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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 984: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1980

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Human Rights (Individual Petition)

asked the Lord Privy Seal by what date he must record his decision with the European Commission of Human Rights if he intends to continue with the right of individual petition from the United Kingdom.

The existing declaration recognising the competence of the European Commission of Human Rights to receive petitions from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals expires on the 14 January 1981. A declaration of renewal ought therefore to be deposited with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe before that date.

Is it not disgraceful that such an important matter has never been debated in this House? Will my right hon. Friend do his best to persuade the Leader of the House to make such arrangements, before a final decision is taken?

I do not know whether I can agree that it is disgraceful. I know how much interest my hon. Friend takes in these matters. I shall pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is unprecedented for a nation that has contracted to the convention subsequently to discontinue the right of individual petition? Will he accept that none of the 21 nations of the Council of Europe has ever done so?

I think that my hon. Friend is right. However, he will realise that several nations, including Cyprus, France, Greece, Liechtenstein, Malta, Turkey and Spain, did not accept that right in the first place.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently stated in a written answer, we are considering the matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of my constituents, a British Rail train driver, petitioned the court about the closed shop? Does not he agree that the court has played a valuable role in that case?

I am sure that that is true. As my hon. Friend will realise, there are strong arguments on both sides.

Falkland Islands

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement about the discussions which have taken place with the Argentine authorities about matters relating to the Falkland Islands.

I met an Argentine delegation for wide-ranging and exploratory talks in New York on 28 and 29 April. We had cordial and positive exchanges and were able to reach a better understanding of each other's position.

Was the subject of extending the Antarctic treaty to cover the dependencies of the Falkland Islands discussed? Are the Government considering such an extension? If so, will it affect Britain's sovereignty over those dependencies?

The talks were confidential. However, the subject was not discussed. Issues concerning Antarctica will be discussed soon at the Canberra conference on living resources. However, those issues were not discussed in New York.

Is the Minister aware that I welcomed, with some surprise, the two words " cordial " and " positive ", which appeared in his statement? Does the Foreign Office propose to make a statement soon about 200-mile fishing limits and about the islands in the South Atlantic? Better still, does the Foreign Office propose to make a statement about a joint venture with Argentina as regards commercial fishing in those waters?

Once again, I am in the same difficulty. The talks were confidential. However, I shall answer as I did before. The matters were discussed in a " cordial and positive " manner.

Although it is of great interest to know that the discussions were conducted in a cordial atmosphere, why has my hon. Friend been so coy? Why has he not told the House the precise nature of the subjects discussed? This issue has always been close to the heart of the House of Commons.

We agreed with the Argentinian Government that these talks should be confidential. They were exploratory talks designed so that each party could discover the position of the other. Having given an undertaking to the Argentinian Government, I would not like to break it.

Will the Minister at least give the House the assurance —given by the last Government—that there will be no change in the status of the Falkland Islands without the full accord of the islanders?

I utterly endorse that. Indeed, I have said it so often that I find myself saying it in my sleep.

When the Minister goes to Canberra no doubt he will discuss the future of the Falkland Island dependencies—a territory which is rich in mineral resources and in fish. Will he assure us that he will not sign anything there that would diminish United Kingdom sovereignty? Would not he be well occupied in consulting his right hon. and hon. Friends about questions of development and defence, because whatever international arrangements he makes will have very little effect unless we are pre- pared to defend and develop these territories on our own?

On the first point, the conference in Canberra is about the Antarctic region, of which we are a claimant State. It is not about dependencies. They are not included in the subject matter for the conference. Of course, the question of dependencies was mentioned at the talks to which I have just referred and that was the proper place for that. We do not have a claim to the dependencies, we have sovereignty over them.

On the second point, this is a matter for the Secretary of State for Defence but clearly, what my hon. Friend has said is very much in our minds.

Perhaps it is useful to know that the Minister talks in his sleep. However, his reply was bland and un-informative on an issue that is of public concern and of particular concern to the House of Commons. Will he at least tell us whether he has had useful conversations about economic co-operation and fishing matters because these could be of great benefit to the Falkland Islanders? Further, was the issue of sovereignty raised or discussed in these conversations?

On the second point, it is right to say that the Argentinian Government raised the matter and it was discussed. On the first point, one positive conclusion of the conference was that arrangements would be set in hand for the Falkland Islanders to have direct contact with people in Argentina, both in government and in the private sector, with whom they are co-operating on economic and supply matters. The arrangements have been set in hand to institutionalise those contacts to the satisfaction of the islanders and the Argentinians.



asked the Lord Privy Seal what reassessment of British foreign policy he has made following recent events in Iran; and if he will make a statement.

Recent events in Iran have underlined the need for Western cohesion and the fullest consultation. We remain determined to engage with our partners and allies in diplomatic, political and economic measures to help secure the release of the American hostages and thus make possible a revival of our traditional friendship with Iran.

Will my hon. Friend agree that, whatever our attitude to it, the Islamic revolution, of which the events in Iran are a symptom, is a signficant occurrence in world affairs and it makes more urgent the need for a settlement in the Middle East, particularly of the Palestinian issue? Is my hon. Friend considering any further positive steps with our European allies to implement United Nations resolution No. 242?

I agree with my hon. Friend's first comment, and it is precisely because of that that the Foreign Ministers of the nine EEC countries have been asked to prepare a report on this subject which the European Council will consider at its next summit meeting in Venice on 12 and 13 June.

Following the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), will not my hon. Friend agree that, while he may be saddened, he is not surprised that there will be no agreement between Israel and Egypt by 26 May? Will he further agree that the Israeli interpretation of the words " full automony " is rightly seen by the majority of people in the Middle East as conferring upon the Palestinian people no more than the rights of a self-governing colony?

We do not want to do anything that will cut across the conversations which are continuing between Israel, Egypt and the United States. We have made it clear from time to time, and so have our partners in Europe, that some aspects of Israeli policy, particularly on settlement, are an obstacle to the success of that venture.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it a new convention of the House that we debate or discuss matters that are not at all concerned with the original question that has been asked?

Order. We shall all be satisfied if the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) says " connection ".

Will the Minister accept that instead of kow-towing to the more ridiculous demands of an American President in election year, and helping to damage our future trading prospects, not only in Iran but throughout the Middle East, because of the ridiculous legislation that we have just passed, it would be more fitting to his office if he tried to mount a much more effective counter operation by the European countries through the launching of an initiative to settle the real problem in the Middle East which is at the core of all the other problems, including Iran, namely the Palestinian problem?

Therefore, I would not accept his comments in the stimulating debates that occurred. On his second point, I have already tried to indicate that we are active in this way. We do not want to cut across what is already being done, but if we can help to promote a settlement by some clear European initiative, we shall do our best.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the arrangements for consultation with the United States and the EEC in order to get a more coherent policy within the Western Alliance for dealing with this problem than we have had in the recent past?

There is a great deal of consultation—sometimes one feels that there is almost too much coherence. However, my hon. Friend is quite right, it is absolutely essential that all these matters clustered under this question should be considered as one, and proper priorities agreed among them.

The Minister well knows that the meeting of the nine Foreign Ministers is taking place in Naples this weekend. He will also know, because he was here throughout the two-day debate on the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill, that there are considerable reservations about the sanctions, and even stronger reservations about the timing of the proposed implementation. Will he advise the House what line the British representative will take at Naples, particularly after hearing the new United States Secretary of State, Mr. Muskie, speak in Brussels, calling for immediate and full implementation?

If the discussion in another place proceeds satisfactorily, my noble Friend will go to Naples equipped with the powers that he said he would seek on this front. Then he and the other EEC Ministers will review the whole situation and consider what has happened since 22 April when they last met and to what extent they can find new diplomatic ways to make progress. They will also consider to what extent it would be helpful to use the powers which, by then, we expect all the countries to have to impose economic sanctions.

The Foreign Secretary will go to Naples with these powers, but may I urge him strongly that the time is right for a full appraisal and a pause before any further action is decided upon? I hope that that will be put very strongly to the other countries in the EEC.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. However, the hostages have been held for six months, and no one can be accused of being headstrong.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what further progress has been made in his discussion with the Spanish Government on the lifting of restrictions between the territory of Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland; and if he will make a statement.

Following preparation through diplomatic channels, technical discussions about the implementation of the agreement reached between my right hon. and noble Friend and the Spanish Foreign Minister opened in Madrid on 5 May. Gibraltarian representatives took part.

I am sure that the House will welcome continuation of the discussions, but if agreement is reached that the border gates are opened on 1 June, will the Algeciras-Gibraltar ferry operate effectively from that date?

As my hon. Friend knows, the target date for re-opening the border is 1 June. However, I emphasise that it is only the target date.

Why is there a delay? What is the problem? Spain is democratic. Why should she not open her gates? If the people of Gibraltar wish to remain associated with Britain, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Government will support them?

I do not accept that there has been a delay. The Lisbon agreement is quite recent. As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, there are a number of technical matters to discuss. The Gibraltar Government would be the first to agree that that is so. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that our commitments are absolutely clear.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Spanish Government that, as between friendly nations, we expect reasonable co-operation if they expect reasonable co-operation from us when they seek to join the EEC?

Of course that is true. However, as we have just reached an agreement with the Spanish Government, which I believe is satisfactory to both parties, I do not believe that minatory tones would be appropriate on our part just now.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman saying that a technical matter is being discussed, when we desire to make clear to the Spanish Government that the free movement of workers in the Community means that the borders must be opened quickly? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the borders were closed at great speed, and we should like to see them opened again?

I do not understand the hon. Lady's difficulty. The agreement was made recently, and the target date for implementation is 1 June. If we do not meet that target date, the border will be opened shortly thereafter. There is no undue delay.

South-West Africa

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he intends to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Zimbabwe in the near future to discuss South-West Africa.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am somewhat disappointed with that reply? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what happens in Zimbabwe, as we now call it, in the immediate future and the attitude of Mr Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe Government, will have a great bearing on evolutionary changes in the remainder of Southern Africa? Does he further agree that it would be wrong at this time to put undue pressure on South Africa and the Administrator-General in South-West Africa which may be counter-productive in bringing forth a more democratic Government, which is the objective of the Administrator-General, who is doing so much good at present?

I entirely agree that the attitude and the behaviour of the Zimbabwe Government are of the utmost importance in Southern Africa. However, that is a matter for the Zimbabwe and South African Governments. I entirely agree with the second part of my hon. Friend's question. I do not believe that this is an occasion for undue pressure. As my hon. Friend knows, we are working for a general agreement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, now that we have a democratically elected Government in Zimbabwe, we should seek their co-operation to end the illegal occupation by South Africa of this territory known as Namibia? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the United Nations for many years has called for it to be given independence and a democratic Government?

The procedures begun under the previous Government whereby the Five and the secretary-general negotiate and act with South Africa, are being continued. As I said, no doubt developments in Zimbabwe will have had a beneficial effect.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the successful momentum achieved by the ultimately peaceful settlement in Zimbabwe should be carried forward to solving a similar problem in Namibia by the same combination of internationally supervised elections, as proposed by the United Nations? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a danger that the momentum will be lost? What is the state of play on the negotiations between the contact Five and the South African Government with regard to Namibia?

We do not want the matter to come to a standstill, but equally we do not want it to be rushed. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the South African reply was received in London only yesterday. It requires a great deal of consideration, and I am reluctant to comment on it now.



asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards Iran.

The Government wish to maintain friendly relations with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The main matter at issue is Iran's illegal detention for more than six months of the United States diplomats. Her Majesty's Government have throughout this time made repeated efforts to secure their release, and with this in mind have decided, with our European partners, to take powers to impose a range of sanctions on Iran.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has had enough of Iran to last him for at least a day or two, but will he accept that we shall continue to have the worst of all worlds with regard to Iran unless we work towards, and rapidly achieve, a continuous and definite policy towards that country, not least a strategy towards the area as a whole?

I entirely agree. I believe that we have such a policy. We take all available opportunities to impress on our partners and allies that a policy towards Iran needs to be considered within the framework of our policy towards the Middle East.

Without going into the problem of sanctions, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the easiest way to cope with the matter is to shut these numerous phoney English language schools that Iranian students flock to for various false reasons? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that has been going on for years, yet no one takes action? Why not put an end to that and keep those students out?

Schools are not a matter for me, and nor is kicking people out of the country. In the past few days we have given notice that we propose at the end of the week to institute a visa regime that will control the future entry of Iranians to this country.



asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has any plans to pay an official visit to Zimbabwe.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I appreciate the prompt and generous financial provision made for the new State of Zimbabwe? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, official visit or not, he will be keeping in touch with the situation to monitor the effect of the aid, so that if, on a continuing basis, further assistance is necessary, that can at least be considered?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's earlier remarks. As he knows, an ODA mission went out in January and another will be going in June to consider these matters. We shall naturally keep everything under review.

Will the Lord Privy Seal discuss with the Governments of Zambia and other Comonwealth countries in Central and East Africa the deteriorating situation in Uganda? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything about the state of affairs there? Will he undertake to express the concern that many of us feel about the deterioration?

The situation in Uganda is serious, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that the matter does not arise from this question.



asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps are being taken by the United Kingdom in the Security Council to make fully effective the work of the United Nations interim force in the Lebanon.

We voted for United Nations Security Council resolution 467 on the 24 April, and we shall continue to support the efforts of the United Nations and the troop contributors to enable UNIFIL to operate more effectively in South Lebanon.

Is the Minister aware that the behaviour of the so-called militia, armed and backed by Israel, is causing considerable bitterness among those countries that have contributed troops in the name of the international community to maintain peace in that area? Do not the Five permanent members of the Security Council have a clear duty to give the necessary diplomatic and other backing to make that force fully effective?

We agree that there is no justification for the continued Israeli presence and their support of the Haddad militia. Of course, Israel argues, with some justification, that it is concerned about infiltration into the UNIFIL area by Palestinian units, but it would be much easier for UNIFIL to look after that part of its job if it were not being harassed by Major Haddad's militia.

Presumably the Government recognise the provocation and agony caused by the murder of Christians in southern Lebanon by terrorists who infiltrate on occasions into northern Israel. Is it not, therefore, unreasonable that the Irish Republic, one of the peacekeeping countries, should have gone overboard in favour of the PLO which, incidentally, has connections with the Irish Republic Army?

I am not responsible for the policy of the Irish Government, but having visited UNIFIL, I know that the Irish battalion does a good job.

In view of the hon. Gentleman's great experience of economic sanctions, can he tell us when the Government intend, through the United Nations, to impose economic sanctions on Israel as a result of its persistent military attacks, both direct and indirect, on the State of Lebanon and on the United Nations forces there?

We have no such plan, but we have no hesitation in making our views known at every opportunity.

Is it not a fact that the purpose of establishing UNIFIL was to allow the Lebanese Government to restore their sovereignty over their territory? Should not the British Government, as one of the five permanent representatives, be taking a more positive role in order to see that objective fulfilled?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and we are doing everything that we can. The Foreign Minister of Lebanon was here on a private visit a few days ago and some of us had the chance to discuss the matter with him. I gave him that assurance. I have a great deal of admiration for the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and others in Lebanon who are trying, against considerable odds, to rebuild their country.

Will the Minister make it clear that, although we support the work of the United Nations force in Lebanon, there should not be infiltration through this area, because it will not be understood by the Israelis and will cause enormous uproar within the area if there are continuing terrorist incidents?

Brandt Commission


asked the Lord Privy Seal what consultations he has had with United Nations agencies about the recommendations of the Brandt commission.

My right hon. Friend had a short exchange of views with the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 16 April. This is likely to be taken further when the Secretary-General visits London next week.

In view of the grave threat to world development and, potentially, to stability that is posed by the enormous increase that is taking place in the world's population, will my hon. Friend promote the objectives of the United Nations fund for population activities, not least by working to restore the British contribution to the fund, since it is no longer underspent on its budget as it was when the decision to halve our contribution was taken?

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. We contributed £2 million to the fund last year and are contributing a further £2 million this year. I do not think that that is too bad in the light of our circumstances.

As the Brandt Commission's report deals at length with the great increase in expenditure on arms throughout the world, would it not be difficult for the Government to accept some of the recommendations for reducing the total amount of spending on arms, since that would fly in the face of the decisions that were announced recently when we debated the Defence Estimates?

Certainly some of the recommendations are difficult for us to accept. We have had one debate in the House, there has been a debate in another place and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has promised a fuller debate in Government time before the end of June. I think that these matters will be best thrashed out then.

In considering a response to the Brandt commission report, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that some of the more important recommendations are potentially of considerable inflationary impact and that if fuel is added to the world inflation it will result in great harm being caused to developing countries?

The Brandt report is a powerful piece of analysis, but of course my hon. Friend is right in pointing out that some of the proposals cause practical difficulties for us. We are not in the business of saying that we shall do things if we cannot do them. That is why we must look at the report carefully and together.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Brandt report addresses themes of immense importance, not only to the international economy, but to the question of political stability in so many regions? Does he agree that it will require careful handling and a carefully thought-out programme if we are to make a worthwhile response? Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that not only should United Nations agencies, which may have useful comments to make, be consulted, but that the subjects should be seriously considered in the OECD, which is the major forum of the developed countries?

Yes, indeed, and that is now happening. We have to prepare for the special session of the United Nations General Assembly which will certainly concentrate on many of those matters.

Esperanto Broadcasts


asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of the growing number of Esperantists, he will direct the Overseas Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast in Esperanto.

No, Sir. The BBC external service broadcasts either in English, which it is the Government's policy to promote as an international language, or in the native languages of selected countries or regions.

While our desire to broadcast in our own language is understandable and laudable, will my hon. Friend recognise that many people will be disappointed by his answer? Is he aware that a growing number of countries, including China, as well as Radio Vatican, broadcast in Esperanto for the benefit of bringing people closer together.

Esperanto is the second language of all those who speak it and we think it better to broadcast in their first languages. The BBC broadcasts in 39 such languages.

As the BBC is renowned throughout the world as the most dependable and responsible broadcasting organisation—and it uses the services of the best people available—would it not help international understanding if, instead of chasing this obscure and unknown little fake language, the Government were to make available more money for BBC broadcasts in English throughout the world?

Such money as the Government make available to the BBC external services is better spent in broadcasting either in English or in the language of those living in the countries to which the BBC broadcasts.

In view of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's determination to flood the Soviet Union with propaganda, will my hon. Friend consider restarting the BBC's Ukrainian language broadcasts and bearing the cost of them on the defence budget rather than within propaganda expenditure?

We have increased broadcasts, to a small extent, to both Russia and Afghanistan and we are studying whether there is scope for further increases. As to whether the money would be better placed on the Vote of the Ministry of Defence, that is a matter which would not help the general total of money spent, whichever Vote it was put on.



asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the current situation in Afghanistan.

There is no sign of Soviet troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan. Further demonstrations in Kabul at the end of April showed the continuing opposition of the Afghan people to the Russian presence and to the Government whom the Russians have installed. We deplore the loss of life of the many young people, including school girls, who have been killed during the suppression of the demonstrations.

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that on Saturday a meeting of the Young Conservatives' national advisory committee, a body which represents the largest political youth movement in this country, overwhelmingly passed a motion urging Sir Denis Follows to pay less regard to the International Olympic Committee and more to the wishes of the people of this country, as expressed through their democratically elected representatives in this House and in the European Parliament, that there should be a boycott of the Olympic Games?

Will he also—

Order. If the Minister is to answer in time, the hon. Gentleman had better stop there.

I am greatly reassured and strengthened by what my hon. Friend has told me. Nothing that has happened in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world since January weakens, in any way, our view about the need for a boycott of the Olympic Games.