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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 24 April 1985

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South Africa

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the South African authorities over recent events in that country.

Following the tragic events at Uitenhage on 21 March, I issued a strong condemnation of the shootings. On my instructions, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), summoned the South African ambassador to express our shock and to call for the fullest possible investigation.

Does the Foreign Secretary deplore yesterday's detention of three senior members of the United Democratic Front and the continued harassment of those actively involved in opposing the regime? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, despite the somewhat cosmetic changes recently announced by the regime, there has been no fundamental change in South Africa, and that the vast majority of people there are denied basic rights and liberties because of the colour of their skin?

It is too early to comment on the incident reported yesterday, but I confirm that we certainly expressed concern to the South African Government about the original arrest of UDF leaders and joined our partners in the Ten in underlining our concern. Our practice is not to intervene until the legal processes have been exhausted.

It must be acknowledged that certain important changes have been announced this year, starting with President Botha's speech on 25 January and including the suspension of forced removals, the extension of 99-year leasehold rights to blacks in the Cape area, confirmation that the Mixed Marriages and Immorality Acts will be repealed, and so on. None of them go far enough, but they appear to reflect changes in attitude which could be significant, but none of them diminish the strength with which we condemn apartheid as a system, along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

My right hon. and learned Friend's latter words will be very welcome to many Conservative Members. Does he agree that if the Government gave a little more encouragement and praise for the moves towards reform that are taking place in South Africa, they would be making a constructive contribution and would ease the process of change there?

When presenting their attitude towards events in South Africa, it is necessary for the Government to keep both halves of the subject in mind. It is necessary to condemn, as we do, actions that are plainly unjustified. But, as I have already said, it is also necessary to acknowledge and encourage steps that are being taken in the right direction. The key point is that we should continue to use all our influence and contacts in every way possible to maintain pressure for change of the kind desired in all parts of the House.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the South African Government's decision to impose a so-called multi-party Government on Namibia shows that the progress of resolution 435 has come to a halt and that there has been an end to the Crocker initiative? Does it not also throw into great doubt South Africa's acceptance of that resolution? Will he arrange to have this matter raised as soon as possible at the United Nations Security Council?

With other members of the Contact Group, we have already made representations to the South African Government about the steps taken in Namibia and underlined the importance that we attach to the implementation of resolution 435. We shall continue to support the American-led negotiations to achieve that.

We are glad that the Government were represented by our consul in Durban at the opening stages of the treason trial. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that we continue to monitor that trial when it resumes in mid-May? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider whether we should follow the example of the Irish Government and help to pay the legal costs of those UDF defendants? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider also helping the families who are being crippled financially by this legal repression?

I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman down the road that was opened up by the second half of his question. Many British subjects face trial in different countries in different circumstances, and successive Governments have not found it either possible or proper to pay their legal costs. We could not, therefore, extend our representative generosity along those lines. It is important that we should continue to monitor the trial carefully. We have already made it plain that we shall be sending an observer.

British Citizens (Hostages)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many British citizens are currently held hostage by overseas Governments; and where they are held.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Renton)

Although a number of British citizens are detained abroad under conditions with which we are not satisfied, none of these can be formally described as hostages.

We need to clarify the fine dividing line between what is a hostage and what is not. Under what conditions would it become unacceptable for a British citizen to be incarcerated overseas? What action would the Government take in those circumstances?

In general terms, a hostage is one against whom charges have not been laid by the overseas Government. The Government aim to render British citizens full consular assistance if they are detained overseas. That is one of the prime duties of our consular department. We raise complaints with the relevant authorities, including complaints about illegal detention, although we must work within the laws of the country concerned. In exceptional cases, and if it is in the interest of the persons held, we take the matter up at a high level with the appropriate Government.

What about the case of King and Maxwell, the accused Scots held in Libya? Surely they need help badly. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one way not to help them is to suggest that Libyan property should be seized in this country, particularly in London? That will undermine the efforts of those who are trying to secure the early release of the men.

As I understand it, those two gentlemen have stood trial, been convicted and are serving their sentences. Unfortunately, there are, as of yesterday, 1,070 British subjects abroad who are detained for one reason or another. It is the Government's duty, while respecting the laws of the country concerned, to provide as much consular protection as possible to all those people.

European Community (Dooge Report)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether, in the light of the Dooge report, the European Economic Community intends to adopt a common position in international bodies.

The Dooge committee has recommended that the Ten should adopt common positions in the United Nations and other multilateral bodies. This proposal, with the others made by the committee, will be discussed at the Milan European Council in June. We hope that this discussion will lead to decisions which will enable the Ten to act and vote more unitedly in international organisations.

Will the Minister assure the House that the reservations he expressed on matters such as the weakening of the veto, the enlargement of European Assembly powers, and other steps towards political union will be firmly maintained?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it was precisely for that reason that I entered those reservations in the report, as did representatives of certain other countries.

Is it not thoroughly undesirable that Britain should be left isolated along with a minority of members of the European Community while the majority wish to make progress in this way? If more nationalistic states such as France can go along with these developments, why can they get away with it and we cannot?

The United Kingdom was not isolated in the Dooge committee. The Greek representative entered a total of 15 reservations, the Danish representative entered a total of 10 reservations, Britain and Germany both entered three reservations, and a number of other countries entered one each. On the vast majority of issues, we were able to support either the unanimous or the majority view of the committee.

Why does the Department continue to pay lip-service to the idea of European political union when the Minister and his Department must know that that would be completely unacceptable to the British people?

I am not certain what the hon. Gentleman means by the phrase "European political union". It is not a phrase that has normally been used in the Community. We have said that we are prepared to see greater European unity on a range of issues, but I emphasise that what is sometimes described as the federal concept does not have the support of the vast majority of Community Governments, including the United Kingdom Government.

If the United Kingdom entered so many reservations, will my hon. Friend explain what the Government did support?

If my hon. Friend had been listening to me with his customary attention, he would have heard that I made quite the opposite point. I said that while certain of our colleagues entered 15 and 10 reservations respectively, the United Kingdom and Germany entered only three reservations, in a report which covered a wide range of issues. We were able to support the unanimous or majority views on a range of questions, such as the internal market, political co-operation, security matters, and the need for more effective forms of decision making in the Community, while reserving the right of the national veto.

Is it not a good thing that most of the nations of the EEC take decisions which are based upon their own national interests? Is it not clear that it would be absolutely disastrous if all the EEC countries took the same sycophantic attitude towards the United States of America and President Reagan as the Prime Minister does?

The hon. Gentleman has put to me a somewhat extraordinary jumble of ideas. He is correct in saying that individual countries have national interests which they are concerned to protect. Her Majesty's Government formulate foreign policy based on what we believe to be in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman must know that he is deceiving the House by going on about the number of reservations that Her Majesty's Government have made. Surely the significant point is the nature of the reservations. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the unwillingness of Her Majesty's Government, in conjunction with the Greeks and the Danes, to see an improvement in the decision making procedures of the Community is a bad thing?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has not read the report in question. If he had, he would have noticed that in that part which deals with decision making the United Kingdom did not enter a reservation. Two options were put forward in the main body of the report, one of which was supported by representatives of a number of Community countries. The other option was supported by other representatives. There was no footnote reservation or qualification of the kind that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The Minister may have entered reservations on the question of majority voting, but he has conceded in his reservations the principle of more frequent use of majority voting on major EEC matters. Will the Minister be frank and tell us precisely to which areas the veto will not still apply? In which areas will the Government stand up for Britain?

As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, the vast majority of areas permit voting under the treaty, but it has become increasingly customary for the Presidency not to ask for a vote on them in the Council. We have argued that that is undesirable. There are many areas of progress on which, if votes were taken, the United Kingdom would happily be with the majority, seeking certain changes—for example, on the completion of the internal market. That is an obvious example to which Britain has attached great importance. We have no objection to increased use of majority voting as long as there is reserved to each national Government the right, as an ultimate defence of its national interest, to apply a veto as provided for in the Luxembourg compromise.

Spain

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the implications of the membership of the European Economic Community of Spain for Britain's ties with Gibraltar.

The United Kingdom's ties with Gibraltar are not affected by Spain's membership of the European Community. We remain committed to honour the wishes of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the preamble to the Gibraltar Constitution Order 1969.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the signature by Spain of the treaty of accession to the EEC will in no way be allowed to prejudice or weaken the close, historic and unique link which the peoples of Gibraltar and Britain enjoy at this moment?

The position is exactly as I stated in my original answer. The constitutional position of Gibraltar remains as set out in the preamble to the constitution order, which rehearses the well known assurances. We shall fully respect the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

One of the questions that some people are asking about Gibraltar is put simply this: "Do you think that the Tory Government will treat Gibraltar in the same way as the Falklands, or will they treat Gibraltar in the same way as Hong Kong, which they gave away?" It is an intriguing question. I should like the Foreign Secretary to tell us precisely how the Government will treat Gibraltar.

That question is founded on a huge lack of comprehension. The British Government will treat Gibraltar as they should treat Gibraltar. The three cases are entirely distinct from each other, historically, geographically, politically and in every other sense. The position of Gibraltar is governed by the constitutional provision to which I referred, by the existence of our title under the treaty of Utrecht and by the entire difference in attitude of the Spanish Government to the people of that country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that, as a result of the agreement that was put into force in February this year, there has already been a massive increase in the movements of people across the frontier. Almost 500,000 people have entered Gibraltar since 5 February. That represents a powerful foundation for growth of economic co-operation and prosperity in Gibraltar.

In the light of Spain's accession to the Community, will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to let the House know what progress is being made to organise a new extradition treaty with Spain?

That does not arise directly out of this question, but the position is that negotiations on the new extradition treaty, to which I know the House attaches importance, are far advanced. We hope to bring them to a conclusion before too long.

Have the Spanish Government made any proposals to the British Government about the issue of sovereignty and, if so, when might the British Government's response be made public?

As I think I told my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on 20 March, the Spanish Government have delivered proposals concerning the future status of Gibraltar. I have told the Spanish Foreign Minister that those proposals will be studied against the background of the undertaking to which I have referred. The details of the proposals must remain confidential at this stage, and it is too early yet to decide at what point that position will change.

European Community (Reform)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the progress to date in achieving reforms in the European Economic Community; and if he will make a statement.

Considerable progress has been made. The Council has agreed the arrangements for implementing the budgetary reforms negotiated at Fontainebleau. A start has been made on the reform of the common agricultural policy. The European Council has agreed that action should be taken to reduce the burden of regulation on business and has set a target date for the completion of the common market in goods and services. A number of practical proposals for improving the functioning of the Community institutions are now under discussion.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite all those wonderful pledges and assurances, the plain fact is that the Common Market is now spending over £20 million a day on dumping and destroying food surpluses, and is vastly overspending its agreed budget? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that the only way to secure reforms is to control the supply of money to the Common Market? Therefore, would it not be crazy for the Government to ask the House, at a time when we are cutting back on essential services at home, to give an extra 25 per cent. in real terms to the Common Market?

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's approach to the matter. Of course, it is important to maintain the pressure that we have successfully maintained for the establishment of effective budget disciipline in the Community. That is why we welcome the establishment of that discipline. It will also be important to bear that in mind when we introduce the own-resources decision. We have made it plain that we will not introduce that until all the components about which we have been concerned are in place.

How did the Foreign Secretary respond to the views put to him yesterday by the delegation from the European Parliament? Has his attention been drawn to early-day motion 630? If so, will he comment on it?

Yesterday I met the delegation from the Western European Union. I shall be meeting the European Parliament this afternoon and will be discussing the Spinelli report with it.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it is very important that rapid progress should be made towards a common market in goods and services. Will he tell us what progress is being made?

At the request of the Council at its last meeting, the Commission is drawing up a full programme, which will be published during the summer for the achievement of the internal market by a date that has been fixed in 1992. That is over and above the steps that have already been taken for the harmonisation of standards over a whole range of goods. Our objective is to take harmonisation much further and to complete the internal market by 1992.

Why have the Government just agreed to an extra £240 million contribution this year to the Community budget? When is Parliament likely to be consulted, if at all, about such an outrageous decision?

We have made it quite clear that, as happened last year, Parliament will be consulted. The agreement states clearly that our contribution is dependent upon the completion of our national parliamentary procedures. There is no question of asking Parliament to approve the agreement until our abatement has been guaranteed — that is, until the provision for our abatement has-been adopted. The amount agreed has been substantially reduced from the Commission's original request. As a direct result of the Fontainebleau mechanism, the net cost of the United Kingdom contribution will be less than our contribution to the intergovernmental agreement last year.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend resist the temptation to do a European deal on the European Parliament's draft treaty of union and trade away what it suggests with anything else? Will he also look closely at the terms of reference of the suggested conference that is to deal with that treaty. It is to discuss only the treaty. Any other solutions to European Community problems will be unable to be considered.

The Community will consider these matters in the light of the recommendations of the Dooge committee, which will be considered again at the Council meeting to be held in Milan in June. No decision has yet been taken as to whether a conference would be appropriate. Our view is that we are most likely to achieve decisions by taking them at Council. level. However, we shall discuss whether a conference is necessary.

How can the Foreign Secretary say that budgetary control has been achieved when yesterday's agreement on the £240 million was the third such agreement on similar amounts to have been reached within the last 12 months, either by loans or by advances which can be reimbursed? How can he say that there has been a reform of the budget when more money is to be spent upon the open-ended commitment to agriculture and less upon regional and social policies which would help Britain? As he knows, I received a reply a few days ago from his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in which I was told that of the 50 poorest regions in Europe, 21 of them are in the United Kingdom. Should he not be fighting for money for those areas?

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that powerful arrangements have been set in place which come into force upon the adoption of the own-resources decision for the achievement of budgetary discipline within the Community. Throughout the consideration given both to last year's budget and to this year's, including yesterday's consideration, all those measures have been taken closely into account.

Central America

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his American counterpart concerning United States involvement in Central America.

I discussed the problems of Central America most recently with the American Secretary of State Mr. Shultz on 21 February.

As the United States Congress has made clear its desire not to pursue a military solution to the situation in Nicaragua, will the Foreign Secretary and his EEC colleagues urge President Reagan to abandon support for the Contras, to sign the protocol to the Contadora treaty and seek genuinely to help the Contadora countries in finding a peaceful solution to the problems of Central America?

The hon. Gentleman rightly reminds the House of the sustained commitment of European Community countries to the Contadora process. The United States has repeatedly stated that it wishes to see political reform in Central America through peaceful means, and we support that objective. The United States reiterated its support for the Contadora process at the recent session of the General Assembly.

Were not the recent highly successful elections in San Salvador a further endorsement of the American policy of encouraging democracy and moderate politicians in Central America?

I entirely agree. The recent elections in El Salvador were a clear demonstration of the consolidation of democracy in that country. The Salvadorean Government will continue to have our support in their efforts to place that democratic process on a stable foundation.

Does not the continuing desire of the United States President to interfere in Central America tend to undermine the stability of all electoral processes in the area, so that countries, such as Costa Rica, which have continually presented a democratic front will eventually be undermined unless a united effort is made to counteract the efforts of the Contras to be based in all parts of Central America?

It is worth remembering that we share with the United States Administration the common objective of a settlement in Central America on the basis of the Contadora principles. As I have said more than once in the House, there is a need for restraint on all sides in the present situation, and not least a need for Nicaragua to end the substantial build-up of arms, troops and military advisers and to stop supporting attempts to destabilise neighbouring Governments.

As both the Pope and the President of Colombia have stated that President Reagan has misrepresented their views on Nicaragua, and as President Reagan has been compelled to drop his proposals for military aid to the Contras and had his revised proposals rejected by the House of Representatives and passed by only a small majority in the Senate, will the British Government now support the forces of common sense in that area and drop their poodle-like devotion to a policy which the American President himself has already abandoned?

I have not heard myself expressing poodle-like devotion to any policy, today or on any other occasion. I have made it plain that we support the common objective of a peaceful settlement in Central America on the basis of the Contadora principles, and we shall continue to support steps directed to that end.

Mutual And Balanced Force Reductions

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he is considering for an initiative in the Vienna talks on mutual and balanced force reductions.

With our NATO allies, we are currently studying carefully the Eastern proposal of 14 February, which repackages elements of the East's 1983 proposals. This followed the negative response of the East to the Western initiative of April 1984, which offered a real opportunity to resolve the long-standing dispute over the size of Eastern forces.

Is it not deplorable that the talks have gone on for 12 years without any real achievement? Does not the accession of Mr. Gorbachev provide an opportunity to accept the Russian offer to withdraw 20,000 troops from Europe if America will withdraw 13,000?

I agree that it is very sad that no progress has been made in 12 years in these very important talks. Our objective is to work for a reduction in conventional forces on both sides on a mutually balanced basis, but we cannot yet reach agreement about the size of the forces on each side. It is our firm belief that the Eastern side underestimates the size of its forces by more than 200,000 men. Until we can reach agreement on data and the actual numbers on each side, it is very difficult to make progress, let alone to solve the problem of verification?

Does my hon. Friend agree that in all arms control negotiations sweeping declarations of intent are of little value unless they are accompanied by offers on verification and inspection?

I agree entirely that the true test of progress is not great declarations but agreement on the nuts and bolts, which in this case includes verification. We have not yet been able to persuade the other side to make good progress on that aspect. Until that is achieved, it is not possible to reach an agreement which has the trust of both sides.

Have not the Government reacted disgracefully, as has President Reagan, to the statement by Mr. Gorbachev, just after his election to the leadership of the Soviet party and Government, that the Soviet Union was prepared to suggest that there should be a freeze on nuclear weapons? Without any question, or even study of the matter, the Prime Minister and President Reagan have immediately rushed in and said that it is not practicable. How can there be any serious discussion of force reductions if our Government and the Americans take that stupid attitude?

I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The true test whether both sides have good intent and are sincere in their desire to make progress in arms negotiations is whether they make progress in the confidential surroundings of Geneva, not what they say in public declarations and public sparring. That is the only way in which to make progress. In this case, as far as 1NF is concerned, a freeze would ossify an imbalance of six to one in favour of the Soviet Union and remove the incentive to make progress on overall arms levels, which is what we want.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a fully participating country, Britain has leverage at the talks? Will my hon. Friend use that opportunity to impress on the Soviet Union the fact that there is no conceivable defensive reason for its overwhelming conventional superiority in Europe? Will he also impress upon the Soviet Union that a breakthrough at the talks would not only ease tension in Europe but, in turn, help towards progress at the Geneva talks on arms reduction?

That is an important point. We have a number of opportunities to talk to the Soviet leaders. We shall continue to use those opportunities to put across such points. If the Soviet Union genuinely wishes to make progress towards mutually balanced conventional forces, we must reach a proper agreement on data.

Does the Minister agree that what is required for a genuine arms control agreement is a bit of imagination and some political will, which seem to have been singularly absent from the MBFR talks over the past 12 years? With a new Soviet leadership and new offers on the table implying a reduction of more than 50 per cent. in Soviet troops than American troops in the European theatre, should not all forces in the West grasp the opportunity to try to break the logjam that threatens us all?

Sadly, the talks have indeed lasted for 12 years. No progress was made even during the long period of the Labour Government. There is no lack of will on our part. We are trying very hard. What we are aiming for is a balance of forces on both sides and a reduction to 900,000. I believe that that was the objective of the Labour Government. That objective makes sense, but we need a response from the other side on questions of data and verification.

Poland

15.

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

I visited Poland from 11 to 13 April. I had a full official programme, and met a wide cross-section of Polish society.

My official talks covered various aspects of East-West and bilateral relations.

I was powerfully reminded during this visit of the interests and traditions which the British and Polish peoples have in common. I made plain in all my contacts the importance that we still attach to those freedoms for which we fought together with the Poles during the second world war.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his visit to eastern Europe. Can he tell us whether he met representatives of Solidarity, and, if so, what the outcome of discussions with them was?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remark. I had contacts with some members of Solidarity, in order to hear their views about the situation in Poland. I regretted the fact that that led to a boycott of the reception at which I met the Solidarity members. It was helpful to me to learn their views.

How would the Foreign Secretary like it if the Foreign Minister of a Warsaw pact country on an official visit to the United Kingdom comported himself as the right hon. and learned Gentleman did in Poland? Will the Foreign Secretary always bear in mind the wisdom of the adage, "Do as you would be done by."?

I bear that very much in mind. The pattern is that in most countries one is able to see a wide range of people, members of the Opposition and of other parties and to visit almost any part of the country. I have not seen any inhibitions put on the programme of many visitors to this country, including Mr. Gorbachev. He was free to range in many parts of London. He did not take the opportunity to visit the cemetery that he had in mind, but he took the opportunity to go to Downing street. No comparable inhibitions were put on his programme.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is relevant to the question asked by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that Poland is a signatory to the 1975 Helsinki agreement—as is every other country in Europe — under which countries undertake to have respect for human rights? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that that agreement also says that the observance of human rights is an important factor in the preservation of peace? When my right hon. and learned Friend visits eastern European countries and the Soviet Union, will he continue to make that point, especially in the Soviet Union, which purports to be a great peace-loving nation?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In all my visits I drew specific and firm attention to the importance of the Helsinki agreement, exactly as he described, and I shall continue to do so.

Did the Foreign Secretary feel that sufficient progress, or intention to make progress, existed in regard to human rights to enable there to be any strengthening of the bilateral economic relations between Britain and Poland?

I made it plain to my Polish hosts that their stance on and progress with human rights was bound to be a factor which would affect the rest of our relations. I also discussed economic relations. There are economic factors at work as well. We hope that they will shortly sign an agreement to reschedule their 1982 to 1984 debt. We shall continue to play a constructive role in those negotiations, but the matters cannot be separated from each other.

We warmly welcome the effective concern for human rights shown by the Foreign Secretary by his visit to the cemetery and his meeting with members of Solidarity. May we now express the hope that the same verve, imagination and force will be shown by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in respect of other parts of the world, such as Central America, Southern Africa and Indonesia, which the Prime Minister visited at the same time?

We apply the same energy to our visits in all parts of the world, Indonesia included. Questions about which the House is anxious were raised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as well as by me.

Middle East Wars (Casualties)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has about the number of fatal and non-fatal casualties since the beginning of 1984 in the Iran-Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Since the beginning of 1984 there has been much tragic loss of life resulting from the Iran-Iraq conflict, the Arab-Israeli dispute, Lebanese intercommunal violence and the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. No authoritative casualty figures are available to us. With our partners in the European Community, we have consistently called for an end to the violence, and we stand ready to support all constructive moves towards negotiated solutions of the problems of the region.

Does the Minister agree that, in view of reports from all types of media, of the three areas of conflict in the middle east, the most dangerous is the Iran-Iraq war, followed by the internal strife in Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict?

I do not think that it makes a great deal of sense to apportion an order of priority. In terms of casualties, the Iran-Iraq conflict is having devastating consequences for both sides. Our priority is to work as hard as we can with other parties, principally through the United Nations and the work of the Secretary-General, for a diplomatic solution. The hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the gravity of the other problems.

As the casualties, human suffering and threat to world peace will continue in all of those areas until progress towards a settlement is reached, will my hon. Friend comment on progress towards a peace settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute? Does he think that the recent visit of Mr. Murphy has advanced the possibility of a major American initiative in the near future?

As my hon. Friend knows, we very much welcome the agreement of 11 February between King Hussein and Mr. Arafat, which we felt was a basis on which progress could be made. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had two important discussions with President Reagan. We have kept in very close touch with the United States, and we welcome the President's statement that there will now be renewed efforts on his part to see whether progress can be made on this problem. To that end, we are very glad that Mr. Murphy is undertaking his tour of the middle east.

Unless I misheard the hon. Gentleman, am I right in thinking that he made reference to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, but failed to make reference to the thousands of casualties caused by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

No. I have already mentioned south Lebanon, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government strongly condemned the Israeli invasion. We are extremely critical of the iron fist policies of Israel at the present time. However, we welcome the fact that the Israeli Government have decided, in phases two and three, to withdraw within their own international borders, and we hope that they will do so as soon as possible.

What further steps can my hon. Friend take to represent the revulsion felt by many people in this country at the contemptible and grotesque behaviour of the Israeli forces in Lebanon?

I have already said — and said in the House in recent weeks—that we certainly condemn the iron fist policies, as they are called, of the Israeli Government. This cycle of violence, retaliation followed by counter-retaliation, serves no one's interests, least of all those of the people of the Lebanon. What conceivable interests of Israel can this serve? We look forward to the early and orderly withdrawal of the Israelis.

Has not one of the casualties of the Arab-Israeli conflict been the fate of the 4,000 Jewish community in Syria? Will the Minister make representations to the Syrian Government on their behalf?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Syrian Government are well aware of this Government 's views on aspects of human rights in Syria, and they will continue to be made so aware.

Pakistan

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's current relations with Pakistan.

Following the statement on Poland a short time ago, is it not obscene that the British Government have a close relationship with the Zia regime, which not only murders and tortures political opponents and trade unionists, but turns a blind eye to the exports of heroin to this country?

I find it quite extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman, who has twice visited Afghanistan at the invitation of the Karmal regime, should speak in such terms about Pakistan, where there are now 3 million refugees who have fled from Afghanistan and who are being looked after as well as they possibly can be by the Pakistan Government. We regularly make known to the Pakistan Government our views and concern about violations of human rights. I visited the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control Centre in Peshawar in January, and I have spoken to Pakistani and United Nations officials there about their attempts to substitute the crops from which opium and then heroin come. I remind the hon. Gentleman that elections have now been held in Pakistan—admittedly under martial law, admittedly on a non-party basis—and that six Ministers lost their seats in those elections. That, for the Opposition, should be quite a good test of progress towards democracy.

My hon. Friend has already referred to the results of the elections in Pakistan. Will he encourage the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) to encourage his hon. Friends to follow President Zia's example in Afghanistan, and in particular will he tell the House how important it is for the stability of Pakistan to continue in order that the oppression of the Afghan people by the Soviets may be resisted by the will of the people themselves in refugee Pakistan?

I very much endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. It would be very good indeed if the Karmal regime in Kabul would look across the mountains south into Pakistan and take some of the tentative steps towards the restoration of democracy which are now being undertaken by President Zia.

What further representations has the Minister made to Pakistan about opium production and export from Pakistan following the revelations in The Sunday Times a few weeks ago, which appear to be well documented?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. It is only fair to say, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept, that the responsible officials in those parts of the Pakistan Administration have, I understand, written to The Sunday Times rebutting many of the details in those articles. The growth of poppies in Pakistan is properly a matter of concern to both sides of this House, and we should all use our efforts to ensure that the crop substitution programme is successful. In fact, the Pakistanis are taking a good lead in trying to achieve that end.

Czechoslovakia

21.

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

I visited Czechoslovakia from 10 to 11 April. During the visit I met the President and Prime Minister and had talks with the Foreign Minister. I also called on Cardinal Tomasek, and met a wide cross-section of Czechoslovak society. The main theme of the official talks was East-West relations. I underlined the West's sincere wish to reduce levels of weapons through genuinely balanced and verifiable agreements. I stressed our concern for human rights throughout Europe. I also discussed bilateral relations, including trade

I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about his visit. Does he agree that one of the best ways of increasing our beneficial influence in the countries of eastern Europe and improving our relations with them is by extending our contacts through the expansion of trade? Will he comment further on the prospects for increasing trade between the United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia?

I agree with my hon. Friend that trade can play a significant part in improving contacts in other ways. It was for that reason that I discussed the levels of bilateral trade with Czechoslovak Ministers. We agreed that there was scope for a large increase in trade. I have already passed details of my talks to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who will be visiting Czechoslovakia in May

In his talks on human rights with the Czechoslovak regime, did the right hon. and learned Gentleman enlist their aid in his efforts to apply pressure on the Soviet Union to release more Soviet Jews to Israel?

I did not seek to enlist the aid of the Governments in eastern Europe on that very important issue, which we continue to press with the Soviet Union

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his successful tour to Czechoslovakia. Will he expand on his discussions with Cardinal Tomasek? Did he have any other meetings with leaders of the very oppressed Church?

I met other representatives of the Church briefly and informally, but with Cardinal Tomasek I was able to have quite a full discussion of the problems of the Church, to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention—for example, the appointment of bishops, the admission of candidates for religious qualification and freedom of assembly. He regarded the meeting as important. I raised some of the matters with the President of the Czechoslovak Government

If, as I believe, it was right to speak of human rights in Czechoslovakia, is not it equally right to speak of human rights in other countries which the right hon. and learned Gentleman visits—for example, Latin America and Pakistan? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many people in Britain, certainly in the Labour movement, remain deeply concerned about the way in which a number of people in Czechoslovakia—certainly those associated with the regime in 1968— continue to be persecuted and harassed by the Czech authorities? The Czech Government should recognise the deep feeling which exists in Britain over this matter.

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the fact that concern in this country about respect for human rights in Czechoslovakia is widespread. It was on that basis that I raised the questions that I did. I agree that it is important to be ready to do so, as appropriate, in the many cases where that is necessary.

Central America

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent progress has been made towards stability in Central America by the Contadora countries; and what support has been given by the EEC in this respect.

We are encouraged by the resumption of Contadora talks on 11 and 12 April in Panama. We and our European Community partners continue to give firm and consistent support to the efforts of the Contadora group. We gave practical expression to this support at the meeting of European and regional Foreign Ministers at San Jose in September, attended by my right hon. and learned Friend. It has been agreed that a further ministerial meeting will be held in due course.

Earlier, the Foreign Secretary objected to being described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as an American poodle. Yet is he not just like the dog that did not bark, in that we heard him say earlier today that the American Government were seeking peaceful solutions in Central America when clearly, far from that, they are seeking a warlike solution in Nicaragua? Is it not time that the British Government placed it clearly on the record that we condemn American adventurism in that region?

The hon. Member is totally misguided in his supplementary question. The American Government have stated time and again that they are seeking a solution by peaceful means to the problems of Central America. Indeed, no country would benefit more from a solution by peaceful means in Central America than the United States. After all, the problem is very much at its back door.

I remind the hon. Member, in regard to the earlier part of his question, that our approach in that region is very much one of partnership with our European Community partners. We have together sought a joint approach. That was the attitude at San Jose last year. The same message lies behind the approach of offering European Community aid to the region.

Does not yesterday's decision by the House of Representatives encourage the Government to think again about their whole aid approach to the Contadora countries? Is it not despicable that Nicaragua's aid should be held back, that in Costa Rica aid is 40 times more and in Honduras 100 times more? Surely that is totally unacceptable

I do not think that it is for us at this stage to comment on or get involved in the process of voting that is still going on in Congress. The Senate voted in favour of the $14 million requested by President Reagan; the House of Representatives voted against. As I understand it, there are to be further votes, and the whole matter is still up for debate in Congress.

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether Cuba interferes in Central America?

Yes. Of course, the answer is that Cuba does interfere in Central America. That is one of the things that greatly worries the United States and should worry us as well

Does the Minister agree that President Reagan's policy on Central America, thank God, is collapsing in all directions, that the Contadora countries have rejected his attempt to give military aid to the Contras and that Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama are all now attempting to achieve a non-military solution to the problem? Does he further agree that the British Government should identify themselves with all those forces inside the American Congress and in the Contadora countries which reject the President's approach to the problem? Finally, does he agree that the British Government should stop licking the President's boots, because there is no reason to do so?

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed by the metaphor about licking boots. I assure him that no one on this side of the House is licking boots. As he will know, by happenstance he and I were in Washington at the same time earlier this week. Doubtless we read the same editions of the Washington Post, and went to see Members of Congress on the same day, although perhaps different members. He will know, too, that opinion in Washington is very divided, just as it is, for example, in some of the Latin American countries. After all, the President of Colombia has expressed two different opinions about the American offer. I think it only right that we should allow time for the Americans to reach their decision as to how they spend their money in this very important area.

How can the hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Government, say in all honesty that the United States wants a peaceful solution when in recent days President Reagan has said on television—I am sure that many hon. Members saw the programme—that the Contras were like the French Resistance? First, there can be no such parallel, and, secondly, that can hardly be described as any idea of a peaceful solution

The hon. Gentleman appears totally to forget the effect of the presence of Cuba in countries such as Nicaragua and the fact that there have been Marxist-Leninist infiltrations into Central America and a spread of arms and violence in Nicaragua. That is what the United States is worried about, just as the hon. Gentleman would be if this country were in the same geographical position to Central America as the United States. That is why this issue gives the Americans such deep concern, although, of course, they want to achieve a solution by peaceful means