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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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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.