas are a special crop which has been the engine for economic growth in the Caribbean as well as essential for political stability. Were that source of strength to be taken away it is difficult to see what legitimate business could be put in its place. We are left with the insidious drug trade. Furthermore, if 869 the trade in bananas fails the cost to the UK and the EC in aid will increase dramatically. The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstressed. I believe fundamentally that this is a political issue rather than an economic one.
§ I appreciate that this is a very delicate moment in the negotiations on this matter, particularly given the outcome of the Council of Agriculture Ministers last week, and the developments on GATT. However, it would be most helpful if my noble friend the Minister could give us any information about the current position. It would be particularly helpful to hear that the British Government's commitment to the Caribbean producers of bananas remains as firm as it has been in the past. Perhaps I might add that the concern of the Caribbean banana industry is that there is virtually no time left to establish a managed market before 1st January 1993. There is a growing likelihood that, with the absence of Customs posts and barriers within the single market, dollar fruit will be dumped after that date in previously managed markets such as the United Kingdom. These are very real concerns and anything that my noble friend can say on the matter will be most welcome.
§ Before turning to the wider Caribbean, I should like to say a word about aid. There is, I understand, a review taking place on aid policy generally. The philosophy behind it is that aid should go to the poorest countries. I think that this is a point which we can all appreciate, but it means that the Caribbean's case is not as strong as it might otherwise be. Perhaps I may, therefore, make the following points. First, we have spent a lot of time encouraging Guyana towards democracy and have used our aid budget as a stick. If we are not able to continue to give aid to support the new government, what message will that convey about our seriousness about democracy and the rule of law?
§ Secondly, there is a pressing case for a private sector aid window. If we believe that the private sector both here in the United Kingdom and in the EC is the principal motor for growth—I think that the Government believe that, and I do —we should develop strategies which recognise the importance of the private sector and which are operated not through governments but through private sector institutions.
§ Finally, we need to find simpler ways to ensure that our aid programmes reach those for whom they are intended. Much, for example, is spent on a never-ending stream of consultants. If this is necessary, could we not consider placing more consultancy work with Caribbean firms?
§ turn now to Britain's relations with the wider Caribbean. Quite understandably, the Government's concern has been to put in place a framework for good government in the dependent territories. But we should not lose sight of the fact that we need a forward-looking strategy towards the larger and wealthier countries of the Caribbean. These relation-ships will, I believe, be predominantly based on trade and investment. I have already referred to the shift in power which will come from the opening up of Cuba, but we need to look at our relations particularly with Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The wider Caribbean constitutes a market of around 870 50 million people, almost the same size as the United Kingdom and, incidentally, larger I believe than many of the markets of Eastern Europe. Our trade particularly with the non-British Caribbean has grown. Puerto Rico is our fastest growing investment market and has an annual import bill of £8 billion. The Dominican Republic is our fastest growing export and tourist market. From the British point of view the danger is that we could lose our traditional markets without getting the benefit from growth in the non-traditional markets.
§ There could be a serious negative effect on the English-speaking Caribbean countries as the Hispanic influence grows stronger. This will almost certainly lead to closer trading linkages between the larger economies of the Western Caribbean and the United States. What should the British Government's attitude to all this be, and what, if anything, could they do? Would it not be possible to look again at our diplomatic and commercial representation in the area? Of course, there are constraints on resources and I recognise the importance of the dependent territories and our ties with members of the Commonwealth. However, unless the whole area prospers, smaller islands could become politically unstable.
§ It is therefore disappointing to have only one second secretary dealing with commercial work in the whole region and no resident representation in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. We rely on two excellent honorary consuls, to whom I should like to pay tribute, Mrs. Maureen Tejeda in the Dominican Republic, and Mr. Ian Court in Puerto Rico. I am not suggesting that we should pare down further our diplomatic representation in the English speaking Caribbean, but we should look at our longer-term needs well into the 21st century. This may mean, for example, locating a smaller number of "superposts" in two or three locations in the region, with staff able to travel to those countries where previously there have been resident missions. Another suggestion is that we should have more commercial representation within the region. If that happened—and certainly if we had a permanent representative in Puerto Rico—we could encourage more British investment in the Caribbean.
§ I should also like to see greater co-operation between the private sector and the Government, and between the private sector in the Caribbean and that in the United Kingdom. We need to help the Caribbean to export principally in non-traditional exports, particularly by programmes designed to encourage the penetration of the European Community market. We need to link up small businesses in the Caribbean with businesses started in the United Kingdom by Caribbean immigrants. An overall strategy for the region could encompass these points.
§ Finally, we should consider what help we can give to the Caribbean's relations with the European Community. We should be under no illusions: Europe has few, if any, long-term reasons to care about the Caribbean unless the countries of the Caribbean themselves and their friends in the EC can find reasons for doing so.871
§ I have already referred to the problem of bananas but the time will come, if it is not already here, when GATT and NAFTA end the existing preferences from the Caribbean.
§ Then there is the Caribbean's relations with NAFTA as well as Mexico. When NAFTA is a reality it is likely that the establishment of free trade agreements with individual Latin American and central American states will erode the preferential advantages of the Caribbean basin initiative. In all these matters I believe that we should develop policies that actively deepen and widen Caribbean regional integration.
§ Time, I fear, does not allow me to talk on many other issues which are of great importance to the area. Everyone would like to see a peaceful transition of Cuba to democracy. But will this happen, and can we and our EC partners help that to come about? Should we not, if we are not already doing so, encourage a dialogue between Cuba and the United States?
§ I hope that I have said enough to show that the future of the Caribbean matters to us as a country. Our first priority must be to the dependent territories and I welcome the initiative that has been taken even though I, and I believe chief Ministers, have some reservations about it. But there is also a pressing case to have a broad strategic policy for the whole area which looks forward to the 21st century, particularly towards the larger and more prosperous of the non-English speaking Caribbean. This requires, too, the whole area to see where it is going, and that is why I believe that we need to do all that we can to help the widening and deepening of the integration process.
§ The Caribbean should not remain isolated from all the great changes taking place in the world. What is important is that it should not be forgotten that its voice should be heard in Europe and the United States and that the Caribbean should have the opportunity to take advantage of the great changes going on to bring about greater prosperity for its people and with it the strengthening of democracy.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for asking this Question. She has become an honorary West Indian and we are proud to welcome her to our midst. We are grateful to her for the part she plays in exposing our causes.
I intend to spend most of my speech dealing with bananas, and I make no apology for doing so because it is the government's immediate task to prevent the economic destruction—I use those words advisedly—of the Windward Islands. They can only do so by preserving a market for their bananas. The banana industry is the life blood of the islands. I shall give the House one or two figures to show what I mean.
Bananas provide 70 per cent. of the export earnings of Dominica, and 30 per cent. of Dominica's workforce is employed in the industry—one person in three. Bananas provide 60 per cent. of the export earnings of St. Lucia, and 38 per cent. of St Lucia's national income. Bananas also provide 40 per cent. of 872 the export earnings of St. Vincent. Noble Lords can see the importance of the industry to the life of those areas. The banana industry is fundamental to the social and political stability of the islands.
The arrival of the single European market on 1st January 1993 threatens the complete destruction of the banana industry in the islands unless they can be provided with a secure market within Europe comparable to the secure market they now enjoy in the United Kingdom. In theory they have secured that through the Lomé Convention. It strengthened the protection they enjoyed as traditional suppliers to the United Kingdom market which was safeguarded under Article 115 of the Treaty of Rome when the United Kingdom joined the European Community. In theory the protection is there but it is not quite as straightforward as that.
The Commission has been grappling with the problem for the past four years. The task has been difficult because the Community has to balance its obligation to the ACP suppliers under the Lomé Convention with its obligation to its own producers, to its customers, and, internationally, under the GATT. The Commission has recommended a quota system which would be acceptable to the Caribbean banana producers. However, as the noble Baroness pointed out, a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers failed to agree to those proposals and there were no alternative proposals. There is therefore a real danger that if there is no arrangement for a managed market in bananas, on 1st January there will be dumping of dollar bananas. Caribbean bananas will be unable to compete and this could lead to the eventual demise of the Caribbean banana industry and a dramatic deterioration in the social and economic fabric of a number of Caribbean nations.
The Caribbean banana industry is in no position to compete with dollar bananas from central America. The physical limitations of the islands with their small size and difficult terrain inhibit their ability to compete internationally in agriculture, whether in bananas or other crops. That is a fact. Agriculture is generally rain fed because irrigation would not only be extremely expensive but virtually impossible. As a result, land productivity or yield per acre is comparatively low—about 8 to 12 tonnes per acre compared with the 18 to 24 tonnes per acre of the large flat plains and rich alluvial soils of central America.
Moreover, the vast majority of producers are small farmers. There are 23,000 growers in the Windward Islands whereas the industry in central America is based on large plantations, often owned by multi-nationals. The costs of inputs are much higher due to smaller volumes, whereas the costs of inputs of the dollar bananas are low because of larger volumes. The shipping costs are generally higher in the Caribbean, again because of smaller volumes. Thus the dollar suppliers can achieve economies of scale that could never be reached by the Caribbean. That does not relate to bananas only. It is true for most of the crops that the Caribbean Islands have attempted to grow.
Agriculture in the West Indies has always been export-orientated. Before bananas were introduced as 873 an export crop, the islands exported mainly sugar. However, at various times export crops such as cocoa, nutmeg, copra, arrowroot, citrus fruits and cotton were tried. However, except for cocoa and nutmeg which have survived in Grenada, the other crops were largely unsuccessful and gradually declined in importance. Even sugar, the principal export for many years, suffered a major decline with the introduction of beet sugar in Europe. Increasing supplies of and competition from beet sugar forced down prices and placed the Caribbean sugar industry under tremendous pressure. It was difficult for the Windward Islands to compete internationally because they had also to compete with the rest of the Caribbean. All the Caribbean islands, from Jamaica down to British Guyana, were producing sugar, and they were major sugar producers as compared with the Windward Islands.
I shall give your Lordships a little history because it is important to understand the position vis-à-vis these islands and bananas. In the early 1950s the position became difficult. It was essential to find another crop to save the islands from economic decline and to avert social unrest. The Windward Islands at that time had no valid alternative outside agriculture. There were no other industries such as mining or manufacturing, and tourism was in its infancy. What was required was another export crop to replace sugar in magnitude and economic importance, and to absorb the relatively large and growing rural population. Bananas fitted the bill perfectly. Not only was it relatively easy to shift to bananas on the sugar cane fields, but banana cultivation was a much greater attraction to the growing numbers of small peasant farmers than ever sugar was. Cultivation practices could easily be adapted to small farm conditions.
Indeed, the banana is the perfect cash crop for the small farmer. It is non-seasonal and through the Ratoon process it has a continuous cropping system which provides a weekly or fortnightly harvest. That means that it provides a regular source of income throughout the year for the small, self-employed farmer. The small farmer thus became very important to the agricultural sector and to the islands' economy generally because, in addition to his traditional role as a producer of food for domestic consumption, he had now entered into production for the export market. Thus the small farmer became important.
The Caribbean banana industry has steadily improved the quality of its fruit. It is fair to say that while the bananas cannot compete on price, they can, on average, compete on quality. It is therefore essential that the United Kingdom (which now holds the EC presidency) should use all its influence to secure an agreement during the next five weeks. I say that advisedly because the Danish Minister is one of those expressing doubts about the Commission's proposals. It is rumoured that the Danish presidency will probably recommend a 20 per cent. tariff on bananas as a means of dealing with the issue. I can assure your Lordships that that would lead to the demise of the Caribbean banana industry, because the 874 Central Americans will flood the market with dollar bananas and, when they have driven the Caribbean bananas from the market, will raise prices.
I have concentrated on the banana issue because of the danger to the Windward Islands and frankly because it is an issue upon which Her Majesty's Government are apprised of the consequences of failure. They are fighting hard for the Caribbean. We in Parliament must give them every support. I hope that when the Minister replies she will he able to assure the House that bananas from the Caribbean will have their EC markets secured before the British presidency expires on 31st December.
As I have said, I have spoken mostly about bananas; but there are many other issues. If the House will permit me, I shall take another three or four minutes to mention them. There is the issue of sugar. That is not in the same position as bananas because it is covered by a protocol of indefinite duration. The price of cane sugar is tied to the price paid for beet sugar under the CAP, and there are proposals for changes to the CAP which will have the effect of reducing the price paid for beet sugar and consequently cane sugar. In any case, even if that were not happening, the GATT negotiations will probably bring about a reduction in the price paid for sugar.
Rum will compensate to some extent. Rum producers should benefit from a new protocol; but here too there are problems, including that of EC quotas up to 1996 being agreed in a manner which reflects the letter and intent of the Lomé rum protocol. There is also an inbuilt tariff advantage for rum from Guadeloupe and Martinique (which are French departments); but they are minor problems compared to those of bananas.
There is then the tourist industry. There are problems for British West Indian Airways in its struggle with British Airways over Caribbean routes. I have been asked to raise the issue of direct flights to Grenada by British West Indian Airways. The Grenadian Government are anxious that they should take place, but I am told that British Airways is objecting on the grounds that there are insufficient passengers; and that even if there were sufficient passengers, it is in a position to meet the need. I hope that the Government will recognise the value of allowing both carriers to operate once weekly flights direct to Grenada. That provides the customers with choice not just in respect of carriers but airports, because British West Indian Airways flies from Heathrow and British Airways flies from Gatwick.
More important in terms of tourism, is the infrastructure. I hope that the Government will take on board the need to give help to the islands with the development of their infrastructure which is essential for a successful tourist industry. I merely have to compare what I saw in Bermuda with what I know of Grenada. The infrastructure of one compared with that of the other is chalk and cheese. For a successful tourist industry, infrastructure is essential and I hope that the Government will take that on board.
I wish to raise an important matter affecting the West Indian community in this country. When they retire, many West Indians wish to end their days in the 875 Caribbean. If they do so, their pensions are frozen and the pensions they take with them remain the same—pensions do not increase with inflation. So the pensions gradually lose their value. But the sum involved is not large and the pensioners will have paid for that already through taxes and national insurance contributions. The pensioners receive the increase if they remain in this country. It would be a good gesture to the community to change the policy and allow pensions which are carried abroad to be increased in line with inflation, as if they had been paid in this country. Moreover, the country to which the pensioners retire will have higher inflation than this country. Therefore, as I say, the pension will gradually reduce in value and in terms of its ability to keep the pensioners. I know that the Minister cannot commit the Government on such matters which are not within her portfolio.
However, I can raise one matter which is in her portfolio. I believe that the Government can support the movement towards unity in the Caribbean through the Government's aid policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned that. That is very much in the hands of the Minister. I hope that when she replies she will be able to tell me that she has taken on board much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. Those matters are important to the Caribbean.
I cannot ask the Minister to commit the Government on issues which must be decided at the highest level. However, one of the biggest contributions the Government can make to the Caribbean is to use the close association and special relationship with the United States to bring about a rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. I await the Minister's reply with (shall I say?) expectation and anxiety.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Glenconner
My Lords, may I first thank and heartily commend the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this crucial debate on Caribbean affairs. I can do little better than to echo what the House has heard from my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead. The debate comes at a time when dark clouds are gathering over the Caribbean and there is an indication of a storm far more severe than any natural hurricane, far more devastating than hurricanes Alan, Andrew, Hugo and Gilbert put together.
I am a natural backwoodsman and, as the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said, my parish is the Windward Islands, particularly St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia. When I spoke last week to my right honourable friends the Prime Ministers of St. Vincent and St. Lucia, the Right Honourable James Mitchell and the Right Honourable John Compton, their message to your Lordships was unanimous and clear: "Save the banana". The message could have been shorter: "SOS".
During the period that I have been out in the Caribbean, I have seen traditional crops one by one wither away. Believe me, at present there is no 876 alternative to the banana, quite apart from the fact that in an area that is subject to hurricanes, the banana is one of the few crops that offer hope of recovery. As it has only a nine-month cycle, in theory it can be planted and produce another crop within the hurricane season, within a year. It gives the Caribbean—which is subject to the hurricanes, unlike Central America —an opportunity to recover which it would otherwise not have.
As my noble friend remarked, I have been witness to the demise, one by one, of all the traditional crops. First, there was sugar cane which was seen off by sugar beet. Then there was cotton which bowed to synthetics. This afternoon, I am wearing a shirt which is the last of its kind. It was spun in 1961 from the last crop in Mustique of the noble strain V135, the West Indian sea island cotton. It is now extinct, as is the sugar industry in St. Lucia and as is virtually the arrowroot industry in St. Vincent, due to synthetics.
Now, once again, we see possibly the last viable crop in the West Indies under threat. The banana boat will have to be steered very carefully to go between the Scylla and Charybdis of GATT and the EC—on the one hand tariffs and on the other hand free trade. As the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, pointed out, neither of those will be the answer for the eastern Caribbean. The only hope is to navigate through this narrow strait and with the help of Her Majesty's Government arrive back in the calm waters of Lomé IV and a managed market, as was promised, until the year 2002.
We all sympathise greatly with the rapeseed growers in France and the miners here in England whose plight is none of their fault. However, with the greatest respect, perhaps I may say that for them there is a safety net. I hope that they will never have to use it, to that extent, but their safety net is that they live in a welfare state where there will be compensations and opportunities for retraining. In a welfare state one can count on not becoming destitute. But that is not the case in the Windward Islands. Many people are already unemployed, but there is no unemployment benefit. There are no sickness benefits unless people are already in employment, no maternity grants, no child benefits. The countries simply cannot afford them.
In this gentler, caring age that four small, young, third world countries can be deliberately devastated so that perhaps they may later qualify for aid is senseless. It seems to me to be little else than a case of absentee colonialism—the worst possible kind of colonialism where decisions are made thousands of miles away without reference or without compensation.
We are not speaking about banana republics—your regular fly-by-night banana republics—but about banana kingdoms because in these countries Her Majesty the Queen is Head of State. Her Majesty the Queen has not forgotten these islands and nor have members of her family. She pays regular visits there. These kingdoms have belonged to England at least since 1783 with the Treaty of Versailles, as was confirmed in 1815. These people are not some remote tribe, they are our relations. That has been pointed out this evening. More than one million of their kith and kin from the Caribbean have come to England since 877 the war and have become British citizens leaving behind the auntie Erolines and uncle Winsberts with the old quean in Kingstown looking after the grandchildren. They are our relations and many of them are worthy people who have grown up in the Caribbean since their childhood.
In St. Lucia alone, with a population of 140,000, in the past 13 years there have been two Nobel prizewinners, that is Sir Allen Lewis the economist, and this year the great epic poet, Derek Walcott. These people treasure their independence which was only won 10 years ago. They have every confidence that Her Majesty's Government will find a way of steering them through these difficult waters. I am sure it will be your Lordships' wish that that should happen.
I should like to say a few final words on quite another subject. If Her Majesty's Government are wondering what to give the Windwards for Christmas—"a little present for de Christmas!"—I hope I may suggest the following. In 1978–79, when these territories became independent they were promised a golden handshake of £10 million. Some £5 million of that was a grant and £5 million, not yet all paid, was a loan. If Her Majesty's Government wish to give a delightful surprise to that area they could perhaps convert that loan into a grant and relieve those hard-pressed governments who have to find out of their own resources the money to pay for administration, schools, doctors and other things which were previously paid for by grant-in-aid. This is not a large sum of money and it amounts perhaps to 50p per head of the population. However, in these very difficult times it would be a wonderful present to those patient, undemanding and loyal friends.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, on behalf of this House I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, on his maiden speech. I do so most warmly. He speaks with great authority and has made many points which we shall want to turn over in our minds, including many points we did not know previously. We have, if I may say so, waited a long time to hear the noble Lord's maiden speech. I think we all agree that the speech was worth waiting for. We hope very much that he will not wait a further decade before giving us the advantage and pleasure of hearing him speak again, and not necessarily on this subject only.
Others will join with me in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for focusing our attention on the Caribbean. I know from my own experience that she has been one of the few Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers who has consistently taken an interest in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, knows that I do not include her in that mild reproach.
I cannot pretend that I have any specialised knowledge of the Caribbean, but it is plain for anyone to see that the people in the area find themselves, as we all do, in a new world. They are suspended between three continents and those who once took an interest in them no longer feel a need to do so. Professor 878 Hennessy, of Warwick University, an expert on the affairs of the area, in a letter he kindly sent me, succinctly summed it all up when he stated:The Caribbean is probably at the most critical moment in its history with the impact of the North American Free Trade area and the European Community, the uncertainties of the GATT and the question mark over Cuba".He is quite right. Each one of the problems mentioned by the professor is difficult enough. The question which we in this country must ask ourselves is: can we make some contribution to their solution? We are certainly under a strong obligation to try to do so and this obligation will continue for many years into the future.
As others have said, our connection with the West Indies has existed for several hundred years. It has been enhanced by the influx of their people into this country sharing our language and religion, and incidentally vastly strengthening our athletic resources. Sometimes our connection has been cruel and harmful; at other times it has been mutually beneficial. Fortunes have been made by some of our fellow countrymen and British enterprises in sugar and fruit have prospered to the benefit of ourselves and the islanders. As a member of the European Community we have helped for the time being their trade interests by the terms of the Lomé conventions.
It is true that some of the profits made in the West Indies were ploughed back and have been well employed. An example known to many noble Lords is Codrington College in Barbados which is now being restored and extended. Funds have come, as one would expect, from All Souls College, Oxford, with its Codrington connection and a development fund has been energetically raised by residents in Barbados, in this country and in Canada.
The point that I should like to emphasise is that we are required to discharge an important obligation. That obligation is more than any that we may have towards ex-colonial territories in Africa, for example. Admittedly, unhappily, the West Indians are more developed and intellectually more equipped than many other third world countries which had connections with us.
For many years our interests have been strategic as well as commercial. The Royal Navy has operated in the Caribbean for centuries and naval victories in World War One and World War Two in the South Atlantic were made possible as a result.
The United States' strategic interests are protected by its base in Cuba, the future of which will depend upon developments there. It seems likely that the American interest will remain, but one can hope that it will eventually be reconciled, as it has been, for example, in the Philippines.
Older members of this House will recall the remarkable response of volunteers from among the people of the West Indies in 1939 when the Royal Air Force in particular benefited. The navigator of Field Marshal Montgomery's plane in Europe was a recruit by the name of Barrow who eventually became Prime Minister of Barbados.
It is a strange fact that the nearest the world has come to a nuclear war was during the Cuban missile crisis. Nine years ago we were debating the military 879 action of the United States in the Commonwealth island of Grenada, which gave great offence to some people here, whereas it was wholly in the interest of the islanders who should not have been neglected by us. It should not have been left to the United States to assume the responsibility that they did.
Perhaps I am looking too much to the past. The West Indies may have lost their strategic importance, but we cannot ignore them. They are, as Professor Hennessy pointed out, suspended between the Community and NAFTA. The problems are largely commercial. They need help and guidance on how best to adjust. The Caribbean Trade Advisory Group, set up by the British Overseas Trade Board and now under the chairmanship of Michael Adda, should be able to help itself by fostering trade and industrial development in selected islands.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, correctly drew attention to Puerto Rico and it is worth continuing to study what is happening there.
The work of the Trade Advisory Group is complemented by the West Indian Commission. It would seem logical for the islands to feel their way to greater integration in spite of the past failure of the West Indian Federation. However, there are many obstacles, as the lukewarm reception of the report by Sir Sonny Ramphal has revealed. It is not for us to dictate to the islands what to do and how to integrate. Integration can take many forms. National feelings, even in small islands, are very strong. There is little doubt that the North American Free Trade Area will attract the larger islands, for example, Trinidad and Jamaica, to say nothing of Cuba in due time. It is essential that we should stand ready to help them and to see that obstacles are not necessarily put in their way.
In the European Community we have Dutch and French allies with whom we should consult and co-ordinate. We help with development aid to the best of our ability and also in the education field, but it is not enough. We must continue to accept our obligations and act as friends.
One matter where our responsibility is clear is the management of the Caribbean dependent territories. Those islands are a relic of the dissolution of the Empire; they are our direct responsibility. Their present constitutional relationship is unlikely to change. They are especially vulnerable to drug trafficking and the laundering of drug money. I am satisfied from conversations that I have had with members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that their problems are being energetically tackled. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is training personnel who will be specially equipped in their administration.
We have every reason to be proud of our past colonial record and the small territories deserve our special attention as never before. The board of management which has been set up under a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister should facilitate this. I hope that the cuts that have been made in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office vote will not impede developments.
880 We have an obligation to the area which we must try to discharge. Our responsibility to the dependent territories is inescapable.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for introducing the debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, on his maiden speech.
There are a number of issues that are of vital importance to the lives of the people who live in the Caribbean. Those issues have been dealt with very adequately by my noble friend Lady Young and others whose knowledge of the Caribbean is far greater than mine. It has been a wide-ranging debate, but the scope of my noble friend's question is wide.
With regard to the subject of bananas, I recognise the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. However, I would like to make a plea in relation to the Latin American bananas or the so-called dollar bananas because in those countries people's livelihoods depend very much on the production and on the sale of that product. I believe that there should be a single market in bananas which gives the producers of all countries fair and non-discriminatory treatment. To construct elaborate quotas is not the right way to solve the problem. I am unhappy about the current European Community proposals, although I recognise the need for transitional arrangements. There is a case for the European Community to provide direct assistance to help those countries which have a mono-crop system and need to diversify.
Turning to a more general point, because of my own background and interest in the development of European co-operation and the institutions that reflect that co-operation, I look with interest at the structures within the Caribbean. My noble friend Lady Young referred to developments in that area.
Given the North American Free Trade area, which impinges upon the Caribbean via Mexico as well as the United States, given the Central American market and given the Andean Pact countries which impinge on the Caribbean via Venezuela, there is a great risk that the smaller countries may get lost or squashed between the various giant groupings. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Caribbean Council for Europe and the recent fifth European conference enabled the voice of the Caribbean to be heard in Europe because not only was that voice heard, but each of the countries and the regional bodies to which I have referred had to get together and work together. In this context I assume that the Organisation of American States also has a role to play in co-ordinating views and policies, and I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister would let us know the Government's views on the future development and interaction of these regional groupings, and indeed their relationships with European institutions.
The other main point that I wish to make reinforces again a point raised previously in the debate, and it relates to the problems and the real dangers that can result from drug trafficking. Although I understand that in most cases consumption—that is to say, consumption of hard drugs—is not a major problem 881 in the countries we are concerned with here, the effect of being transit countries and in the centre of an ever-developing communications network makes the risks of the problem of consumption arising in the future very real indeed.
I trust therefore that the Government will continue in their policy of demand reduction in terms of activity in this country as well as of aid-related projects in this field. When we talk about the economic development of these countries we need to recognise that a failure to provide alternative crops, a failure to provide markets and fair trading conditions, and failure to provide for the long-term development of the economies of these countries could lead to problems greater than any we have seen to date.
My aim is to be brief, and I therefore end with a specific reference to Venezuela. Venezuela may be recognised as a country rich in oil, as indeed it is; it may be less known that its second main industry is the banana industry. Again I say that the livelihood of many people depends upon that. But an important and interesting development in terms of the world's energy needs is the production and export of orimulsion. I mention that as an example of diversification. Orimulsion is the trade name of the new liquid fuel which is a bitumen-in-water emulsion which can be used for generating electricity and heat and power for industry. It adds to the diversity of supply of raw fuel. It competes favourably with coal, and indeed is already on trial in this country in four or five power stations.
However, I have noted already—and this is why I venture to refer to this specific issue—that suggestions are being made, without any proof, that this substance is less environmentally friendly than other fuels. If we wish to encourage the prosperity of the region I hope that there will be some means by which we can avoid any possibility that vested interests in this country will attempt to obstruct the use of this new substance.
I must finally apologise to your Lordships' House in advance because I fear that, owing to the late hour of our proceedings, I may not now be able to stay until the end of the debate. I regret this and will of course scrutinise Hansard to be aware of other points that may be made if I find that I am not able to stay until the end of the debate.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, like other noble Lords I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this subject and for her continued commitment to the interests of the Caribbean. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, became hooked on the Caribbean when she had a spell at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am delighted that, while she no longer has responsibilities in government, she pursues the interests and welfare of the Caribbean so vigorously.
In reading some of the briefing notes that I have received, which consist of reports of a large number of conferences on the subject of a common market in the Caribbean and integration of the Caribbean states, there was one thing that seemed apparent, and that was the feeling among the people in the Caribbean 882 that, with the great events taking place in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the development of the European Common Market and the proposal to expand the North American Free Trade Association, this little group of islands in the Caribbean did not seem to be featuring in these changes, and its interests were perhaps being totally neglected as the world concentrated on what are regarded as the big issues. I am quite sure that the people and governments of the Caribbean, some of whom will read this debate, will feel reassured that in the House of Lords at least we have pursued the subject of their welfare and their best interests.
Among so many experts who have spoken in this debate and who will speak following me, I have to establish my own credentials. I have been trading in the Caribbean for over 40 years, including arranging access to international capital markets of some of the islands which required finance. In addition, I worked in the great experiment of Puerto Rico, and I shall come back to Puerto Rico since it has been mentioned in the debate. A few weeks ago I was in Belize, so perhaps I should start with Belize.
The total population of Belize is 200,000 and the area covered by Belize is the size of Wales, so it is not important in a geographical sense; but in the sense that it is a bridge between Central America and the Caribbean it is very important indeed. It is important, too, that its northern border touches Mexico and its border to the west touches Guatemala. It is important, therefore, now that the North American Free Trade Association negotiations are proceeding. Belize is strategically important as a country that is so close to the Mexican border, which is going to be part of NAFTA, so I do not apologise for mentioning it.
Belize is a part of the Commonwealth, and it deserves great respect for its human rights record and its operation of a democratic state when one considers that its immediate border is with Guatemala, which has an appalling human rights record, and that San Salvador and Nicaragua are not far away. It is great to have, in an unstable area, this centre of respect for human rights, for the democratic process, and respect for the law when there are such neighbouring countries as Guatemala, San Salvador and Nicaragua.
We support Belize by having a battalion of the British Army stationed there. While I am a pacifist by nature and conviction, that is the one case where I feel I could justify the continued presence of the British Army. That provides protection against a possible invasion by Guatemala, which has claimed Belize for over 100 years. Without the presence of the British Army there would be great danger that Guatemala—which is now moving towards democracy but is still uncertain—would pursue its objective of taking over Belize, which it believes should be part of Guatemala. What is just as important is the fact that the British Army plays a very decisive role in controlling the drug traffic. That area is a drug corridor, and the presence of British troops is a tremendous support to the Government of Belize in their fight against the drug barons.
Belize is one of the central American states and at the same time is part of CARICOM. Despite its small 883 size and population it is very important that we continue to have a presence there and encourage their government. Belize has developed a tourist trade with protection of the Great Reef and the environment. It has an extremely liberal immigration policy which is becoming dangerous in one sense because 20 per cent. of the population comprise of refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua and San Salvador and that may cause tensions. They are Spanish-speaking and Belize is the only English-speaking area in central America. The Belize Government deserve our encouragement and support in their great achievements through the democratic process.
Puerto Rica has been mentioned. Puerto Rica is one of the most exciting developments not only in the Caribbean but in the world. To be frank, when I was originally invited to go there the first thing I had to do was find it on the map. I arrived in Puerto Rica at the beginning of Operation Bootstrap which changed the whole economy of that country. Instead of being a somewhat backward area it now has the atmosphere of a bustling mid-west American city. Puerto Rica was one of the first countries to have 10-year tax holiday provisions. It has the advantage of being part of the United States. It is not a state of the United States but is an associate state, which means it has direct access to the United States market but pays no taxes to the United States Government. It is indeed in a very favourable situation.
Puerto Rica has achieved a very great deal by first-class leadership and by getting across the idea of Operation Bootstrap; that is, that you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. It has generated a sense of pride under the remarkable leadership of a man called Munos Marin, who was President of Puerto Rica. Interestingly enough, following an election he won every seat in Parliament—and it was not an East European election but a perfectly democratic election. He amended the constitution to provide that one-third of the seats should be allocated to the opposition, although they had not won them, because he believed it was not a good thing for a government to have no opposition. That kind of enlightened leadership of Puerto Rica raised its status and brought about economic success.
Belize and Puerto Rica are important because of the negotiations which will take place with NAFTA. I see the Caribbean moving more and more into the area of the North American Free Trade Association. Mexico is part of NAFTA. Puerto Rica is part of the United States. It is very important that we see the Caribbean not as being too much oriented towards the EC but becoming more and more involved in trading relationships with the North American Free Trade Association. I presume that NAFTA will replace the Caribbean Basin Initiative which has proved a great success in giving Caribbean states free access to the United States market. An adjustment is required to make sure that the CBI is replaced under the new arrangements with NAFTA.
If one looks, for example, at Jamaica, 60 per cent. of that island's trade is with the United States, and 50 per cent. of its imports are from the United States. 884 Looking at the Caribbean in the future, I believe it will be moving more and more into the orbit of NAFTA, which would not be a bad thing.
With regard to the disappointment expressed about the failure to secure early integration of all the Caribbean states—that view was expressed recently by Sonny Ramphal —when reading the minutes of various discussions and debates one cannot help feeling that it is a bit like Maastricht. Many of these countries have their own cultural backgrounds: some are Spanish, some Dutch, some French, some American and some are Danish. Each has different traditions. One does not have the convergence of those islands in terms of economic performance that permits the kind of integrated ambitions of Sonny Ramphal, and others.
I would not be too disappointed at the fact that these countries have not immediately achieved the aim of the Caribbean Common Market. I believe that they are in a pre-Maastricht phase. But that does not mean there should not be greater co-operation between the islands. The great jewel of the Caribbean is the University of the West Indies. Students are no longer coming to our universities from the West Indies. They can get a perfectly adequate education at the UWI and the various campuses in the islands. That degree of co-operation has been achieved without all of the political implications that the integrationists have in mind.
I believe that the idea that has come out of the conferences about having common representation in various parts of the world is a very desirable objective. The present arrangements whereby each island has its own representative, or even its man at the UN, must be a tremendous burden on many of these islands. I believe that integration or co-operation in common representation overseas is another area that can be developed. I wish the islands well in their objective to secure integration, but, like many countries in Europe, they have long and different histories. I can understand some of the immediate hesitations. Anyone who has watched the islands play cricket will realise the degree of commitment to their own interests. That has got to be taken into account.
s Once more I hope that the Caribbean islanders will have listened to this debate and at least feel that they are not forgotten.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, a number of things have surprised me tonight. First, I had no idea that there had not been a debate on the Caribbean in your Lordships' House. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for having introduced it. It also surprised me that only 17 per cent. of Caribbeans speak English. I had thought that it would be a far greater number. I was further surprised to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that they are still almost totally dependent on bananas and if that commodity collapses, the economy collapses. From the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, in a remarkable maiden speech made without notes, which proved conclusively 885 his absolute knowledge of the area, I was surprised to learn that sea island cotton had gone almost for all time.
One asks: what future does the Caribbean have? What future does it hold for us? Is it the West Indies? Is it a place where fortunes were made and lost? Does it have any economic future at all? I ask myself whether I am qualified to speak tonight, and I reply that I do not think I am. But it was 55 years ago, give or take 10 months, legend has it that I was conceived on the beach of Ocho Rios, during my parents' honeymoon. I was what would colloquially referred to at that time as "a mistake". A few days later someone was rude to my mother and as a result my father, much as an amateur boxer might do, laid him out, was arrested for criminal assault, locked up briefly, prosecuted and let off with a three and sixpenny fine. I have a great affection for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Perhaps that led me with some of my colleagues to embark upon hopeless assignments—not so hopeless as those of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—to advise and assist those very countries to find some future.
I went to Nevis the queen of the Caribbean to be reminded that Nelson had come there from Bath and there met and married Miss Nesbitt and found the finest water in the Caribbean. I went on to Jamaica where again Bath was founded. One looked at the Bath river which cured and healed people. I went to Barbados, the Bahamas and right the way on until finally I ended up saying, "If the Americans cannot trade with Cuba, surely we can". The late Lord Walston (I call him my noble friend) and I went together to visit Cuba. I had the honour of holding the world record London-Havana-London by Concorde just for lunch. I love it out there. Perhaps I may with something of an upbeat feeling say that the assets of the Caribbean or the West Indies are not the countries themselves. Sugar production has dropped in Jamaica down to a few hundred thousand tonnes although it is still high in Cuba. The assets are the people of those islands. They are the entrepreneurs of the world. The countries themselves or their governments may have become poor but not the people. They are everywhere. They are starting businesses all the time. They are constantly thinking of new ideas.
I move to some of the cultural aspects. It is said that it is an imported culture. When I go to church, none of my family will stand next to me when I sing, because I can sing on only one note. I am apparently almost tone deaf. When I go to the Caribbean and listen to the beginnings of calypso, reggae and rap, and see how businesses have been made and created out of the sheer rhythm of the place, I think again about those rhythms. Then I have some feelings of regret, but not total regret. When I first went there I had all the right introductions. The introduction to which I paid no attention was a letter from the secretary of the MCC, which was by far the most important introduction that I could have had. I remember sitting one day on St. Kitts and listening to a noise outside my hotel window. It was a continual "click, click, click". I looked out and went down. There I saw some cricket nets. There was a man 886 wearing a hat and laid back in a hammock teaching children to hit a cricket ball, each cricket ball being a lump of wood suspended by string from a branch of the tree. He was saying, "You may murder the British, you may murder the Australians, you may murder everybody, but never murder the ball. If you want to be good at cricket, do not murder the ball".
If a collection of countries like that, with a relatively small base and all the problems of internal relationships can go out and create cricket teams which perform so well, there are many other things that they can create.
What is the future of the West Indies, or the Caribbean, economically? In the long term perhaps it cannot be bananas. In the long term perhaps it cannot be sugar. It certainly is not cotton or agricultural produce. It has to be something else. Perhaps, in looking towards its future, we as a nation more than any other should undertake to help it.
I come to a number of areas which have not been mentioned today but where the Government do quite a lot. There is one organisation for which I have a great affection, initially because it was the only body I could find that was required by law not to make a loss. I refer to the Commonwealth Development Corporation created in 1948, which has been a major investor in the Caribbean. I believe that something like £130 million, which is only 13 per cent. of its total commitment, has been made there: £70 million to Jamaica, £10 million to Cayman, £10 million to Bahamas or perhaps it was Barbados, £6 million to Belize and £5 million to Trinidad and Tobago. It even has a programme which, probably out of the total of £130 million today, may increase by a third, if my noble friend the Minister for Overseas Development will give it that encouragement and support. It is an organisation that needs far greater support than it has at the moment.
In those countries with which I have dealt—I myself come from an island and therefore have an affection for islanders —I have noted one thing especially. Islanders are extremely interested and heavily involved in politics but they have the ability to change their politics from time to time. We are now faced with the inability to justify the extremism of communism, which makes it difficult for some nations to find an opposition. We have to say that all the territories at the moment look more and more—to use a term that I do not like but which is acceptable—to "privatisation". There is a recognition that government cannot do as much as individuals.
I return to what I said earlier about those individuals in the Caribbean who have far more reason than we have to be entrepreneurs. For the past 25 years or so when one asked a question in this country or made a suggestion someone would ask "Why?". Ask the same question in the Caribbean and the answer comes back, "Why not?". It is that initiative and thought that needs to be encouraged. I draw attention to one or two examples.
I was in my professional career involved in assisting one of the countries to begin to privatise its hotels. That was at a time when everyone said that its politics were so bad that it was not safe to go there and that 887 no one would invest. As 12 of the hotels were privatised an interesting development occurred; some 80 million dollars of private money followed as investment to upgrade and to improve them. Everywhere that I have come across that mood the money appears to follow. I believe that often the money has been held abroad by people who have been successful overseas and are prepared to invest in their own country.
We should not forget too the high level of repatriation of funds which comes from those in the Caribbean who work abroad successfully and who want to return. I and perhaps many noble Lords share the dream of people who work here. It would be nice to earn a large amount of money and to retire to the Caribbean. I am advised that even on relatively lowly pensions it is an area of exceptional merit. First, one does not have a high cost of heating. Secondly, one does not need many clothes. Thirdly, the food is readily available—or is it?
When I was looking at the tourist industry in the Caribbean I was surprised to be told that approximately 80 cents of every dollar's-worth of goods bought by tourists had to be imported. I refer to food, drink and other items which logically could be produced. Although members of your Lordships' Select Committee on manufacturing said that we do not want to be entirely a tourist country here the potential for the growth of tourism in the Caribbean is great.
I do not believe that the United States understands the Caribbean or that it ever will. The cultures are so different. I record only one incident when I happened to be on a particular island at the time of the Grenada incident when Mr. Bush and Mr. Baldrige came to lobby it for support. Many people in this country could not understand what the fuss was about. A major attempt was made to gain support for a boycott. I was sitting at table for dinner and, needless to say, when the word "boycott" was mentioned the biggest concern was whether he would play cricket in South Africa. I do not believe that the United States has the ability to resolve the future of the Caribbean.
However, there is another country with which we co-operate closely and should do so even more—I refer to Canada. It has considerable interests in the Caribbean, in particular because when the weather is bad in Canada it is nice in the Caribbean. I am not sure what a government can do at present except to promote and to encourage trade. Above all we should encourage the enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual West Indian.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Sharp of Grimsdyke
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Young for her initiative in raising the subject of the West Indies. I spent a great deal of time visiting many of the Caribbean islands on business when I was chairman of Cable and Wireless. I had many discussions with government leaders, trade union representatives and local businessmen. Therefore, I identify myself with the aspirations of the 888 Caribbean people to improve their economic well-being as they gain or develop their political independence.
We are talking about democratic communities with independent judiciaries and developing traditions based on centuries of association with and guidance from Britain. They have been loyal members of the Commonwealth despite the gravitational pull of North America. They deserve more than a few moments of our time in order to ventilate their problems. I suppose that one critical question is whether our willingness to encourage and to assist the political independence of the West Indian communities was fuelled by our desire to reduce the economic cost to this country of sustaining those communities which were struggling from a low base of productivity, technological development and limited economic and social resources. Furthermore, in consequence, has this country a special or moral responsibility to assist those communities to sell their products in an increasingly competitive world dominated by large trading blocs with restricted access?
I believe that we have such a special responsibility to use our influence in the one forum with which this Government have linked our future; that is the European Community. But facing the future in Europe must not mean turning our backs on our friends. When the United States forces invaded Grenada, which is a member of the British Commonwealth, in order to preserve the political stability and democratic institutions of that country, much concern was expressed about the legitimacy of the action. Personally, I had no doubts about the necessity of such emergency action. But military intervention in a third world country to preserve political stability makes no long-term sense if economic and social conditions are ignored. Therefore, your Lordships will understand if I take this opportunity to reinforce the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, by commenting on the economic and social importance of the banana crop to various Caribbean communities and reviewing the critical significance of preferential access to the wealthy European Community market.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, in his thoughtful, compassionate and admirably delivered maiden speech, emphasised the absolute dependence on bananas. However, bananas are just one small item in a nation's import account and a very minor item in the consumer's shopping basket. However, to many Caribbean communities, the successful marketing of the banana crop is a matter of life and death. Bananas and tourism dominate those economies. Both are affected by extraneous factors such as exchange rates, hurricanes and a hostile economic environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, pointed out that in the case of Dominica bananas account for no less than 70 per cent. of its GDP. That applies, to a lesser degree, to St. Lucia and other Caribbean countries. It is true that every opportunity is being 889 taken to reduce that dependency by diversification but inevitably that will take generations to implement, if it is at all possible.
What can we do to assist those courageous communities to pull themselves up by their own efforts? First, I suggest that we should affirm that it is in everybody's interests to see those communities expand by their own efforts rather than by cash handouts. Secondly, the European Community must allow the Caribbean banana producers access to its market through balanced quotas, which ensure a level, and stability, of prices that give both producers and small farmers a worthwhile return and in consequence provide economic and social stability in those Caribbean communities so heavily dependent on the banana crop.
It may be argued by Community officials that the current arrangements are satisfactory in being even-handed in providing quotas to producers from all parts of the world, and that, with the advent of the single market by January 1993, consumer interests must also be safeguarded. When one contemplates previous and present distortions of the market, favouring producers and national interests—such as the special arrangements for the Iron and Steel Community, the subsidies for coal and nuclear power, and the grossest distortion of all, the common agricultural policy, including the blatant protection of the French oil seed industry—it would be cruel and perverse to resist the powerful claims by the Caribbean countries for special consideration over other dollar banana exporting countries which have more balanced economies.
Of course, the Caribbean countries must play their part. They should constantly improve the quality and marketing of their product. They should seek advice from the large, progressive retailing groups in this country. They should work closely with the main exporting traders, such as Geest and Fyffes, for better marketing and seek reduced distribution costs. But the vital battle will take place in Brussels, and it is there that I ask Her Majesty's Government to press as strongly for understanding of the Caribbean banana producers' position as the French will for the banana interest of their overseas territories. In essence, the Caribbean producers are asking for transitional relief until their costs are brought into line with prices to give them some margin to keep their communities alive.
I understand that at last week's meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, the Ministers refused to discuss the Commission's proposals on bananas. That is understandable in the light of the domination of the agenda by the GATT issue. What is not understandable—and perhaps the Minister will comment in her reply—is why the British Ministry of Agriculture allegedly failed to respond to the request for members to table alternative proposals. That means that there is no time left to establish a managed market before the single market comes into operation on 1st January 1993. As has already been said, that will inevitably lead to a flood of imports by the dollar producers. Further, the presidency passes to the Danes on 1st January 1993 and it is likely that they 890 will propose a tariffication solution to the banana problem. That would leave the Caribbean producers worse off than if bananas had been subject to GATT.
I urge the Government, therefore, while they still retain the initiative afforded by their presidency, to press now and urgently in the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Council for continuing the protection provided by the Lomé Convention and its banana protocol—and in particular to continue the quota system, based on real market trends and not on the proposed artificial levels achieved by dollar imports in 1992 and projected for 1993. The Community proposal to limit the imports of Caribbean bananas to 1990 levels is manifestly unfair and makes no economic sense, particularly as the Caribbean producers, unlike their competitors, have no alternative market and therefore would he denied their share of growth and the opportunity to reduce costs. I hope that both the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture will speak with one voice in advocacy for our Caribbean friends who, in an increasingly hostile world, can look only to this country for the assistance they richly deserve.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Hollick
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the political and economic future of the Caribbean. I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, for a powerful and impressive maiden speech.
Most of the speakers in today's debate clearly have ties of family or friendship with countries in the Caribbean and therefore our interest in the region is based upon strong feelings of affection for, and in many cases a deep personal knowledge of, the people and the countries. Approximately 1 million of our fellow citizens in the United Kingdom are of Caribbean origin. Our island culture was initially exported to the Caribbean islands who enriched it and in turn re-exported it to Britain.
In culture, sport, education and political and legal institutions we share a common heritage. Many in this country took great pleasure when Derek Walcott won the Nobel prize for literature. As has been said, we admire Caribbean sportsmen and women for their excellence, whether they play in the Caribbean or in the United Kingdom, although I suspect that for many of us the prospect of a four-man pace attack of the West Indies cricket team is something to be frightened of rather than admired.
I stress those deep-rooted cultural, social and political ties because they are current and not simply historic, and because they form the basis of a special relationship between the Caribbean and Britain. That special relationship has, of course, changed significantly over the years since independence. Now, with Britain's eyes fixed firmly upon its future in Europe, it is changing again. Our concern to establish our role in Europe could lead to a weakening of our relationship with other parts of the world. I urge the Government to guard against that possible drift away from historic links and to ensure that our special relationship with 891 the Caribbean and other parts of the world is nourished and actively developed. Those relationships not only enrich our political, social and cultural life, but they are also of great economic importance and benefit to both Britain and the Caribbean.
Those economic ties are founded upon trade and investment. Trade must be reviewed in the context of the development of world trade agreements and, more particularly, regional trading blocs. Investment must address the specific requirements of Caribbean countries. Bilateral country to country trade negotiations have now been superseded by negotiations between these large trading blocs.
For its part, Britain needs to develop an approach to the Caribbean which not only covers the English speaking countries but also the rather more populous French and Spanish speaking countries which together have sizeable and fast-growing economies. Britain, thanks to its special historical links, can and should play a leading role in developing the European Community's relationship with the wider Caribbean. It is important for the English speaking Caribbean to develop CARICOM to the point where it can become an effective voice and can negotiate for the region. It is disappointing that at their recent meeting Caribbean heads of government did not move more positively and enthusiastically towards a CARICOM commission for I believe that such a commission would strengthen their bargaining position in world affairs.
The principal trade issues at the moment concern the future arrangements for the export of bananas and sugar from the Caribbean to Britain and other EC countries. Many of your Lordships have emphasised the critical importance of both crops to many islands. It is no exaggeration to predict that without a guaranteed outlet for that primary product, a number of island economies would collapse. I hope today that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government will use every effort to support the European Commission's proposal to create a protected quota for Caribbean bananas and specific-ally that they will oppose tariff-based regulations which are likely to favour the richer banana-growing countries.
Over-dependence on one crop or one natural resource is widespread in the Caribbean and can only be tackled by product and industry diversification. Many of the Caribbean countries, particularly the larger ones, are making important moves to develop a more balanced economy. I believe that the British Government can do much to help that process. Aid to the poorer countries in the region can help to fund the training and infrastructure projects essential to the development of new industries. Investment in new commercial ventures by both government agency and the private sector is often the only way of getting such ventures off the ground.
The CDC is an important source of risk capital. The Government should encourage and enable it to play an expanded role throughout the Caribbean basin. I understand that the CDC's ability to enter into joint funding with the private sector is often circumscribed by the Treasury's definition of public 892 sector financing. I hope that the Minister can use her good offices to persuade the Treasury to ease those guidelines so that the CDC can work closely with private sector finance for innovative investment opportunities.
Many countries in the Caribbean are now opening up their economies through various economic reforms such as deregulation and trade liberalisation so that the private sector can become a major force for economic development. Perhaps we may consider the case of Trinidad and Tobago, a country blessed and occasionally cursed, by its oil resources. Trinidad is seeking to reduce its dependence on the public sector for investment and employment generation. Unemployment in Trinidad is running at nearly 25 per cent. Trinidad is also seeking to diversify away from its dependence on energy.
A loan from the Inter-American Development Bank is supporting a range of economic reforms in Trinidad to stimulate the growth of private investment in the country from both domestic and foreign sources. That loan will fund the development of a legal and institutional framework, including a one-stop investment agency and a securities and exchange commission which will all help to create a more favourable climate for overseas investment. The loan will also support efforts to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of adjustment to new industrial development and will also provide the training necessary to support the new industries.
If countries like Trinidad and Tobago are to escape from the vagaries of commodity prices they must develop a more broadly based economy. To do that they require financial assistance from foreign governments and agencies and the active participation of foreign investors. The British Government have a dual role to play. They can provide financial and technical assistance. For instance, why not consider a Caribbean know-how fund? They should—indeed must—encourage private investment.
The British Government's trade and investment promotion activity in the region is far too thinly spread. The resources are simply inadequate for the job and do not do justice to the opportunities available for British inward investment. There is a good case for Britain to upgrade its commercial representation to ensure that it takes full advantage of this fast-growing Caribbean basin market.
There is a desire within the region to see an increase in British and European investment in order to counter-balance the investment which flows from North America. Although the region is expected in due course to become an associate or even full member of the North American Free Trade Area there is a strong desire to sustain the existing special relation-ship with Britain and to ensure that Caribbean economies do not become totally dependent on the United States.
Finally, I should like to touch briefly on the problem of external sovereign debt in the Caribbean. Many of the countries in the region fall between two stools. They are too rich to be considered poor and yet, sadly, too poor to be considered rich. They have not therefore benefited from some of the more 893 generous arrangements to forgive or reduce overseas debt. They are still saddled with substantial borrowings which must be serviced out of hard-pressed currency reserves and which make additional borrowings very hard to obtain. British Government policy should acknowledge this enduring burden and recognise that faster economic development is the only solution to the problem. More investment and technical assistance, greater trade representation in the region and a sustained effort to work with Caribbean countries to encourage and facilitate private sector investment is the best way of helping these countries to achieve faster economic growth and the best way of protecting Britain's current and long-term economic and political interests in the region.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Eccles of Moulton
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those already paid to my noble friend Lady Young for providing the opportunity to debate the future of the Caribbean. As the last of the Back-Bench speakers on such a comprehensive list, there is really nothing new that I can say. However, I hope that my few brief comments will at least bear repetition.
I have visited the region both on holiday and with my husband in his capacity as chief executive of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. All visits—no matter for what reason—have been a pleasure. It is such a beautiful part of the world with a large, warm and mostly very clean sea. There are so many interesting things to see, such as the volcanos of St. Lucia, the Petit Piton volcanic needles, the green Sisseroh parrots of Dominica and the spectacular blue mountain coffee slopes of Jamaica.
There is a strongly held view that the Caribbean region needs to establish and expand successful private sector ventures on which to base its trade with the single European market and the emerging North America Free Trade Area. It also needs to develop strong economic and political ties with its trading partners. As my noble friend Lady Young said, well over half the population have Spanish as their first language and nearly one-fifth are English speakers. Our historic links go back over a long period.
It is accepted that pan-Caribbean strength, which embraces the whole region, is to be encouraged as the area competes in world markets. However, as is well known, the Caribbean is characterised by countries which vary from the comparatively well off Martinique and Guadaloupe to the very poor Haiti and Cuba. Political fragmentation of the Caribbean can lead to events which are an embarrassment, to say the least. The most notable occurred in Grenada, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sharp. It must be in our interests to make every effort to encourage stability and progress in the smaller Caribbean states. Although the West Indian Federation, which was formed at independence, was a failure, new and welcome moves towards regional co-operation are taking place through CARICOM, as my noble friend Lady Young described in detail.
894 Development needs to be encouraged in order to improve and decrease the disparity between incomes. Economic opportunities are not easy to find in the smaller Caribbean islands which historically have been heavily dependent on sugar and bananas. A great deal has been said about bananas already this evening by noble Lords who know much more about the subject than I do, but I must add another word on the subject. The outcome of the meeting last week of the EC Council of Agriculture Ministers does not augur well for the future of the Caribbean banana industry. This will have particular significance for the smaller islands. The bigger islands can aspire to an industrial base; for instance, methanol production in Trinidad. In Jamaica American companies invest in factories adding value because of high, inexpensive labour content, and the products are imported into the US under the Caribbean basin initiative. But all need to recognise the importance of diversifying agricultural production into non-traditional exports such as fruit and vegetables. Tourism has probably the greatest potential as the industry of the region.
Capital investment in infrastructure is another important area for development. To a lesser or greater extent the islands will be able to make a contribution towards financing capital expenditure through savings, but external help will be needed. Electricity and telecommunications are sectors where there is already much activity. For instance, a Canadian company is the majority owner of the power company in the Cayman and CDC is the majority owner of the power company in St. Lucia. Once ownership is established continuing provision of capital often follows. Cable and Wireless, as my noble friend Lord Sharp will know a great deal better than I, is very active in the Caribbean and makes a major contribution. This is a particularly encouraging example as no company will continue to invest in this way unless it is profitable.
The governments of Caribbean countries with British connections are encouraging the inflow of foreign capital. They are removing unnecessary obstacles to investment and by and large they are able to service their debts. A continuing contribution to the development of the Caribbean countries with which we have the strongest ties will benefit both the economies of those countries and their political relationship with the United Kingdom.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this debate which, as she rightly said, has come at the right time—one might say, high time. I only hope that it is not too late. One of the impressive aspects of the debate is the sense of urgency; the sense that we have to find a way through the problems which confront us in a very short time.
I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Glenconner for his most notable maiden speech. It combined virtues which are rarely combined—sincerity, eloquence and knowledge. That is something from which we have all gained. I hope that we shall hear from him again short of another 10 years.
895 The theme or aspect of the debate which has gone on emerging and which I find most worrying is the very real danger that the Caribbean will be marginalised, that it will slip between the two great trading blocs because it is rather small and rather fragmented, and will simply be forgotten. That seems to he a genuine danger and one which must concern us all and one which we must try to prevent. The danger of marginalisation is partly because of our perception of the Caribbean and partly because of its intrinsic fragmentation. There are a huge number of islands spread over a vast area. Its geographical, political, linguistic and historical heritage are all fragmentary. This increases the danger to which I have referred and reinforces our perception of the Caribbean which tends to see it in anglophone terms; in cricketing terms; in terms of people of West Indian origin living in this country. The total perception is of a relatively small anglophone Caribbean population whereas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others have told us, the population amounts to 50 million which is, after all, about the same as this country's population.
Secondly, it is worth reminding ourselves that we are discussing the crisis which faces the Caribbean, but the major economic problems facing the people are not of their own making. Their trade has deteriorated sharply over the past two decades. The oil crisis of 1973 affected them more drastically than it affected the developed world. The price of the primary products that they export has about halved, whereas the price of goods that they import has about doubled. The position is not one of their making, but it is one with which they have to deal. It is, as Michael Manley said, rather like climbing up an escalator which is going in the opposite direction.
However, during this rather dispiriting ordeal, it is remarkable, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, that during the midst of these stringent economic conditions they have sought and striven towards achieving more and better democratic institutions, organisations and practices. That is a creditable and remarkable achievement. As has been said during the debate, there are two questions confronting us: what can they do to help themselves, and what can we do to help them help themselves? Again, I have been impressed by what people have said about the real and profound nature of our obligations towards the people living in those islands; by the urgency of the crisis; by the fact that those who now depend upon bananas have, anyhow in the short term—if we take that as being the next 10 years —no real available alternative. There is, again, the danger of their being marginalised and slipping between the two trading blocs.
There is a short and a long-term problem. The first is how we see the islands through the short-term crisis facing the banana industry; and, secondly, what we want to help them attain in the longer term. In that respect, the report of the West Indian Commission has been mentioned frequently. The programme that it 896 has offered—based clearly upon the analogy with the European Community—which proposes that the way through is by political and economic integration is of course in principle attractive and would seem the obvious course for them to pursue. I am persuaded that, in principle, it is the right development and the right way for them to go. However, I have been impressed by suggestions made by a number of people who know the Caribbean much better than I do who have described the real, historical, geographical and emotional difficulties which will exist if they are faced by a programme of rapid integration. The formula may be too closely modelled upon the European precedent. There may have to be modes of co-operation; and ways and means of developing co-ordination of a different type when dealing with islands that are so widely separated and with such different histories, particularly if one is to embrace within that area of co-ordination not merely the anglophone countries but the French and Spanish-speaking ones which, as many people have said, have very different traditions.
However, whatever one's reservations about the West Indian Commission's report, it seems to me to provide a way ahead for British policy. It seems to me to say to this country, "You have reached a moment, come to a time when you have to formulate a new and coherent attitude towards the Caribbean, based on responding to contemporary conditions". Such a policy I think would see the enlargement of CARICOM to include all 50 million people which would be able to talk to NAFTA and the EC. That is the key point. That is why some degree of co-ordination is essential, because without it, how can they talk to these huge trading blocs? I think I am right in saying that at the moment in London there are 10 High Commissions talking about bananas. That is not a sensible way of getting a good bargain.
Therefore, whatever the difficulties, some kind of co-ordination of policy throughout the Caribbean must be devised if it is not simply to slip between these two trading blocs. It seems to me that in this, British policy, British diplomacy, the British relationship has an important and constructive part to play.
Further, it is an opportunity to rethink our aid policy. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who I think said that if aid is to be confined to the poorest, the Caribbean will come out badly. That would be a poor way in which to fulfil our obligation. In many ways, it seems to me that the Caribbean needs the kind of aid which we are giving the central and eastern European countries. When the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, mentioned the know-how fund, I had written it down myself. What the Caribbean needs is know-how of the kind we are giving in central and eastern Europe: know-how in training, in education, in building the kind of institutions which underlie a prosperous market economy, the kind of institutions which underlie and support a solid democratic structure.
Those seem to me to be the objects which we should pursue in our policy towards the Caribbean: an 897 encouragement of integration, whatever the difficulties, for the reasons I have given; a provision of aid which is designed for a country of that order of poverty and wealth and which concentrates on 898 providing the infrastructure of knowledge and institutions from which it can build the long-term alternative to the banana industry.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, deserves the thanks and appreciation of us all for having introduced the debate tonight with her characteristic clarity and sound knowledge of her subject. I shall hope to underline some of her observations during my remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, made an outstanding maiden speech. It was full of passion, humanitarian concern and invaluable direct experi-ence. I know that we all look forward to hearing him repeatedly in debates of this kind.
A number of powerful representations from outside organisations about the debate illustrate the significance and timeliness of the subject. I think Christian Aid has concisely summarised many of the concerns so well expressed in the introduction to its helpful brief which I should like to quote:1992 sees two important dates: the deadline for the completion of the Single European Market … and the quincentenary of the arrival of the first European in the Caribbean.500 years after the arrival of Columbus, Europe—and in particular the United Kingdom—still has a major responsibility for the economic well-being of the people of these islands".The noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and others have recognised in what they said our very special responsibility for the dependencies: Anguilla, the British Virgin Isles, the Cayman Isles, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It would be appropriate to remind the House that some doubts have arisen in some quarters as to how far the Government remain committed to eventual independence. It would be helpful if the Minister could tonight clarify the constitutional future and spell out exactly how the Government's policy now stands on the economic development of the dependencies.
The Caribbean region, as the debate has underlined, raises interesting issues in terms of aid policy. Rightly a priority for ODA across the world must be the needs of the poorest. On the whole the Caribbean does not rank in this category, but if we genuinely want to see self-generating development, the relationship with precisely this kind of region with all its exciting potential is crucially important. It would be a strange approach to development which abandoned nations on the brink of take-off. The Minister's thoughts on this will be important, not least on what she sees as the role of the ODA in co-operating with NGOs and the private sector, as called for so cogently by the West Indian Commission and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles, and others tonight.
In this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, reminded us, the Commonwealth Development Corporation has had a distinguished record in the Caribbean. It would therefore be good to learn more from the Minister tonight how she sees its future role. But there are, of course, still areas of desperate need within the region. Haiti has the worst health record in the Western hemisphere with life expectancy of only 54 years and an infant mortality rate of 123 per 1,000 live births.
900 Indeed, according to the Catholic Institute of International Relations in its publication entitled Profile Haiti the appalling levels of sanitation, malnutrition and health provision put Haiti on a par with the nightmare in Sub-Saharan Africa. The situation in the Dominican Republic is also disturbing with the infant mortality rate at 70 per 1,000. Infectious diseases which are poverty related and preventable account for, I gather, as many as 85 per cent. of the deaths of women at childbirth. Malnutrition among young children is on the increase. Situations like these obviously present immediate challenges to Britain's aid programme and we anxiously await the Minister's words tonight on how she is meeting them.
Jamaica has one of the highest per capita debts in the world —some £1,000 per head for every man woman and child owed to the industrialised world. About £80 million of that is owed to the United Kingdom alone. Some 25 per cent. of Jamaica's gross national product goes on debt and interest repayments. The consequent cuts in social infrastructure have been draconian. Some hospitals lack even aspirin and bandages. Families are frequently expected to provide linen and food and patients are sometimes required to share beds. Alleviating the crippling debt crisis in the region as a whole is of course essential if self-generating development is to have any hope of success. But surely at the very least the Trinidad terms could be extended to countries such as Jamaica. It would be good if the Minister could this evening indicate some initiative in this respect.
Development is about more than aid. Trade is, of course, vital. The outcome of the current GATT negotiations will have profound implications for the Caribbean. As my noble friend Lord Pitt has so movingly brought home, it is difficult to exaggerate the life or death importance of banana exports to Britain for the people of the Windward Islands and indeed Jamaica. Any undermining of the special access to Britain could cause catastrophe for 30,000 small farmers in the Windward Islands who work their own plots, frequently less than one hectare in size. In Dominica, too, bananas account for 70 per cent. of exports. The poor quality of the soil and the steep and rocky nature of the terrain mean that prices are inevitably higher than those of the so-called dollar bananas from Central and Latin America. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, argued, it may well be that diversification is essential. However, diversification is easier said than done, and it takes time.
On 1st January next, in the context of the single European market, we cannot abandon our Caribbean friends who have supplied us so well. The Lomé Convention spells out the position very clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharp of Grimsdyke, has reminded us. I quote from the rules:In respect of its banana exports to the Community markets, no African, Caribbean and Pacific state shall be placed, as regards its traditional markets and its advantages in those markets, in a less favourable situation than in the past or present".The European Commission has drawn up a sensible proposal for a protected quota for ACP bananas exported to Europe, based on current export levels 901 and a 20 per cent. levy on all bananas that are imported from Latin America. However, the latest news from Brussels is not reassuring. The Community is not rallying behind the proposal. In the corridors alternative schemes are actively being canvassed based on tariff rates that are supposed to keep ACP bananas competitive in a free market. However, such a scheme could easily fail because it would be open to manipulation by multi-national dollar banana companies which have ample resources to subsidise their products for a time in order to undercut ACP bananas, forcing them out of the market despite the tariffs.
We have little more than a month to secure the position of our Caribbean friends. We need to hear from the Minister tonight exactly how she proposes to do so, thereby honouring specific pledges that were made by the previous and the present Prime Minister in this respect.
My noble friend Lord Pitt spoke of sugar, which presents another grave crisis for the Caribbean. As part of the reform of the common agricultural policy, Europe is considering a new sugar regime. The European Community produces more sugar than it needs. The surplus is dumped on world markets, driving down international prices by as much as 15 per cent. For people in countries like the Dominican Republic, that means decreased earnings and increased poverty. However, the European Community has an agreement whereby it buys 1.3 million tonnes per annum of sugar from a number of its ex-colonies at the same price that it pays to the domestic beet sugar producers. That is substantially higher than the world price and provides a very valuable form of assistance to countries such as Jamaica. The proposed changes to the European Community sugar regime will involve a reduction in the European Community sugar price. That situation could cause havoc among those in the Caribbean who have supplied our needs so well in the past and whose economies and social organisation have been tailored to do just that, founded as they were on ruthless exploitation and slavery.
Can the Minister give us a categorical assurance that there will be compensation and assistance with diversification for ACP producers, should there be any reduction in the price paid for their sugar, and, for that matter, that at long last effective steps will be taken to end the dumping of surplus sugar on world markets?
Bananas and sugar illustrate the new pressures on the Lomé convention. Such pressures will probably increase as GATT seeks to remove the so-called trade distortions and as enlargement of the Community brings in countries that have no traditional links with the ex-colonies. The balance of voting power in the Council of Ministers will move away from supporting Lomé countries. Lome has provided a very important pillar of development policy in the past. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the UK will insist that if Lomé provisions are to be weakened or removed, they will be replaced by other forms of assistance.
902 Meanwhile, there is still room for improvement in Lomé. It is disturbing that despite Lomé preferences, Caribbean countries find it easier to export horticultural products and textiles to the United States than to the European Community.
Healthy trade is naturally two way. The Caribbean is a market of 50 million people. The United Kingdom's approach to this market seems extraor-dinarily complacent. Why is it that in some of the largest parts of this market, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us, we have no formal diplomatic representation and rely on splendid honorary consuls to promote trade in their spare time? By contrast our North American and European competitors are upgrading their commercial representation and export promotion throughout the Caribbean region. Can the Minister assure us that the United Kingdom Government intend to pull their finger out in this respect?
No debate on the Caribbean would be valid without reference to human rights. Since the military coup in September 1991 the people of Haiti have been literally terrorised by the regime. It is estimated that in the first six months after the coup 2,000 people died of bullet wounds, 500 died after torture, and 6,000 people were wounded by bullets. In their determination to eliminate popular support for the legitimate president, both secret police and military have targeted non-governmental organisations and members of the opposition.
Christian Aid has advocated that the European Community should establish a special budget line for human rights and democracy in Haiti. Oxfam has argued that a return to democracy and renewed economic progress can best be tackled through the NGOs of Haiti, and it has put forward proposals to the European Community on their behalf. Can the Minister tell us what support she is giving to these initiatives? What is the Government's position on refugees from the regime?
In British Guyana the new government elected on 7th October in the first free elections since 1964 faces a tough task, not least since the outgoing government of the People's National Congress looted a considerable amount of government funds and property before they left office. I wonder whether the United Kingdom Government are going to provide assistance for the process of democratisation. Amnesty is concerned at the growing number of prisoners of conscience in Cuba. But the internal demand for reform there is growing. It would be good to hear of any contingency economic planning by our own Government, the European Community and the United States to assist in the process of transition to democracy as it gathers momentum.
Although not central to our debate this evening Guatemala remains a potential threat to Belize. My noble friend Lord Taylor spoke tellingly about this. The human rights situation in Guatemala is still grim. Has the Minister any encouraging news on the peace process, for peace and democracy will be good news for Belize? I raise these matters because of the Government's commendable commitment to a human rights dimension in their aid policies, coupled with 903 their commitment to support the cause of democracy. We now look for the evidence of consistent and substantial application of these frequently declared commitments in practice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke of the need for regional integration. She is right. Like Europe, the Americas are moving towards integra-tion. Canada, the United States and Mexico are joining in the North America free trade area; Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil are similarly coming together. I suggest we and the European Community should be giving all possible support to facilitate a comparable process in the Caribbean. That process should involve the whole Caribbean Basin including the nations of the Central American common market, rather than the Caribbean islands alone. This could greatly increase the bargaining power of the region as well as providing economies of scale and strengthened development through shared information and technology. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, have spoken of the recent report of the West Indian Commission in this context. It was a constructive report. I hope that the Minister will share with us her reactions to it.
My noble friend Lord Hollick made a significant contribution in what he said about the interwoven heritage and culture of the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Courageous sons of the Caribbean have fought shoulder to shoulder with us in two world wars. I believe that in thanking the noble Baroness for making this debate possible tonight we have, in the best spirit of this House, demonstrated a bipartisan concern for a flourishing and positive relationship between the people of the United Kingdom and the people of the Caribbean, and that not for the first time we have said clearly to the Minister have the strength of what we know are your convictions, and we will be behind you all the way.
§ 10.5 p.m
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)
My Lords, once again we have had a stimulating and caring debate about the Caribbean. First, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young for introducing the debate and stimulating many others to contribute so imaginatively to the problems and to look at the challenges ahead, but none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, in his maiden speech. How right the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was when he said it was impressive. It was imaginative, colourful and, above all, sympathetic in description of the grave dangers facing the banana farmers of the Caribbean, especially the Windward Islands. I shall long remember his reference to the Scylla and Charybdis of the GATT and EC—a better description one would go a long way to find.
This debate is very fitting for it takes place 500 years after the Caribbean connection with Europe began. I hope noble Lords will consider that 1992 marks not the end of that link from which both Europe and the Caribbean have benefited but rather 904 the forging of new relationships. We share with the Commonwealth Caribbean its commitment to fundamental values of democracy, freedom and individual rights. Our historical ties and shared interests encourage us to work together in partnership, for example in the Commonwealth institutions, and further to strengthen our links with and assist the economic and political development of the Caribbean. Britons have enjoyed particularly close and historic cultural relations with the Commonwealth Caribbean. As the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, said, the evidence is plain to see in our daily lives. The contributions made by the West Indian community to our industry, sport, entertainment and the media are magnificent.
We have a very special interest in the region, not least because of our responsibilities for the five remaining British dependent territories in the Caribbean. Our economic links and institutional ties remain strong. Many of the smaller commonwealth Caribbean countries have become independent in relatively recent years but still look to us for encouragement and assistance. Our continuing commitment to the Caribbean is reflected in the fact that one of the priorities in negotiating our accession to the European Community was to establish a satisfactory development and trade relationship with those parts of the Caribbean with which this country traditionally had enjoyed close and special connections.
The world in which we live is changing rapidly. As so many speakers in the debate have said, the countries of the Caribbean face difficult decisions about their destiny. To avoid that it was very important to have a thorough examination of the issues facing the Caribbean. That was made clear in the recent report of the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Sonny Ramphal that commonwealth Caribbean governments have been considering.
My noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and others spoke of the danger of marginalisation. Marginalisation must not happen, but I have to say that it is in the hands of the Caribbean governments. They must decide how best to confront the challenges and change for the future. That was exactly what I know Sir Sonny Ramphal was hoping would emerge from that recent report. I may return to it if there is time later.
One of the things I am confident about in the Caribbean is that the basic Commonwealth Caribbean values of democracy, freedom and respect for individual rights will continue to guide them, and other countries in the area have much to learn from the Commonwealth Caribbean. I shall try to deal with the main issues raised. Where I am unable to answer tonight, I shall write to individual noble Lords.
There is an urgency of action. Let me begin with trade. I never fail to remember that trade is lifeblood and it is that lifeblood which most Caribbean people want more than any aid. That is not to say that they do not need help too. They do; but the best help we can give them is through trade. That is why the Government attach the greatest importance to maintaining the close commercial links which the UK 905 has with the English-speaking Caribbean in par-ticular; but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, said, to developing commercial relations with the non-English-speaking countries of the Caribbean too. We ignore at our peril the potential of the Spanish, French, Dutch and other Caribbean islands.
We have had a steady growth in trade in recent years. It now exceeds £1.1 billion in two-way trade, the balance of which continues to be in the Caribbean's favour. The Caribbean remains an important market for UK companies which last year exported over £500 million worth of goods to the region. In addition, the total amount of UK investment in the region is of the order of £2 billion. This is an important economic area. I am the first to recognise, as my noble friend Lady Young said, how important it is to have proper representation in the Caribbean.
There are no plans at present to alter the pattern of diplomatic representation in the Caribbean. We review plans regularly and at this very moment we are considering how we can best reinforce our representation in Puerto Rico, a priority market for trade promotion in the Caribbean. There are currently nearly 70 UK-based Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff serving in the area, including the staff of the dependent territories' secretariat which is now being established. Of those, 19 have specific responsibilities for trade promotion. They are supported by a further 19 locally employed commercial staff. But it will behove us well to look again at the way in which we use our commercial staff in the region and to see whether it could be done with better pinpointing of targets.
There is no doubt, as my noble friend Lady Young said, that Puerto Rico has become a very impressive developing country in the sense that it is now a very active trading country too. That is why it is the second BOTB market in the region. It has the most diversified economy; it has a large and sophisticated industrial base with direct access to the US market and an annual import bill now of some £7 billion. The most important thing that we have done, which has certainly helped in markets such as Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, is through CARITAG; namely, the export promotion activity established by the British Overseas Trade Board some 20 years ago. It receives an annual subvention from the DTI. CARITAG's overall aims and objectives are to increase the value of exports to target markets and sectors by promoting a greater awareness of commercial opportunities in the region and particular-ly in the non-English-speaking markets. But it is critically important that the work that is done through CARITAG is matched by work that is done within the region itself.
That is why I turn swiftly now to the question of CARICOM and the West Indian Commission because it is very important that there is indeed a response from the countries in promoting economic integration and wider co-operation among the countries of the region.
We were pleased to make a small contribution towards the work of the West Indian Commission because we believe that there must be a concerted 906 approach by the Caribbean states. That must be the best response to the developments elsewhere. As was said by my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, and other noble Lords, unless there is action within the Caribbean area by the Caribbean countries they cannot benefit when everyone else is involved in their own actions. That is obviously true in relation to the European single market and to the North America Free Trade Area. I should hate to see the small economies of the Caribbean countries marginalised. That is why we hope that CARICOM will have real success in strengthening their ability to work together.
The Time for Action, the report of the commission which was submitted to the heads of government in October for their special meeting, contained more than 200 recommendations. They did not relate simply to the argument for an accelerated process of economic integration and the establishment of the CARICOM commission; they covered the freedom of movement, financial institutions, common currency, wide-ranging economic issues, human resource developments, social concerns and external relations. It is a disappointment to many in your Lordships' House that the heads of government set aside much of the integrationist thrust of the report. However, they were able to agree on some proposals, in particular to strengthen the secretariat.
I hope that there will be further moves to strengthen the way in which the countries of the Caribbean can work together. Without that there is a real fear that NAFTA-the North American Free Trade Area—could divert new investment funds away from the region. That we well understand. The USA is not at present negotiating with Caribbean countries on an extension of NAFTA, a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I believe that when NAFTA concentrates in its next stage on negotiations with Chile and Venezuela a number of Caribbean countries will be worried about that. It behoves the Caribbean to become involved in what is going on and to look for opportunities in markets within their region which they could exploit. That is what we are really talking about.
My noble friend Lady Young, in her first-class opening speech, made us aware of the close-knit relationship which is sought by the United States, Canada and Mexico in the free trade agreement. Although I understand that the agreement has yet to be examined by legal experts before ratification, it is only a year and a month or so before it will come into force. While we welcome the agreement on NAFTA, because it is a boost to free trade and to trade and investment, we are concerned to see that the Caribbean countries might benefit and not suffer as a result. That is why we hope that a greater interest will be taken by the Caribbean countries. However, although NAFTA is structured to allow other countries to join I doubt whether any Caribbean country is yet ready to do so.
Your Lordships asked many more questions concerned with trade but I wish to concentrate now on rum, sugar and bananas. I have often called them the "Lome Cocktail" because it could be poisonous if we 907 do not get it right. I am more aware than most of the critical importance of all those products. Although we speak only little of rum that is of enormous importance to our Commonwealth Caribbean partners. Throughout the Lomé IV renegotiations we pushed hard to phase out the national quotas. I was greatly relieved when late one night in November 1989 I obtained a Community agreement that we should do that by 1993 because that is extremely important for the prospects of the Caribbean producers.
I was asked also about sugar. The Government remain committed to continued access to the Community for the 1.3 billion tonnes of ACP sugar under the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd referred. The future of that protocol is not under threat. The UK has consistently supported the ACP request to convert the 75,000 tonnes currently imported into Portugal at a reduced levy into permanent ACP levy-free access. However, it will look favourably upon any Commission proposals for the ACP to benefit when additional amounts of raw sugar required by Portugal are discussed within the Community. It is a narrow but extremely important point because it lays the foundations for future dealing on this matter. I shall not go further into the detail; suffice to say, your Lordships should know that both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Agriculture are absolutely determined to see that the commitment which we have given is fully carried through.
Before I turn to the all important subject of bananas, on which I believe all noble Lords have spoken, perhaps I may make one comment on the GATT Uruguay Round because it is against that background that we must consider the situation. The Government warmly welcome last Friday's agreement between the EC and US negotiators. It is a key step on the path to an overall GATT agreement to benefit all the GATT contracting parties, including the Caribbean countries. The OECD estimates that a Uruguay Round agreement would add about 200 billion dollars to the world's GDP and about half of that would be of benefit to the developing world. That is why, at every instance, I sought to ensure that the needs of the developing world were fully considered in every element of the GATT round. The next step is for the bilateral and multilateral negotiations to resume in Geneva on the remaining issues before a final agreement can be reached. I take very much to heart the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in winding up for the Opposition and all the comments made about bananas in this debate.
The production and export of bananas play a critical role—often the most important role—in the prosperity of the Caribbean countries. But, as my noble friend Lord Sharp of Grimsdyke said, there is a responsibility among the banana producers, as well as among those of us who import those bananas, to ensure that the quality, handling, marketing and distribution improve. My noble friend Lord Sharp of 908 Grimsdyke made one of the most interesting résumés of what needed to happen to the banana market that I have ever heard in either House.
We have no hesitation in saying that our commitment to the banana producers in Jamaica and the Windward Islands stands; that is, that they should continue to enjoy preferential access to the markets. There is no doubt that France and Spain, which also have traditional banana suppliers elsewhere in the Caribbean, think likewise. The United Kingdom played a leading role in making sure that the fourth Lomé Convention between the EC and its member states and the 69 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries continues to embody that practice in granting preferential treatment. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, with the establishment of the single market on 1st January next year, those arrangements for bananas, which differ between member states, must be replaced by Community-wide arrangements. We made it clear that those future arrangements must fully meet our Lomé obligations. At the same time, the arrangements must be compatible with the successful outcome of the GATT Uruguay Round which will benefit us all.
Our position is not motivated by economic self-interest but by wider interests, notably those of the developing countries with whom we have these traditional links. It is perfectly true that the European Commission recommended to the Council of Ministers that future arrangements be based on what some call "protected quotas". We have not finished the discussion on those proposals; it still continues. I fully heed the entreaties of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we, as a presidency, should do our utmost to achieve the establishment on time of not only the single market but also a resolution of the banana question.
We are doing all that we know how, but if future arrangements have not been agreed by the end of the year we shall ensure that interim measures are in place to allow access by ACP bananas to the UK market to be maintained. More than that, tonight, I am afraid I am unable to say. I believe that it is absolutely critical to the economies of those Caribbean countries that we succeed in finding an overall solution and, if it is not achieved by the end of the year, that we have a workable interim solution. I might say that it is not simply the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but all government departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that are working to that end.
I was asked a number of interesting and important questions. Let me just say that with regard to the dependent territories our policy is that we should not seek in any way to influence opinion in the territories on the question of independence. We do not urge them to consider moving to independence. On the other hand, we remain ready to respond positively when it is clearly and constitutionally expressed by the people of those dependent territories, should it be so.
However, we felt it right, as my noble friend Lady Young said at the beginning of the debate, to have a review of the policy and management of the Caribbean dependent territories. As I told the House 909 on 2nd November in reply to a Question from my noble friend Lady Young, the main conclusions of the review were that we should continue to help the dependent territories to secure economic development within a framework of good government. The arrangements we set up will provide more capacity and strengthen the links between Whitehall and dependent territories and thus ensure that the dependent territory business is given adequate and timely attention. I shall draw to the attention of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd, the comments made in today's debate. They are most important for the future management of the dependent territories.
I remind your Lordships that the review reiterated the importance of partnership with the governments of the dependent territories. It is not a question of the United Kingdom telling dependent territories what must happen. It must be a partnership. That is why we are seeking to draw up jointly agreed country policy plans in which both Her Majesty's Government and the governments of the dependent territories commit themselves publicly to a programme of economic development, on the one hand, and good government on the other. We shall review those plans annually and they will each form the basis for the bilateral aid programme.
Let me turn briefly to aid. I was interested to hear the comments regarding what many of the Caribbean countries need. They are not as poor as the poorest countries in the world although they contain many areas of great poverty. Simply because our memories are of wonderful beaches and summer holidays in the area we must not forget that there are some extremely poor areas in the Caribbean.
The reasonable needs of dependent territories remain a first charge on the British aid programme. Four Caribbean dependent territories—Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands—receive financial assistance and technical co-operation on grant terms. The total expenditure this year is expected to be approximately £20 million, which is about 50 per cent. of the total allocation to the region. It is likely to remain at that level in the coming years.
Our two themes in British assistance to the dependent territories are the development of human resources and the provision of major infrastructure. Our central objective is that those dependent territories should become economically self-sufficient. That obviously implies an ability to finance public investment requirements from healthy recurrent budget surpluses and increasingly from prudent borrowing without recourse to the United Kingdom grant aid.
hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, will accept that, since a decision I took in 1990, we have made sure that all new capital commitments will be on grant terms. We have already moved to help in that way. The additional assistance that we give in the Caribbean to the independent countries works out at about £7 per head. Compared with some other parts 910 of the world noble Lords will realise that that reflects the importance we place on our traditional links with the region.
Certainly our programmes in the East Caribbean islands and Belize have been based on agreements made at the time of independence. Some countries have exhausted the funds now and new agreements are in place. But we are seeking to make technical co-operation arrangements wherever that is worth-while. When we speak of technical co-operation in the developing world it is their equivalent to the know-how funds in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. We are seeking to ensure that the help we give is relevant to the needs island by island and territory by territory.
Jamaica—that wonderful and important place—has been a beneficiary of the British aid programme over many years. It has received about £48 million since 1978. As it goes further down its independent route we continue to assist it, particularly with diversification from bananas into other agricultural crops and economic sectors. We also put high on the agenda help with the environment for all the Caribbean countries. We are the lead agency for the tropical forestry action plans in the Caribbean.
We want to continue to help in every possible way both technically and through investment. My noble friend Baroness Young asked about the use of aid consultants. Certainly there has been no wish to cut out anybody from being a consultant. We seek to ensure that the expertise provided is that which is real value for money for the Caribbean country. We use local consultants where they show us competence and value for money. They are already working on many aid projects in the Caribbean. If my noble friend has specific cases in mind I shall be only too glad to look at them because it is important that we take every possible opportunity to use local and regional consultants.
My noble friend Baroness Eccles spoke of CDC, as we might well have expected of her. I explain briefly both to her and the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, about the CDC in which we have so much trust. It is beginning to do more and more in the Caribbean. It now has an excellent office in Barbados adjacent to the High Commission from which it is doing first-class work all over the Caribbean. The CDC has not only done a valuable job there but across the world.
I am a great supporter of CDC, as is well known in this House and elsewhere. That was why I thought it rather important to try to secure some new arrangements for CDC financing in the public expenditure survey this year. As from 1st April 1994 the outstanding aid loans to CDC will bear a zero rate of interest. CDC will be able to borrow externally provided that its borrowing meets the government's rules. That should assist it. The zero interest on past aid loans affects all past aid loans. Currently, CDC pays some £25 million per year in interest, which will rise to about £30 million over the next few years. So the new arrangement will be of benefit, although I cannot yet detail how it will be used.
We have also been able to find a way of giving CDC the prospect of borrowing overseas from funds 911 available for some Caribbean Basin Initiative countries. These are what are known as "the 936 funds". It is possible that these, too, could amount to about £20 million a year in due course. If wisely used, that is good news for the CDC and especially for the CDC in the Caribbean.
There is one final topic that I must say a word about before closing. It had been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lords, Lord Greenhill and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and many others. I refer to the whole question of the threat posed by the drugs trade to the economic and social well-being of the Caribbean region. Sadly, the Caribbean islands are ideal staging posts for the trafficking of drugs from South America to North America and Europe. The societies and the economies of the islands are particularly vulnerable to destabilisation, including violence, corruption and the undermining of confidence in the banking system on which some of them depend. Sadly, most Caribbean states have not been well prepared to meet the threat. They need regular encouragement and assistance. That is why we spent nearly £2.5 million last year in drugs-related assistance. We are giving a further £2 million this year to improve law enforcement as well as to help with education to prevent local drug abuse.
The Government attach particular importance to removing illicit profits from drug traffickers. That is why we have concluded the bilateral agreements with six Caribbean states to work with us to trace, freeze and confiscate illicit profits. We intend to reach such agreements with all countries once they have enacted compatible domestic legislation, and we have given help to some to achieve that. We have done it in a whole variety of ways which I am happy to detail in answer to a Question if noble Lords would like it, but I shall not detail it now because the hour is extremely late. We are more than ever conscious of the need to 912 go on helping these countries to combat that terrible scourge which otherwise could lay some of those islands to waste, could inhibit their very important tourist trade and could change their way of life out of recognition.
The evidence-and there is plenty of it-suggests that the Caribbean is trying and is now really beginning to see how it can benefit from a special relationship with the European Community. I have been heartened by the Caribbean's growing awareness of the need to take a deep interest in European developments. I was very pleased to meet the ACP ambassadors in Brussels only three weeks ago and to discuss with them, above all things, bananas.
In Britain, the Government will take full account of the Caribbean's needs as well as their interests-and their great potential. We should never forget that we are talking about an area of great potential if it is given the chance of maximise that potential. We have seen the end of the Cold War. We have seen invigorated economic growth in different parts of the world. We see now the dismantling of trade barriers and greater integration in the western hemisphere and Europe. We hope that that will mean greater stability and prosperity, but it also means continuing responsibility. And that responsibility extends as much to the Caribbean countries as to anywhere else in the world. We shall stand by them. I believe that this Unstarred Question, initiated so wisely by my noble friend Lady Young, has been of great value in making us focus and concentrate once more on the needs and the potential of the Caribbean countries.