Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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.