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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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Afghanistan

2.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, at the next meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will raise the matter of Afghanistan.

NATO members consult on all matters of topical interest. I have no doubt that my right hon. and noble Friend will discuss Afghanistan with his NATO colleagues at the Ankara meeting of the NATO council, which begins on 25 June.

While being strongly opposed to the invasion of Afghanistan, does the Minister support the supply from America of large quantities of arms to the rebels, as evidenced by Western sources, including such reliable people as United Press International and others?

Our evidence is that the Afghan freedom fighters get most of their arms from defecting Afghan soldiers.

Is my hon. Friend reminded by the current situation in Afghanistan of similar, but not identical, events that took place in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968? Will he give an assurance that all possible help, aid and equipment, short of manpower, is being provided for the freedom fighters, who are fighting not only for their own freedom but for ours?

This war, unlike the other episodes to which my hon. Friend refers has continued for much longer and is getting more intense as more Russian troops arrive and as Afghans in almost every province show that they are determined to resist Soviet occupation of their country.

On the more general questions raised by Afghanistan, the Minister will recall that one of the immediate responses of Her Majesty's Government was not to renew the credit terms on which Britain used to sell goods to the Soviet Union. Will the Minister say whether there have been discussions with other NATO countries or within the EEC about measures of a similar kind being contemplated? What is the state of those discussions?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has reminded the House of the step that we took against soft credit for the Soviet Union. Discussions on this matter in OECD—the forum for them—take place from time to time but there is not yet a unified approach.

Iran

3.

The British Government's trade sanctions against Iran came into effect on 30 May. The orders have since been approved by both Houses. The Government continue to support diplomatic moves which might lead to the release of the hostages, including the visit to Iran by Mr. Daoudi, the Syrian member of the United Nations Commission. In Iran, the Majlis has met but not yet considered the question of the hostages.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who were strongly opposed to the Shah's regime, and are certainly opposed to sanctions as serving no purpose, continue to be very much opposed to the totally unlawful detention of the American hostages, who should be released as quickly as possible? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us are also deeply troubled by the almost daily executions that are taking place in Iran?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I take note, as the House will have done, of the second part of his question.

What evidence does the Minister have that British or Western sanctions against Iran are working?

Our sanctions have been in effect for about three weeks and it is difficult to judge. Certainly, they have not produced the explosion of retaliation prophesied by some Opposition Members.

Arms Sales

5.

asked the Lord Privy Seal, what criteria he adopts regarding the sale of arms to foreign Governments.

The standard practice in dealing with arms sales proposals is to consider them case by case in relation to their political, strategic, security, and economic merits.

Was the Foreign Office consulted by the defence sales office about the countries which are normally invited to the British Army exhibition? If so, why were States such as Zaire, Indonesia, Iraq and even Libya invited, although their contempt for human rights is notorious? Is it not humiliation enough that we should have supplied radios to Amin's secret police without us also supplying the tools of surveillance to every police State which happens to be outside the Warsaw Pact?

We were consulted. This is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. The Under-Secretary of State answered questions yesterday. I have nothing to add to what he said.

When the Under-Secretary of State answered questions yesterday he placed heavy emphasis on the human rights concept. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Republic of China, for example, is not a place where human rights have a high priority? Would not it be more apposite if, as with our allies the French, the sole criterion for the sale of arms was their effect on production and employment in this country?

We try to take a number of criteria into account when making a responsible judgment on each proposal. On reflection, my hon. Friend will recognise that that must be so. Human rights is one criterion.

Leaving aside the question of the exact criteria which govern the sale of arms, does the Minister agree with the statement in the Brandt Commission report that the escalation of arms sales generally is a serious and dangerous matter? Does he accept that the competition in selling arms between the Soviet Union, the United States and France—the three principal suppliers, although Britain and Italy are suppliers on a smaller scale—is damaging and dangerous in all its implications?

What has happened to the discussions begun two years ago between the United States and the USSR, with the support of the British Government, to try to find a way of limiting the sale of weapons, particularly to developing countries, which should be spending their money on other priorities?

Clearly the discussions did not lead to any marked progress. We are a long way from the Soviet Union joining others in restricting arms sales.

Can my hon. Friend comment on reports in the press today that the French Government are seeking to undermine the Jaguar aircraft deal with India which was negotiated under the previous Government? Is my hon. Friend aware that, in relation to that deal, the construction of about 40 aircraft has already begun in Britain? Will he comment on reports that the French have made strenuous efforts to have the contract annulled and replaced with the purely French Mirage aircraft?

I cannot comment on that today, but I shall look into the matter and let my hon. Friend know.

On a day when there is evidence that the South African Government are taking a heavy toll of lives, will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to make it clear that Government policy is that there will be no arms sales to South Africa?

Overseas Emergencies (Commonwealth Assistance)

6.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is his policy on whether to seek assistance from other Commonwealth countries when emergencies occur in a colony or dependency.

It is the policy of the British Government to seek assistance from Commonwealth or any other countries on such occasions as are deemed appropriate.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the strengthening of our Commonwealth links is important in order to facilitate help when circumstances demand it?

The Government have made it clear that they are fervent supporters of the Commonwealth. We had considerable success in rallying the Commonwealth in connection with Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend will recall that the Commonwealth played a valuable role there.

In view of the evidence of extreme starvation in Sudan, Ethiopia and other parts of the Horn of Africa, and of the worsening situation in Kampuchea, do the British Government intend to offer further assistance?

That is a question for my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. He is about to go to a conference in Sudan dealing with that subject.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that it was only because of the wish of the Australian Government that we got embroiled in the New Hebrides because, for consitutional reasons, it was not able to sign a treaty with France?

My hon. Friend is well informed about the history of the New Hebrides. The situation in the New Hebrides is of considerable interest to South Pacific countries, many of which are Commonwealth countries. They have made it clear that they support the British Government in sending the Marines.

Is it not also true that the Australian Government have reminded both the British and the French Government of their joint responsibility to leave the territory in a proper state when it is given independence at the end of July?

That is correct. I am in close touch with the Australian High Comissioner in London. We need no reminding about our responsibilities to the New Hebrides.

Middle East

9.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether any new initiative is contemplated by the United Kingdom in concert with other West European States to help resolves the problems in the Middle East.

11.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps he intends to take to help to achieve a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis arising from continued denial of Palestinian rights.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 16 June, the European Council issued a statement on the Middle East in Venice on 13 June. The Nine will determine their future action in the light of the contacts with the parties concerned called for in the statement. The Nine's objective is to reconcile Israel's legitimate security concerns with the political rights of the Palestinians.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the forthright statement from Venice in favour of full self-determination for the Palestinian people is welcome and long overdue? Is he further aware that as long as the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza continue to be treated in an insulting and humiliating way by the Israeli colonial Administration the prospect of conflict will become closer and closer?

As the Prime Minister said, there must be general agreement on the two principles—security for Israel and recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. There has been a serious situation on the West Bank in the last few weeks. That has concerned not only us. It has been the subject of considerable anxiety in the Knesset. It is a matter of great gravity.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed how frequently the denial of the legitimate rights of the indigenous population, be it in Zimbabwe, South Africa or Palestine, seeks to equate nationalism with terrorism? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is obvious that there will never be a conclusive peace settlement in the Middle East, unless the Palestine Liberation Organisation is involved in direct negotiations? In the light of the European declaration, will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to bring together both parties, without preconditions, so that we can make positive progress towards the inevitable settlement that most British people would like to see?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that terrorism is not and cannot be a solution to the problem. We all condemn terrorism, from wherever it comes. Obviously, the problem can be solved only by negotiation and agreement. Before we get as far as my hon. Friend seeks, the reconnaissance proposed by the European Council is a worthwhile exercise. It is valuable to talk to all the parties so that we can clarify all the issues.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. and noble Friend Lord Home that before the British Government and the EEC start any initiative with the PLO the PLO must renounce its avowed aim of the destruction of the State of Israel?

We have said many times that we have no intention of recognising the PLO. As the Prime Minister said the other day, there can be no negotiation even after reconnaissance unless the PLO recognises the right of Israel to exist. Of course, this must be a two-way process, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. Just as the Fatah declarations at its conference the other day were not such as to help to produce a negotiated settlement, so Israeli claims to alter the status of Jerusalem and to sovereignty over the West Bank are, similarly, not in accordance with a negotiated settlement. We need compromise on both sides.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is of the greatest importance that there should be contacts—if necessary at an unofficial level—between European Governments and moderate PLO leaders, not only to encourage the moderate elements of the PLO leadership who are silent but who believe that it is possible, and desirable, that in future Israel should exist within secure frontiers next to a predominantly Palestinian State?

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we refuse to speak to people on any level we are, obviously, unable to persuade them to the way of thinking that we believe to be right. To boycott the PLO—whatever we may think of it—when it plainly represents a large part, though not all, of the Palestinian people will defeat our objective of bringing it into the peace process. The PLO must be talked to and we must get it to agree to the fundamentals of the Venice statement.

May I press the Lord Privy Seal further on that point? Is it not a fact that the fundamental cause of the conflict is the injustice indicted upon the Palestinian people? Is it not therefore essential that they should be brought into discussion and negotiation? Is not the PLO the only possible body representative of Palestinian opinion?

It has long been clear to virtually everyone that there can be no comprehensive settlement in the Middle East without the involvement of the Palestinian people. That is fundamental. It also follows that the PLO must be brought in not as the sole representative of the Palestinian people but as the representative of a large number of them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a tragedy for all those who wish to see peace and recognition in the Middle East that a resolution of its problems should await a resolution of the American domestic situation? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the Venice declaration will not be a time-filler until the American presidential election is resolved and that every effort will be made, by this and every other European Government in the meantime, to press and fulfil the purpose and spirit of that accord?

As my hon. Friend indicates, the American election creates difficulties in relation to this issue. One of the objectives of the Venice declaration, and one of the most reasonable and legitimate of them, was to recognise that there would otherwise be something of a hiatus between now and the American presidential election and that it was important that momentum should be kept up. The leaders of the Nine made it clear that they in no way sought to cut across, or spoil, the Camp David process but that they were acting in conjunction with it. I am sure, therefore, that what they decided to do was extremely valuable.

The purpose and meaning of the statement issued by the Nine on the Middle East is far from clear, as I think the Lord Privy Seal will acknowledge. It has not become a great deal clearer from the right hon. Gentleman's replies this afternoon. However, we have noted that the Government have no present intention of recognising the PLO. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think—and here, I reiterate a point made by one of my hon. Friends—that to associate the PLO in any way with these negotiations must be made contingent upon a quite clear recognition and declaration by the PLO that it will accept the right of the State of Israel to exist and enjoy full security? That is essential.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that the credentials of Western Europe in relation to the Middle East are marred and spoiled? It is not that we are not conscious that there is a real problem and that real injustice is being inflicted on many people on the West Bank. But surely the right hon. Gentleman understands that European countries, with their massive dependence upon oil, are indeed suspect in the approaches that they have made?

Almost everything that the right hon. Gentleman says is untrue. The idea that, because Western Europe is dependent upon oil, it is unable to say something about the Middle East is utter rubbish. The implication that the Palestinian people have no rights in themselves and that they are given rights by us only because of the oil problem is also absolute rubbish. The idea that there is any lack of clarity in the Venice statement is also untrue—[Interruption.] It may well be that hon. Gentleman do not wish to solve the problem of the Middle East. Most people do. We have already said that we shall not recognise the PLO. But as the right hon. Gentleman must know, from his experience in foreign affairs, to refuse to talk to people because one does not always agree with them is not a sensible way of carrying matters forward.

The Americans, certainly, committed themselves not to talk to the PLO and have probably been regretting that decision ever since. The PLO represents a large part of the Palestinian people. Dr. Nahum Goldmann has for many years suggested that Israel and the PLO should recognise each other. That is a suggestion from, probably, the most distinguished living Zionist.

For the right hon. Gentleman to try to crab the European initiative—which he must know is extraordinarily important not only because of the severe tensions on the West Bank but because of severe tensions in the Middle East as a whole—is entirely wrong and is extremely unhelpful to the West and to this country.

Order. We shall come back to this but I hope that we shall have shorter questions and answers.

Hong Kong (Housing)

10.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what has been the total completion of public and private housing in Hong Kong each year for the last five years; and what completions are anticipated each year for the next five years.

In the last five years the average annual total completion of public and private housing was 40,128 units. The estimated average annual total completion for the next five years is 64,498 units. I will circulate in the Official Report figures for each of the years in question.

Is not that a wonderful achievement when we recall that Hong Kong is short of land and building materials? Should not the House congratulate Hong Kong and take note of what it has done, bearing in mind that private enterprise gets on with the job and provides much-needed housing?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In the housing context, as in others, the Hong Kong story is one of success.

Is the Minister aware that the proposals for the re-introduction of elections recently announced by the Hong Kong Government in some of those areas where new housing has been provided are welcome, even though they do not go as far as some of us would like? Will the Minister seek to ensure that the House has an opportunity to express an opinion on the Green Paper dealing with the new democratic structure in Hong Kong before discussions on it are concluded, before the end of August this year?

I think that we are getting away from the subject of housing in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, I take the opportunity of welcoming the hon. Gentleman's remarks. As regards an opportunity for a discussion in the House, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in some matters we treat Hong Kong as a colony but that in others, such as overseas students, we treat its people as foreigners? Does he think that this is fair?

There is a difficulty in our relations with Hong Kong because of its relations with China. Again, we are getting away from the issue of housing in Hong Kong.

No Hong Kong building programme will be able to meet the growing problem of refugees entering Hong Kong from China and the Vietnamese boat people. Will the Minister tell the House how many Vietnamese boat people are still in Hong Kong? Has he had reports of new arrivals in boats in Hong Kong and neighbouring territories? Does he anticipate that there will be another wave of Vietnamese boat people entering Hong Kong in the next two weeks?

There has been a slight increase in the number of Vietnamese boat people coming to Hong Kong recently. We have no evidence to suggest that this is a deliberate change of policy on the part of the Vietnam Government. We think that it is connected more with the seasonal winds.

It is true that the enormous influx of people into Hong Kong from both China and Vietnam has placed a tremendous burden on the Hong Kong authorities. It is very much to their credit that they have managed to keep up so well with the situation. The latest figures that we have for the number of Vietnamese boat people still in Hong Kong—[Interruption.] This is relevant to housing if hon. Gentlemen would just follow the point. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) is entitled to raise this matter. The latest figure that we have is about 40,000.

Following are the figures :

In the last five years total completions in public and private housing were as follows :
1975–7631,290 units
1976–7729,906 units
1977–7835,724 units
1978–7943,720 units
1979–8059,998 units

The following estimated total completions are anticipated :
1980–8168,420 units
1981–8270,944 units
1982–8364,092 units
1983–8462,656 units
1984–8556,280 units

Namibia

12.

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

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Richard Luce)

The Government continue to work in conjunction with our partners in the group of five Western countries and with the United Nations Secretary-General for an early and peaceful transition to internationally-recognised independence for Namibia to be achieved through the plan for United Nations-supervised elections.

Are the Government considering, within the five Powers, making any recommendations for onward transmission to the United Nations concerning the United Nations monitoring of SWAPO bases in Angola and Zambia in the course of a peace settlement?

The South African Government gave their reply on 12 May to the proposals for a demilitarised zone. The ball is now in the court of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in consultation with all the parties, including the contact Western group of five. It is for them to respond to the South African request and to see thereafter whether future progress can be made.

Do not recent and current developments in South Africa shorten the time scale for getting a peaceful negotiated settlement in Namibia since the longer there is not a peaceful settlement, eventually the tougher the line that South Africa will take? Will not that undermine the efforts of the group of five to secure the negotiated settlement that we all wish to see?

Inevitably it is a matter of judgment for all of us to decide what effect internal developments will have on Namibia. Equally, we have to consider the effect upon the successful result of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

I share the view that it is important that progress should be made. The South African Government have made a response with some constructive points in it. I think that it is now possible, as a result of the meeting of the neighbouring States in Lusaka which have expressed this view, that progress can be made based upon United Nations—supervised elections. We now await the Secretary-General's response and hope that progress can be made.

Are not the South African Government proceeding with trying to impose their own internal settlement on Namibia? Will the Government condem any such move and make it clear that there can be no peaceful settlement in Namibia so long as the South African Government are prepared to send military forces to attack refugee camps in Angola ?

Neither we nor the contact group recognise the National Assembly that has been established in Namibia. It is important to keep our sights on the fact that all the parties, iincluding South Africa, are commited to the concept of United Nations-supervised elections. As long as no obstacles are put in the way and we make progress on that issue, there is hope of a successful result.

Middle East

14.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's attitude on progress towards peace in the Middle East.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given earlier today by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Healey (Mr. Hooley).

This question has already been well ventilated, but, while accepting that advance towards peace in the Middle East has been helped considerably by the clear declaration of the Nine in Venice, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that much will now depend on the speed with which the follow-up operation takes place? Will he confirm that a dialogue will be initiated soon with all the relevant parties, including the PLO, which is obviously the only effective representative of the Palestinian people?

My hon. Friend is right. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated, we are considering the methods of the follow-up. I think that she also indicated that it would probably start fairly soon after the new presidency of the EEC begins in January.

Does the Minister agree that the decision on the status of Jerusalem will form an important part of any final settlement of the problem? Will he clarify for the House that part of the EEC communique which said that the EEC would not accept any unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem?

I think that the statement is fairly clear and is in line with the position which has been held by British Governments for some time.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong feelings of many people in this country that it is wrong for democratic Governments to engage in negotiations and talks with terrorist organisations and that the EEC Governments are mistaken in their decision to seek to invoke and involve the PLO, particularly when it has not renounced violence or agreed to accept the right of Israel to exist? As the West Bank was taken from Jordan in 1967, a predominant Palestinian State, is it not time that the West Bank was restored to Jordan?

We condemn violence, whether it comes from the PLO or anybody else. The fact is that the PLO represents large numbers of Palestinians. It is also a fact that we shall not have a very sensible agreement on Palestine if we try to set up an autonomous machinery which Palestinians will not work, or autonomous elections in which they will not vote. Therefore, in our view, the PLO has to be involved in any final negotiations.

I hope to do better with the Minister of State than I did with the Lord Privy Seal. It is one thing to have unofficial communications and contacts with bodies such as the PLO and others —we understand that—but the point at which we are getting is that the reference to bringing in the PLO is in an official communique signed by the Nine heads of Government and that the contact is to be made unconditionally without any prior move by the PLO to accept the fundamental need to recognise the existence of the State of Israel. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that is a foolish move to take? Does he not also think that it would have been helpful if the Nine had issued a clear statement to the effect that the full autonomy already agreed under the Camp David formula ought to have been carried out?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes contacts with the PLO at the right level. I think that is a step forward.

It is clear from the declaration of the Nine and from what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House that if there are to be proper negotiations, the PLO will have to accept the right of Israel to exist, just as the Israelis will have to take a step forward in accepting the political rights of the Palestinians.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while it might seem surprising to hon. Members on both sides of the House that the recognition of Palestinian rights should be equated with the need to create an independent State on the West Bank, it is nothing short of astonishing to many of his hon. Friends that the Government should seek in any way to promote the creation of a State which, if dominated by the PLO as seems likely, would be a threat not only to all its neighbours but, through its support for terrorism, to the free world wherever it is found?

There is no reference to a State in the communiqué, for reasons which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained at length in her statement. I hope that my hon. Friend will take into account the argument that the effect of totally neglecting the PLO, with the support that it enjoys on the West Bank, would make it certain that it would pursue a pro-Soviet line.

Does the Minister really expect the State of Israel, without whom no peacemaking process could succeed in the Middle East, to negotiate with a body that remains devoted to its destruction through methods of terrorism, and which reiterated that aim in a statement only last week?

I do not believe that even the hon. and learned Gentleman would suppose that a settlement could be reached except by negotiation. That negotiation must include Israel—without whom, as he said, no settlement could take place—and representatives of the Palestinians.