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North-South Economic Relations Summit

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 11 December 1980

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3.11 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 the Prime Minister has been invited to attend the summit meeting on North-South economic relations in Mexico City in June and if so whether she has accepted the invitation.

My Lords, no invitations have yet been issued. But the United Kingdom expects to be invited to the meeting and to attend.

My Lords, while welcoming that reply, may I ask the Minister whether he appreciates how much we welcome the reversal in policy which was in the paper on the Brandt Commission; how much we would wish to congratulate the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on his influence in bringing that about; and can he give us an assurance that when the summit conference meets, an effort will be made by the Government to end the deadlock which has subsisted for seven years between North and South, by accepting the need for a new world economic order?

My Lords, the proposals for a new world economic order include, if I understand them aright, sweeping away the present economic order, and that poses some difficulties. As for the change in policy which the noble Lord thought he apprehended in the Government's present proposals, if that is what the noble Lord thinks, he misunderstood the earlier policy.

My Lords, is it not equally desirable to consider the possibility of a world political order?

My Lords, an interesting supplementary but not, I think, arising from the Question on the Order Paper.

My Lords, since this meeting arises directly out of the work of the Brandt Commission, can the Minister inform the House a little more about the proposed composition of the summit meeting? Will it be purely governmental in character, or will members of the Brandt Commission be joining in? If that is so, can we anticipate that Mr. Edward Heath will be there to join in the conversations, with the Prime Minister?

My Lords, I understand that the conference is intended to be a summit conference and therefore attended principally by heads of state or heads of Government, and therefore I cannot say whether Mr. Edward Heath will be there.

My Lords, referring to the Minister's earlier reply to me, in which he said that there had been no reversal of policy, is it not the case that in the paper issued on the Brandt Report the definite statement was made that Her Majesty's Government were opposed to the calling of a summit conference?

My Lords, I do not think that is correct at all. We have never opposed a summit conference of this nature; but we have said—and we maintain—that the ground for such a conference ought to be carefully prepared.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the preparatory work, the preparation of the agenda and the scope and purpose of the conference is already in hand? The conference is to be held in June and will he agree that time is relatively short for the kind of work that is necessary to make such a conference of any utility at all to those who attend it?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in suggesting, as I have maintained before, that the conference should be carefully prepared. That preparatory work is currently being done by the cosponsors. We are not one of the co-sponsors, but we would certainly hope to be involved in the later stages of this preparatory work.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if it be true that Her Majesty's Government oppose a summit conference they have my heartiest congratulations?—because summit conferences almost always lead to mischief. But if we have a summit conference designed to extend the aid system, will he have regard to the situation in Africa? Universally, Africa has been the great recipient of aid, and with the assistance of that aid and in spite of the green revolution, which has increased agricultural production everywhere else by double, she has succeeded in reducing her agricultural production both in total and per head.

Quite frankly, my Lords, I am not sure that what the noble Lord asks arises out of the Question on the Order Paper, or indeed from the subsequent supplementary questions. Of course our aid is aimed at those most in need of it, and that is why so much of it goes to Africa.