I proposed to my Commonwealth colleagues at the conference that there should be a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers responsible for development to discuss questions relating to rural development and food production. Reactions were very favourable and the Commonwealth Secretary-General will be pursuing this idea further with Commonwealth Governments. This is the only proposal which has not so far been announced by the Government.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her statement will be welcomed in all quarters of the House? Can she give further details about the likely timing of this gathering and assure the House that it will not only be a conference of Ministers but that they may bring with them people literally from the grass roots in their own territories so that we can progress on technical lines as well as political lines?
The arrangements for the conference will be in the hands of the Commonwealth Secretariat in consultation with Governments. I hope that it can be arranged as speedily as possible. It is important to have this positive follow-up to the World Food Conference as early as practicable. The intention—or, at least, what I proposed and what seemed to be acceptable—was that the conference should consist of Development Ministers from the developed countries and whichever Ministers were thought appropriate by the developing countries of the Commonwealth, who might be Ministers of Economic Planning, Finance and Agriculture. I hope it will be possible for them to bring other people with them. This should not be a formal conference but should be one in which we are able to explore much more intensively the kind of co-operation and partnership which there can be in the Commonwealth to assist food production in developing countries.
While welcoming the constructive contribution which the right hon. Lady made to the Rome conference, may I ask her whether she agrees that what is urgently required to meet a growing world food crisis is firm commitment by Government, and that while Britain, as a food-importing nation, cannot give direct food aid, we are in an exceptionally strong position to provide technical expertise for the improvement of agriculture in developing countries? Is it in this field particularly that the right hon. Lady envisages taking initiatives?
I have made it clear ever since I took up my present post in March that my own priority is firmly towards rural and agricultural development. To that extent it is perhaps true that Britain is a little ahead of some other donor countries. It is certainly intended that this conference should give the maximum opportunity—because this is the essential part of the problem—to enable developing countries to ask for this kind of assistance. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one can only respond at the end of the day to their requests.