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Third World: Proposed Summit

Volume 413: debated on Wednesday 22 October 1980

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3 p.m.

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have now agreed to the proposal in the Brandt Commission report that a summit meeting should be held to discuss means by which the poverty of third world countries can be lessened.

My Lords, we were never opposed to the proposal. We have told the Mexican authorities, who are taking the initiative in organising the meeting, that we would be willing to attend.

My Lords, yes, but was it not a main recommendation in the unbelievably doctrinaire, 19th century Government paper on the Brandt Report that opposed a summit meeting on this matter? Will the noble Lord convey to the Secretary of State our hope that at the summit conference he will act with the same statesmanship as he did in the case of Zimbabwe to end the confrontation between North and South, which may become as disastrous as the confrontation between East and West?

My Lords, as said in my original reply, it is not the case that we are opposed to this proposal. If we are invited, we shall be willing to play a constructive part.

My Lords, cannot the Government he a little more forthcoming about this? A great deal of expectation attends upon this development in all parts of the world. We ought not to be backsliding on this.

My Lords, we are not backsliding; we are willing to go and play a constructive part.

My Lords, is not the major problem with third world Governments their incompetence and corruption, which is very largely the cause of the poverty? These are areas which were not poor and deprived in the days when good government was preferred to self-government.

My Lords, I have heard that view expressed by the noble Lord on several occasions, but we have to take the situation as we find it today. There are a number of very serious difficulties in third world countries as regards which we are anxious to do our best to contribute to a solution.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—and I am quite sure that he is—that the whole burden of the Brandt Commission Report is that the recovery of the North, or industrial world, depends as much on the recovery of the South as does the South on the North? Will he take the interim period between now and the conference to be held in Mexico early next year to ask his noble friend to take an initiative within Government circles to work out at least some skeleton plan in which our interests and the interests of the third world can be moulded in such a way as to produce mutual benefit?

My Lords, the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, if I heard him correctly, was an assertion that the main burden of the Brandt Report precisely coincided with views that the noble Lord has expressed in this House to me on a number of occasions. I submit that that is not strictly accurate. It is not necessarily the case that the economy of the developed world would improve hand in hand with the economy of the third world if, for example, massive funds were available to be injected there. But the fact is that we must first restore our own economy to health before we can improve and increase the amount of aid that we can make available to those countries. That is an object which is common to both sides of the House, even to the noble Lord and myself.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that everyone would welcome his assurance that the Government are willing to play a constructive part in the discussions that will take place in Mexico, though we might have preferred the Government themselves to have taken an initiative on this matter rather than to follow the steps of others? But in preparation for this conference, will the noble Lord or his colleagues in the Foreign Office consider holding a meeting in the United Kingdom at which agencies such as Oxfam and War on Want might be able to give the benefit of their advice to the Government, so that a more constructive part can be played than would otherwise be possible?

My Lords, we do, of course, maintain good and frequent contacts with the agencies to which the noble Lord refers. As for the earlier part of his supplementary question, the Austrians have invited a number of Foreign Ministers—but not ourselves—to a meeting to be held in Vienna in a few weeks' time in order to discuss the timing and participation of the summit. However, we have not actually been invited to that meeting.

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why, if Her Majesty's Government are prepared to go to a summit conference if someone else takes the initiative, they are not prepared to take the initiative themselves?

My Lords, is the Minister aware—there is no reason why he should be—that I was in Parliament in 1930, during that recession, and that it was then generally recognised that it was the falling standards of the peoples in the third world that led to the recession in this country? Is it not the case that if their living standards were raised there would undoubtedly be a demand for goods in this country, which would contribute to the ending of our unemployment?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord over-simplifies the problems which cause a world recession. It is not necessarily the case that massive aid transferred to the third world would result in increased activity in British industry.