Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Fitt: We have been told both here and in the other place that the forum will be a gathering of people which is predestined to bring about a sort of consensus. I did not interrupt the Minister earlier when she was being very laudatory about the forum in Dublin. Any attempt to equate that forum in Dublin and the one in Northern Ireland is totally innocuous. I say that because the Dublin forum was not elected; its members were appointed. It was a nationalist forum because very few

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1328

unionists attended and they did not have votes. However, when they eventually came to a conclusion, Sinn Fein was unable to agree in that atmosphere.

As regard the situation just outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, it is highly likely that Sinn Fein will not attend the forum. In fact, I believe that the bomb under Hammersmith Bridge will determine that it will not be there. Again, that may bring about a situation where the SDLP may also not be present. Indeed, we may have a re-run of the 1982 rolling assembly of Jim Prior when Sinn Finn was first elected in the aftermath of the death of the 10 hunger strikers. Sinn Fein said then, "We are not going there", and, then, the SDLP said the same.

It is possible, should Sinn Fein determine not to go, that the SDLP may not feel inclined to do so on its own. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme. It is only right that some criteria should be brought about to ensure that the deliberations of the forum are truly representative of a body that is determined to bring about consensus in Northern Ireland.

Lord Monkswell: This is probably the last debate in today's deliberations. I must admit that I am rather concerned about the tenor of it in the sense that the formulation of the amendment seems to pre-suppose that there will be an antagonism between the unionists and the republican communities in Northern Ireland for ever and ever, and that we must find some mechanism to ensure that the majority does not oppress the minority. Surely we should be aiming our sights a little higher. If that is the basis on which the last debate on this Bill is conducted, I really despair.

When she responds to the amendment, I hope that the Minister will be able to engender some hope, enthusiasm and belief that the situation that has pertained in Northern Ireland--namely, the schism between the two groups in the community--should be ended. It is to be hoped that we can build a better future where everyone, not just within Northern Ireland but also those living north and south of the border and in Ireland and Great Britain, can live in peace together and work together to secure a better future for all of us.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I thank the noble Lord for explaining the amendment. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. We are talking about a matter of considerable importance in the Bill. Indeed, the arrangements were extensively debated in another place. I believe that the Bill, especially as amended in the other place, represents a proper balance in a very sensitive area. Perhaps I may explain why.

The amendment would substitute a threshold of the lower of 80 per cent., or 80 members. Eighty members would equate to a little under 73 per cent. if all 110 voted, but the smaller numbers would quickly become a higher threshold than the Bill at present requires. Of course, we hope that people will participate, but the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is right to say that we must always recognise the fact that that is their choice, not our rule.

We have said that we see the forum operating by broad consensus. That was made very clear in the debates in another place. It is particularly crucial as

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1329

respects the rules of procedure. The voting threshold set in the Bill is important here. A numerical threshold cannot of itself, however, be a guarantee of such broad consensus in all circumstances unless it is set at a very high level. In that case a reasonable measure of consensus across representatives of the two communities might fail to meet the threshold. We have to legislate for realism.

Because such a numerical threshold is not a guarantee of broad consensus we have added other safeguards. The Secretary of State must, under paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 2, approve rules of procedure that the forum puts forward. By an amendment put forward in another place by the Official Opposition, which became paragraph 3(4) of the schedule, in exercising his function of approving such rules as well as putting forward the set by which the forum is to operate at the start, the Secretary of State is required to make every effort to secure that the rules facilitate the promotion of dialogue, understanding and consensus across the communities in Northern Ireland.

I hope that that explanation illustrates to the noble Lord that we are not unaware of the difficulties in this area. We have tried to take every possible means to ensure that the forum will operate to the benefit of all. I cannot agree with my noble friend that it is not important, because the election of the chairman is important. As the provisions were amended in another place, I do not believe, with enormous respect, that the noble Lord's amendment would necessarily be an improvement.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I thank the noble Baroness for her reply and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his qualified support. I agree with the noble Baroness. In a closely contested and potentially difficult atmosphere the appointment of a chairman is really quite important. As one very often finds in all sorts of spheres--not just in Northern Ireland--it is potentially significant. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who is a voice for what is the minority community in Northern Ireland, which will be particularly sensitive to the need to get the consensus to which the noble Baroness referred. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, of course all of us want a Northern Ireland in which there is no antagonism, but we would not be here and we would not be spending this time and taking this care if there were not antagonism there. There is antagonism; there is a history of antagonism. That is what we all have to deal with as intelligently as we can.

I shall withdraw the amendment in a moment. I know that the Government are sensitive to what I have been talking about. They will have to be--and they will have to continue to be so all the way through this process on this particular point. For the nationalist community, North and South, it is of desperate importance that the balance should be right. Before I withdraw the amendment, as the Report stage may prove to be relatively short and formal, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness very much for her care and courtesy throughout the past five hours. It is always a pleasure to be working with her and never more so than today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1330

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

Bill read a third time, and passed.

Anglo Caribbean Relations

8.44 p.m.

Baroness Young rose to ask Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the present state of their relations with the countries of the Caribbean.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I begin this debate by offering my very warm thanks to my noble friend Lady Chalker for coming here this evening and agreeing to reply to the debate. May I say, too, that there is one person on this occasion whom we shall all miss, and that is the late Lord Pitt, who was such an authority on the Caribbean.

There is always a danger that the Caribbean will be forgotten in the midst of huge world problems. Indeed, I fear that there are some in Whitehall who regard Britain's involvement in the Caribbean as a matter of diminishing importance. I do not believe this is the case, and I feel sure that my noble friend Baroness Chalker shares this view. After all, the islands were once called "the jewel in the crown". The Caribbean has a population of 35 million. British exports amount to £1 billion per year. British investments total at least £12 billion per year. There are five dependent territories. There is great concern about drug trafficking and money laundering. There is the role of the Commonwealth in much of the region. There is the slow emergence of a significant new economic opportunity in Cuba and, of course, there are a substantial number of people of Caribbean descent living in this country.

Finally, I am bound to say from my own experience in government that it is the problems of small states, particularly islands, which, if not addressed, come back to haunt governments. I think of the Falklands conflict, I think of Grenada and, more recently I think of Montserrat.

This evening I should like to touch upon two issues which illustrate those problems. The first is trade and the second is Cuba. The Caribbean is no stranger to trade wars. Much of its history has been dominated by battles for supremacy between European countries or between Europe and the United States.

We find today that the prospect of a serious confrontation between the European Union and the United States is looming in respect of the Caribbean over the issue of bananas. Those of us who know this part of the world know that bananas are vital to the economies of the small Caribbean states.

The fact is that Caribbean bananas make up 5 per cent. of the European market and it seems contrary to the interests of all that there should be a dispute over this percentage. The latest development in the seemingly endless dispute is that the United States is likely to

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1331

demand a full GATT panel under World Trade Organisations rules to challenge the EU's 1993 single European regime for bananas. Any decision reached will be by majority vote and will be mandatory. At the heart of the argument are major US corporations which trade the bananas of the appellants, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, plus Costa Rica.

For the Caribbean banana producers, this is the worst of all possible worlds. It raises serious questions about what the Eastern Caribbean in particular may expect in the future. If the United States and some European states appear determined to end prematurely the small advantages these islands have in the European market, what hope have they of negotiating transitional arrangements in the proposed free trade area of the Americas or when Lome IV ends?

Some years ago, that very remarkable Prime Minister of Dominica, Dame Eugenia Charles, was reported to have asked Sir Leon Brittan, then the EC External Trade Commissioner, and Mr. Peter Sutherland, then the GATT Director General, why they were trying to destroy her country. "If we cannot export bananas", she is alleged to have told them, "then we will export drugs". Both were said to have been quite shocked by her directness.

It takes little imagination to see that, without bananas and until tourism is properly integrated with agriculture, the obvious alternative cash crop is marijuana, soon followed by the trans-shipment of hard drugs. Experience has shown that this is usually followed by a rise in local crime as those involved are paid off in narcotics. This of course leads to the general disintegration and total destabilisation of the country as a whole.

I find it quite extraordinary that some member states of the EU and the US are not prepared to recognise this. It will be one of the direct consequences of their present approach to the banana and other problems in the Caribbean. It is odder still as France, Britain and other European nations have responded positively to requests from the US to develop closer co-operation in the Caribbean on narcotics interdiction and money laundering. These are all issues which, I am pleased to say, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was able to raise during his recent visit to the Caribbean and Latin America.

Just to underline that particular point, only yesterday I received a letter from Mr. Myers on behalf of the Caribbean Banana Exporters Association and I should like to read briefly two paragraphs from it. He says:

    "As you may know, on 24 April, the day preceding your question, the USA and its co-complainants will be asking the Disputes Settlement Board at Geneva to appoint a panel into their complaint against the EU banana regime. Even if this request is successfully opposed on that day, they will obtain a panel, as of right, at the second time of asking, probably in early May.

    You may not be aware, however, of the breach of faith involved in this request. The then USTR, Mickey Kantor, in response to pressure from Congressional members of the Black Caucus and pressure from the Caribbean embassies in Washington, offered to hold informal talks with all interested parties to see if an amicable solution could be found. He said that so long as those talks

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1332

    continued, the US would not request a panel, provided that the EU participated and a schedule of meetings was established and progress made.

    In the event these talks were held, at Kantor's insistence, on 9 April in Miami. All interested parties attended, including the EU. There was a very good exchange on the problems, but when the complainants were invited to suggest possible changes to meet their concerns, they refused to do so. They simply announced that they would be requesting a panel. It later transpired that this had been their intention all along, in order to meet the deadline for requests to be tabled for the April meeting of the Disputes Board".

That is a very dispiriting saga.

If, under US pressure, the European banana regime collapses precipitately and fully reciprocal trade is forced on small and fragile economies, then the cost to the Caribbean, to the US and to Europe will be far greater than US officials, allowing policy to be driven by banana multinationals in an election year, can imagine. Small gains in a trade war might seem attractive in the short term, but free trade at any price in these particular circumstances cannot be right.

I turn now to the whole question of open markets. That issue is one of the most taxing problems facing those at the European Commission, the WTO and the US Administration--how to design policies which recognise the difficulties that free trade will cause for some of the world's smallest states.

Different institutions have taken different approaches but in general terms, the debate in Brussels, Geneva and Washington centres on how and when full trade reciprocity can be achieved in any new European, Caribbean or hemispheric trade arrangement. In other words, how can all barriers and tariffs that currently regulate and restrict trade between larger and smaller and richer and poorer nations be removed?

In the case of Brazil or Chile or even Jamaica or Trinidad, those questions are complex but can be resolved through technical concepts known as phasing or variable geometry that recognise that small Caribbean nations in particular need different treatment from those of South America. But even those ideas cannot deal with the fundamental problem of whether small nations in the Eastern Caribbean, like Dominica, can ever have the ability to compete and survive in a fully free trade environment.

I turn now to Cuba. That is a country in which I have taken a special and continuing interest and it is a country which I hope very much that I shall be able to visit again later this year. In March, President Clinton signed legislation that seeks to create a secondary boycott on third nations that trade legally with Cuba. That legislation--Helms/Burton--seeks to impose US law on British and other companies and individuals investing in or trading with Cuba through creating wholly new offences recognised only in US law. It attempts to do so through the denial of visas, through information gathering on the activities of UK companies operating in Cuba and through other actions that are contrary to international law. The Bill, which is extra-territorial in effect, sets a dangerous precedent for similar actions in future by the United States and other parts of the world.

I am aware that Her Majesty's Government are engaged bilaterally and with our partners in the EU and with the NAFTA partners to attempt to have the United

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1333

States Administration exercise what little room it has for discretion in this matter. But last Monday I held a meeting of the steering group for the Cuba initiative. Our two-hour meeting, which brought together officials and senior company representatives involved in Cuba, concentrated solely on the threat posed by the Helms/Burton legislation to British interests and the nature of the British Government's response.

By the end of the meeting, it is fair to say that almost all the companies present remained concerned that the British Government were still not making known their concerns to the US in a public and robust way. I am sorry to say that members were left with a number of questions to which there are still no answers. It would be helpful to be quite clear which Minister at the DTI is responsible for co-ordinating the political response and what public steps, apart from engaging in quiet diplomacy by officials, Ministers are proposing to take to make known to the US Administration Britain's very real concerns.

I do not believe that it is enough to suggest that, because companies have invested in Cuba and in the US, they must choose which investment is more important because US law suggests that. As was made clear to officials, prosecution for alleged traffic and/or visa denial under that law goes well beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars which companies stand to lose. For example, it will challenge British companies' ability to continue to participate in eastern Europe reconstruction or their ability to maintain significant influence in global commodity markets. In short, there are serious political ramifications which should be of much greater concern than they are. British business deserves to see the strongest possible political response.

Before concluding, I should like to touch briefly on two points. The first is the debate beginning in Brussels within the European Commission about what will follow Lome IV. It is clear already that member states and the Commission are developing radically new ideas based on special support for particular ACP regions such as the Caribbean on advanced forms of partnership and in all probability, the attenuation of most preferences once Lome IV expires.

I should like to mention also the increasing importance that the British private sector is placing on developing with the ODA partnership schemes in the Caribbean region. The particularly difficult situation that has arisen in Montserrat as a result of the volcanic activity offers companies with a long-term interest in the Caribbean and the British Government the opportunity to develop creative new ideas aimed at assisting the reconstruction of the island.

There are other issues which time does not allow me to discuss this evening. I conclude by saying again how grateful I am to my noble friend for coming here this evening to respond to the debate. I have introduced it because I still believe that Britain has a great interest in the Caribbean and whose interests should not be forgotten in the course of everything else.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Glenconner: My Lords, I thank heartily the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and congratulate her on

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1334

her fine sense of timing in calling this debate. Not having the width of the noble Baroness's knowledge, I can speak only about those small territories in the eastern Caribbean--the Windward Islands. I begin by reminding your Lordships of some of the more pleasing aspects of that relationship. Those small, sturdy, sunny island nations have long remained loyal, courteous, cheerful and optimistic. Everyone will agree that to meet and do business with them is always a pleasure. If they have a fault, I think they are too trusting and too reliant on those very agreeable characteristics. In the changing and chilling economic situation in the world, they have found themselves confronted by people who do not share that nature and who are ready to take advantage of them.

Such a meeting, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, took place in Miami on 9th April this year. Miami is a beautiful city and full of excellent qualities, but it is also subject to vice and scams. I do not know whether the West Indian delegates were wise to venture there, although they would have appreciated the warm climate and their hotel rooms. What came as a rude shock to them was that at the meeting--which had been convened by a US trade representative and was chaired by a US trade representative--they were immediately asked what suggestions they had to alter the preferential system that presently protects them. Of course they had no such suggestions to make. They were then told, "As you have no suggestions to make, there is nothing further to be said and we shall apply immediately to the WTO in Geneva for a panel." That, we believe, took place yesterday.

The Americans have been successful in downsizing their economy. I suppose, like many people, they want everyone else to share that experience; so downsizing it is to be. However, when the blanket shrinks and father says, "Turn" and we all turn but the blanket is smaller the little ones get left out and are not so much downsized as downcast and, ultimately, down and out. The consequences are alarming. The Americans were able, in the process of downsizing, to find 8 million jobs but no one will find a job for anyone in the West Indies when they are downsized because there are for them no alternatives.

Arising out of that is the whole question of drugs. Everyone is aware that the Caribbean is awash with drugs. However, I am pleased to tell your Lordships that the vast majority of people, certainly in the Windward Islands, are sensible about drugs. There are two streams of drugs. There are the international drugs which pass through and of which few people are aware, and where the Americans can be of help with the DEA, and there are the local drugs which are mostly in the hands of the riff and the raff. Most people are not affected by those either. However, that would not be the case if their main livelihood was denied them.

A local policeman of my acquaintance owns a share in a motorised canoe. This is a typical story. He went out to sea with others and they came upon many floating packages. They brought them back to shore and of course they contained millions of dollars worth of crack. I believe that the policeman showed a great deal of constraint. He told me that he only took 100,000 dollars

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1335

worth. When I asked him why he had only taken that amount, he said it was because he was a policeman. He realised that he should only take the amount that he believed was due to him. Although he could have taken much more, he did not. I believe there is still an attitude of some responsibility which would disappear completely if there was no alternative livelihood for the people there.

The only alternatives that are practical at this stage will come as a result of education because the higher the level of education that the youth there can attain, the less likely they are to be vulnerable to the drugs trade. It is difficult to achieve educational goals among a population many of whom are still illiterate. It occurred to me that an avenue worth following might be to provide education through videos because people who cannot read or write cannot be taught from books. That is relevant to adult education. One must remember that it is the mothers in the West Indies who educate.

The public libraries throughout the Caribbean have been of great assistance in the past but I wonder whether they could also provide videos. People will watch a video. A tremendous amount of work needs to be done to educate the older people, and consequently the younger people, not only as regards reading and writing but in educating them about the different forms of tourist activity and hospitality they can offer. One should remember that tourism will not replace the banana trade. The only people who really benefit from tourists are those who are young and attractive with a good set of teeth; they can smile at the tourists. The older people will merely be fodder for the tourists' cameras, as will the small children. They will not benefit substantially from the tourist business.

It is all very well to say, "We'll rely on tourism". Tourism will not reach the people in the valleys and the hills and those who sell bananas every week. It will not reach those who cannot grow products to be sold outside the country.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I urge Her Majesty's Government to do whatever they can to delay or to postpone this threat from America. Governments in the Caribbean have recently invested £20 million of their precious money in the distribution of bananas to England. If those people have until the year 2002, I believe they will survive and, with Her Majesty's Government's help, which has been much appreciated and for which they are very grateful, I believe that that survival can be achieved.

9.8 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, how sad it is that Lord Pitt is not with us this evening. He would be the first to acknowledge, however, that the mantle of the Caribbean, with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, could not be in safer hands.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister might be encouraged to consider another Peer with Caribbean antecedents, and the stature and commitment of Lord Pitt, joining us. I also ask the noble Lord, Lord Judd, to make certain that Lady Pitt receives a copy of Hansard on this debate.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1336

The other regret I have is that this Question is being asked in this Chamber. It is the American political scene, in failing to understand the issues of the Caribbean even though next door neighbours, with whom we should be debating. Cuba--the noble Baroness rightly addressed the issue--is a case in point. Why cannot the United States even listen to its NAFTA partners? Canada has taken a strong and principled stance against the extra-territorial provisions of the Helms-Burton Bill. I understand that there is taking place in Washington today NAFTA consultations on its implementation. Although speaking for myself, I believe that all those who have supported the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on his various Questions on Cuba, would appreciate the Minister writing to tell us more about today's meeting if she feels able.

The Caribbean is facing a precarious future. For example, debt burden is the pressing need of the developing world, but the gravity is as well illustrated in the Caribbean as elsewhere. Overall debt in the anglophone Caribbean stands at 10 billion US dollars. Jamaica owes 4 billion dollars, with Guyana and Trinidad owing 2 billion dollars each. A staggering 70 per cent. of government revenues in Guyana is currently required to service repayments--a seemingly bottomless pit of despair.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stressed the need for the debt quagmire to be turned from talk into action. Mere rescheduling is not a solution but a postponement of the critical problem. The Naples criteria highlighted the problem of multilateral debt; and what can and must be done with the multilateral agencies.

The IMF and the World Bank have the resources. Their constitutions should be changed and those bodies instructed to use those resources. However, relief should come only with structural adjustment conditionality. Can the Minister give us the latest news from the finance ministers meeting in Washington? For example, what will be the criteria for the selection of candidates; and which countries will be eligible from the Caribbean? It would be useful to hear something about those matters this evening although I do not wish to usurp the Question on these matters by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, which is set down for next week.

Sustainable solutions will come only from economic development by competing. But competitiveness thrives only on a level playing field. The bedrock of future regional economic prosperity is tourism, data and financial services, with agricultural diversification. The Caribbean wants to, and eventually must, diversify. But despite best efforts there are as yet no products which have been found to provide the level of income and employment needed to sustain further economic development.

The governments of the Caribbean have been implementing, short, medium and long-term socio-economic development programmes based on the reasonable assumption that their exports, and the revenue and jobs derived, would have access to the European market and preferential access through the Lome Convention until at least 2002.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1337

It is unfortunate that the United States is prepared to place the economies of the Caribbean in jeopardy just to satisfy the market ambitions of one of its companies, albeit a politically powerful one--Chiquita. I wish to add my voice to the powerful arguments put by the noble Baroness. It is determined to undermine the Lome Convention, after which the United States then expects the European Union to pick up the aid tab that is the result of its cavalier approach. No bananas are grown by Chiquita within the United States. Chiquita offers no trade benefits to the United States, and does not protect one job.

Sir Leon Brittan, our Commissioner in Brussels, has stood firm in the past. The United States should reconsider and withdraw its proposal for a WTO panel to undertake a judicial review of the regime. I note that the Commission refused the request yesterday, but the next meeting of the Disputes Settlement Body will be on 8th May, and without doubt it will consider the request at that time. An affirmation this evening of continued support by the Government would be helpful. I hope the Minister will feel able to give such an affirmation.

The United States might do well to remember that it they constantly warn the Caribbean to toe the line on international issues and support it in voting strategy at the United Nations. I sometimes wonder whether a development arm of the WTO, performing with authority as it does in relation to trade, might consider and implement development solutions with equal authority.

But what of development assistance? Future emphasis in the Caribbean should be on regional infrastructure, even at the cost of diminishing bilateral assistance. Sea and air transport links are badly needed. Without them, regional intra-trade is severely hampered.

Time does not permit me to comment in depth on such issues as Haiti. I believe that the United States and others are withdrawing too quickly. The World Bank and the IMF are calling for the immediate privatisation of utilities. That is right as a long-term policy, but impractical in the short term.

Additionally, the need for the Caribbean to form closer links with Central and South America is important. I see an important role for Belize in this regard; but the outstanding territorial claim by Guatemala should not be allowed to stand in the way.

More needs to be done to increase surveillance to halt the distribution of drugs, including greater access to satellite and AWACS. The coastguards in many of the islands do not have the sophisticated equipment to respond with the speed necessary to apprehend drug smugglers.

I end, however, on a positive note. There is no reason why the Caribbean region as a whole should not continue its development as one of the most stable regions in the world, with the steadfast help of the United Kingdom and the European Union, and, it is to be hoped, with a more proactive interest on the part of the United States.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1338

I should feel uncomfortable if I did not specifically mention Canada. It does so much in the region, as it does within the Commonwealth. Caribbean countries welcome close ties with Canada, as a possible counterweight to their own ties with the United States. In that context, Canada is helping to transform the Organisation of American States into a hemispheric rather than a US-dominated institution.

But more importantly, Britain can be justly proud of the part that it has played in that progress, not only in terms of economics and trade, but also because of the political and social institutions that have been established and nurtured.

9.17 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Young has raised this subject again. It is an important one. Both she and my noble friend Lady Chalker will be delighted to hear that I propose to resist the temptation to speak about bananas--a subject on which I have spoken on a number of occasions. With great self-discipline, I have decided to take a different line.

I want to follow up one important point made by my noble friend Lady Young. It concerns Cuba. On 13th March this year I asked a Starred Question concerning the Helms-Burton Act. It resulted in a number of supplementaries which produced almost unanimous support from all parties for the idea that Her Majesty's Government should be making the strongest possible representations in Washington. In replying, will my noble friend say what representations have been made, and whether they have had any tangible effect?

There is a tendency, which has emerged quite clearly this evening, to equate the Caribbean with the anglophone islands. That is quite understandable, as the islands have very serious problems, as was illustrated by all who spoke. But the Caribbean embraces more than the islands. The area is a sea of importance surrounded by a landmass, much of which is part of Latin America.

I want to extend the debate to mention one specific area of that region; namely, Central America, which we discuss very little but which has important Caribbean ramifications. By "Central America" I mean the Republics of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and now particularly Belize, which is very much part of the area and is playing a crucial part.

That area comprises seven countries and 30 million people. It occupies a landmass around double that of the United Kingdom. During the decades of the 1960s and 1970s it experienced a turbulent time. Now they all enjoy democratic elected governments, relative peace and stability. They are all pursuing policies of economic liberalisation, tariff reduction and modernisation of both state and infrastructure. As a whole the region has a GDP which is growing at around 4 per cent. annually. There are stable currencies and inflation is only around 10 per cent. Those are impressive figures.

During the decade of the 1960s there was an ambitious project to create a common market. However, it failed and the process of integration is now restarting

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1339

on much more practical lines. The intention is to try to create a Central American community of states. I am glad to say that that is already beginning to happen and Belize already has observer status in the group. Obviously the region, like many other parts of Latin America, would like to join NAFTA. A more likely first stage will be involvement in the new Association of Caribbean States.

Trade is not quite so significant as the figures mentioned by my noble friend Lady Young. But UK exports, which are a low percentage regrettably, have risen in the past six years from £100 million to £180 million. Central American countries represent the fifth largest trading partner within Latin America. Over and above the trade aspect we have considerable investment there. There are many major UK companies and corporations which have been established in the region for a long time. In passing perhaps I might mention that in 1960 I was the manager in the start-up of Shell in El Salvador, to give an example of a company which is now operating in all the countries. It is therefore a vigorous area which is growing in prosperity.

The area has a good solid track record with the IADB and the World Bank, and indeed the CDC operates in all the countries except in Panama. It has investments in agro-industry, tourism and utilities. There are tremendous opportunities in those countries.

It is particularly gratifying that in all the countries we now have British embassies. They are small and they are trade oriented. I thank my noble friend for ensuring that we recently reopened the embassy in the Dominican Republic. It was a sad day when we closed it--my noble friend Lady Young will remember that day. In my view it should never have happened, but it did; it is now open again. Those small embassies, however small they may be, provide an official British presence. That is extremely important in the creation of the good relations which exist everywhere. Foreign Office representatives in those countries do a marvellous job.

Finally, my noble friend may be aware that next month the London-based Central American-British Chamber of Commerce will be inaugurated. It is a totally private initiative, designed to provide a one-stop shop in London for both the UK and Central American traders and investors. It is therefore a two-way endeavour which will create an even closer mutual understanding between this country and the countries of Central America. It has been formed with encouragement from the DTI, FCO, the Latin American Trade Advisory Group, CBI and indeed the Central American ambassadors here in London. It will have sponsorship from the very same firms and organisations which have investment in the area.

I feel sure that my noble friend will wish this endeavour God speed and every success. It does seem to me to be a very important initiative, and I hope she will be able to mention it at the end of the debate.

9.25 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am aware of trespassing on the relatively short time available to your

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1340

Lordships in this timed debate. I wish to speak in the gap briefly to raise the question of Montserrat.

I should make it clear why I do so. My secretary, whom I count a good friend, comes from Montserrat and has family there. I am aware, from her recent dealings with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the issue of a British dependent territory and what that might mean at a period of crisis. In fact, in the case of Montserrat, it is a crisis which has been bubbling along for months. The volcano which has been threatening to erupt has caused the evacuation of a number of the residents of Montserrat on more than one occasion.

In raising the issue perhaps I may take the opportunity to ask the Minister some brief questions. The hurricane season will soon draw near. What information will be given to the people of Montserrat who are now in temporary accommodation in the north of the island--many of whom are living in shelters--about their future in those shelters. I am concerned not only about their living conditions but also the general circumstances. As it has been put to me, how are they to be occupied?

I include the question of schooling. I understand now that as the schools are being used for accommodation, only fifth and sixth formers are being educated--those who have imminent exams.

Secondly, given that the north of the island is overcrowded with people living in temporary shelters, can the Minister give an assurance that the shelters will be made reasonably comfortable and sufficiently robust to withstand the onslaught of the hurricane season?

Thirdly, what views do Her Majesty's Government have and what plans do they have for assisting with evacuation, if that proves to be necessary, as there is increasing concern that it may--and to where?

Can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to lift immigration and work permit restrictions, but only in the case, as I understand it, of those who have the means to come to this country and who are sponsored so that they have accommodation here? I raise this issue knowing that those people are the very people whose presence on the island, as leaders of their community, may be the most necessary.

9.28 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for initiating this far-ranging debate. However, I feel it is important that I start my speech by drawing attention to legislation that is yet to pass through this House, the Asylum and Immigration Bill. The Bill could have an extremely detrimental impact on Britain's relations with the Caribbean.

Clause 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill introduces a new criminal offence of employing someone with no legal right to work. This will undoubtedly increase the discrimination in employment against black and ethnic minority workers as employers will not want the burden of checking immigration status and risking potential penalties if they make a mistake.

Black workers already face discrimination in the labour market. TUC research, based on the Labour Force Survey published in October 1995, shows that

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1341

more than half of all Afro-Caribbean men aged 16 to 24 were unemployed in the spring of 1994. Sixty per cent. of Afro-Caribbean workers classified as unemployed by the spring of 1994 had been unemployed for over one year compared to 44 per cent. of white workers. I urge the Government to reconsider that clause of the Bill as it will have a direct impact on those of Afro-Caribbean origin.

I turn to an issue raised by all noble Lords except the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, who showed rare self-discipline. That is the issue of bananas. The banana trade has been covered by a number of debates in the past and is still the subject of an increasingly bitter transatlantic dispute. The banana regime came into effect in January 1993 and is designed to assist producers of bananas and to ensure that the Community honours its obligations to African, Caribbean and Pacific states embodied in the Lome Convention.

One must realise the importance of the banana trade to the Caribbean and the lack of viable alternative economic activities. Unlike many alternative crops, bananas can recover to full productive capacity after just nine months if hit by one of the region's frequent hurricanes. The banana industry provides employment for approximately half of the working population; it is suited to family production and accounts for more than half of export earnings. Moreover, production is largely under conditions which guarantee employees minimum social standards.

Efforts are being made to diversify agriculture in the Windward Islands to reduce the reliance on bananas. However, alternatives are not easy to find and it is essential that the region's banana industry is supported and made more efficient. The EU is trying to ensure the long-term economic stability of the Caribbean. I urge the British Government to support it in its attempt to do that.

The regime is facing complaints from Latin American banana producing countries and American multinationals which wish to export bananas from those countries to the EU. At the Uruguay Round of GATT talks a framework agreement was reached with Latin American countries reducing the tariff and increasing the annual quota from those countries from 2 million to 2.2 million tonnes. In September 1994 Chiquita, an American company with interests in Latin America, petitioned the US trade representative to seek redress for its trade interests affected by the banana regime. That led to consultations at the World Trade Organisation with the EU.

In February 1996, the US, together with a number of Latin American countries, made a fresh request to the World Trade Organisation. In addition to statements of position by either side, a series of questions were exchanged. If no resolution is reached after 60 days, as seems likely, the complainant is entitled to ask that the matter be referred to the World Trade Organisation disputes settlement body. The European Union is likely to oppose that on the ground that the questions asked during the consultation period have not yet been answered by the parties involved.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1342

Greater access to Europe for Latin American bananas would destroy an industry. The preoccupation of the US with expanding the European Union market share of certain US firms could be damaging to the region's economic survival. Furthermore, official statistics show that imports of dollar bananas, primarily by US companies, have actually maintained and even increased their share of the European Union market since the new banana regime was introduced. One way that the British Government could help is by assisting the EU in giving a robust defence of the regime at the World Trade Organisation. I assume that this is the course of action the Government will take.

The other issue I should like to discuss is Cuba, which has been raised by many noble Lords. I know the situation in Cuba is very close to the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am grateful for the work she does in promoting better trading relations between Britain and Cuba. That is good for Britain and should in the long-term promote greater openness in Cuba.

The signing of the Helms-Burton Bill by President Clinton on 12th March has rightly been condemned by much of the international community, including Britain, Canada and Mexico, the United States' two partners in NAFTA, the European Union, Russia, China, the Caribbean community and the Rio group of Latin American countries. Of particular concern are the extra-territorial provisions of the Bill which extend US law to third countries. Such legislation is surely not compatible with the United States' international obligations. It certainly does not comply with the spirit of international free trade. What representations are the Government making individually, and with its EU partners, to the World Trade Organisation concerning this matter?

The potential implications of this legislation for British companies, which have a substantial and increasing interest in Cuba, are grave. I hope the Minister will assure us that the Government will do everything in their power to protect the legitimate rights of British businesss to trade with, and invest in, Cuba. I hope that in August the American president will exercise his right of veto over the provisions which give US nationals a right of action against third parties in the US courts. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this will happen, this being an election year with the presidential race distinctly under way.

I would also like to ask why Britain has repeatedly failed to join with most of its European partners, and indeed with the vast majority of the international community, in condemning the United States' embargo of Cuba in the United Nations General Assembly. If, as the Government claim, they oppose the blockade, why will they not stand with the rest of the world in sending a clear message to the United States Government that their position on Cuba is not acceptable? Will the Government resolve to make such a stand when the resolution comes before the UN in November? The experience of many countries in Africa which have undergone transition to the democratic process was significantly eased by economic liberalisation, especially in the area of trade. It would be unfortunate

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1343

if the American actions weakened Cuba significantly at a time when there is much agreement that political change cannot be far away.

A worrying development, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Glenconner, which affects not only the Caribbean region but other areas of the world, but especially that region at the moment, has been the increase in drug-trafficking, drug-use and drug-related violence. This threatens political and social stability in the Caribbean and increases the flow of drugs to Britain. We welcome the co-operation that is taking place on the issue. In May, a conference is to be held in Barbados sponsored by the European Union and the UN drugs control programme. In addition to such multilateral efforts, I particularly welcome the initiative launched by the ODA to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and to support health and education programmes to reduce drug use in the region.

An area of particular imminent plight in the region is the issue of Montserrat. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has already discussed the issue in considerable detail, I shall not cover it, but I would like to commend the work done by people on the ground at the centre of the crisis who can be at particular risk. I echo the questions asked about what action the British Government are taking, and the delayed action that seems to have been taken, over the situation there.

I would like to conclude on two points. The first is to ask the Government what action they are taking on the edge of the Caribbean in Guyana. It is a small country, one of the most indebted nations in South America. Can the Minister give any indication of special initiatives that they are undertaking there?

The Caribbean is not an area that is out of the public eye; indeed, there is the work done by World Aware to promote education in developing countries. It has produced videos which are centered on St. Lucia. I was gratified to learn that it has been estimated that 1.5 million primary school children already have intimate knowledge of areas of the Caribbean. By raising this issue again I hope that they will have more.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for having cogently introduced this debate tonight. On those rare occasions when I find myself in total agreement with her it is impossible to find a stronger ally. I wish that I could have this experience more often. I fear that all I can do tonight is to underline the strength of the arguments that she put so well.

I also warmly endorse the remarks made by various noble Lords who have said how much they miss Lord Pitt. His death leaves an irreplaceable gap in any deliberations in this House on the Caribbean. It is impossible to fill that gap completely, but I hope that we shall try to make it good before too long.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, should make no apology for her intervention in the gap. The way in which she brought spontaneity of human concern in the

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1344

midst of our wider deliberations was an example of this House at its very best. I believe that we should all take seriously the concerns that she has expressed.

Economic development in the Caribbean has been very uneven in recent years. According to the World Bank, the Caribbean and Latin America together have experienced a fall of some 0.1 per cent. per annum in per capita gross national product between 1980 and 1993. But individual countries have fared worse; for example, in Trinidad and Tobago per capita GNP fell by 2.8 per cent. in the same period.

Despite those economic difficulties, some indicators have improved. According to UNICEF, infant mortality in the region has decreased dramatically. In Jamaica it fell from 58 to 10 per 1,000 births between 1960 and 1994, yet some 80 per cent. of Jamaica's rural population still live below the absolute poverty line.

What has been the UK response? While the US cut its aid to the region by about 90 per cent. in the 10 years to 1994, from 226 million US dollars to 24 million US dollars, UK aid has remained relatively stable. However, the region will now be hit severely by the recently announced United Kingdom cuts. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental report indicates that by the end of the century Britain's aid to the Caribbean is already planned to fall by between 20 and 25 per cent. The recent fundamental expenditure review of ODA puts an even more disturbing questionmark over future levels of aid, recommending that the Caribbean should not be a targeted priority.

Even the less poor Caribbean countries--Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago--rank among the world's most heavily indebted. While their total debts may appear to be quite small--at 4 billion US dollars and 2 billion US dollars respectively--over 1,500 US dollars is owed for every one of their citizens. Both countries spend over 20 per cent. of their export earnings on debt servicing. Action has been taken to restructure and write off their debt, but it seems that Jamaica still owes the ODA over £50 million, making it one of its largest remaining debtors.

Furthermore, as we have heard clearly tonight, the economies of the Caribbean are often dependent on the export of one or two primary commodities. That dependency makes them highly sensitive to changes in the global market; for example, in the case of St. Lucia about 98 per cent. of exports to the UK consist of vegetables and fruit, particularly bananas. The introduction of the single European market has put product prices under pressure. At the same time, the US and various Latin America countries claim that the European Union's banana regime violates international trade rules because it discriminates in favour of ACP producers at the expense of Latin America. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has told us, despite what was taken by the Caribbean as the US indicating in good faith that the matter could be resolved amicably, the US has dismayed the Caribbean by lodging formal complaints with the World Trade Organisation.

Winston Graham, a banana farmer in the Windward Islands, has put it very well:

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1345

    "We are told that the world has changed, that because of GATT there must be a free market in bananas. But the market should not be so free that it can destroy people's lives".

And that is precisely what is at stake, together with whole economies, the social fabric and potentially the political stability of those small democracies.

In the longer term, there is a fatalistic tendency to assume that the need for special arrangements for Caribbean bananas will inevitably end at the latest when the present regime expires in 2002.

The Caribbean is determined to do all in its power to narrow the competitive gap with Latin America, but the physical circumstances of the Caribbean--the size of farms, the nature of the terrain, exposure to natural disasters, and other factors--make it impossible for it to compete on equal terms with the vast, flat plantations of Latin America and the highly integrated operations of the multi-national companies which dominate much of the marketing and production there.

The Caribbean Banana Exporters Association argues:

    "This situation will not have changed by 2002. Nor is aid an acceptable alternative to trade: while diversification is feasible only as a supplement to bananas, not in substitution; for it could not provide comparable income or employment, or generate sufficient volume to secure the necessary shipping service for the islands".

That is all a sorry state of affairs in countries to which we have such close ties and in which the kith and kin of so many UK citizens live. It is an even more deplorable situation when we look at the Caribbean in an historical context: the whole story of slavery and of the colonial insistence on moving their economies to what has proved to be such a vulnerable dependency on a limited range of exports.

Our responsibilities are clearly heavy. It is therefore essential that we hear convincing evidence from the Minister on how the Government propose, both bilaterally and with the EU as a whole, to fight for those friends at risk. How do the Government reconcile the harsh recommendations of the fundamental expenditure review of ODA with the need for support for diversification and the building of alternative, viable economies? For whatever the traders in their fearful exasperation may say, diversification and alternatives must surely be found and supported if we are to guarantee long-term well being.

We must never be so ignorant as to lump the Caribbean together. While successful regional co-operation is essential, for any of us who has been privileged to visit these islands their individual characteristics, qualities and needs are what strike the outsider most. In view of our special responsibilities, we should really find the time to review the relationship with each individually.

Sufficient time is not available tonight, so let me briefly mention three current (Caribbean) concerns. I turn first to Haiti. Following the restoration of democracy after former President Carter's inspired initiative, those brave people face daunting challenges in every sector. As the Catholic Institute for International Relations and others have reminded us, the transition from dictatorship to democracy is complicated by extreme poverty, environmental devastation, tottering infrastructure and the legacy of 200 years of

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1346

authoritarian rule. If we and other advocates of the cause of democracy are not to go down as hollow windbags, there is an urgent need to reinforce what President Aristide has modestly described as a

    "move from misery to poverty with dignity."

That will have to include support for the rule of law and the reform of the judiciary; the provision of the new national police, free from old army influences, with the resources necessary to protect citizens everywhere; the development of democratic political parties and the institutional capacity for the operation of democracy and of representative government; and, together with NGOs, the strengthening of civil society--grass root organisations--the lifeblood of a stable democracy.

The second is the Dominican Republic--adjacent to Cuba, with both the Dominican Republic and Cuba having an obvious mutual interest for their development in economic and social co-operation based on sound democratic systems. The genuinely democratic presidential elections provided for in the pact brokered by the US and witnessed by NGOs and representatives of the international community will shortly take place. It is important for the international community to give all possible support to ensure that those elections are truly transparent. And if democracy is to stabilise, there is a desperate need for community-based development projects to combat the grim reality in which 60 per cent. of the population still live below the poverty line.

I turn thirdly to Cuba, to which significant reference has been made. Following the recent aircraft incident, the question has inevitably been raised as to whether the US did nor did not over-react. It is significant that the Catholic bishops in Cuba--normally critics of the regime--have expressed anxiety at the hardening of US policy. What seems to be clear is that the impact of the embargo upon the Cuban economy has seriously aggravated human suffering. There are many who argue with conviction that this has been counter-productive by, in effect, so far uniting Cubans, including those critical of the government, against what is portrayed as a foreign aggressor. Indeed, some suggest that the US hard line plays into the hands of hardline elements of the Cuban state who seek to blame all economic woes on the United States rather than addressing the serious structural issues which are the result of disastrous internal political dogmatism.

I do, of course, recognise that the UK Government have distanced themselves from the US position and have indicated their unhappiness with the US embargo and their opposition to the more extreme notion that the US should impose sanctions on those trading with Cuba. I also recognise that ODA has a small bilateral aid programme in Cuba and that our ambassador there has initiated a number of small areas of mutual co-operation with the Cuban Government. As I interpret it, the UK Government are keen to avoid economic collapse and rapid, perhaps violent, political change in Cuba for fear of a destabilising effect in the whole region and the massive exodus of Cuban boat people who might well head for British Commonwealth countries or other dependencies--for Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and elsewhere.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1347

I hope that the Minister will tonight give specific information on the action the government are taking in respect of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and clarify their position on Cuba.

Drugs are a big factor in the Caribbean, with all the associated and lamentable corruption that surrounds the trafficking. Ugly elements in the Caribbean play a significant part in the wider international trade. However, unless Caribbean nations have a sound economic base and a reasonable expectation that they can in time develop diversified and competitive economies, no amount of special anti-drug co-operation will overcome the financial attraction to some individuals of an involvement with drug trafficking. The law of the market alone is, after all, amoral.

I have been concerned by reports of a recent article in the specialist US foreign affairs magazine, the National Interest, in which the former US Assistant Secretary of State, Elliot Abrams, is said to have argued--I hope I quote accurately--that,

    "the Caribbean may well be best off accepting and trying to regularise American interventions in exchange for certain economic and trade benefits".

I gather he asked:

    "Could American control of national security affairs not co-exist with local control over all other matters, at least in the small islands?"

Provocative thinking indeed. I hope that the Minister will leave us in no shred of doubt about the resolute determination of the United Kingdom Government that the idea of such a new hegemony, coming as it does from the Republican right, shall not be allowed to go unchallenged.

On these Benches we recognise the increasing global interdependence as fundamental to the reality of life for us all. We therefore advocate maximum possible international co-operation between nations large and small. But that is something rather different from what the reports of Mr. Abrams' remarks seem to suggest. We need, and hope we will have tonight, the reassurance of the UK Government that the ideas attributed to Mr. Abrams in no way reflect their own.

9.53 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I have listened to tonight's debate with great interest. Like other speakers, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lady Young on introducing the debate and more especially on all the work that she does to assist Britain's relations with the Caribbean, and to help develop a relationship specifically with Cuba. My noble friend has worked unceasingly for that. I should like to join my noble friend and other noble Lords in lamenting the absence tonight of a very dear friend, Lord Pitt. I learned a great deal from David Pitt over many years. I know that we really need someone in his mould for the future.

This has been a very short debate, but most varied in content, and I found myself thinking that this is just as difficult to wind up as any European Union debate. It is

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1348

actually very important for the Caribbean: nobody who has spoken is in any doubt about that and nobody who reads our debate will be in any doubt.

As my noble friend Lady Young said, the Foreign Secretary's visit to Barbados and Jamaica early in April underlined Britain's continuing interest in the stability and prosperity of the Caribbean. While we may have relations with many other parts of the world and particularly with our big neighbour, the United States, we have a very fundamental relationship with the Caribbean. It is particularly important at a time when the Caribbean faces such very great change. I assure your Lordships that Britain is not about to abandon its long-established obligations to the region and, whatever Mr. Abrams may have said, which I have not previously read, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that that does not form part of our view.

At the beginning of this debate perhaps I may say a word in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about Montserrat. It is a very particular problem with which the Overseas Development Administration has been dealing right the way through from last summer. The volcanic activity is now at its most dangerous level since the crisis began. There is no doubt about that. The scientists are unsure about what may happen next, but what they are confident of is that the north of the island is safe from the effects of a major eruption. I spent some time this afternoon with the Governor of Montserrat, who is here to advise us. He told me a lot more about what is going on.

Certainly, the population from the southern part of the island, including the capital Plymouth, who were evacuated to the safe northern area on 3rd April, are safe and well there. We know that their conditions are not ideal. There is no employment for them, there is no recreation for them. However, they are safe, and the safety and the well-being of those people has been and will remain our overriding concern. We have spent nearly £4 million of emergency aid since August of last year, mostly on the scientific monitoring, but also on the evacuation requirements. I have a very experienced, full-time officer on the island who, with the help of some British forces who are out there, is master-minding the whole scenario of what might have to be done in the event of certain types of eruption.

We do have contingency plans for off-island evacuation, should that prove necessary. We are in touch with all the neighbouring islands and we have been discussing an improvement of the conditions in the north, because we are only too well aware that the hurricane season is upon us. This is something we are used to each year. The contingency plans are in place, but I can assure the noble Baroness that we will not in any way leave a stone unturned to help the people of Montserrat. At a time when they really do need our very best help, they will get it.

I turn from Montserrat to Haiti, which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned at the end of his remarks. Together with our other European Union partners, we are one of the major donors in Haiti. The European Mission there has been strengthened and, through the European Union, we are involved in providing assistance to help to improve the judiciary.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1349

There is obviously an onus on the people of Haiti to work to maintain and secure a stable democracy, but we hope that, with the election of the new president, good progress is going to be made there and we continue to work away at what is a continuing problem until the island has really reached greater stability than has so far been possible.

I turn to what I consider was a justified anger about the United States' apparently selfish attitudes towards the trading aspirations of the Caribbean islands. I do not believe that I can sum it up any better than that. All those who have been involved with the Caribbean over the years know how important the trade in bananas has been to the islands. The noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, mentioned the Windward Islands in that regard. We all know, too, that there has been a need for those islands to diversify their crops. British aid has been spent on helping them to do that. But we are now faced with a new situation, partly as a result of the much stronger trading patterns that take place between large trading blocs.

Of course, Britain trades significantly with the Caribbean and we hope this trade will grow. But even the Caribbean's trade with us or our trade with the Caribbean cannot make up for the imposition which is apparent in the activities of some in trading with the US. As a matter of record I should say that British exports to the insular Caribbean were £1.1 billion in 1995 and the net book value of British investment in the wider Caribbean is estimated at more than £2.5 billion and has been increasing in many different fields. Therefore, Britain is actually investing in the Caribbean as well as exporting to it. But there is also a growing Caribbean investment in the United Kingdom. Therefore, we know that the Caribbean is a good trading partner. That is why I mentioned those figures because it is important to underline how seriously we must take the Caribbean as a trading partner.

On his recent visit to the area, the Foreign Secretary told the Commonwealth Caribbean that it could count on the UK for support in developing its post-Lome IV relationship in a way which is sensitive to the needs of the Caribbean. As for development assistance, in 1995 we approved a five-year strategy for the independent Caribbean which envisaged over that period a graduation from UK bilateral assistance to a number of the richer islands. But that does not mean that we are abandoning those who need help either in terms of investment through aid or in terms of supporting them in their trading relations.

It is extremely important to keep that in clear perspective. We shall defend the rights of the Caribbean under Lome. We know that Lome grants generous trade preferences for the exports of bananas, rum and sugar. But they are of particular importance to the Caribbean. That Lome system is a useful mechanism which marshals the substantial sums of European aid going into the region. We intend to continue working for and with the Caribbean islands at this very difficult time of change. But as my noble friend Lady Young said, many of their leaders realise that at this time of change, they also have to achieve change.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1350

That is why I said some moments ago that the Caribbean cannot ignore the importance of restructuring and improving its banana industry along the lines suggested by the ODA-sponsored Cargill Report. I believe that if the Caribbean does so, the banana industry can and will retain its place in the Community market.

At the moment I believe that it is right that we should encourage the Caribbean to continue the restructuring and improvement process in the banana industry. While I understand the concerns of all those who mentioned Chiquita, it is not for me to comment on commercial matters. However, I understand very fully what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and others have said.

I am glad to note that the price of bananas has risen recently. That should increase the returns to the Caribbean producers. But in the longer term, those returns will depend on the success of restructuring the industry, as I mentioned some moments ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about our aid flows to the Caribbean. In the last complete year, 1994-95, they totalled some £38 million, excluding the investment by the Commonwealth Development Corporation of some £57 million. I can assure the noble Lord that this figure is not likely to decrease significantly over the next two or three years. The Caribbean will also benefit from significant European Union aid. We are being extremely careful at targeting our aid and in making sure that it works to help the Caribbean islands improve their trading situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenconner, spoke about changes in the Caribbean. I have heard comments of this nature from other people outside your Lordships' House. The change that frightens people most as regards the Caribbean concerns the growth in drugs. My noble friend Lady Young spoke of that too. Drugs pose the greatest threat--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page