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Commonwealth Conference

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the implementation by the United Kingdom of decisions reached at the recent Commonwealth conference.

Many of the Vancouver decisions will take time to implement. We have already provided another 20 training places for black South Africans, we will contribute to greater Commonwealth efforts to assist the front-line states, including Mozambique, and play our part in the Commonwealth Secretariat's working group on distance learning.

In addition to welcoming the trade policy and the training programme which my right hon. Friend mentioned, does she agree with the importance of increasing our trade with and investment in the less developed countries of the Commonwealth, so as to help them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the first, important things is to make progress in the Uruguay round. The exploratory phase during the first year is on schedule, and detailed negotiations begin next year. In addition, it is important that we continue to make progress on the African debt issue. Two elements of the Chancellor's initiative on sub-Saharan debt — more regional technical assistance and longer rescheduling and grace periods in the Paris club — are already being implemented. We are still trying to persuade other countries to agree lower interest rates. We have offered a contribution to support Mr. Camdessus's initiative to enlarge the IMF structural adjustment facility. We still hope for conclusions to negotiations this year. In future there will be extra finance from the international finance institutions for Caribbean countries, and we hope to have a substantial early increase in the general capital increase in world trade.

Are we not in a unique situation at the Vancouver summit, in that we are isolated from the 47 other members of the Commonwealth on the key issue of sanctions? We are isolated, standing out against the call for a genuine effort to secure the universal adoption of limited sanctions, and we are isolated in refusing to join our Commonwealth colleagues in monitoring the implementation of sanctions. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign Secretary has vetoed the proposal for a meeting between the European Community countries and the ACP countries on South Africa and has, therefore, true to form, again defended South Africa?

We have done nothing to stand in the way of appropriate dialogue with ACP countries, frontline states and other countries involved in those conflicts. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to describe the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as negative. There was widespread recognition that there is no quick solution and that the momentum for change must come from within South Africa. There was full endorsement of the United Kingdom policy of practical help for the front-line states and for black South Africans.[Interruption.] No, we were not on our own. We had full endorsement. I must say that there was agreement that we will coninue to differ over sanctions, but our common commitment in the Commonwealth to a peaceful and fundamental change through negotiations was agreed on, as well as the importance of dialogue and the enhanced programme of Commonwealth assistance to South Africa's neighbours.