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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 15: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1981

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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Spain (British Visitors)

1.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make representations to the Spanish Government about the failure of the Spanish authorities to prosecute those who are responsible for attacks on British visitors to Spain.

I am prepared to do so whenever such representations seem necessary and proper.

As at least 71 British citizens, including two of my constituents, have been the victims of violent attacks while travelling in Spain during the year, and as it appears that the Spanish police have not yet pbhzcuted anybody for any of these attacks, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the time may have come to issue a warning to British tourists and Scottish, Irish and even English—Heaven help us!—football supporters who may be travelling to Spain next year?

Our consul in Malaga has already responded in line with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question in leading a deputation of consuls to ask the civil governor in that part of Spain to make representations. This matter is entirely for the Spanish authorities, and we cannot control what they do. However, it is as well that they should be aware of our feelings. We all hope that next year the football supporters who go to Spain, whether they come from Scotland, England or anywhere else, will behave themselves. We are taking such steps as are availble to us to ensure that proper representation is available in Spain to deal with any matters that may arise, but, like the hon. Gentleman, we all hope that they will not.

As general attacks are taking place on Britishers in Spain by certain Spanish authorities, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary to ensure that our point of view is well ventilated? If so, is it not the wrong time to close the BBC world service to Spain, which is one of the most successful and responsible in the world?

The hon. Gentleman talks about general attacks. I should remind him that 3·5 million British people visited Spain last year on holiday and for other reasons, and that there were 71 attacks. That cannot be described as "general".

Nuclear Weapons (Negotiations)

2.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that any nuclear weapons possessed by the United Kingdom shall be regarded as negotiable in the context of theatre or strategic arms talks between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

No, Sir. By agreement between the two Governments concerned these talks are bilateral, involving the Soviet Union and the United States. It would be unacceptable for British nuclear forces to be the subject of negotiations to which her Majesty's Government are not a party.

Does the Minister realise that, whereas in 1950 the nuclear weapon countries had 200 nuclear weapons, they now have 50,000, each of which is more destructive than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshirna? Does he agree that the Government should play their part in seeking successful negotiations and that, to ensure the success of talks, they should consider cancelling the proposal to purchase Trident?

We give our fullest support to the talks that are taking place in Geneva between the United States and the Soviet Union, and we hope that they will succeed. They are related specifically to intermediate range nuclear weapons. The hon. Gentleman's question is directed towards whether our independent nuclear force should be a part of the talks. We regard our force as a strategic force and, therefore, not part of the Geneva discussions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the talks are so important for the future defence of Western Europe, there is a need for negotiations between the United States and its Western Allies? To what extent are the Government being consulted by the American negotiators on the progress in Geneva?

There is the closest possible consultation between the United States and its Allies within the NATO Alliance. There have been discussions this week between the United States and the other members of the Alliance on the Geneva negotiations.

Does the Minister envisage that Trident will ever feature in multilateral disarmament negotiations to which Britain is a party?

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not related directly to the question, and it should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

As the outcome of these discussions is of such importance to the British people, and as the British Government are about to embark on a whole new phase of nuclear capability, is it not unrealistic for the Government to continue to suggest that the discussions are a matter solely for the Soviet Union and the United States? Will the Government give an assurance that the House will be kept informed of developments in this area and that there will be no exclusion of any aspect of our nuclear capability?

I make it clear once again that our independent nuclear force is separate from those discussions. It is a strategic force. The discussions in Geneva are between the United States and the Soviet Union on intermediate-range nuclear forces. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is of course the closest possible consultation between the United States and the rest of the NATO Alliance on that matter.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is right for United Kingdom nuclear forces to be the subject of future disarmament negotiations, to which the United Kingdom should be a party, it would be entirely irresponsible for this or any other British Government to follow the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and unilaterally renounce British nuclear weapons without adequate safeguards on multilateral arms control?

Middle East (Fahd Plan)

3.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the failure of the Arab States to agree to the Fahd plan at the Fez summit, he will take steps to encourage Saudi Arabia to enter into direct negotiations with Israel.

The Fahd principles remain on the agenda for the Arab summit, which I understand is to be resumed next year. We encourage all the parties concerned in the Arab-Israel dispute to enter into direct negotiations with a view to a peaceful settlement.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he agree that the only peace agreement in the Middle East at present is that between Egypt and Israel? Following the Government's failure to gain support for the Venice declaration, would it not be better to press for direct negotiations between Israel and the other Arab States singly, despite recent events, to try to achieve a genuine peace agreement for the whole Middle East?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I confirm that there is only one peace treaty in operation. On the third part, I have already said that we encourage the parties concerned to enter direct negotiations. On the middle part, however, I do not agree that the Government have failed to gain support for the Venice declaration. It was supported by all our European Community allies.

Is it not highly regrettable that few people will wish to negotiate with Israel unless she desists from her present ridiculous endeavours?

I do not think that what the Israeli Parliament has done in the past 24 hours helps at all.

Is it not absurd to talk about direct negotiations when every facet of Israeli policy does all that it can to make direct negotiations impossible? Would not Israel's major contribution to peace be to stop its proposed annexation of the Golan Heights, to stop its policy of illegal colonisation in occupied Palestine and not to proceed with its illegal proposal to build a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea?

One of the things that Israel wants more than anything else is recognititon of its own secure boundaries. If it wants that, it must extend the same courtesy to others.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us fear that the Israeli decision formally to annex the Golan Heights was designed to stir up trouble among the extremists in the Arab world and thus provide a pretext for Israel not to withdraw from Sinai next year?

I cannot answer for the Israeli Government. I very much hope that that is not so, as the one thing that we are all keen on is that the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which provides for the withdrawal of Israel from Sinai, will take effect on 25 April 1982 as agreed.

Does the Mininster agree that part of the background to this which must be taken into account is the dangerous and irresponsible missile attacks launched by the Syrian Government from the Golan Heights on to the kibbutzim below?

Yes. Does the Minister further agree that, apart from being utterly pointless, the annexation is provocative and could imperil the dialogue between Egypt and Israel, which was painstakingly achieved by Mr. Begin himself, by President Carter and by the late President Sadat?

Yes. One of the difficulties in the Middle East for too many years has been too much provocation on both sides. It is not our business to apportion blame to one side or the other. I can only say once again that the most recent Israeli action cannot contribute towards the peaceful settlement that we all seek.

Angola And Namibia

4.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations he has received on the feasibility of securing a simultaneous withdrawal of Cuban military forces from Angola and South African military forces from Namibia.

None, Sir. The collective efforts of the five Western countries are directed towards a Namibian settlement. The withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola is not a pre-condition for a Namibia settlement, although there is obviously a relationship between the two issues. Her Majesty's Government have on several occasions made it clear that they regard the presence of Cuban troops in Africa as a destabilising influence.

In the light of my hon. Friend's answer, does he agree that a simultaneous withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from both countries as a prelude to free and democratic elections in both countries offers the best hope for peace in that troubled part of southern Africa? Does he agree that for the British Government to take that attitude would at least be even-handed?

I answer my hon. Friend's important point in two ways. Of course the Western group of five nations are working under Security Council resolution No. 435, under which there are various arrangements, which include the withdrawal of South Africa troops to certain bases within Namibia during the transitional process. I have also said, however, that I believe that there is a relationship between the Namibian settlement and conditions in the next-door country of Angola. As the Angolan Government have already said, it is their intention in the long term to demonstrate that Angola is a non-aligned country and it is their desire to see the withdrawal of Cuban troops. We believe that that move and those measures would lead to an easing of the tensions in the area.

Will the Minister draw a clear distinction between the presence of Cuban troops in Angola at the invitation of the legitimate Government to defend Angolan territory against the repeated attacks of the South African Government, and the presence of South African troops in Namibia, which is being illegally occupied and used as a staging post to invade Angola? Will the Minister resolutely condemn the latest attack on Angola, which the South Africans now admit took place?

As I have already said, we believe that the presence of Cuban troops in Africa as a whole is a destabilising influence. Their presence in Angola is, of course, not directly linked with resolution 435, but it is the belief not only of the British Government but of the group of five Western nations that there is an important relationship.

Middle East Peacekeeping Force

6.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the current situation with regard to the setting up of a Middle East peacekeeping force.

We and three of our European partners have offered to participate in the Sinai peacekeeping force at the request of the United States Government, supported by the Governments of Egypt and Israel. We are currently considering with our three partners how to respond to the United States-Israel statement of 3 December and a subsequent communication from the Foreign Minister of Israel. The force is due to be in place on 20 March next and to assume its functions on 25 April. The detailed practical and legal arrangements connected with our participation remain to be negotiated.

Will the Minister comment on the incursion of the French Foreign Minister into the discussion during his recent visit to Israel? What has been the impact of the Israeli Parliament's current decision to re-occupy the Golan Heights on the endeavours to operate a peacekeeping role in the Middle East by next year?

The four countries of Europe—the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Italy—each made the same statement when they announced their participation. Yesterday the Ten confirmed their adherence to the principle set out in the Venice declaration and their terms of acceptance of the invitation to participate in the Sinai force. The policy of the Ten—and of the four countries that are participating—has not changed, and it is not for me to answer in detail what is said by the Ministers of other Governments.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the recent talks between Israel and the United States have in no way invalidated his original statement on the Sinai peacekeeping force, which is still specifically related to the Venice declaration and self-determination of the Palestine people?

Yes, Sir. We were invited to participate in a peacekeeping force in the Sinai, in pursuance of the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel, and we made it clear that we in Europe have not departed from our belief in our policy for the Middle East, any more than Israel or any other country has departed from its belief in its policy. Our acceptance was in response to an invitation. The United States and Egypt have accepted our offer. Israel has communicated with us and we are considering how to reply.

Can the Lord Privy Seal give the House any idea when this tragicomedy will end? We cannot go into Sinai unless the Israeli Government agree to receive us, and the Israeli Government have agreed a form of words to justify our arrival that is quite different from that agreed by the European countries. Is not the position of the Israeli Government now completely changed by their decision to annex the Golan Heights, since that is clearly in violation of the Camp David agreement and was stated to be so by the Foreign Minister of Egypt only the other day?

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman calls it a tragicomedy. It is not. It is a sincere attempt by the parties concerned to ensure the return to Arab hands of Arab land, in pursuance of a peace treaty. There are various actions that the Israeli Government have taken that do not help. If we can play a useful part in ensuring the return of Sinai to Egypt, to which it properly belongs, we are ready to do so.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noticed the considerable confusion on the Opposition Front Bench on this issue, confusion which is becoming more marked every moment. Will my right hon. Friend pursue the same course of calm as has been announced today by the Egyptian Foreign Office, namely, that what has happened in the north, in Golan, is a matter entirely between the belligerents, Syria never having made any form of peace treaty with Egypt—[Interruption.]—with Israel—or with Egypt, for that matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is confused?"] In these terms, would it not be best if we pursued an open-handed policy on this matter, as the disputes between Israel and Syria are not concerned with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel?

It is important to keep these matters clear in our minds—[Interruption.]—on the Opposition Front Bench. We are talking about a peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt, under which Egypt will obtain the return of the Sinai. We have agreed to assist in that process at the request of the Egyptian arid Israeli Governments. It is right that we should continue to do that, that we should respond to the invitation, and do anything we can to make that advance in these very difficult circumstances.

My right hon. Friend referred to events over the last 24 hours in the northern part of Israel. That is, of course, a related matter, but it does not affect our belief that Sinai should be returned to Egypt. If we can help in that way, we shall.

The official Opposition solidly support the statement just made by the Lord Privy Seal. Perhaps I may clear up the confusion of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) about the Camp David agreement. That agreement was posited on two resolutions of the United Nations, which have been violated by the decision to annex the Golan Heights. That was a point made in the reaction to the——

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is advancing an argument rather than asking a question. Hon. Members ask the questions and the Minister gives the answer.

I deeply apologise, Mr. Speaker, but you will recall that I introduced my remarks by asking whether I could clear up the confusion from which the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone——

Order. I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) understands.

Middle East (Fahd Plan)

7.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of Arab reaction to the Saudi Arabian eight-point peace plan, he sees any prospect of further progress with the plan.

11.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he regards the Fahd plan as still a matter for realistic negotiation, following the outcome of the Fez conference; and whether he will make a statement.

I understand that consideration of Crown Prince Fahd's eight principles remains on the agenda of the Arab League. After a period for reflection and consultation, a further summit is likely to be held. We continue to hope that the Arab States will agree on a common positive approach to the Arab-Israel dispute which will encourage further progress towards a negotiated settlement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the annexation yesterday by Israel of the Golan Heights puts in severe doubt any progress on this front? Does it not justify, at least in their own eyes, the action of those Arab States which have opposed the Saudi peace plan? Will the British Government explain to Israel that, while most of us are committed to Israel's continued existence, and to supporting it, we also wish to see a fair settlement for the Arab people in that part of the Middle East?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I draw his attention to the statement issued yesterday by the Ten, deploring the decision of the Government and the Knesset to extend Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to occupied Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. The statement went on to say:

"Such an extension, which is tantamount to annexation, is contrary to international law and therefore invalid in our eyes. This step prejudices the possibility of the implementation of Security Council resolution 242 and is bound to complicate further the search for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East to which we remain committed."

Instead of producing theoretical Western initiatives or backing Saudi plans which succeed simutaneously in falling foul of the Government of Israel, the rejectionist Arab States and the PLO, would it not be better if my right hon. Friend followed the example of the Foreign Minister of France and went to Israel to talk to the people there, rather than relying on the Americans to produce leverage on them?

My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary will be going to Israel in the early part of next year.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the Saudi plan is entirely consistent with the principles of resolution 242 and that the annexation of the Golan Heights is a flagrant breach of that resolution, although Israel claims to accept it?

Yes, Sir. The Saudi plan is in conformity with resolution 242. Unfortunately, the Saudi Government were not able to obtain general acceptance for it at the Fez summit.

My right hon. Friend has criticised the Israeli vote purporting to annex part of Syria and mentioned the statement by the European Community. What further effective action is proposed by the Government to deal with this very serious challenge to peace?

Representations have been made to the Israelis by ourselves and our partners that what they have done has set back the cause of peace to which we—and, we believe, they—are committed. We shall continue our discussions with all the parties concerned and hope to persuade the Israelis that this kind of action does nothing to ensure the peace that is so essential for them.

What is so important about this arid piece of land in the north of Israel——

What is so important about it that it seems to take precedence over what ought to be achieved—a peaceful settlement of the arguments and the disputes between the Arab States and Israel? Why has it assumed such tremendous importance in relation to the other very serious events that are going on in the world today?

What is important about this arid piece of land—to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase—is that it does not belong to Israel.

Israel has annexed it by force. The United Nations, in its resolution 242, denies the right of any country to retain land that it has annexed by force. If Israel wishes other countries to accept its borders, it, too, must accept those of other countries.

Shackleton Report (Implementation)

8.

asked the Lord Privy Seal to what extent the Shackleton report proposals for the Falkland Islands have been implemented by Her Majesty's Government.

Her Majesty's Government gave the recommendations of the Shaldeton report very careful consideration after its publication in 1976. Since then, very many of the recommendations have been accepted and have been implemented or are in hand, whilst others have been rejected.

Is it not deplorable that many of the key recommendations relating to the development of the fishing and mineral rights have had no response whatsoever from successsive British Governments? In view of the early-day motion that appeared on the Order Paper this morning, signed by 66 hon. Members, will my right hon. Friend take steps to bring an end to any further discussions with the Argentine Government about the future of the Falkland Islands and launch a new era of co-operation between Her Majesty's Government and the Falkland islanders?

As I said earlier, very many of the recommendations that relate to the development of the Falkland Islands have already been fulfilled. On the specific point about fishing, if my hon Friend is talking about fishing inshore, there is some possibility that the Falkland Islands Government may be involved in a survey on this matter, but the investigations that have been done indicate that the fishing industry here believes that there is very little market for exploitation at present.

With regard to the talks with the Argentine Government, it was proposed that talks should be held tomorrow in Geneva between the Argentine Government and the British Government and in company with two Falkland Islands councillors. At the request of the Argentine Government these have been postponed in view of the change of Government in Argentina this week. We await their request for further talks. It is up to them to put their proposals to us.

East-West Relations

9.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on East-West relations.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to work for a lasting improvement in East-West relations. A vital condition for this, however, is the full implementation by all parties of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that in the light of the Polish tragedy, it is increasingly important for the Government and people of this country generally to try to develop closer links with the individual nations and people of Eastern Europe, with the long-term objective of helping them to reduce their economic dependence on the Soviet Union? On the more immediate point, has my right hon. Friend any news of the rumours that appear to be circulating to the effect that Russian aircraft have landed in Warsaw with at least military supplies on board? Will he bring us up to date on the latest position?

Yes, Sir. I quite agree with my hon. Friend on the first part of his question. We are very anxious to remain in close touch with the Polish Government and with what is happening in that country. Therefore, the action that they have taken over the last 48 hours is extremely unhelpful, because they have severed communications. It is very difficult to be in touch with what is happening in Poland, and any hope of making progress in restoring good relations between our two Governments seems to be at a standstill.

I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer on the point about aircraft. Information out of Poland is scarce and unreliable at present, and I am not able to confirm or deny what he said.

Does not the Lord Privy Seal agree, however, that if Soviet aircraft have ferried Soviet troops to Warsaw this would inevitably present very serious risks to the progress of negotiations for a settlement? I take it that Her Majesty's Government will continue to insist that of all aspects of the Helsinki agreement, the most important single one is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Yes, Sir. I think that it has been made perfectly clear, not only by ourselves but by our partners, that any direct interference by the Soviet Government in Poland would create the most grave situation that any of us has known for many years. We shall continue to try to contact the Polish Government to discover what is happening so that we can keep the House and the country informed, but at present, as I say, owing to the clampdown on the distribution of news and communications, it is very difficult to know exactly what is happening.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing concern, I think on both sides of the House, about the deterioration of what I might call West-West relations in regard to our connection with the East? Over the Middle East there has been a deplorable difference of opinion between the United States and Britain, and over Poland the communiqué issued by the European Ministers yesterday seems to have been considerably less forthright in its condemnation of recent events in Poland than the American view as expressed by the Secretary of State in the United States. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no question of financial or physical aid to Poland or of any favourable settlement with Poland of its indebtedness until we have clear evidence that the Polish Government are resuming a dialogue with Solidarity and the Church?

I do not believe that there is as much difference between ourselves and our United States allies as my right hon. Friend makes out. We have made it clear that we do not accept the current situation; so have they. We have made it clear that we attach importance to General Jaruzelski's assurance that the current measures are temporary; so have they. We have made it clear that while we are prepared to proceed with existing agreements on the economic front, we are not taking any further decision on future agreements and future assistance; and so have the United States Government. I believe that our positions are very close together, as they should be.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the worst tragedy for the Polish people would be to see all the gains made in the past 18 months towards greater civil liberties destroyed? Therefore, is it not important that the extremists, be they within the Polish Communist Party, in the Soviet Union, or in Solidarity, should be warned of the terrible bloodshed that will undoubtedly prevail in Poland if moderation does not come about? Should not that warning come clearly from all shades of opinion in Britain?

Yes, Sir. I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. I am not always in agreement with him, but I am in this case. The worst thing that could happen would be an intervention by an outside Power in Poland. Our efforts must be directed towards ensuring that a dialogue between the Government of Poland and Solidarity should start immediately.

What evidence does my right hon. Friend have in support of recent reports that the Commander-in-Chief of the Warsaw Pact forces is at present in Poland? Why do Her Majesty's Government not have access, through allied satellite photography, to information about major airlift movements, if they have been taking place between the Soviet Union and Poland? Will my right hon. Friend consider sending for the Soviet ambassador and making representations in the strongest terms that any intervention, either by the two Soviet armoured divisions at present in occupation of Poland today or the 50 divisions surrounding that country, would be regarded as a most serious development?

This last message has been made quite clear to the Russians already. As regards our intelligence about the movement of Russian troops, clearly my hon. Friend would not expect me to go into details in the House, but we have certain intelligence about these matters. At present there is no cause for immediate alarm.

As for the presence of the Soviet general in Warsaw in the last day or two, we have reports of that, but they are unconfirmed. As I said a moment ago, one of our difficulties is that although there is communication between the Government and our chargé d'affaires in Warsaw, the main difficulty is that he is not in a position to gather as much information as we would like.

Namibia

12.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has received any indication from the South-West Africa People's Organisation and the front-line States that the new constitutional proposals on Namibia will be acceptable to them.

The Five have received initial reactions to their proposals for constitutional principles from SWAPO and the front-line States. The details of these are confidential, but the Foreign Ministers of the Five noted in their communiqué of 10 December, a copy of which I am circulating in the Official Report, that the ground was now prepared for achieving final agreement on the principles without delay.

Does the Minister agree that SWAPO and the front-line States have bent over backwards to be co-operative and helpful in the Contact Group? That cannot be said about South Africa. What evidence does the Minister have that South Africa is negotiating in good faith?

Judging from the reactions to the consultations on the first stage of the constitutional principles, there has been a helpful and positive attitude by all parties and that has enabled the Group of Five to make substantial progress. We hope to move on to the second stage as soon as possible.

Following is the communiqué:
The Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America met in Brussels on December 10 1981 to assess the progress made towards the early independence of Namibia in accordance with Security Council resolution 435.
They were encouraged by the constructive results of the recent senior officials' mission of the Five to Africa. They noted that the ground is now prepared for achieving final agreement on constitutional principles without delay and decided that appropriate contacts promoting such early agreement will be initiated immediately.
The Ministers reviewed the extensive work done by officials of the Contact Group in meetings from December 1 to 8, 1981 in Washington and Ottawa on proposals concerning the remaining issues to be resolved in the next phase—the practical establishment of UNTAG in Namibia and assurances that the transitional process will be carried out in an impartial manner.
The Ministers reiterated the firm commitment of their Governments to continued co-operation with the parties concerned and to vigorous action in the search for a peaceful settlement in Namibia, which they see as essential for the stability of Southern Africa. They hope that agreement of all concerned can be reached at the earliest possible date thus opening the way for implementation of SCR 435 in 1982.

European Community

Political Co-Operation

39.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what proposals he has to develop initiatives for closer political co-operation within the European Economic Community.

41.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he is satisfied with the machinery that exists for political co-operation between European Economic Community Foreign Ministers.

A year ago my right hon. and noble Friend took the initiative in proposing that the Foreign Ministers of the Ten should re-examine the operation of political co-operation. The results of that work are contained in the London "Report on European Political Co-operation", which was agreed by Foreign Ministers of the Ten on 13 October and has been published as Cmnd. 8424.

We shall continue to look at ways of further improving political co-operation. Meanwhile, the most important contribution that we can make is to ensure that the machinery that exists is well used. That is what we have tried to achieve during the United Kingdom Presidency.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive answer and wish him well in the development of the work. Can he say further, specifically on recent developments that mean that we must have a united position in the Middle East, whether, as President of the Council of Ministers, the Foreign Secretary has been able to sort out the rather unusual utterance of the French Foreign Minister? Can he confirm that that does not reflect the Presidential opinion and is another spontaneous outburst?

I referred earlier, in answer to another question, to yesterday's declaration by the Ten of our continued adherence to the Venice declaration and our support for the four countries of the Ten contributing to the Sinai force. That is a good example of political co-operation and arose from the fact that the Foreign Ministers of the Ten were meeting in London yesterday and the day before.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the EEC Foreign Ministers are united on an approach to the Polish crisis and whether he has any information about future food supplies to Poland?

Yes, Sir. Again, there was an agreed communiqué given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the Ten's views on Poland. The position about future food supplies has been agreed among the Ten and is straightforward. Existing undertakings and arrangements will continue, so far as they can. With the Polish border closed there are certain difficulties in moving anything into or out of Poland. However, no new agreements or undertakings will be made until the situation becomes a little clearer. That is the position of the Ten.

In view of Israel's continuing expansionism, will the right hon. Gentleman institute a review within the EEC of its financial and trading agreements with Israel with a view to having them abrogated?

There will be no problem about studying our future attitude towards Israel. The events of the past 24 hours are newly on us and I take note of what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I am sure that that will happen, because all our policies towards Middle East matters are, to use a Civil Service phrase, "under constant review". That means what it says and it is happening as of today, because there is a meeting of the political directors now going on.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has never been more important that we should act in concert with our EEC allies and act with resolution? Reverting to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), may I ask my right hon. Friend to discuss with other EEC Foreign Ministers the summoning of the Soviet ambassadors in every EEC capital to make it plain how gravely we view the Polish situation?

Of course I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. He need not be under any misapprehension. The Soviet Government are perfectly aware of the views, not only of Britain and the Ten, but of the United States and all other free countries.

British Presidency

40.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what progress has been made in resolving differences within the European Community during the British Presidency.

The main preoccupation of our Presidency has been the 30 May mandate, on which we have made a determined effort to resolve differences. In this context, as requested by the European Council, an informal meeting of Community Foreign Ministers, under the chairmanship of my noble Friend, was held at Lancaster House on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The purpose of the meeting was to consider the four outstanding issues on the 30 May mandate—milk policy, Mediterranean agriculture, a financial guideline for CAP expenditure and the problem of unacceptable budgetary situations. The Foreign Ministers had a useful discussion, though they were not able to reach final agreement. They decided that the next step was to invite the President of the Commission to make revised proposals for guidelines on the four points in the light of their discussion. They agreed to hold a further special meeting to consider these proposals as early as possible in January and, at any rate, before 18 January. It will now be for the Belgian Presidency to carry forward the work on the mandate. We for our part will give the fullest possible support to its efforts to reach an early solution.

During our Presidency we have taken forward discussions on many other difficult matters, not without success, for example in developing political co-operation, and the negotiations on enlargement.

Has the Government's experience of the Presidency resulted in their developing any sort of attitude towards the brevity of the six-month period, or a consideration of, for example, the idea of having an overlapping Presidency covering a period of 18 months and therefore being better able to sustain initiatives? The right hon. Gentleman said that enlargement had been carried forward. Can he say in what way that has been done, because it seems to me that there has not been any notable progress in connection with Spain's accession?

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the six-month period. It is short, particularly if, during any country's six-months Presidency, there are first the summer holidays and then Christmas. That cuts down the period much further. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a case for considering whether the period should be extended. However, it has not been and we give up our Presidency, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on 31 December.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about enlargement, because during the period of our Presidency many more dossiers were delivered to the Spanish and Portuguese, their replies obtained and the matter is being carried forward. I fully understand the impatience of Spain and Portugal to move these matters forward more quickly. We have sought to push them forward as fast as we can. They recognise that during our Presidency we have made as much progress as could be expected.

While recognising the Government's efforts during their Presidency, may I ask my right hon. Friend to say why we always appear to come off worst in the differences that occur between ourselves and other European countries? I particularly refer to the renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement, in which one of the basic issues in the mandate is the level of quotas for the next MFA, which will be established on a base level of 1982. That will undoubtedly lead to substantial additional unemployment, with the loss of a further 30,000 jobs in Britain. Will my right hon. Friend consider the real interests of Britain, which are often different from those of European mainland countries?

My hon. Friend pays great attention to these matters and he knows better than to say that. He knows that the Geneva negotiations about the MFA are being conducted on a mandate about which Britain had a considerable say. He also knows that we have produced, devised and had accepted by our European partners a mechanism to ensure that the sort of difficulties that he foresees—his figure of an extra 30,000 unemployed next year is nonsense—will not come about. This is because we have insisted in the mandate that the Commission has from the Community that a mechanism be devised and incorporated in any new arrangements to ensure that any low-cost imports cannot increase at a rate that would damage our industry to the extent suggested by my hon. Friend.

Apart from "a useful discussion", was any progress made in London this week on the reform of the CAP or the EEC budget?

Yes, Sir. Four matters were discussed in London this week. There was general understanding on two of them about the way in which we should move forward. On the other two, there was definite progress towards what we want. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, these negotiations are not easy. Everyone has to take account of every one else's interests. Each time these discussions take place we move closer to a solution, but we have not reached that solution yet. It would have been agreeable to us, for the sake of our Presidency, to have settled these matters before the end of the year. Indeed, that would have discharged the mandate given to the Foreign Ministers by the European Council earlier this year. However, we have not done so. Nevertheless, we have moved another stage nearer to the kind of conclusions that we want, and I hope that we shall get there before long.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it emerges clearly from his reply that by far the best hope of securing progress and resolving contentious issues within the EEC lies in allowing the Commission to assume the role that it was originally assigned in the Treaty, that is, as the initiator of a constructive compromise that is likely to be far more effective than that reached by horse trading between individual Governments?

Yes, Sir. That is what has happened. The Commission has been invited to go away and re-write the proposals for solving these problems. It has listened to the discussions, and it has been consulted by all parties. In my view, the Commission will be in a position to produce proposals which will bring us a stage nearer to the agreement that we all seek.

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will list the principal achievements of the British Presidency of the European Economic Community to date.

Good progress has been made in a wide variety of areas. I propose shortly to place in the Library of the House a list of the issues on which decisions have been reached or significant progress achieved during the United Kingdom Presidency.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that one important achievement has been the way in which the British Presidency has sought to maintain a constructive and continuous dialogue between the Council and the European Parliament on budgetary matters? Does he accept that that is very important, bearing in mind that they are the joint budgetary authority of the Community?

Yes, Sir. This has been a useful step forward, and it is one that we initiated during our Presidency. It seeks to keep the Council of Ministers in closer contact with the European Parliament. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is now in Strasbourg addressing the European Parliament.

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the list of the Government's achievements during their Presidency will be contained on the back of a very small postage stamp? Is he not genuinely concerned—if not, he should be—that no progress has been made on reforming budgetary arrangements, the common agricultural policy or the fisheries policy or dealing with non-life assurance, or the reduction in European air fares? Is he not further concerned that the major political initiative on the Middle East, which many of us on both sides of the House welcomed, has stalled, and its requiem read in Israel by the French Foreign Minister the other day?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, and not for the first time. I have the draft of the document that I propose to lay in the Library of the House at the end of our presidency. It is already 15 pages of single-space typing, and it covers the whole range of our activities and those of our European colleagues. I do not know what size postage stamps the right hon. Gentleman uses, or whether he does not pay attention to what happens in the Council of Ministers, but this document will cover agriculture, fisheries, energy, environment, trade, aid, and many other matters. I invite him to read it as a new year resolution.

I am prepared to have a look at it, but is it not true that the document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a superb example of the work of the circumlocution office in the Foreign Office?

During our Presidency, obviously one of the objectives has been to move towards a resolution of the budget problem and a resolution of the problems of the CAP. My right hon. Friend said recently that we were moving towards what we want. Could he tell the British people, loudly and clearly, precisely what we do want?

I shall do so in two sentences. On the common agricultural policy, we want to ensure that expenditure on the CAP grows at a slower rate than the Community's resources—in other words, that there is a transfer of the weight of expenditure from agriculture to the social and regional policies and other funds of that nature. On the budget, our intention is that no country should be put in the unacceptable situation in which we found ourselves in 1980—in which the Germans now find themselves—and that the budgetary contributions of any country should bear some relation to its ability to pay.

Mandate (Negotiations)

43.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he intends to meet the President of the European Commission in order to discuss the progress of negotiations over the mandate.

I have no such plans at present. I described the latest progress on the mandate in my reply a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston).

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Commission does not introduce workable proposals for restructuring the finances of the EEC and reforming the common agricultural policy, it will give ammunition to the misguided people who want us to withdraw from the EEC?

Yes, Sir. I know that the Commission is well seized of the difficulties and problems, and we hope and believe that it will introduce proposals that will form the basis of an agreement between all 10 members.

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that, no matter what the Commission proposes, what happens in the Council of Ministers is of primary importance? Will he therefore tell the House how far up on the list of principal achievements of the British Presidency he rates the fact that we have approaching 1,000 unemployed fishermen in Hull, 5,000 unemployed in ancillary trades, and people who cannot get employment because of the foolishness of a Conservative Government 10 years ago in entering the EEC without a common fisheries policy?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, in the Community we are seeking to find a scheme that can be agreed by the Council of Ministers, because it will take the decisions. All countries in Europe are faced with problems of one kind or another. The hon. Gentleman outlined a number of them that we are not alone in facing. No one is more sorry than the Government that we could not proceed with a discussion of fishery matters on Monday of this week, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that was due to circumstances that were wholly outside the control of nine out of 10 of the EEC Governments.

Europe-Japan Relations

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what was the result of the discussions in the European Council on European-Japanese relations.

There was no discussion of Europe-Japan relations at the European Council, but the Foreign Affairs Council on 8 December agreed a list of requests for specific action in the economic sphere to be put by the Commission to the Japanese Government. The Council will assess the Japanese response at its meeting on 22 February next year.

Will my right hon. Friend take care to maintain the position in the Council of Foreign Ministers, which is that, although we sympathise greatly with Japan in being an island with no resources and therefore dependent, as we are, on the import of raw materials and the export of manufacturers, such exports cannot for long be allowed to be confined to so few and destructive items, as opposed to a more general spread of export activity?

That is one of the matters that the Community has been pointing out to Japan for some time. This month we have moved on from saying that early and effective action in general terms is needed to proposing the precise forms that we believe such action should take. We have spelt out the areas in which, in our view, they should take action, and we await their response, which we shall consider at our meeting on 22 February.

Will the right hon. Gentleman beware of making Japan the scapegoat for his Government's economic failings? Does he realise that the threat to many of our industries, including the car industry, comes not from the Japanese but from the EEC? Will he do something about that?

We are concerned about the penetration not only of our markets but the markets of our Community partners by the Japanese in certain specified areas. That is a worry to us, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. It is also a worry to our Community partners. That is why we have produced a long list of areas where we believe that the Japanese must take urgent and effective action. I hope that they will come forward with proposals, which we shall consider on 22 February.