The Brandt Commission Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:57 pm on 18th April 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak 9:57 pm, 18th April 1983

Many people go to countries in Africa, as I have, to see the wonder of the wild-life, but we have only to move a little way off the track of what is called civilised entertainment to see that what we call poverty is regarded as riches in those countries.

The Western world, of which Britain is part, has to decide whether it is to go on and on, with one Brandt report after another, one debate after another in this House and in the United Nations, and one pious resolution after another, or whether, because it has the means, it has also the will to do what is necessary.

It was suggested that lower commodity prices will fuel austerity. That is nonsense. As I said in another debate in this House, lower commodity prices may mean lower inflation for us, but they mean despair for those who have to produce the commodities. The more our inflation rate is helped, the more the despair of those who have only their commodities to sell is increased.

The Treasury and Civil Service Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, produced an early report on the international monetary problem because the Committee felt that the situation was of such gravity. The crisis is not confined to the undeveloped world or the developing world. The financial crisis, which could come unless matters are handled with care, concern and common sense, could envelop not just the undeveloped world but all of us.

To many of us, Brazil and Mexico are not really developing countries but countries with tremendous chances of prosperity. Yet, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, many of the United States banks have about nine times their share capital tied up in what one hopes are the temporary problems of Mexico, Brazil, and other countries of South America. There are at present 40 developing countries in trouble; and 34 members of the IMF have troubles of their own in debt servicing.

The Select Committee's report, on page xvi, shows that the total debt of the developing countries has risen from $63 billion in 1971 to about $646 billion today. Unless the so-called Western and civilised part of the world is willing to tackle the problems and accept the sacrifices which must be made, there is no way in which the countries which have borrowed all those millions of dollars can have any hope of paying even the servicing costs, let alone repaying the capital.

This is the third debate on this subject in which I have intervened. I do so because the debates are interesting and useful to the extent that they help to focus our attention and that of our constituents by means of the little attention that the subject is given in the press. This is a common crisis, as this excellent document says, but it will not go away. It will not go away because we debate it today and then say "Was it not a splendid debate and did not so and so make a lovely speech? Was it not all rather good and do not I feel more pure for having taken part in it? I think I shall now have a large Scotch"— which is always a good idea, anyway.

The problem will not go away because we debate it. We cannot turn soil into fertile land simply by wishing it were so. We cannot turn debts into credits and people's despair into dreams because we say "Would it not be a good idea?" In each inexorable year that has passed good and kind speeches have been made, yet people's debts have risen and nothing has been done about them. It may well be that debts will rise next year by another modest $100 billion so that we can make the same speeches again. But the longer one puts off solving the problem of what to do about those to whom money has been lent but who have no hope of repaying it because of their problems and need for more help, the less chance we have of solving it.

I take little comfort when the president of the World Bank has to criticise his Government because of their lack of willingness to fund the IDA by another miserable $18 billion. We are talking not about $18 billion but about the world's need to find, by some means or other, the willingness to make some of the sacrifices that we shall all have to make. It is in our interests not to see the Brazils, Mexicos, Zaires, Malis and Kenyas go under. It is in our interests to make the necessary short-term painful financial adjustments.

I intervene, as I said, because speeches, as Nurse Cavell said about patriotism before she was shot, are not enough. It is not enough for us to say that we must do something. The need to do something is now because people are starving and the greatest tyranny that mankind faces in a world of tyranny is that of hunger. That is what the Brandt report and debates such as this are about when they are stripped down. They are about whether we care that tens of thousands of people starve to death a day. If we do care, the Western world has the means to prevent it. It is we who have to give the people who put us here the will. Unless we are willing to do that, debates such as this are just debates and we could be at home in our beds.