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Council Of Foreign Ministers

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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23.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when his noble Friend expects to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

At the next Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 4 and 5 February.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday at which we considered the measures which the Community should take as a result of events in Afghanistan, trade with Rhodesia, the appointment of an extra Advocate General to the Court of Justice, staff pay, and the Community's relations with ASEAN, Yugoslavia and Latin America. There was a brief procedural discussion of the United Kingdom budget problem. I am circulating a more detailed account in the Official Report.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Community can respond quickly enough to the serious and changing international situation? If not, will he put proposals before his colleagues at the next meeting of the Council to improve the machinery for developing Community foreign policy?

It is in the nature of a community, a collection of States or an alliance, that it is able to work less quickly than an individual country. Obviously, there are difficulties in concerting measures in the Community. As my hon. Friend will be aware, important decisions were made yesterday concerning the cancellation of food aid to Afghanistan, the urgent consideration of the refugee problem in Iran, an agreement by the Community not to fill the gap left by the halting of United States' food exports to the Soviet Union and the temporary suspension of butter sales pending detailed examination of further measures. Further action will be contemplated next week. As I have said, I do not believe that we should be paying attention to constitutional changes at the moment.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss with his colleagues the question of other measures to be taken as a result of the Afghanistan invasion, in particular the possible cancellation or removal of the Olympic Games from Moscow?

The Olympic Games were mentioned at the NATO discussion, which I did not attend. However, they were not referred to at the discussion yesterday, although they will be in the future. That was because of lack of time, as much as anything else. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Government have not yet formed a final view. The International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association are independent bodies.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not entirely satisfactory that the decisions that were reached yesterday by the Community Ministers should be communicated to the House only by way of an accidental question on the Order Paper? There should be a proper statement on the matter which could then be the subject of questions. In the circumstances of Afghanistan, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the members of the European Community are doing what is required and not merely talking about taking measures? Is he aware that, as an ardent European, I am disappointed by the reaction of our French and German friends-to date?

The question of making a statement is always difficult. Sometimes the House complains of too many statements, while at other times it complains that there are not enough. I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, but, as I said earlier, it is difficult for a community or an alliance to reach quick decisions. Only the first step has been taken, and I hope that more will be done in the future.

I should like to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I agree that there should have been a proper statement on the matter. As I understand it, the meetings that took place yesterday in Brussels, both at NATO and at the EEC, were of some importance. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman attended the wrong Council meeting. He might have had more serious discussions at the NATO meeting than at the EEC discussions. We hear a great deal about political co-operation—

Was there, at the EEC meeting, or during consultations with the Lord Privy Seal's right hon. and hon. Friends who attended the NATO meeting, any serious discussion of trade policy? If so, what was the response of our partners? Perhaps at the meeting which the right hon. Gentleman did not attend, but of which he will have heard, there was discussion of the Olympic Games.

I believe that the Minisster of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), said at the end of the meeting that no decision had been reached about the Olympic Games. I have already told the House what was decided about trade in agricultural products at the meeting that I attended.

Following is the information:

I represented the United Kingdom on 15 January at this first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council under the Italian Presidency.
The Community has agreed that EEC supplies of food should not be allowed to take the place of those from the United States on the Soviet market, directly or indirectly. The Council has invited the Commission to take all appropriate measures to implement this decision, as regards cereals and products derived from them, and to propose further measures if necessary, for other agricultural products.
In addition, the Council decided to cancel the 1979 Community food aid programme to Afghanistan, and to consider as soon as possible a proposal which will shortly be produced by the Commission for emergency aid to Afghan refugees.
This represents a concrete and substantial economic response by the European Community to the situation which has been created, which complements the political positions also adopted yesterday by the Nine Foreign Ministers. It was agreed that work in the Community on this question should continue and that a further report would be made to the next Foreign Affairs Council on 5 February.
The statement on Afghanistan approved by Foreign Ministers recorded their grave concern at the Soviet Union's military intervention in Afghanistan which they viewed as a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a third country and a threat to the peace of the region. They called on the Soviet Union to act in accordance with the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and withdraw their troops from Afghanistan.
Agreement was reached in principle to an EEC trade regime for Rhodesia and, eventually, an independent Zimbabwe which will last up to the end of 1980. This regime provides for free access for industrial products and generous treatment for agricultural products—including duty-free access for tobacco. The Council's agreement is subject to the opinion of the European Parliament but that will, we hope, be forthcoming by the end of this week. I should like to record here the Government's appreciation of the contribution made by other member States and, in particular, the Commission towards securing so quickly full agreement on this important subject.
The Council agreed that details of the Community's improved offer for a new EEC-Yugoslavia co-operation agreement should be settled at tomorrow's meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives so that the Commission can continue negotiations with Yugoslavia next week in time for a final decision on the new agreement to be taken at the next Foreign Affairs Council on 4–5 February. We welcome this sense of urgency.
No agreement was reached on the appointment of an additional Advocate General to the European Court of Justice or on the annual staff pay review.
The Presidency made a statement drawing attention to the importance of developing relations with Latin America. There was no discussion.
Ministers agreed that the next ministerial meeting with ASEAN should take place when the co-operation agreement is signed. The first week of March will be proposed to ASEAN.
The Council took note of the resolutions passed by the Parliament at its session of 10–14 December 1979. There was no discussion.
The Foreign Affairs Council reviewed progress in other specialist councils. There was no substantive discussion.

24.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends to meet his European Economic Community counterparts.

28.

I met them at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. I shall meet them again at the next Council on 4 and 5 of February in Brussels.

Will my right hon. Friend please make a special effort to have further discussions about whether the Olympic Games should be held at a venue other than Moscow and will he see whether his European counterparts have the same views, even if that means postponing the Olympic Games? If those Games are postponed, surely any disappointment felt by a few thousand athletes sould be seen as a minor matter compared with the possible effect upon Russian public opinion that withdrawal might have. It may help to prevent a third World War. Surely the Government are not entirely without influence, as they contribute to the cost through the Sports Council.

At the Council meeting yesterday it was agreed that all possible measures relating to Afghanistan should be considered in Rome next week and therefore discussion of the Olympic Games will take place then. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about the advantages of finding another place at which to hold the Games, but he will understand that many difficulties are involved because there is such short notice. Other countries, like Britain, do not control their Olympic committees.

Will the Lord Privy Seal tell the House of any benefits that Britain derives from membership of the EEC?

One benefit I hope will appeal to the hon. Gentleman is that the EEC strengthens the Western orientation of Britain. Given Soviet behaviour in Eastern Europe, that should appeal to all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread disappointment at the published reports of the meetings of the EEC yesterday? Will he give the House an absolute assurance that Her Majesty's Government will urgently examine, with all their allies, measures for decisive action against Russian influence in all parts of the world as an unmistakable demonstration of our refusal to march, again, along the path of the 1930s?

I understand from newspaper reports, and from the House today, that there is some disappointment about our achievements. However, as I have said, alliances and communities can move only slowly. No doubt my hon. Friend is aware that my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is now touring the area adjacent to Afghanistan. He will return at the end of the week and we shall consult as to what further measures should be taken.

Is it true that yesterday the French even opposed the complete cancellation of sales of cheap butter by the EEC to the Soviet Union?

It is not the custom to reveal the attitudes of individual Governments in Council meetings. There have been reports on that matter.