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Commons Chamber

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 24 November 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Highland Region (Banavie Level Crossing) Order Confirmation Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Order. I remind the House that one supplementary question at a time is quite sufficient.

Jordan

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his visit to Jordan.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he wil make a statement on the Middle East.

In the course of my visit to Jordan from 9 to 11 November I discussed the full range of Middle East issues with my Jordanian opposite number, Crown Prince Hassan, King Hussein and others. Jordan has a key role to play in the search for a comprehensive peace settlement. I was impressed by the Jordanian commitment to peace. The Jordanians made clear the importance that they attach to the continuing British and European role in the search for a settlement. We shall continue to work hard with all the parties concerned to sustain the momentum towards negotiations created by President Reagan's initiative and the Fez summit declaration. On Lebanon, we support the restoration of a strong and democratic central Government and United States efforts to achieve the early withdrawal of all foreign forces.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and welcome what he said. Will he confirm that the views of Her Majesty's Government and of King Hussein and the Jordanian Government on the Middle East are very close? What does my right hon. Friend identify as the main obstacle to a peaceful solution, the desire for which seems to be shared by most parties, including those he has mentioned?

I confirm that our perception of the problem and our approach to the task of achieving peace are close. The central issues are, first, the policies being pursued by the Israeli Government, that is to say, their rejection so far of the Reagan plan and their policy towards settlement. Secondly, it is fair to say that the Arab countries have not yet come forward with a clear and concerted view of their position vis-a-vis the Reagan plan. I think that this will become clear within the next few days or a week or two.

When he was discussing the Reagan plan with the King of Jordan did my right hon. Friend. in view of the positive response that the King has given to the plan, draw a distinction between the Reagan plan and the Fez plan, because many of us would regard the Fez plan as completely unacceptable?

Yes, I think that every country has reservations about the Reagan plan, and some differences with it. That would even go for Britain, which has taken a position similar to that of our European partners as expressed in the Venice declaration. There are differences of view, but Jordan and many other Arab countries feel that the opportunity presented by the Reagan plan should not be missed. They are supportive of a peacemaking process based upon it.

Has my right hon. Friend read reports that the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank is likely to increase this year by 50 per cent? I welcome the intitiative taken by Her Majesty's Government on this point in support of the Reagan plan, but what further action will the Government take to prevent the Reagan plan from being destroyed in this way?

We are concerned about that aspect of the development of events since the plan was proposed. I have made strong representations to the United States Government and to Israel about the importance of a change of policy there. All along I have been pressing them to take a more positive approach to the Reagan plan, which gives an opportunity that should not be missed.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of withdrawing foreign forces from Lebanon. Does he agree that a key factor in this is the international peacekeeping force there? What response have Her Majesty's Government made to the request that a British contingent be sent to the Lebanon to take part in the peacekeeping process?

The Government still have that matter under consideration, and we have not yet reached a conclusion. All foreign forces should and must be withdrawn from the Lebanon. However, that is a difficult negotiation to achieve. We are glad that Mr. Habib has come hack into the negotiating arena, and we hope that he will succeed. However, it would be a mistake for the House to underestimate the difficulties.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when His Majesty the King of Morocco brings his delegation here the Government will not receive the PLO representatives unless and until they have by that time accepted the Reagan proposals, with the implication that the representatives recognise the State of Israel?

The Government's position has been that they would be prepared to see PLO representatives if that would further the peacemaking process. Our basic position has been that it would be inappropriate to see the PLO until it renounces violence and recognises the right of Israel to exist. It is essential to take a decision about that difficult matter in the light of the answer to the question whether it will help the peacemaking process. We are considering the request, which we have now received formally, contrary to what was originally proposed, that the delegation should include PLO representation.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in areas like the Middle East it is vital to uphold the authority of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, and that as long as the great powers allow those operations to be treated with complete contempt—as Israel has done—the prospect of stability and peace is remote?

Yes, indeed. That is just one aspect of the difficulties that I mentioned of achieving the withdrawal of all forces from the Lebanon. There is no doubt that that multinational force has an important role to play. At the moment I think that it is adequate for the job that it is doing, but there is a request for further reinforcements, and that is what we are now considering.

Did it emerge from my right hon. Friend's talk with the King that the Reagan proposals would have a chance of making progress only if there were an immediate freeze of settlements on the West Bank? What positive steps will we and the Americans take to bring that about?

Fundamentally, it is a decision for Israel to take. It is Israel's responsibility. We have made representations to that country in various ways. Clearly, the country with the greatest influence is the United States, and for that reason I have made direct representations more than once about the importance of this change. If the policy now followed by Israel is not altered, a credibility gap will arise in the minds of Arab countries. Clearly that would set back the peacemaking process, for which there is a broad and general desire.

Falkland Islands

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations with overseas Governments he is having regarding the Falkland Islands and their future.

Our first task remains that of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the islands. When the islanders have had time to recover and consider the future, we shall be consulting them about their views. It would be premature to discuss their future with other Governments until that stage has been reached, but I have of course explained to a large number of other Governments the British Government's position and approach.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no one in his right mind would wish to live under the rule of the junta in Argentina? However, is there not a danger now of Britain becoming isolated over the Falklands issue? Would it not be sensible at least to explore the possibility of United Nations trusteeship? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm today that he has not ruled out the possibility of negotiations on the future of the Falklands?

The immediate problem is to restore and rehabilitate the islanders, their way of life, and the structure of the islands. Secondly, our aim is to restore normal relations with Argentina. That has been our policy since the end of the conflict. We have had the advantage of our friends in the European Community making approaches direct to Argentina with us in an effort to bring that about. So far, there has been remarkably little sign by Argentina that it wishes to restore normal relations. That, I think, must be the beginning of relations—negotiations or relationships, call them what one will—with Argentina.

It is premature to consider the question of trusteeship or the other possibilities that could arise in the long-term future. When the islanders have recovered from the shock that they suffered, and have considered their future in the light of events, that will be a more appropriate time to consider the possibility that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whether the negotiations are undertaken bilaterally or with others as well, there is little point in such negotiations if it is proclaimed in advance that they must end in the sole sovereignty of Argentina not only over the islands but over the dependencies?

There is no question of negotiations of that sort taking place at the moment, as I made absolutely clear—[HON. MEMBERS: "At the moment?"]—well, maybe never. I am talking about negotiations on sovereignty. That is the whole point and the argument which we deployed at the United Nations and which I have made clear to countries all round the world. However, there is good reason to restore normal relations with Argentina in commercial, diplomatic and other ways, because that is to the advantage of the islanders.

What have the Governments of Chile and Uruguay said to our requests for landing rights? May there not be a dreadful accident involving Hercules aircraft in the hazardous business of refuelling and refuelling again from Victor tankers?

We would welcome, of course, the establishment of a regular commercial air service of any kind between the Falklands and the South American mainland, whether in Chile or elsewhere. At present, however, there are political and practical obstacles to that. Undoubtedly Argentina's neighbours are somewhat sensitive about the matter at the moment, and there are other problems. However, it is a desirable objective and one that we are pursuing.

Although I appreciate my right hon. Friend's answer, does he agree that it would help the British Government to have discussions with Chile, because that could provide splendid communications with the Falkland Islands, without going to Argentina or impinging on Argentine air or land space? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Chile is gradually moving back through a voted constitution towards democracy, and that that would stabilise Chile as well as the southern Atlantic?

As I said, we would welcome the establishment of links of that kind with the South American mainland. As Chile is part of that mainland, I include that country in the answer that I have just given.

How does the Foreign Secretary distinguish between the Fascism that exists in Chile and the Fascism and breaches of human rights that occur in Argentina? Would not such an ally be a very dubious one? Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the declining support among our friends for Britain's stance on the Falklands? Therefore, is it not right that the immediate problems to which he alluded and the longer-term solutions are not mutually exclusive, and that we should be seen to be rather more flexible than he is at present?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. There has been no decline in support for Her Majesty's Government's position over the Falkland Islands. Indeed, the reasons for the decisions and the steps that we took are widely respected, and the House would be entirely wrong if it thought that that did not still command widespread respect—even, I might add, in Latin American countries, some of which, for understandable reasons, feel a certain solidarity with Argentina. Chile was quite helpful to us during the actual conflict, and that is something that we should bear in mind in considering our relations with that country now.

Madrid Conference

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress at the Madrid conference.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the progress made to date in the discussions in Madrid on the Helsinki agreement relating to human rights.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been made by Her Majesty's Government at the resumed European security conference in Madrid about the Soviet Union's failure to comply with its commitments under the Helsinki agreement.

The conference reconvened on 9 November. Together with our allies and partners, we have drawn attention to violations of the Helsinki final act, in particular by the Soviet Union and Poland, and given notice of the need to have a concluding document which provides for additional commitments. Western countries have also drawn attention to the need for a clear mandate on a conference on disarmament in Europe.

As the conference has been going on for more than two years, most of that time having been taken up with discussions on human rights, which, while important, is only one aspect of the Helsinki final acts, is it not time now to drop the 14 amendments which Western countries suggested to the draft document put forward by the neutral countries, move swiftly to measures that will increase security and co-operation in Europe, and agree to the European disarmament conference?

During the long time which the hon. Gentleman mentions there have been disastrous events in Poland and a steady deterioration in human rights in the Soviet Union. The Helsinki final act and these conferences provide an opportunity and place on us a responsibility to draw continuous attention to these failures by the Soviet Union. The amendments that we have tabled to the draft concluding document reflect that responsibility.

Bearing in mind the disappointingly slow progress in Madrid, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, seek an early opportunity to raise with the new Russian leadership the plight of Jews who have been refused basic religious and cultural rights? Will he raise the case of Mr. Yosef Begun, a Hebrew teacher who was arrested in Moscow last month and who may be in danger of being tried and sentenced to a third term of exile?

The leader of our delegation to the Madrid conference mentioned in his speech last week the position of religious communities in the Soviet Union. He mentioned also a large number of individual cases. Where we see opportunities to raise such individual cases direct with the Soviet Union, those opportunities are taken.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from relaxing restrictions on the freedom of information, the Soviet Union has intensified them with more jamming of the BBC's external services? Whereas previously it was not possible for a Soviet citizen to receive written material from outside that country, it is now not possible for him to send books and other written material to other parts of the world. Could it not be said that since Helsinki the Soviet Union has restricted human rights and freedom of information rather than eased them?

There has been a deterioration in the position. My hon. Friend is right about the exorbitant levy and complicated licensing system introduced for the export of books. Both the points he raised were mentioned by Mr. Williams, the head of our delegation at the Madrid conference. That conference provides a continuing opportunity to draw the attention of the Russians and public opinion to the position that my hon. Friend has described.

The Soviet Union's record on human rights is clearly in conflict with both the spirit and the letter of the Helsinki final act. The Helsinki agreement was by any standard a global initiative, and the review conference provides an opportunity to take the East-West dialogue further, especially with the new regime in the Soviet Union. Will the Minister resist any pressures to sabotage the Madrid review conference and assure the House that the Government will press for new initiatives on confidence building and the disarmament conference?

In my original reply I mentioned the need for a clear mandate on the conference on disarmament in Europe, which would include, as a first step, confidence-building measures. The hon. Gentleman would not expect us to separate that from human rights, about which we have been talking. It is not sensible to suppose that we can make satisfactory progress if we leave human rights on one side and concentrate on finding new commitments when the old commitments have not been respected.

Will the Minister ask our ambassador to Moscow to convey to the new Soviet Administration the view that even a modest gesture towards human rights might be helpful in getting negotiations going on major security problems?

We have been trying to convey that message in Madrid. We should like to consider the hon. Gentleman's precise suggestion.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the evidence that has come from Bonn, at the hearing of the International Commission on Human Rights, that the Russians have been and are still using political prisoners as slave labour on the Siberian pipeline? Will he ask Ambassador Williams to raise that matter at the Madrid conference?

Palestine Liberation Organisation (Lebanon)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has as to the use by the Palestine Liberation Organisation of United Nations Relief and Works Agency educational centres in Lebanon for military training purposes.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has carried out its own investigation into allegations that its training camp at Siblin in the Lebanon had been used for military training. Its report confirmed that the centre had been misused and disciplinary measures are being taken.

Bearing in mind the overwhelming necessity for the United Nations to be entirely neutral in the Middle East, and to be seen to be so by both sides, will the right hon. Gentleman press for an investigation to ensure that no other Relief and Works Agency educational centres have been used by the PLO for military purposes?

There has been an investigation, and the principal of the centre has been suspended. Disciplinary measures have been taken against other members of staff. In our view that does not weaken the overwhelming importance of UNRWA, to which we contribute substantially, as the main means in the area of providing humanitarian relief, education and training for refugees.

Is not the main thing now not to concentrate on making propaganda points but to ensure that proper facilities are provided for young Palestinians, many of whom are orphans and without homes, to have proper education? How many young Palestinians are currently receiving education? What do the Government intend to do to ensure that education is available to more of them?

We are worried about the serious financial position of the agency. It is desirable that Arab countries should contribute more extensively. We intend to maintain a substantial contribution.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) drew attention is another aspect of the presence of foreign forces in Lebanon and demonstrates the importance of international peacekeeping? While the problem is being considered, will he bear in mind that whereas a training mission from this country might well be smaller than a major commitment, it might be a longer commitment and more intimately involved with a regime whose future is uncertain? Might it be better to take part in more conventional peacekeeping even if that means a larger force?

We are considering closely with the Lebanese Government the possibility that we could help to train the Lebanese security forces. That could be useful. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already dealt with the matter of a contribution to the force.

Syria

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will raise at the United Nations the abrogation of human rights in Syria.

No, Sir. I do not think representations to the United Nations would bring about the result that the hon. Member has in mind. The Syrian Government are well aware of our views on human rights.

In view of that reply, will the Minister say whether the Foreign Secretary, during his recent visit to Syria, raised with the Syrian Government the killing of 25,000 innocent civilians in the northern city of Hama, which was reported by Patrick Seale of The Observer? Were any British civilians killed or injured? Was any protest made at that time about the massive violation of human rights? Will he take the opportunity of raising that matter with the Speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly when he meets him later this afternoon?

I do not believe that there were any British casualties or involvement in the events that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. In all matters of human rights one has to ask oneself whether intervention with the Government concerned will do any good or whether it is likely to make matters worse. We have tried to make that judgment with Syria as we do with other countries.

Surely my right hon. Friend would not have double standards on that matter? He would want to be sure that he treats Israel and Syria equally.

Israeli actions in the Lebanon are of course outside Israel and in a different category. Ministers views on that have been made clear. We are anxious also about certain human rights in the occupied territories which are not part of Israel but which are temporarily under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian Leaders (Discussions)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at what stage in the negotiations to resolve the Palestinian problem he will be prepared to have direct discussions with Palestinian leaders.

We maintain contacts at official level with a wide range of Palestinian opinion. A decision on whether I should meet any particular Palestinian leader would need to be taken in the light of all the circumstances, including whether it would contribute to the cause of peace in the Middle East. We want to see a mutual acceptance of rights and renunciation of violence by both Palestinians and Israelis.

Given Israel's progressive and accelerating incorporation of Palestine into Israel, and given Israel's complicity, to say the least, in Sabra and Chatila, is it not time that we dropped the conditions precedent on a meeting with the Palestinians—a one-sided recognition of Israel's right to exist and a one-sided abandonment of violence? If we want to get to the heart of the matter, is it not time that we talked to the Palestinians, who are the people that matter?

I dealt with that issue when I replied to an earlier question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). We want to achieve a mutual recognition by the Israelis and the Palestinians of each other's rights.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of reports that British citizens working on the West Bank as university lecturers and in other capacities have been required by the Israeli authorities to sign anti-PLO statements, failing which they are denied work permits? Is that not absolutely disgraceful? What action are the Government taking to rectify the position?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Britain and other countries have protested strongly to Israel, which has now dropped the requirement to sign the declaration. However, I am not yet clear about the full implications of that decision, and I am making further inquiries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the discussions that are essential to peace in the Middle East are those between the Governments of the countries involved, especially Israel and Jordan? Will he confirm that he has urged that policy on those countries, especially during his recent visit to Jordan?

If the peacemaking process, with all its difficulties. is to be successful, undoubtedly my hon. Friend's remarks are correct. Other countries are involved, and they must sit round the table and sink and settle their differences. It is a formidable task.

We are trying to put Israel in a position where it will accept the basis of a peacemaking process. We are also trying to persuade the Arab countries to come forward with a coherent and cohesive response to the Reagan initiative.

As it is universally agreed that the future of the Palestinian people is the core of the Middle East problem, is it not common sense for the Government and the Foreign Secretary to talk to the leaders of the Palestinians?

I have made the Government's position clear on that matter. We must make our decisions in the light of the circumstances and decide what will help the peacemaking process.

Is not the question more intense than simply making up one's mind? Surely the Government's mind is clear. They wish to pursue a peacekeeping process based on the Reagan initiative. Is not the PLO excluded from the negotiations under the Reagan initiative? If the Government receive PLO delegations, would that not be a positive step against the Reagan peace process, which I thought my right hon. Friend supported?

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend, for the simple reason that the Reagan initiative does not exclude discussions with the PLO. The European Community and Britain have said that the PLO must be associated with the peacekeeping process. If it is not, I doubt whether the peacekeeping process will succeed.

Victor Brailovsky

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and. Commonwealth Affairs whether any response has been received from the Soviet authorities to representations made by Her Majesty's Government concerning the case of Victor Brailovsky.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

No response has been received from the Soviet authorities to our repeated representations on Dr. Brailovsky's behalf. We continue to hope that pressure by both the British and other Western Governments will eventually help Dr. Brailovsky and others in his position.

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to raise that case at the recently convened Helsinki conference at Madrid? Will he impress upon the Soviets that they have no place in a civilised world when such regression is embodied in their policies?

The case of Dr. Brailovsky has been raised no fewer than eight times by the British delegation at the CSCE meeting. I agree with my hon. Friend's concluding remarks.

Is the Minister aware that some of us find it difficult to understand the basis of principle upon which the Government will repeatedly raise an individual case with the Soviet Union but are apparently not willing to mention the killing of 20,000 people referred to by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle)?

I am currently dealing with human rights in the Soviet Union. Whenever there has been a clear abrogation of human rights in the Soviet Union, the Government have not hesitated to make their views clear to the Soviet authorities.

South America

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet his United States counterpart to discuss Anglo-United States of America interests in South America; and if he will make a statement.

I look forward to meeting Mr. Shultz during his proposed visit to London from 16 to 19 December. Our discussions will be wide-ranging and will, no doubt, include Latin America. It is our view that Western interests in the region have not been significantly affected by the Falkland crisis. Apart from Argentina, our relations with Latin American countries remain good.

Will the Foreign Secretary inform America of the Prime Minister's view that the Falkland Islands are vital to the strategy of the West—a view stated in the House yesterday? What is that strategy, and what input has there been into its development from America and other countries, especially our Western allies?

The whole of that region is now of considerably greater strategic importance, and every country recognises that. As that region includes the Falkland Islands, obviously the islands are important.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since 1945 there has been a consistent underestimation of the importance of Britain's interest in Latin America? When he meets Secretary Shultz, will he emphasise that, because of recent events, our interest is now revived and must be maintained?

I agree with my hon. Friend. My predecessor took a great deal of trouble to make a special effort to improve relations with Latin American countries. He paid them an extended visit. Since the conflict in the Falkland Islands has ended, a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have visited that region. We shall continue that policy.

What interest has the United States Government shown in the Shackleton report on the economic development of the Falkland Islands? When can we expect the Government's response to the report? When will there be an opportunity to debate it?

The United States is aware of the Shackleton report. We have not had any detailed discussions with America about it. I hope that the Government will be able to tell the House in the near future their conclusions about the report.

Is not one of the central issues affecting Latin and Central America the excesses in respect of human rights by various Governments? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the United States and the Soviet Union have besmirched any reputation for credibility by their selectivity of condemnation? Is it not a pity that the right hon. Gentleman has shared that selectivity today by, rightly, condemning the Argentine, but saying not a word about Chile, and by, rightly, condemning the Soviet Union, but saying not a word about Syria?

The views of the Government and the House on human rights are well known. We wish that all countries would pursue a standard similar to ours in their relations and dealings with human beings.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the Americans, when they come to London, that their vote on the Falklands issue at the United Nations was inexplicable to many of their friends in Westminster? Will he remind them that they are supposed to stand for the rule of freedom and democracy, as we do, unlike many of the Governments of the mainland South American countries?

The United States Government and every Government must decide how to vote on any issue. The United States has made clear its reasons for its vote. We remain grateful for its strong support during the conflict.

Falkland Islands

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which countries of the Commonwealth voted against the Argentine-sponsored resolution concerning the Falkland Islands at the United Nations; and if he will make a statement.

Apart from the United Kingdom, 10 Commonwealth countries voted against this draft resolution. They were Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Malawi, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka. A further 18 Commonwealth countries abstained. The principles to which we attach importance are widely supported in the Commonwealth.

Has my right hon. Friend written to the Foreign Secretaries of the Commonwealth countries that supported Britain in the United Nations, thanking them for their support? Will he write to those countries that abstained or voted against Britain, explaining our position more clearly to them? Will he place the matter on the agenda of the Commonwealth conference to be held next year in India, so that the lessons of territorial aggression are learnt throughout the Commonwealth?

The answer to my hon. Friend's last question is "No, Sir". One must appreciate that well over two-thirds of the Commonwealth countries refused to support Argentina, and that was gratifying. Throughout the whole story I have expressed my gratitude to the Commonwealth countries for their support. All of them, whatever their views, know this Government's view, and the matter should be left there.

As 90 countries voted against us, 50 abstained and only 12 supported us, should not the Government, as well as having a short-term policy for the Falkland Islands, begin to spell out a medium and long-term policy? It is impossible for the present position to continue. The matter may be raised in the United Nations again.

I have explained our policy. It is too soon to ask the islanders to consider the long-term future. That time will come when they have been able to repair the damage that they have suffered and when life has become more normal again. That will be the time to pursue the long-term strategy, and we shall do that in conjunction with the islanders.

European Community

Reform And Development

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he plans any new initiatives in the Council of Ministers with a view to reforming the institutions and policies of the European Economic Community.

I shall continue to take the initiative in the Council to press for constructive reform and development. Our aims include new policies of benefit to Britain and the Community, such as the ideas on coal now being pursued in the Energy Council, improvements in the operation of the common agricultural policy, and a fair solution to the budget problem, which is one of the things I have been discussing this week in Brussels.

Is not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confessing that, after 10 years of membership, we have made no permanent changes whatever to the budget arrangements, which have so far cost Britain, net, over £3,500 million? Will my right hon. Friend explain why, when the remit from the Council of Ministers to the Commission was to produce plans for a permanent solution, it has apparently produced plans for yet another temporary arrangement?

A permanent solution has not been produced because the 10 members are not able to agree about that matter. I am still pressing them to produce a lasting solution, and I shall continue to do so. It is a mistake to say that nothing has been achieved. Already in the past three years over £2,000 million of our contribution has been repaid, which is a major acknowledgement by our partners that the budget was not fair. Britain was placed in an unacceptable position, and they responded accordingly. It is a mistake to underrate what has been achieved. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a lot more to do.

Which institutions of the EEC does the Secretary of State wish to reform, and how?

As I said in my original answer, we wish to reform the CAP, the budget arrangements and the financial structure. We support the enlargement of the EC by the accession of Spain and Portugal, and that has been negotiated. We are taking a positive approach to developments within the Community in many different ways.

Will the Secretary of State undertake, along with his colleagues, to carry new initiatives to Europe in order to provide a meaningful energy programme for the Third and developing world?

As the joint budgetary authority consists of the Council and the European Parliament, must not one of the most important initiatives be that the helpful declaration of 30 June, which was worked out by my hon. Friends, should be translated from good intentions to the completion of the 1983 budget procedure on time and in accordance with the Treaty?

Yes, Sir. I, too, hope that the Council and the European Parliament will be able to reach agreement on the 1983 budget and that it will be adopted in accordance with the Treaty.

Council Of Ministers

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last attended a meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers; and if he will make a statement.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council, which was held in Brussels on 22 and 23 November. 1 shall be making a statement to the House immediately after Question Time today.

Will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to point out to EEC Ministers the difficulties that British manufacturers are experiencing in exporting to EEC countries? Is he aware that some of the tactics that have been adopted by some of our partners, including the French, are adding to the imbalance in manufactured goods in the EEC? Will the Minister make it clear to EEC Ministers and the House that, while Britain remains a member of the EEC, the Government will protect British industry by adopting suitable tactics?

The hon. Gentleman's last phrase suggests something quite different from the first part of his supplementary question. My reply to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes, Sir". If, as I suspect, the hon. Gentleman has particular cases in mind, I hope that he will let me have details. However, as to the latter part of his question, it is an essential part of our policy to maintain an open trading system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of problems for which we are seeking solutions within the Council of Ministers would have existed anyway, whether or not we were in the EEC? Is it not far better to resolve those difficulties within the Community?

Yes. We are trying to do that, although it can sometimes be difficult, particularly in times of recession. We are doing our best in that direction.

Will the Secretary of State clarify rumours, which seem to be circulating on a widespread basis, about the bid by France to block imports of New Zealand butter until a satisfactory agreement about the export of butter to the Soviet Union has been ironed out? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the allegations of a secret deal between Paris and Moscow on that issue?

No, Sir. The import of butter from New Zealand was part of the arrangements that were made when we joined the Community. That has been the subject of negotiation every so many years, including this year. We have negotiated, or are within sight of negotiating, a satisfactory agreement. We are entirely against the export of surpluses at subsidised prices to the Soviet Union.

Council Of Ministers

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he hopes to attend the next Council of Ministers meeting; and what subjects he expects to be discussed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to attend the next Foreign Affairs Council planned for 13 and 14 December. It is too soon after the November Council to forecast the December agenda. The usual monthly statement of forthcoming Community business will be made in due course.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that, should the Fisheries Council fail to reach an agreement with Denmark over a common fisheries policy, the issue will be raised at the next meeting? Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early agreement is essential, not only from the point of view of the fishermen within the Community, but in the wider context of the European Community's development?

My hon. Friend is right. As he knows, nine members of the Community are agreed on a common fisheries policy and only the Danes are resisting. When the Danish Prime Minister was in Britain earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear to him that we have no further concessions to offer. We hope that the Fisheries Council on 29 November will be able to clear the matter up. If it does not it will have to be discussed again at the European Council summit in December.

In view of the complete lack of progress towards a settlement in Cyprus, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time may well have come for the Council of Ministers, meeting in political cooperation, to discuss the matter urgently to decide whether there is some way in which the European Community can play a part in reaching a solution?

The time may come, but we do not think that it has come yet. This is in the hands of the United Nations Secretary General and his representative, Mr. Gobbi, who is active in the matter and with whom we are in close touch.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the agricultural arrangements made earlier this year mean that, no matter what postures or policies are adopted by the Community, the share of the budget devoted to agricultural structure and support will prevent the Community from taking any sensible steps? Therefore, can we see the British Government taking them instead?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is agricultural price fixing every year. It will remain our objective at the forthcoming Council, and at all discussions on such matters, to bring about a reduction in the rate of growth of agricultural spending.

Common Foreign Policy

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a common European Economic Community foreign policy.

The Ten continue to consult closely on such major problems as the Middle East, Poland, East-West relations and the resumed CSCE meeting in Madrid. I discussed these subjects with my colleagues in Brussels yesterday, and we expect to consider them further at the European Council on 3 and 4 December.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British interests are much better protected when European Community countries speak with one voice on world affairs than when Britain speaks alone as an isolated nation State? Will he confirm also that British interests would be much less well protected if the United Kingdom were outside the Community?

I agree with the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. There are some situations and some problems when our voice on its own is probably the most powerful, but there are plenty of others when undoubtedly the influence that we exert is much the greater because we are part of the Ten.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that to ask for a common foreign policy from the EEC is rather like trying to build a Tower of Babel? Is it not obvious that it is nonsense and that we would be better out of the institution? What would have happened if they had had a different foreign policy over there from the one that we had, apparently, on the Falkland Islands? What notice would we have taken of it? We do not take notice of the people over here let alone over there.

As the Ten do not have a common foreign policy and have no intention for the moment of having one, I do not see the point of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the difficulties that some EEC countries had with the United States recently over the Soviet gas pipeline helped or hindered progress towards achieving a common foreign policy?

I do not think that they had a great effect on what my right hon. Friend describes as a common foreign policy, which, if I may say so, is a misdescription. There are common positions within the Ten on a number of issues, but there is not a common foreign policy. The activity of Foreign Ministers within the Ten, and certainly the part that I played, contributed positively to reducing any damage that might have occurred as a result of the events to which my hon. Friend referred.

Is it not nonsensical to talk about a common foreign policy without knowing what the principles of that policy are? It is surely nonsensical to talk with one voice unless we know that what is said is what we would wish to say ourselves.

I am not taking about a common foreign policy. I am responding to those who are referring to something that is called a common foreign policy, which does not exist.

Bearing in mind that by next month three years will have passed since the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and bearing in mind also the extreme pressure that the Afghan freedom fighters are under because of the massive amount of modern Soviet war material, will my right hon. Friend consult fellow Governments in the European Community to ascertain whether it is possible for the free nations of Western Europe to do just a little more to help the Afghans in their battle for freedom?

I agree with my hon. Friend. On almost every occasion when I meet my Foreign Minister colleagues and we have an opportunity to discuss political matters, Afghanistan is a subject to which we constantly refer. We are concerned about what is happening there and we are constantly addressing the Soviet Union about it, as I did when I was recently in Moscow. I am much in support of what my hon. Friend says and we shall do what we can.

As there is a new political regime in the Soviet Union in the sense that it has a new leader, and as peace and detente are important to the future of Europe and to that of the entire world, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any truth in the reports in today's press that he and his colleagues are to monitor the situation in the Soviet Union with a view to ascertaining what trends are likely to develop? Is it not clear that the most important objective is to make good contacts with a view to achieving better relations with the East that will lead to peace—peace being the most important goal?

The Government's objective is to maintain the peace. Yesterday we discussed the change of leadership in the Soviet Union. Her Majesty's Government will make a constructive response to the change. We want to see a more constructive relationship that will lead to a safer peace. At the same time, we must wait and see what changes in policy, if any, are made by the new Soviet leadership. We want to be in the positive position of exploring the minds of the Soviet leadership and seeing what they will do in present circumstances. In the meantime, we shall be ready to respond to any change. We cannot be sure at this stage whether the change will necessarily be for the better, but, naturally, we very much hope so.

Council Of Ministers (Decision-Taking Procedure)

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the way in which decisions in the Council of Ministers of the Community are taken.

With the looming prospect of the European-wide recession turning into a full-scale depression, does my right hon. Friend believe that the Council of Ministers has the necessary determination and wisdom to take collective measures to save Europe, to bring renewed economic expansion and to merge so-called narrow national interests into the much wider and stronger community of collective interests?

I am not sure precisely what my hon. Friend has in mind. As he knows, the different forms of Council of Ministers spend much time discussing the economic recession, working out their relationships with the rest of the world and trying to co-ordinate their own policies. That is as far as they can reasonably be expected to go at present.

Does the Minister find any difficulty in reconciling his responsibilites in the Council of Ministers of the Ten with the Council of Ministers of the 21 of the Council of Europe? Is there not quite a deal of duplication and unnecessary paperwork which he has to follow through? Is there any way in which there could be much better co-ordination between the Ten and the 21, which would save him much hard labour?

There is a problem. We try, both in the Community and in the Council of Europe, to prevent the overlap to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. We have recently agreed that in cultural matters the Council of Europe has pre-eminence.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to publish any recommendations that he receives, from either the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the National Farmers Union, that are designed to reform the CAP so as to make it less expensive and less protectionist?

That is the aim of the Government as a whole, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Revenue Raising

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals have been considered by the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community for raising additional revenue.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that any increase in the 1 per cent. of VAT which automatically goes to Brussels from the pockets of British citizens will not take place until the House passes an appropriate motion or approves the relevant instrument? Are there any other means whereby the Council or the Commission can increase significantly the EEC's revenue from the United Kingdom in a way that does not require the permission or assent of the House?

The hon. Gentleman's assumption is right and the answer to the first part of his supplementary question is "Yes". In the Government's view, the own resources of the Community are sufficient for its needs and the priority should be, within existing resources, to establish effective control over the rate of growth of agricultural spending.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not allow the enlargment negotiations with Spain and Portugal to founder because of the restriction on the Community's own resources?

It is important that the negotiations should not founder. We see no immediate connection between the negotiations and the issue of own resources.

Policy Changes

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent changes have been made in Community policy of relevance to the United Kingdom.

The policies of the European Community are constantly evolving and most are relevant to the United Kingdom. Recent developments of particular relevance have included the settlement of our 1982 budget refunds, the steel agreement between the Community and the United States, and further progress towards a common fisheries policy.

Will the Minister confirm that the United States reacted to a 6·3 per cent. import penetration by European producers rather more vigorously than the Government have reacted to enormously larger penetration of our steel markets by our European partners, who are clearly cheating and dumping in an astonishing way? Will he accept that it is his duty to ensure that his colleagues in the Council of Ministers are aware that we will not tolerate these activities any longer?

The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry earlier this week on this issue, when the matter was explored at some length. I have no information to gave in addition to what my right hon. Friend said.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable sympathy and support in the Council of Ministers for Britain's problems, particularly as a postindustrial and urban area? Does he agree that so long as the budget is geared 75 per cent. towards agriculture Britain's urban areas will continue to have a raw deal?

My hon. Friend is correct. That is why we favour the expansion and increased effectiveness of the regional fund, the social fund, and the energy policy, to which reference has already been made. The growth of those funds must depend upon success in curbing the rate of agricultural spending.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your help and guidance with regard to the composition of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs questions. Out of a total of 46 questions tabled to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, only 11 were reached in 35 minutes, whereas only nine questions were tabled on EEC matters, to which 20 minutes were devoted, in which time eight were dealt with. As this has happened frequently, and as most of the more important matters happen to be directed to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, would it not be better if EEC questions were confined to 10 minutes and the remainder of Question Time on Wednesday devoted to, say, 50 minutes for the much more important matters of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. First, I must say that it is not a matter for me but for the usual channels to agree. Secondly, I must remind the House that every time I moved on this afternoon from one question to another some hon. Members were disappointed at not being called. That happened every time.

Foreign Affairs Council

3.31 pm

With permission, I will make a statement on the Foreign Affairs Council held in Brussels on 22 and 23 November. The Council dealt with a heavy agenda and reached agreement on a number of issues.

The Council had a first exchange of views on the Commission's paper on the budget solution for 1983 and later. It was agreed that the committee of permanent representatives should get to work on this immediately and report back to the Council at its January meeting.

We discussed East-West trade issues and agreed that we should carry forward the studies approved in the recent Washington talks. Our objective is to improve our cooperation in this field and to achieve a greater cohesion in our approach to East-West trade.

The Council also discussed developments in the final preparations for the GATT ministerial meeting. The Community will continue to press for improvements in certain areas and the Council will meet again in Geneva if necessary. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade, who was present at the Council, is now in Geneva for the GATT meeting.

The Council agreed in principle on the details of the Community's generalised scheme of preferences for 1983. Ministers noted the progress made in the past month in the bilateral textile negotiations under the multi-fibre arrangement with the Association of South-East Asian Nations and Brazil. The Council also agreed that the Commission should proceed with negotiations with the three dominant suppliers—Hong Kong, South Korea and Macao—making full use as necessary of the flexibility available to them within the global ceilings.

Ministers discussed the external steel regime for 1983. They agreed that the Commission should open negotiations on voluntary restraint arrangements with main third country suppliers of steel to the Community, on the basis of a cutback of 12½ per cent. in import volume in relation to the 1980 base year.

We raised the problem of the trading imbalance under the EC-Spain agreement and asked for a Commission report with proposals for action on Spanish implementation of the agreement, and on the unequal and unjustifiable tariff imbalance in some sensitive areas.

Ministers agreed a special aid programme for Central America. They approved a new management regulation designed to improve the procedures governing the Community's food aid programme. Discussions will continue on other subjects, including the Community's research programme on nuclear safety, the European Parliament's proposals for a uniform electoral system, and a Commission memorandum on the follow-up to the second Lomé convention.

A ministerial conference with the Portuguese in the margins of the Council reviewed progress in the accession negotiations.

Ministers also met in the framework of political cooperation and discussed a number of foreign policy issues, including East-West relations and the Middle East. It was agreed that the Danish Foreign Minister should visit Israel shortly in order to put the Ten's views on the current situation. As applicant members of the Community the Spanish and Portuguese Foreign Ministers were present for part of the meeting.

One of the problems with the Secretary of State's statements is that he reveals very little to the House of Commons. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that one has to read the newspapers to glean some information about what was actually discussed.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the budget and to the budget solution for 1983 and later. The right hon. Gentleman does not say that what has happened once again is that the Government have retreated on the budget question and that we are about to have further tortuous discussions.

indicated dissent.

I see the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. If the Government have not retreated, perhaps they will explain precisely what has happened, because according to the Financial Times:

"Mr. Francis Pym, the British Foreign Secretary, made a forlorn attempt to persuade the Ten to set next March as a target date for agreement."
We are entitled to know what happened on the budget question.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to East-West trade issues. What exactly is the position? What about the relationship between France and the Soviet Union with regard to butter? The Foreign Secretary has not said what exactly is happening in that direction.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to steel. The Opposition would approve, quite rightly, of a cutback of 12½ per cent. in import volume in relation to the 1980 base year. We would want that to be a little higher, but what about steel coming from the Common Market countries into Britian? What about the increases of imports to Britain of steel from the EEC? Nothing was said in the statement about that. We are entitled to know precisely what is happening.

No details were given about the aid programme, yet it is one of the most important questions before us.

The electoral system which is being proposed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Exactly—what was the Government's attitude to that? Are they in favour of abandoning our present method of voting or will they go along with the proposals of the European Assembly? The Opposition are totally opposed to any change in the system of election.

With regard to the Middle East, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the fact that the President of the Council is to go to Israel to put pressure on the Israeli Government to stop further settlements on the West Bank? The Opposition believe that not only should the Israeli State have secure and peaceful borders but, equally, the Palestinian people have a right to a State of their own and there cannot be a solution to the Middle East problem until that comes about. Therefore, we would welcome maximum pressure being applied to the Israelis and to the Palestinians, and we welcome the fact that some efforts are being made in that direction.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that these continual visits by Minister after Minister to EC countries to talk to one another get us anywhere? Is it not time that we began seriously to consider getting out of the Common Market and solving the problem in a different way?

The answer to the last question by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is "No, Sir." The hon. Gentleman said that I had revealed little. I thought that in a reasonable time I had covered most of the important points on the Council agenda. If I had digressed in detail on each of the subjects I should have had to make a very long statement and I doubt whether the House would have welcomed that. I have done my best.

The East-West trade position is exactly as I have described it. In the interests of time, I shall not re-read what I said in my statement.

The hon. Member for Walton said that I had retreated on the budget. That is nonsense. The paper produced by the Commission for the 1983 and later budgets was issued only last week. We decided that we should remit it immediately and return to the subject in January. That seems a reasonable date.

The hon. Gentleman asked about France and butter. I did not mention that matter because we did not discuss it. We did discuss the second Lomé convention, and what will follow, and the electoral system. No decisions were taken and discussions are continuing on both those matters. I cannot say when a decision will be taken.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the visit by the President of the Council to Israel. He certainly will take the line that I described in answers this afternoon, which is in line with much of what the hon. Member for Walton said. I think that that will be helpful. The policy of the Ten towards the Middle East has been made clear today and on earlier occasions. It is not for us to settle the problem, but we want to make the maximum contribution to its solution and to the attainment of peace.

I have tried to cover the wide range of issues that we dealt with in two days. If the House requires a great deal more time for descriptions of every aspect of the discussions it will have to make some new arrangements. I doubt whether that would be acceptable.

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in today's press which suggest that the European Community, although the largest trading bloc in the world, may not succeed in making an effective stand at the GATT negotiations in favour of the open trading system? Since Britain stands to gain more than any other country in the world from the maintenance of that system and the avoidance of a tariff war, does it not demonstrate more clearly than anything the need for more effective procedures for consultation and action within the Community?.

We have enough procedures and institutions to cope with the problems. We certainly regard the GATT meeting as being extremely important, as does the Community. The paper setting out the guidelines which the Minister of State has taken with him are available to the House. I am certain that the ministerial meeting is important as a collective demonstration of political will to maintain and strengthen the open trading system, particularly at a time of recession. In the United Kingdom we wish to press for a fairer balance in access to markets where our exporters face unnecessary barriers.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the part that Europe should play in expanding the world economy? Will that view be expressed at the GATT talks today?

I do not think that that important issue will be discussed at that forum. At meetings I constantly mention the subject and how it should be handled.

Is the right hon. Gentleman still insisting on the full implementation of the original negotiating mandates on the multi-fibre arrangement? Did the Council of Ministers consider alternative trading arrangements if the negotiations should break down before the end of the year? Is the right hon. Gentleman insisting that firm alternative arrangements are reported to the December meeting of the Council of Ministers—the last meeting before the arrangements have to be concluded?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest. Progress has been made and we hope that a satisfactory solution can be found. I cannot give an undertaking that it will be, but considerable time was spent on the subject. It remains a high priority in our approach to the discussions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the present difficult world trading conditions the wide range of topics that were discussed shows that it would be wrong to say that massive decisions can be arrived at and put into effective operation quickly?

I think that my hon. Friend refers to the discussions on political co-operation over a remarkably wide range of issues on which there is a common position in the Community and which we regularly express in statements. We did not do that on this occasion because it appeared to be unnecessary. No special issue required a declaration. I can assure my hon. Friend that there was a remarkable unanimity in our approach to the world's problems.

Is not the notion of open trading pure mythology and does not the Government's support for the multi-fibre negotiations demonstrate that? May we have an assurance that it was made clear at the meeting that if the MFA negotiations fail and we have to come out, emergency procedures will be implemented? We need that assurance, because the textile industry in West Yorkshire and elsewhere is anxious about the outcome of the negotiations. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that over 1,000 jobs in the textile industry in my constituency have been lost in the last three years? Does that not reflect what is happening elsewhere?

Open trading is no mythology. It is a major contributory factor to the success, development and growth of the world economy in the past 30 years. It is being challenged now because of the world recession. It would be a mistake to allow the protectionist view to gain the upper hand, because that would turn an already serious recession into a calamity. I do not want to contemplate failure of the MFA negotiations. Thought has been, and is being given, to what happens if that occurs, but let us not think in those terms.

A uniform electoral system has been mentioned. Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that the working group to which the subject was remitted on 26 April has completed its work? Did it make any recommendations? Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), although for different reasons, I should be interested to learn the Government's view.

The working group has not completed its considerations. It has discovered a considerable number of problems which are by no means confined to any view that the United Kingdom may have expressed. There are a great many differences among the countries of Europe, and even among the countries that believe in a system of proportional representation. The approaches to the systems vary considerably. The working group has identified the differences. Many problems must be ironed out before any conclusion is likely.

In spite of the fulminations of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), supported by a few of my hon. Friends, does my right hon. Friend accept that many people view with incredulity the prospect of another election in Europe in 1985 other than on a common basis, given that Members of the European Parliament are drawn from all European nations and are regarded as equal?

I have no difficulty in contemplating an election to the European Parliament in 1985 on different bases. It is legitimate to argue that there would be advantage in having the same system. That is a matter for discussion and debate. There are many problems involved in achieving that objective—if one thinks that it is a worthwhile objective. More work has to be done before all the problems can be ironed out.

Arising out of the discussions on nuclear safety, what did the Foreign Secretary say to his Italian colleagues who are interested for ethnic reasons—because of the number of Milanese and Neapolitan families involved in the loss of life—about the sinking by the nuclear submarine "Conqueror" of the "Belgrano"? He could say to them, could he not, that he was in New York when the order was given on Sunday 2 May, about to dine with Perez de Cuellar, that he has a clean sheet, that he was not present at the war cabinet, and that he did not know about the order to sink the ship?

I can say that our discussions during the past few days in relation to nuclear safety referred to the Super Sara test programme, which is outwith the scope of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Will my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about the discussions on European Community aid to Central America? Does it propose to aid the current regime in Nicaragua? Does it propose to aid the regimes in San Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala?

The Community decided to have a special additional aid programme for the benefit of Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Nicaragua already receives aid and will receive some additional aid as a result of the decisions taken this week, but out of money already allocated for aid. It was a special programme confined to the three countries that I mentioned.

Among the matters that the Secretary of State mentioned but did not name, what was the discussion about the Genscher-Colombo proposals? What stage have those proposals reached in the Council? Does the Secretary of State agree that, as they are proposals towards European union, the Government have no mandate for such a move and must, on principle, be opposed to anything that emerges at the end of discussions?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, with reference to my supplementary question and his answer at Question Time earlier today, the last thing that I intended to convey was criticism of Lord Carrington? I am dismayed that the House might have believed that to be my purpose. Can my right hon. Friend give us further details of the follow-up discussion on the second Lomé convention? Is there a timetable of further developments?

We had only a brief discussion on the subject on this occasion and decided to return to it either in December or, as is more likely, in January. My hon. Friend is conversant with the details. Little progress was made on this occasion.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I and many other people agree that his original statement concealed much more than it revealed? In future, instead of having the agenda of the meeting, could we have the minutes? Did the Council discuss the implications of the bully-boy tactics of nine member States against Denmark over fishing and the implications of force being used by a member State against another, and what were the results?

We did not discuss the common fisheries policy, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of State answered a question on the subject earlier today and the position is as he described it. As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, when the Community comes to certain conclusions, the relevant documents are available to the House. They are scrutinised, investigated and debated in the House, which is the best procedure.

Does the Secretary of State agree that everything is possible in the Middle East, provided that the PLO is prepared to acknowledge the existence of Israel and its right to exist as an independent State?

Much more than that will be necessary to achieve success in the peace-making process. First, Israel must agree to be positive and constructive in relation to the Reagan plan. Many other things must happen.

Did the Council discuss the evidence submitted at the international hearing in Bonn last week to the effect that forced labour is being used to construct the Siberian pipeline—including evidence from those who have worked on the pipeline? If the Council did not discuss that matter, why is Europe continuing to turn a blind eye to the position? Will the matter be on the agenda next month?

We did not discuss that this week. I do not know whether we shall return to it next month.

The Secretary of State referred to the desirability of free trade, but does he not accept that a world steel trade war has been waged for many months? Will he ensure that our European partners recognise that Britain will take urgent action, as they would take in our case? I would illustrate that by saying that at 3.27 pm I raised the matter with the Minister of State. At 3.30 pm I received a telephone call to tell me that another private steel works is going down the drain.

The Government and the whole House are deeply worried about the steel industry. There has been a vast over-capacity. The British Steel Corporation has taken some tough decisions, as a result of which many people have suffered. The same is happening in the United States of America and in Europe. The problem and its consequences are very much in Ministers' minds and we shall try to deal with it as best we can.

Order. I propose to call the three Opposition Members and two Conservative Members who have already risen.

Given that the considerable benefits of Community membership are equally available to all countries within the Community and given that we provide a market for expensive European foodstuffs and £5,000 million net of European manufactured goods, is it not the case that it makes no sense or justice that we should be significant net contributors to the European budget? Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the other Ministers on the Council that in future we shall not make a significant contribution to the budget equal to or anywhere near the level that we have made during the past three years? Will he also ensure that the next agreement on the Community budget will be permanent and that we will not be party to a further temporary agreement?

We have constantly made clear our position on the budget. The Government are prepared to be a modest net contributor to the Community. My hon. Friend may disagree with that, but it is the Government's position and it is fair. When one assesses the consequences and the value of United Kingdom membership of the Community, all the factors must be put on the table. We must include all the factors, such as trade and jobs, as well as the penaltie that arise in some areas, if we are to have a realistic and frank assessment.

I cannot say whether we shall achieve a lasting solution to the budget problem this time, but we must do so by the agreement of 10 countries. Some countries may feel that 1983 is not the time for a lasting solution. However, within a few years, a lasting solution may be achieved if we fail to achieve it now, because then the Community must consider its financial framework. That might provide an opportunity for a permanent settlement. However, we must see how we get on.

In the discussions about East-West relations, did the other Ministers take a rather passive and negative attitude like that of the Secretary of State, who said that he would monitor developments in the Soviet Union—whatever that means—and wait to see whether an initiative comes from the Soviet Union? Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that in 1982 alone the Soviet Union put forward many initiatives, including a complete freeze on the development of nuclear weapons, reduction in conventional weapons and suggestions that outer space be declared a zone of peace, that all nuclear weapons be withdrawn from Europe and many others? Does none of the Ministers realise that the survival of Europe is at stake and that all their other plans will disappear unless they get this one right?

What a macabre distortion of what I said and of our policy. I did not use the word "monitor". It was never used in the discussion in Brussels yesterday, which is why I did not use it. I thought that I had described a constructive response to the changes in the Soviet leadership. That is what I intend it to be. I have already had a dialogue with the Foreign Minister in Moscow and we shall continue on that basis, but at the end of the day we must await the response.

I say to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) that the United States of America has made all the running and taken all the initiatives in arms control—

Why is it that, when my right hon. Friend so rightly and ably tells the Council constantly that the British Government are wholly opposed to the export of highly subsidised food to Russia, the volume of such subsidised food is constantly increasing and is now three times more than it was the year before the Russians invaded Afghanistan and five times as much in value? Will it not undermine the determination of people in Britain and Europe to pay taxes to defend ourselves against the Russians if we must also pay taxes to build up the Russians with much subsidised cheap food?

My hon. Friend is immensely wise. Subsidised food formed a significant part of the discussion on East-West trade that has continued for some weeks, in connection with which the sanctions on the oil pipeline contracts were lifted by President Reagan. It seems wrong to trade with the Soviet Union and the East on a basis that subsidises their economies. Although no firm decision has been taken on that matter, that is one of the areas that will be investigated carefully by the countries of NATO with a view to forming a framework for a sound basis of trading with the East.

In the exchange on nuclear matters, was consideration given to the position in the United States? On 9 November a majority of Americans in a referendum came out in favour of a nuclear freeze between the United States and the USSR. As Congress ratified that yesterday, will the Foreign Secretary, when he returns in January, seek to establish an initiative to stop the nonsense and foolishness that, although people can already blow the world to pieces 10 times over, expenditure on armaments is still increasing?

Even if I were contemplating raising the matter that the hon. Gentleman has asked me to raise, there would be no point in doing so in Europe, as the United States is not a member of the Community.

Did the Council of Ministers consider limiting the supply of arms to the world, particularly in the light of the decision by the French to resume supplies of Exocet missiles to Argentina? Is not that a priority on which the EC could take the lead? The Foreign Secretary suggested that the West is taking the lead on arms differences. Is not limiting the supply of arms a priority, so that we can end the mockery of the lives of those who were killed in the Falkland Islands by arms containing components manufactured in this country and supplied to Argentina?

At the beginning of the political cooperation meeting, the Foreign Ministers decide what subjects they will discuss. In the meeting that I have reported to the House we decided to confine ourselves to the significant historical event of the change of leadership in the Soviet Union and what it will mean for East-West relations. We confined our discussions to that —Unterruption.]—I did not understand that interjection. There are plenty of other occasions when arms control can be discussed, and is discussed. Yesterday was not one of them. We confined ourselves to the general matter of the change of leadership. Therefore, we did not address ourselves to the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but on other occasions we shall do so.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a negative approach to the situation that has developed? As there is a new leadership in the Soviet Union, surely it would be a good idea if the Foreign Ministers of the EC countries took positive initiatives. When there is a new leadership one should take positive initiatives. The statements that have been made by the new Soviet President can be interpreted positively. I hoped that the Foreign Ministers would do so.

I think that it is a mistake to repond to an event such as the death of a leader of the Soviet Union by immediately taking an initiative. We said that we would take a constructive approach and explore the possibilities. Of course, one thinks first of the arms control talks. We are taking that constructive approach to see what response will be made. I do not call that an initiative. It is an intelligent approach to an entirely new situation, which I and other Foreign Ministers watch carefully.

Emergency Debate (Application)

4.5 pm

Before Twelve o'clock this morning I had notice from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that he proposed under Standing Order No. 9 to seek an emergency debate. I have read what he submitted to me. In my judgment it would be an abuse of our procedure to allow him to make that application. I hope, therefore, that, bearing in mind what I have said, the hon. Gentleman will not seek to make his application this afternoon.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for your comments. Will you tell me why my application was out of order, yet on 13 April 1981 an application was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), to discuss the negotiations that were taking place about hospitals being turned into private medical centres and on 22 February 1982 an application was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to discuss the sale of shares in Amersham International, both of which were allowed?

Both the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends referred directly to matters that were under way. The hon. Gentleman has given me notice of an alleged decision by the Government, which apparently he is not sure about. I honestly think that it would be a gross abuse of our procedure, were he to continue.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I could turn your attention to a statement that was made at a meeting yesterday—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will either proceed against my advice or he will not. I give him my strong advice that he should not proceed with his application. It would be unfair to the House if our procedures for emergency debates were to degenerate into a mere opportunity for a speech to be made without the opportunity of reply.

Could I then, on a point of order, refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the Government this afternoon or tomorrow are to make a statement in the form of a written reply, which I believe should have been the subject of a full statement at the Dispatch Box, on the privatisation of Companies House? My application—

Order. Of course, I cannot be aware of what possible answer will come from the Government tomorrow.

Later

I hope that the House will allow me to express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), because he has been a good parliamentarian. It is in the interests of the House to accept rulings on such occasions. I do not make them unless I feel rather strongly about a matter.

Corrections To Bills (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

4.7 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past 24 hours hon. Members will have received in the Vote two papers, one on the Telecommunications Bill and the other on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which draw our attention to corrections in those Bills, which were published only days ago.

I should like to draw that matter to your attention, Mr. Speaker, because, although we fully accept that corrections will occasionally be necessary and mistakes will be made, for example in spelling or some other minor matter in a Bill, the corrections in the Telecommunications Bill, of which there are five, alter the text so that the meaning is altered. Therefore, I should like to seek your guidance on the status of those corrections. In effect they are amendments to the text of the Bills. I should like to know whether it is possible to proceed with the consideration of those Bills when, in effect, amendments have been laid before the House before the Second Reading has taken place.

Will you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to find out for the House who is responsible for it being necessary for those corrections to be proposed so soon after the Bills have been published? The precise wording of Bills is of vital importance not only to the House but to many people outside. For corrections to be submitted on matters of substantial importance to people outside the House, who may be unaware that such corrections have been made until later in the consideration of the Bills is something about which hon. Members will be concerned.

It would be helpful if the House could find out whether this arises because of mistakes made in the House or by the printers, or because of the Government, who have had plenty of time to prepare the Bills, delivering them so late to the House, that there is not time for them to be properly printed. I should be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) gave me notice before Twelve o'clock this morning of his point of order. That has enabled me to consider the matter. I understand that only two corrections affect the text of the Bills. Those are the last two corrections to the Telecommunications Bill. The first reinserts a dropped line, and the second corrects an obvious misprint. Both corrections were sent to the printers on Monday of this week and were published on Tuesday. I am quite satisfied that the use of correction slips in both cases is perfectly proper and it is by no means without precedent. That is the answer that I must give to the hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the House would like to know why the amendments were necessary. There has been a great deal of time for the Government to prepare the drafts of those Bills. It is confusing and wrong that amendments should be brought forward so soon after Bills have been presented to the House.

That may well be, but I cannot add anything to the ruling that I have given.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 10 December

Members successful in the ballot were:

  • Mr. J. Enoch Powell
  • Mr. Anthony Steen
  • Mr. Richard Page

Orders Of The Day

Energy Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Before the Minister begins, I should say that I have not selected the Instructions.

4.11 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) has been promoted to what I take to be the Labour Party's equivalent of the House of Lords. This is therefore probably the last time that we shall face each other across the Dispatch Boxes. I suspect that he has never felt entirely at home with energy matters. His debating style has alternated somewhat unpredictably between over-excitability and somnolence. Nevertheless, I have nothing but the warmest feelings for him personally and I wish him well in his mysterious new role of shadow overlord.

I shall begin by describing the purpose of part II as an hors d'oeuvres before dealing with part I which contains the meat of the Bill. There is nothing in part II which I suspect even the Opposition at their most ingenious can contrive to find controversial.

No doubt Opposition Members will recall—I am sure that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) will—that their Nuclear Installations (Amendment) Act 1965, which was subsequently consolidated into the Nuclear Installations Act 1965, was agreed to by the House on Second Reading without a Division. Part II merely updates that Act. Its main purpose is to restore the real value of the amounts of compensation that the 1965 Act provides for damage caused by nuclear incidents. No other changes of any substance are being made.

The House will know that the safety record of Britain's nuclear power industry is second to none. There has not been one emergency at a nuclear power station in more than 300 reactor years of operating experience. Nevertheless, it is prudent to have a liability and compensation system that ensures that damage or injury that is caused by a nuclear incident is properly compensated. That system is provided in the 1965 Act. It gives the operator no-fault liability for nuclear damage and requires him to insure against it. It limits his liability to £5 million per incident and provides for that sum to be topped up to £50 million, if necessary, from public funds, including funds that are provided by other countries by international agreement.

The 1965 Act gives effect to the two international conventions on third party liability in the field of nuclear energy, to which the United Kingdom is a party. They are known as the Paris and the Brussels conventions. Until now the conventions have provided for figures of 15 million and 120 million European monetary units of account in respect of operator liability and of topping up. They are equivalent to our figures of £5 million and £50 million respectively.

Over the years those figures have lost much of their value through inflation, and two amending protocols have therefore now been agreed by the parties to the convention. Besides making some technical changes, they increase the upper compensation limit to 300 million special drawing rights. This is an increase of about two and a half times, reflecting the weighted average of inflation in the countries concerned since 1963. The protocols did not alter the operator's liability limit in the same way. That was left to member States' discretion.

The Bill gives effect to that correction by substituting 300 million special drawing rights per incident, which is equivalent to about £192 million, for the present £50 million per incident. It also increases the operator's liability limit pro rata to £20 million per incident, except for a new category of small operators, for whom the limit will be £5 million. That new figure of £20 million is a sum for which the operator will be able to insure.

In broad terms, the changes make good the effects of inflation on the United Kingdom's original compensation provisions. Among other minor matters, this part of the Bill allows new compensation figures to be changed by Order.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an example of the new class of small operator who is referred to here?

We have in mind research institutions and universities which have much smaller types of nuclear installations than a power station.

This part of the Bill contains some useful if inevitably, I regret to say, complex provisions. I shall now deal with part I, which has been welcomed by the CBI and which will be of most interest to the House.

Part I establishes for the first time a statutory framework to govern dealings between private generators of electricity and the public electricity supply system. I should make it clear at the outset—I recognise that this will cause some disappointment in some parts of the House—that the Bill is not concerned with the privatisation of the existing nationalised electricity supply industry.

The Bill entitles private generators of electricity—of whom there are many—to sell their electricity to the local electricity board on fair terms. It gives them a guaranteed market. It also allows them to use the public transmission and distribution system. That is an important innovation. Finally, it repeals the archaic statutory prohibition on private electricity generation as a main business activity. This puts into effect the proposal that was first announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) more than two years ago.

I shall now describe the key features of part I in a little more detail. Its purpose is to encourage competition in the domestic electricity market by encouraging private generation and supply. It is a long overdue adjustment of the statutory framework for the electricity supply industry which will help to reduce the nationalised industry's monopoly power.

The Bill will allow the private generator to use the public transmission system—the national grid—whether to supply electricity for his own use elsewhere or to supply third parties, on fair terms. This is in line with the common carrier provisions for the gas pipeline network contained in the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Act 1982.

The right hon. Gentleman talks as if this were an innovation, but it was carefully examined by the Weir committee before the grid of 1926 was established. The idea was rejected as being inappropriate to the working of a grid system.

I did not for a moment mean to say that the idea was an innovation. It is in practice in some other countries. The innovation lies in introducing it into British law.

The Bill will also entitle the private generator to sell part or the whole of his output to the electricity board, again, on fair terms. Therefore, the private generator has the choice of two routes for disposing of any part of his output that he does not consume himself.

In response to the many representations that I have received from industry, the Bill requires tariffs for trading with the boards and for using the public transmission network to be published. The private generator can therefore compare the terms on offer and make a commercial decision. The availability of these two routes will be an important safeguard for the private generator.

In addition, the private generator will be entitled to a standby supply of electricity from the electricity board for himself and for his customers. In that way he will be able to maintain supplies when his plant is unavailable due to servicing or breakdowns. If the Bill is to achieve its object, the terms of trade between private generators and the public supply system must be fair. That means that there will be no subsidy to private generators, but at the same time the electricity board will not be allowed to exploit private generators.

In the past, the area electricity boards have purchased privately generated electricity at prices well below those paid to the alternative source, the Central Electricity Generating Board, and that has discouraged private generation. More recently, the boards have moved towards paying prices that are closer to their own avoidable costs. The Electricity Council has issued guidelines within which negotiations between area boards and private generators take place.

I welcome that as far as it goes, but there have still been widespread complaints from private generators that the terms offered are inadequate. The Bill will, therefore, require electricity boards to offer private generators fair terms. That means, in general, terms that will neither increase nor reduce the prices for electricity paid by other customers of the boards. The same basic approach will apply to charges for use of the board's transmission system.

The electricity supply industry will be obliged to consult me on the principles underlyng its charges. Any dispute between private generators and electricity boards may be referred to me for settlement. As a result of the Bill, private generators should no longer have cause for complaint. These measures will, I am confident, encourage the growth of private electricity generation in the United Kingdom.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some anxiety has been expressed not only by the Electricity Council but by the private interests involved to the effect that perhaps there should be an independent system of arbitration? One side feels that the Department will lean too heavily in favour of the electricity supply industry, and the other side believes the opposite to be true.

Perhaps that means that the outcome will be fair. However, I hasten to add that I shall normally delegate my role and appoint an independent arbitrator to represent me, instead of doing the job myself. I am sure that that will cause great dismay throughout the House, but it is right that hon. Members should be aware of it.

Will the Secretary of State have the sole right to appoint the independent arbitrator, or will the other parties be involved in that decision?

Of course the right will reside in me as Secretary of State, but I shall obviously want to have an independent arbitrator with whom both sides are content.

At present, private generation supplies 6 per cent. of total electricity supplies in the United Kingdom and about 15 per cent. of industry's requirements. The latter fig