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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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Gilbert Islands (Independence)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether a date has been fixed for talks with the Gilbertese Ministers regarding their independence constitution.

No, Sir.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to Gilbertese Ministers that the right of self-determination of the Banaban community cannot be ignored or set aside? Is he aware that the Banabans will fight just as fiercely for their political independence as they fought for their financial rights in the High Court of England? Is he further aware that such a fight will receive support from all sides of this House?

Questions of self-determination are always difficult. We believe that it is the Gilbertese as a whole who have the right to self-determination, and for the past 60 or 70 years Banaba has been considered as part of the Gilbert Islands. I shall certainly take account of the view that my hon. Friend put forward. We put forward what we believe is a reasonable compromise proposal, under which Banaba would enjoy autonomy within the Gilbert Islands.

When the negotiations do come round, will my hon. Friend take steps to try to ensure that the situation that we were debating at 1 o'clock this morning relating to the Solomon Islands and dual citizenship—whereby half the population receive citizenship automatically and the other half have to apply—does not occur again?

As I told the House last night, we do not anticipate that problem arising again in this case or in any other.

Buenos Aires

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek to pay an official visit to Buenos Aires.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

As the eyes of the world will be on Buenos Aires for the forthcoming World Cup Final, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to wish the Scottish football team every success?

Does he agree that the spectacle of the best sport in the world should not obscure the facts of one of the worst Fascist dictatorships in the world, under which many people are imprisoned, tortured and murdered? This occurs to such an extent that there are now about 15,000 people in Argentina who have little chance of liberty, never mind seeing the World Cup Final.

I certainly take the opportunity, on behalf of Welshmen and Englishmen, of supporting the Scots in their World Cup efforts. We wish them well.

Of course the problem of human rights in Argentina will not be obscured by the World Cup; in fact it could well be heightened by it. The action taken by EEC members, in which Britain took a full part, in a demarche to the Argentinian Government about disappearances and detentions, was an effective form of protest.

If Scottish fans get into difficulties in Argentina, what advice does the Foreign Office have for them?

We are today publishing in the Official Report the detailed advice that we are giving to every football fan who is travelling to Argentina. We have arranged special consular facilities in every town where matches are being played, as well as strengthening our own consular section in Buenos Aires. There is also quite a lot of detailed advice—we have done extremely detailed work in conjunction with the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Office—to try to ensure that Scottish fans do not get into too much trouble.

Banaba (Phosphate Mining)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he anticipates that phosphate mining of Banaba will be completed and the operation of the British Phosphate Commission terminated.

It is expected that phosphate mining on Banaba will be complete in 1979 and that the British Phosphate Commission's operations on the island will be wound up in 1980.

In view of the fact that the Banabans are determined to resettle their homeland and that this point of view was accepted by the Gilbertese Government in the recent Bairiki resolutions, what steps are being taken by participant Governments in the British Phosphate Commission to ensure that Ocean Island becomes a flourishing homeland for a thriving Banaban community and not simply a sterile monument to British financial greed?

The right of the Banabans to return to Ocean Island and resume their occupations has never been contested. The question of the replanting of the island was one of the subjects of the recent legal action on which an award was made. We have offered to undertake a resources survey to enable the Banabans to resume their occupations there.

Falkland Islands

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Argentines have yet brought an end to their illicit establishment of a base on one of the islands within the Falkland Islands Dependencies; and, if not, when their departure will take place.

An Argentine statement on 11th May indicated that they had not done so. The Argentine scientific station is on British territory. We have protested about this and are pressing the matter.

Is it true that the Foreign Office was informed of the situation relating to the illegal occupancy 18 months ago? If that is so, why was instantaneous action not taken, such as the physical removal of those concerned? Did the Minister ever consider suspending diplomatic relations?

The matter first came to light in December 1976. We protested forcefully and had reason to believe that the activities would be terminated. However, the activities were renewed in the present Antarctic season and, therefore, we have renewed our protest and are pressing the matter.

Does my hon. Friend take the view, as I do, that the word in the Question should be not "illicit" but "illegal"? If this were to happen again and nothing much further ensued, what measures would my hon. Friend be likely to take? We fear that, as in the old saying, an inch can become an ell.

We are pressing the matter. We hope to get the matter resolved through diplomatic exchanges between the two Governments. I believe that that is the best way of proceeding. It is premature to speculate on what further action is required if we fail in our present efforts.

Let us not get too excited about this. Is it not a fact that we have never used the island in any way? Are we not in the position of an absentee landlord who finds squatters on his premises?

It is a piece of British sovereign territory and that is why we treat the matter seriously. It is also true that the island is 1,200 miles south of the Falkland Islands and is totally uninhabited. The present activities on the island by the Argentinians are purely scientific.

Although economic co-operation between the Argentine and the Falkland Islands might make eminent sense, is it not serious that since 1976 an infringement of British sovereignty has taken place and that the Government have known about it since December 1976? Why has the Minister failed to tell us of this infringement of British sovereignty? What positive action is he taking to deal with it?

We have sought to resolve the issue through diplomatic exchanges between the two Governments. That is infinitely preferable to public denunciations and public statements when we are trying to achieve a practical result to the problem that has arisen.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply. I beg to give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Banaba (Aid)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what response the Government are making to the Banaban Council of Leaders' acceptance of his ex gratia offer of $A10 million subject to its condition that the capital sum should be paid directly to it and be under its control and when the money will be paid.

We have proposed that the modalities of payment be discussed through legal channels, and the Banabans have welcomed the suggestion. No payment can in any case be made until it is confirmed unconditionally that there will be no appeal in the legal action against the Crown.

That sounds suspiciously like blackmail to me. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government no longer intend to withhold from the Banabans the right to administer the fund themselves? Will he confirm that the accumulated interest on this sum will be paid over to them and will be under their control? Finally, as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has said that the sum is not compensation for the grievous wrongs done to the Banabans over a long time, what response are the Government making to the High Court of Chancery's invitation, in December 1976, to make reparation for the continued breach of trust by the Government in terms of this small community?

On the question of the administration of the fund, we are taking note of the request that was made by the former Council of Elders. The new Council of Elders has recently been elected, with a completely different composition from the previous council. Therefore, we wish to explore its views before we reach a final decision. As for accumulated interest, I require notice of that question.

It is true that my right hon. Friend said that the offer was not intended as compensation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the legal action found there was no direct responsibility on the British Government. My right hon. Friend was making it clear that we have offered an ex gratia payment to take account of the difficulties and disturbances of the Banabans over previous years.

To what extent is the company concerned with the exploitation and the ravages that took place on the island making its contribution to the so-called compensation?

The final distribution of the surplus of the British Phosphate Commission, to which I imagine my hon. Friend is referring, is still to be decided. We are only one among three Governments who are responsible. We have to discuss the matter with the other two Governments.

As there is widespread feeling that the Banabans have had a raw deal over a long period, will the Minister at least assure the House that the elected representatives of the Banabans will have a major share in the administration of the trust fund that is to be established?

It was because we recognised that many people felt that the Banabans had received a raw deal over some years that the offer—it was generally regarded as a generous offer—of $A10 million was made to the Banabans. Whatever some Opposition Members may think about it, the Banabans have recognised it as a generous offer and have accepted it in principle. As for the administration of the fund, there would be close consultation with elected representatives of the Banabans—in other words, the Council of Elders. As I have said, a new council has been elected and we shall want to know its views before we reach a final decision.

Will my hon. Friend explain why it is that because the composition of the Council of Elders has changed there is an alteration to the principle concerning the administration of the fund, which was agreed by the British Government before the change was made? The statement made in another place is leading to a great deal of suspicion and speculation among the Banabans.

I think that my hon. Friend is mistaken. The British Government have not agreed to the original proposal that the money should be administered directly by the Council of Elders. We have always said that that should be done by way of a trust fund. We have said that for a good reason. Many people believe that in the past funds have not been as well administered by the Council of Elders as they might have been. We want to ensure that the funds go genuinely to the purposes for which they are intended, namely, to help the people of Banaba as a whole.

Will the hon. Gentleman now make it abundantly clear whether the Banabans will control the capital sum, whatever form it takes?

We have proposed that a trust fund should be established, with which the representatives of the Banabans would be closely associated. We are now considering their proposal that the money should be paid direct to the Council of Elders.

Belize

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding the negotiations with Guatemala on the territorial integrity of Belize.

Our policy is to bring Belize to early and secure independence as soon as possible. Any proposals for a settlement will be put to the Government and people of Belize.

In view of the resolution passed at the National Convention of the People's United Party on 16th April, which seeks independence but maintains that it wishes to keep its integrity and give no part of its nation away, what are the Government doing about establishing some form of defence force among the Belizians? Is the hon. Gentleman exploring the possibility of a defence pact among the Caribbean nations to defend the integrity of Belize?

We believe that the best way to bring Belize to early and secure independence is by negotiation. The concept of an international defence force has been considered and is being discussed by many Commonwealth countries and in the Caribbean. We still believe that the real path to an early and secure independence for Belize is by negotiation with the Belizian Government.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm the view expressed by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that there can be no independence without the wholehearted consent of the people and Government of Belize? Will he also confirm that it is their current view, which is unlikely to change, that the question of sovereignty over existing Belizian territory is not negotiable?

That is the view of Mr. Price's party, as declared in a resolution. We do not believe that we should slam doors on any possible negotiated settlement. We hope very soon to have a meeting with the Premier, Mr. Price, and other Belizian politicians to discuss the way forward.

In view of the sympathetic attitude that in the past has been adopted by the United States to Guatemalan claims, will my hon. Friend say what progress has been made in persuading the present United States Administration to give full backing to the policy of Her Majesty's Government in maintaining the demand for full territorial integrity on the part of the people of Belize? Has he drawn to the attention of the United States Administration the poor record that the Guatemalan Government have on human rights?

The United States Government have been extremely helpful and co-operative with us in endeavouring to get a negotiated settlement with the Guatemalan Government and have supported the principle of early and secure independence for Belize. That is an important and significant development in the historic position, which has been a positive force for a negotiable settlement.

It is to be hoped that a new understanding will be reached between Belize and the new Guatemalan regime which takes over shortly, but will the Minister make it absolutely plain—I think that he has not made it plain—that any proposition for the secession of any strip of land whatsoever will not be accepted without the full consent of the people of Belize?

I repeat the assurance that I gave in my first answer to the Question. Any proposals that emerge from the negotiations will be put to the Government and people of Belize. It is for them to decide whether they wish to accept a particular course or negotiated settlement at which we arrive.

Diplomatic Service (Structure)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans any changes in the structure of the overseas representation of the United Kingdom.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he now expects to complete consideration of the Central Policy Review Staff report on the Diplomatic Service.

The Government are considering the structure of our representation overseas in the light of the CPRS review and the recent report by the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. As my hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Woverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) on 11th May, the Government expect to present their conclusions to the House before the Summer Recess.

I welcome that reply. Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain's overseas representation is more extensive and expensive than that of almost any other country of comparable size and that, indeed, it has hardly changed since Imperial times? Does he further agree that our status in international affairs will be measured not by the plumage or titles of our ambassadors but by the extent to which our foreign policy is consistent, is truly our own, and has a clear underlying morality?

I certainly agree that cost-effectiveness in our overseas representation is most important, but I should add that my first-hand experience is that in many parts of the world we have an unrivalled and outstanding service and quality of personnel at our disposal. My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of the policy. In our age of post-imperialism, foreign policy and its effective implementation for a nation such as ours become more, not less, important.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is some urgency in the implementation of the report on the background and training of the commercial departments of some of our overseas embassies? Is it not high time that we took some of our commercial work overseas out of the hands of the pinstripe brigade and put it in the hands of people who have some understanding of the problems of industry and business?

Our commercial work has to be second to nobody else's if Britain is to survive. In all seriousness, I wish that my hon. Friend had been with me last week in various parts of North America when I was meeting people involved in this work in the Foreign Service. Their professionalism and sense of commitment were outstanding.

Is the Minister of State aware that his remarks to his hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) will be wholeheartedly supported by Opposition Members? Is he also aware that there is some concern that the Government are not taking steps early enough to consult our friends in the Community with a view to the possible setting up of a co-operative diplomatic venture in certain parts of the world?

On an ad hoc basis, where co-operation makes sense, we are prepared and ready to undertake it, but we are concerned that in multilateral institutions, no less than bilaterally, we are able to play a full and effective part. If we are to play a full and effective part in multilateral institutions, our direct overseas representation is most important, in order to ensure that we are well enough informed to do so.

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to reject the CPRS policy on the British Council? Will he also make it clear that Britain's influence in Southern Africa would be very much heightened if military attaches were not photographed and seen to be grinning at South African military exercises which, in fact, took place only days before the recent invasion of Angola?

The function of all those working in diplomatic missions overseas is to further the foreign policy enunciated by the Government of the day. On the point made by my hon. Friend about the British Council, I should simply say that when we have completed the intensive review of our overseas representation which we are now undertaking, our objective will be to make all our services more, not less, effective.

Bearing in mind the resounding vote of confidence in the Foreign Service given by the House of Commons Sub-Committee and the unsettling effect on the morale of the service after two years of critical investigation, will the Minister give an assurance that the service will now be left alone to plan its own future? Also, as the salaries of the senior members of the service have been allowed to get absurdly into arrears, will he tell us when the Boyle Report will be published and implemented?

On the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question, I repeat that for this Government the effective conduct of foreign policy has never been more important than it is today. Britain's survival depends upon it. In that context, I believe that we in this House owe it to those who are working on our behalf to make it clear that we want to support, not to undermine, what they are trying to do. What I find refreshing is their own desire at all times to examine the way in which the job is being undertaken and to see for themselves how it can be improved.

Bearing in mind the obvious dangers—by background and training, and many years spent abroad—of ambassadors and their staff being somewhat remote from contemporary British industrial and economic life, how many ambassadors spend any part of their time getting close to British industry when they are at home, in order to understand our problems and how to present the issues abroad?

I should not want to reject the point implicit in my hon. Friend's question, which is that it is important—

—that our overseas representatives should be in touch with the character and nature of life and, indeed, industry in Britain today. But I must tell my hon. Friend that my experience is that ambassadors, high commissioners and their staff are anxious, when on leave or when in Britain, to keep closely in touch with what is going on.

Is the Minister aware that some of us find rather more realism about life in the Foreign Service than in the CPRS? Does he recall that the CPRS report stated that either BBC external services should be reduced or that the means of transmission should be strengthened? Will he confirm that the Government have rightly come down against reducing the services? What are they doing to strengthen or replace the necessary transmitters?

As I have said, we shall be making our policy clear before the Summer Recess. I assure the hon. Gentleman, as I said about the British Council, that our intention in all that we are now undertaking is to make our overseas representational tasks in the Foreign Service more, not less, effective.

Is not the verdict of business men engaged in export business overwhelmingly favourable to the work of the Diplomatic Service? Will my hon. Friend confirm a recent calculation—that the Diplomatic Service costs rather less than the Swansea driving licence centre?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates that I should need notice of the second part of his question.

On the first part, I endorse the point that he made, because in my job it has been my pleasure to read a great number of testimonies from business men and others which underline how effective they have found the support given by British representatives abroad to the work that those business men are trying to do.

Misha Voikhansky

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will ask the Soviet authorities to review the case of Misha Voikhansky, in the light of the Helsinki Agreement.

The long separation of Misha Voikhansky from his mother gives cause for concern, and Dr. Marina Voikhanskaya is aware that Ministers share the anxiety of a great many people in Britain about it. The Government have raised this case with the Soviet authorities on a number of occasions, in the context of the family reunification provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, and will continue to do so.

I am grateful that the Government have raised this case on a number of occasions. But will the Minister ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, who is now in the United Kingdom, is made fully aware during the trade negotiations that thousands of people here regard cases such as those involving the separation of an 11-year-old boy from his mother, as a means of punishing the mother for speaking out courageously at the abuse of psychiatry in Soviet hospitals, as a detestable and barbarous act, which is against the meaning of the Helsinki agreement?

Most hon. Members will endorse that view. I shall try to ensure that the hon. Member's views and those of the House generally are made known to Mr. Kirillin, who is in this country.

Is my hon. Friend aware that at this morning's meeting of the national executive committee of the Labour Party there was unanimous opposition to what has happened to Mr. Orlov and others like him? [HON. MEMBERS: "So what?"] If hon. Members would keep quiet they would realise that we are fighting against injustices in all parts of the world, including the Soviet Union. Is my hon. Friend aware that we feel that the Government could be a little more forthright on the question of those who are monitoring the Helsinki agreement in the Soviet Union?

We understand that the British Government do not want to endanger our relationships with the Soviet Union. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because we have to live with the Soviet Union. But it is vital that as a country and as a Labour movement we make our position absolutely clear, namely, that we are totally opposed to the methods adopted by the Soviet Union towards its dissidents.

I am pleased to hear what happened at the NEC this morning. I am perplexed by the reaction of many Opposition Members. I am sure that the Soviet Government will regard this morning's decision as more representative of the views of the mass of the people than some other expressions of opinion.

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend said about the Government not being forthright about Mr. Orlov's case. The Prime Minister made the Government's views clear on 18th May. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary issued a statement on the same day expressing his concern at the harsh and unjustified treatment of Professor Orlov, which might make constructive relations between East and West more difficult.

Does the Minister agree that it is helpful at all levels to bring to the attention of the Soviet Union the disgust that we feel at the continuing breaches of the Helsinki agreement? Does he agree that it would be helpful if youth organisations, such as those of the National Council of Churches, Methodist churches and other organisations, which have accepted an invitation to go to the World Festival of Youth in Cuba in July, were allowed to carry out that intention?

Is the Minister aware that these organisations are facing difficulties because the £5,000 Foreign Office grant has been withdrawn simply because the Young Conservatives movement, having accepted the invitation, for reasons best known to itself has now declined it?

I agree that the more forcefully organisations and the House of Commons express their views on this matter the better it is and the more clearly the Soviet Government will be aware of the strength of feeling.

The right hon. Member is mistaken about the World Festival of Youth. The British Government give substantial assistance to the British Youth Council. That organisation is grateful for that help. We decided that we could not assist in sending a delegation to the Havana festival because that is not part of our function. We remain totally neutral on the question whether they attend that festival. It is up to them to spend their own funds if they wish to go.

Does my hon. Friend accept that on questions of human liberty and freedom of movement we cannot afford to be selective in any way? Does he agree that those voices in the Opposition which are trying to make this issue an attack on the Soviet Union are not helping Mr. Orlov or Mr. Voikhansky? Does he further agree that wherever human liberties are at risk, whether in Chile or the Soviet Union, we should stand up in defence of them and not use them as a vehicle for partisan assaults on a particular regime?

I agree that there is a danger that legitimate and deeply felt concern might be depreciated because it is felt that it is expressed for party political purposes. For that reason I believe that the expression of opinion by the national executive committee of the Labour Party, which cannot be suspected, might have greater weight than the opinion of some other organisations.

I was surprised to hear the Minister's comment when he referred to attitudes on the Opposition side of the House apparently not entirely conforming with our abhorrence of the abuse of human dignity wherever it takes place. That is not so, and it has been made abundantly clear on many occasions.

Does the Minister realise that at this time, with the accumulation of threats from the Soviet Union to the whole way of life that we favour, there is special anxiety about further abuse of the kind referred to in the Question?

I totally reject the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I have made clear several times in the last few minutes that I was talking about the views of the whole House. I hope that they will be carefully noted by the Soviet Government.

We must continue to make clear our views and we must emphasise to the Soviet Government that actions of this kind are clearly in conflict with the terms of the Helsinki agreement, which specifically refers to family reunification. We shall emphasise that over and over again.

Cyprus

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement setting out his views in regard to the latest Turkish proposals for a settlement of the Cyprus issue, now that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has made his views known.

The proposals, of which only a synopsis has been published, were presented to the United Nations Secretary-General, who has said that he will continue consultations about a resumption of the intercommunal negotiating process. As my right hon. Friend told the House on 26th April, he does not believe that as yet we are approaching an eventual Cyprus settlement. But we continue to urge the parties to come to the negotiating table.

Has not Mr. Ecevit said that there can be no progress until the Turkish Government have been assured about the supply of American military equipment and about the whole question of international credit being made available to Turkey? Neither side in the intercommunal talks is competent to discuss those matters with the Turkish Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now time for an initiative to be taken for direct consultation about the way in which the Turkish Prime Minister can overcome the impasse and thereby start proceedings for a phased withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus and so bring an end to the process of annexation which is Turkish policy at present?

I assure my hon. Friend that we take every opportunity to put before the Turkish and Greek Cypriot Governments the need for a constructive approach to negotiations. This was last done when the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ecevit, was in London on 15th May. As things stand, the matter is in the hands of the United Nations Secretary-General. The most constructive thing that we can do at this stage is not to complicate his task but to support him in every way possible.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised that the United Nations force in Cyprus cannot be regarded as permanent and that there are increasing pressures from member countries to end the force, the sole purpose of which is to prolong negotiations and to avoid reaching a settlement?

During my recent visit to North America I had talks with both the United Nations Secretariat and Mr. Jamieson, in Canada, about the problems. It is right to recognise that the force cannot be regarded as permanent. It is important to recognise the cost to participating countries of sustaining it. But we should pay tribute to what it has achieved in keeping the peace in that troubled island. As far as we are concerned this is a means only of holding the situation. It cannot provide a solution. That can be found only by the people of Cyprus and their leaders.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Turkish proposals, as they have been published, by proposing a concession involving only 1 per cent. of Turkish territory, do not form a prima facie basis for successful negotiations? Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is not part of the British Government's policy to include the Eastern Sovereign Base in Cyprus as part of a settlement to increase that 1 per cent. to a greater proportion? Does he agree that we now need a wider international approach in order to solve this problem?

Candidly, I do not believe that the international community, acting on behalf of the people of Cyprus, can impose a solution. A lasting and viable solution can be found only with the commitment of all the people of Cyprus. It is therefore towards the objective of getting them to negotiate seriously together that we, with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, must direct our attention.