Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which opened in Geneva on 23rd March, and which ends successfully today.
The recommendations adopted by the conference will be presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations at its 19th Session in the autumn. They include proposals for diversifying and expanding the exports of manufactures from developing countries, on access to markets for primary products, on commodity policy and proposals concerning aid for development.
Among the latter is an important recommendation, which the British delegation initiated, inviting the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to study the feasibility of a new scheme for multilateral aid, and, if appropriate, to work out such a scheme. This would be administered under the International Development Association. It would be designed to help developing countries whose development programmes were threatened by adverse trends in their export proceeds of a nature or duration which could not be adequately dealt with by short-term balance of payments support.
I was also able to inform the conference today of four additional measures which Her Majesty's Government propose to take in the field of multilateral aid. These are:
I am glad to say that despite some last-minute difficulties broad agreement was reached over this wide range of issues. Perhaps the most encouraging feature was that it proved possible to negotiate compromises which, in general, avoided resolutions being passed which stood no chance of being implemented and which would have served only to emphasise differences of interest and approach between the richer and poorer nations.
This has been the largest and most important conference ever held on international economic relations. Its outcome will influence the course of world affairs, political as well as economic, for a long time to come. Its failure would not only have been a setback to the expansion of world trade; it would have been a severe disappointment to the hopes and aspirations of the developing countries. Its success can contribute to the creation of a greater prosperity in which all can share.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we warmly welcome the rare occasions on which we can give broad support to his policy? Can he make quite clear that Her Majesty's Government support the recommendations of this conference, and that if they are approved by the United Nations Assembly we shall do our best to push them forward? In particular, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what became of the British proposals for wider preferences and for wider access for the underdeveloped countries in markets of the industrial countries?
We were able to support a large number of the recommendations put forward, and I think that the whole conference will agree that the British delegation took a constructive approach. Our position on each specific recommendation is set out in the voting on each recommendation and in the full explanation given in the committee and in the plenary.
It was not possible to reach agreement at the conference about extending preferences, and, therefore, this matter has been remitted to the continuing machinery in specific terms for further examination in an attempt to secure agreement on it.
While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his personal part in saving the conference, may I ask what steps were taken in line with his proposals for securing the greatest stability of commodity prices?
There has been a different approach on commodity prices between the full proposals for what might be termed a managed market and proposals which we supported, and have done in the commodity arrangements of which we are members, for stability in prices, but not tying these prices to changes in the terms of trade. There was general agreement about the desirability of stability in commodity arrangements, There was full support for this, and the General Assembly and the new machinery will now discuss how these should be carried out.
While welcoming the decisions reached at the conference, including the setting up of the proposed standing organisation, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Her Majesty's Government will follow this up with discussions at the Commonwealth Conference with a view to achieving a common policy on trade and aid to the developing countries?
On the subject of preferences, would Her Majesty's Government be prepared to propose the setting up of a study group of members of the Commonwealth with the object of revising the preferences so as to extend them to all developing countries?
These matters were very fully discussed by all the members of the Commonwealth at the meeting which we held for this purpose immediately prior to the opening of the conference. In Geneva we have had three meetings with all the Commonwealth countries about the conference as it has proceeded.
I should like to explain that one of the most important features of this conference has been the emergence of the group of 75 developing countries working together. These countries include about 14 members of the Commonwealth who are all developing countries, including New Zealand, Nigeria, Ghana, as well as the smaller Commonwealth countries.
The policies which we have been supporting are policies which are not only supported, but have been asked for, by all the developing countries of the Commonwealth, and have been supported by Australia and Canada, the developed ones, too.
As regards the future of the preference arrangements, the Commonwealth, again, is in agreement with the proposals in the form in which we put them forward.
I shall give full consideration to that, and also make available in the Library all the documents as they are completed. As I understand that the conference consumed 2½ metric tons of paper daily, I think that hon. Members would like me to provide something of a summary of the proceedings.
Although it is a matter for congratulation that eventually unanimity was displayed by 75 countries, nevertheless there was one issue which, I gather, was left in abeyance, namely, the system of voting in the future. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the principle of one nation one vote is to prevail, or whether any compromise is to be made on that point?
There was agreement that the principle of one nation one vote should prevail, but the Secretary-General of the United Nations was asked to set up a committee, after consultation with the Powers, to examine conciliation procedures so that a consensus of opinion could be obtained. Certain countries reserved their right to put before the committee proposals for quantitative voting. There has been some confusion about weighted voting in which case a country might have more than one vote for that purpose. That has been discarded, and the principle of one vote one country has been adhered to. Some countries wish to put forward proposals for qualified majorities in various way. They will be able to do this to the committee. The committee will make recommendations and the General Assembly will decide.
While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his rôle at this conference, may I ask whether he can assure the House that British aid to Commonwealth countries will in no way be decreased by the arrangements agreed for aid to all the underdeveloped countries?
Can the right hon. Gentleman say any more about the proposals to increase the Special Fund and the programme for technical assistance? Is it the intention that the targets suggested by U Thant in 1960 can be reached in spite of the fact that these funds have fallen short of the target in the years since then?
I cannot give specific details of the amount. The pledging conference is the conference to which I referred, which will be held in the autumn, and there, with other Powers, we shall make known what additional amounts we can make available.