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Common Foreign Policy

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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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.