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Volume 984: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1980

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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.