HL Deb 11 December 1997 vol 584 cc235-8

3.15 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are advocating for the future of Lomé arrangements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states to assist in conflict prevention.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we are committed to the promotion of conflict prevention in a number of fora, including the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth. The development White Paper stresses that conflict prevention and political stability are essential for eradicating poverty.

In negotiations on an EU mandate for a future convention of Lomé, we will reflect these underlying principles. We shall seek to improve political dialogue between the EU and the ACP countries. We will support an increased emphasis on policies which promote the prevention and resolution of violent conflict, such as good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratisation.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that most helpful and encouraging reply. However, does she agree that it is disturbing that of 30 armed conflicts raging in the world today 13 are in Lomé countries? Does my noble friend also agree that there is considerable evidence that, during the grim events of 1994 in Rwanda, the collapsing commodity prices and insensitive restructuring imposed by the international financial institutions aggravated the situation? In view of that fact, will my noble friend accept that, as the negotiations go forward, she will have all possible support from the House in ensuring that all the provisions of the agreement are examined to see how they enhance the prospect of peace and stability rather than aggravating potentially explosive situations? Further, is my noble friend aware that, during the negotiations, we will be looking to how the EU, through Lomé and in other ways, can play its part in a wider international setting in getting the financial and trade arrangements right—arrangements which are essential for peace and stability?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is indeed regrettable that so much conflict exists at present in the Lomé countries. I am afraid that the nature of war and violent conflict is rapidly changing. Indeed, the majority of current wars are between different parties within a single state as opposed to being between different states. I thank my noble friend for his encouragement as regards our negotiations on Lomé. I can assure him that, in those negotiations, we shall be testing the proposals against one of the major strands identified by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development; namely, the issue of conflict prevention. That will certainly be in the forefront of our minds.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the Minister say when any progress will be made towards re-evaluating the position that the WTO has taken towards Lomé? The demise of Lomé could exacerbate the economic situation in ACP countries.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there are two issues involved, the first of which is the question of a future Lomé agreement. We are expecting proposals from the Commission towards the end of January. After that, negotiations will begin within the European Union to consolidate the position of the EU as a whole. We shall be discussing the WTO arrangements thereafter. The WTO issue is one which has been in the forefront of our minds, as the ruling has been a deeply unwelcome one for many ACP countries. However, notwithstanding that fact, any Lomé agreement must be WTO compatible. Her Majesty's Government have already made that clear, not only to our friends within the WTO but also to the ACP states.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, can the Minister say what plans the Government have to help countries in the ACP regime which have no alternative other than to grow bananas, and where diversification is simply not possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we shall be considering a number of different measures. The noble Lord's questions begs issues about both poverty elimination and new trading positions within the Caribbean areas. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has already suggested that there should be a Caribbean forum to discuss diversification in February next year. Plans in that respect are now well advanced. As regards other countries, we shall promote economic diversification to help develop their trade and supply capacity to prepare them for what we hope will be greater integration into the world economy. We must also ensure that the ACP countries have time to make those adjustments. One of our main proposals is for a five-year grace period to allow sufficient time for the ACP economies to adjust to the new trading arrangements.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that despite a barrage of words she has not answered the question? If you cannot grow bananas and you cannot grow anything else, I am not surprised that she cannot answer the question.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord does not think that I have answered the question as I tried hard to do so. I believe that I was fairly explicit about what we are doing in the Caribbean. We have a forum on the Caribbean which will consider diversification, and we are discussing inward investment there. In the rest of the ACP countries we are looking at other forms of diversification. However, we recognise the difficulties that the noble Lord has drawn to our attention and that is why, as I told the House, we have proposed a five-year grace period. I believe that goes a long way to answering the points that have been raised.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, as my noble friend has said, discussions on the future of Lomé are at an early stage. Is she aware that there are some views circulating in the Commission that the Lomé agreement should be abandoned entirely and dismantled in favour of EU bilateral negotiations with each of the ACP countries? Does she agree that that would be disastrous for those countries? Will she make quite clear that we should have a sensible, proper, progressive development of the Lomé agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there are a number of different views within the EU about the way forward in these areas. I assure my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government's position is that we should proceed to a new Lomé understanding in the way that he has described.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, on the subject of good governance which the Minister mentioned, can she tell the House whether the Government will recommend that Zimbabwe remains a beneficiary of the Lomé agreement, given the proposals of the Zimbabwean Government to nationalise several million hectares of farming land without compensation and with access to the courts apparently to be denied to those who are deprived of their property?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the situation which the noble Lord describes is indeed a difficult one. We do not, of course, know how Zimbabwe will take forward what are at the moment proposals. Many noble Lords have already approached me about this issue. So far we do not have a clear view on how the Zimbabwean Government will take forward those proposals. I cannot give the House any undertakings about what will eventually happen, but I can assure the House that the matter will be taken into consideration, along with others, in regard to good governance. I hope that that gives the noble Lord some assurance.