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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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

Strategic Defence Initiative

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has made any further representations to the United States of America about the strategic defence initiative.

We remain in extremely close touch with the United States and our other allies about the strategic defence initiative research programme. We have made clear our support for United States research, which is necessary to balance Soviet efforts in this area.

Will the Foreign Secretary take the next opportunity available to him to impress on the Americans that he has some sympathy with Mr. Gorbachev's recently expressed view that the star wars programme increases the risk of nuclear war and sharply reduces the chances of reaching any accord on disarmament issues?

I shall not take the opportunity to put the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. I shall emphasise that the purpose of the United States in this respect is to achieve not superiority but balance, and in doing so to take account of the substantial Soviet programme for research of this kind. The Soviet Union has extensive ballistic missile defence programmes, has deployed the only anti-satellite system, has the only active anti-ballistic missile system in the world and has been undertaking research of this kind for a long time. For that reason we understand the United States' research programme.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that since the beginning of time man has looked for ways of preventing weapons systems being delivered, that it is normal to research this programme, that there is nothing unusual about it, and that it is simply a continuation of what has gone on since wars began?

I agree with the general analysis offered by my hon. Friend. Against that background I stress the points that I made about the scale and nature of Soviet research into such matters. It is equally important to bear in mind that all aspects of arms deployment need to be considered in the context of the search for an arms control agreement that can be sustained.

Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the development of these weapons is destabilising, as seen from the Soviet perspective, especially in the so-called transitional phase? Is there not a genuine danger that pressing ahead with the SDI could lead to the failure of the Geneva talks?

I cannot emphasise too strongly and too often the fundamental fact, with which I answered the first supplementary question, that research into defensive space systems of this kind has been undertaken for many years on a large scale by the Soviet Union. For that reason we support the research being undertaken by the United States. We also welcome the attempts by the United States to discuss these matters with the Soviet Union, and its clear statement that any SDI-related deployment must be a matter for negotiations. That is the right way to approach these matters.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the research programme holds out the prospect of a non-nuclear antidote being found against the firing of a nuclear weapon? If that prospect is realised, surely it will be to the eternal benefit of all mankind?

It has been made clear that the research programme is bound to take many years be fore one can reach any conclusions about what it is likely to produce. Obviously, one factor to be taken into account is that it may offer prospects of enhanced defence. It is important to bear in mind that the United States' research is consistent with treaty obligations. We regard the treaty obligations as an important element in preserving peace and stability. In that framework, the whole matter should be considered.

In view of the Secretary of State's reply to an earlier question, what representations has he made to the American Administration about the repeated statement of the American Defence Secretary to the effect that the United States will not negotiate the deployment. of the space defence system if it proves feasible? Is that not a clear breach of the understanding reached between the Prime Minister and President Reagan in December?

As to the research programme, since the Americans have made it clear that they are monitoring Soviet research and have published a list of experiments which they plan to carry out in this area, would it not be sensible to kill the thing at birth by seeking a ban by both sides on all space defence-related experiments, which could be verified, and already have been?

The right hon. Gentleman must refrain from over-simplifying the matter. Although some research has been identified as taking place, including the nature of the deployment undertaken by the Soviet L nion, both sides believe that a system for the monitoring of research would, in practice, be unattainable. The important feature to notice is that the United States has repeated many times that any SDI-related deployment must be a matter for negotiation. The Americans emphasised that not just in the Camp David points, but during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington in February and on several ether occasions.

Honduras

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to seek to visit Honduras.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend has at present no plans to do so.

Will the Minister welcome the reported pact in Honduras whereby the head of the Supreme Court will be released from gaol and the President will not be allowed to interfere in the forthcoming elections? Will he communicate his support to those in Honduras who wish to disarm the Contras, maintain their national security by not allowing the United States to use their country as a centre of counter-insurgency against Nicaragua, and wish to establish normal, peaceful relations with the Government of Nicaragua? Will he support them, or will he follow President Reagan obediently?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there were conflicting reports last week about border incidents between Honduras and Nicaragua. The best way to promote peace in the area is to follow the aims of the Contadora group, which we firmly support. As the hon. Gentleman will also know, a settlement between trade unionists and the constitutional groups in Honduras was announced yesterday. President Suazo has gone to Washington for discussions with President Reagan.

Is it not true that the border between Nicaragua and Honduras is now a serious flashpoint? No matter what we say about supporting the Contadora group, the reality is that the United States is losing its head and trying to push troops so near to the border that the Nicaraguans may do something in self-defence and we may have the beginning of another Vietnam. Could we not use our immense influence to cool the President's ardour in this direction and try to get a peaceful settlement?

If the hon. Gentleman reads carefully the reports of yesterday's meeting between President Suazo and President Reagan, he will see that there was a balanced approach on both sides to the problems that he described. The hon. Gentleman and I would agree that the best means of settling the matter is through the Contadora group's attempts to achieve peace throughout the area.

India

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the current state of relations with India.

We attach great importance to maintaining the very close relations we enjoy with India. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited India in April, and we hope to welcome Mr. Gandhi here soon.

Does the Foreign Secretary realise that the problems with the Westland helicopters are symptomatic of the worst relations between the United Kingdom and India for many years? If we are to retain the good will of Prime Minister Gandhi and most of his Government, should we not make a generous gesture in the form of aid, together with a review of our law, which manifestly failed to deal with the supporters of terrorism after the tragic assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi?

The hon. and learned Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters. I ask him not to conclude that the Westland helicopter matter had an effect, or flows from an effect, on bilateral relations. Mr. Gandhi expressed some technical reservations about those helicopters, and further information on them was supplied to the Indian Government. We have not yet received a formal response.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to the behaviour of a small and unrepresentative group of Sikh extremists in Britain. We utterly condemn their behaviour, which did much undeserved harm to the reputation of their community, the great majority of whom are law-abiding. It should be understood that those who break the law will, like any other citizens, suffer the consequences.

Should we not be thanking our Prime Minister, who, in spite of a tiring and exerting visit to the far east, still found time to visit Mr. Gandhi? It is her usual practice. When touring abroad, she likes to call in on Delhi to keep up our very good relationships. Is it not a fact that the Indian nation is now interested in purchasing many other types of British goods?

I gladly endorse the tribute paid by my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He is right to draw our attention to our exports to India, which last year totalled no less than £780 million. I should like to remind the House that Mr. Gandhi is expected to visit the United Kingdom this year. He has accepted an invitation in principle, and I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed by the British people.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many British citizens belonging to the Sikh religion, who are law-abiding, are desperately concerned at the continued violence against Sikhs in India, and are anxious that that should not spill over into this country? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make representations to the representatives of the Indian Government, to express our concern at the continued problems being faced by members of the Sikh community in India?

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman on that matter. It is right to acknowledge that the Indian Prime Minister has made several statesmanlike moves in relation to the problems in India. He has released the Akali Dal leadership, legalised the All-India Sikh Students Federation, and organised a judicial inquiry into the riots after Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. Those moves deserve to be acknowledged.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that he is not entirely happy with the state of affairs in India? Apart from the helicopter deal that fell through, the Indian Prime Minister is at present on his first official visit abroad to Russia, where he is now, and will be for the next week, and his next official visit abroad is to Washington, where he will be for another week. As India is the biggest democracy in the free world, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he is a little concerned about the situation? We want to get the Indian Prime Minister into Britain as soon as we can.

Of course, I am anxious to ensure that the close relations to which I referred in my original answer are maintained and strengthened, but it is worth reminding the House that both the Prime Minister and myself met the Indian Prime Minister in Moscow. As has been said, the Prime Minister herself visited New Delhi not many weeks ago. So, too, have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. Several other ministerial visits to India are planned in the fairly near future. As I have said, Mr. Gandhi has accepted an invitiation in principle to vist the United Kingdom this year. What my hon. Friend says underlines the point that he will be warmly welcomed by the British people when he comes.

South Africa (Detentions)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he is making to the South African authorities over the detention order under section 29 of the Internal Security Act of officials of the United Democratic Front.

We have consistently condemned the practice of detention without trial and have made our position clear to the South African authorities on many occasions. We have expressed our concern about the recent detention of the United Democratic Front officials to the South African Government.

Does the Minister agree that it is ludicrous for the South African ambassador to seek to argue that the judiciary for this issue in that country is acting independently of the wishes of the Government?

The South African judiciary has, on several occasions, acquitted people who have been charged with treason or other politically related offences. Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that the South African judiciary does not have considerable indepen-dence. We hope that anyone who is brought before the South African courts will be considered by the South African judiciary on the basis of the evidence that is presented.

Is the Minister aware of the renewed concern in this country and elsewhere at the number of people held in detention in South Africa and the deaths of some of them in very suspicious circumstances? How long will it be before the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary speak out in forthright terms against the racial tyranny in South Africa and make people there recognise that this country is no ally of that regime and that the community in this country condemns the practices which take place in South Africa?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary have both made clear their abhorrence of the apartheid system on many occasions, I see no need for any change of policy of the kind suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the judiciary in South Africa has to operate, as all judiciaries should, within the law of the land and that that is exactly what is happening?

My hon. Friend is correct, but at the same time we must make clear our own view that a system of detention without trial precludes those so detained from appearing in court and establishing whether they are rightly in custody.

Is this not yet another example of the South African Government's legal tyranny persecuting leaders of black opinion who are committed to non-violence? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that underlines the failure of the so-called constructive engagement and how little has really changed in that appalling country? Will the Government now start to isolate South Africa economically before we have to do so, following lamely after the Americans?

There have been a number of important reforms in South Africa which we have welcomed and which have been rightly welcomed by the international community, including the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) when he wound up the last foreign affairs debate for the Opposition. Nevertheless, if the South African Government are serious about wanting a policy of dialogue with genuine representatives of black opinion in that country, it is difficult to understand why they continue to charge and to detain without trial leading members of the United Democratic Front. I entirely reject the suggestion that a policy of economic sanctions would make any helpful contribution to achieving the objectives that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Hong Kong (Refugees)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many refugees are currently being held in the closed camps in Hong Kong; how many were moved out of the camps in the last month for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

At 9 May there were 5,646 Vietnamese refugees in closed centres in Hong Kong. During April 277 refugees were resettled from Hong Kong, of whom 142 were from closed centres and 135 from open centres.

The closed camps are a matter of great concern to the British Government and to the Government of Hong Kong and neither Government wish to maintain them longer than is absolutely necessary. We are urgently considering the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration and will give our response to the House as soon as possible.

Does the Minister agree that those figures show that the population of the camps has remained substantially the same for six consecutive years and that at the present level of take-up the camps will still exist in 10 years' time? Is he aware that many of us regard conditions in those camps as a disgrace for which he and the Government are responsible? Will he explain why in 1984 Britain took fewer refugees than any other participating nation—one twentieth of the number taken by the United States, one twelfth of the number taken by Australia and a quarter of the number taken by Canada? Does he agree that that is utterly inadequate?

To describe conditions in the closed camps or, indeed, the camps generally as a disgrace is absolutely unwarranted and unfair. Mr. Hartling, who has recently in Hong Kong, stated publicly that in his view the Hong Kong Government were treating the refugees well. That should be stated clearly in this House, too. Of course we do not wish closed camps to be retained any longer than necessary, but the House should note that in the past 10 years Hong Kong has taken no fewer than 100,000 refugees in transit. Hong Kong has absorbed 14,000 refugees and Britain has taken nearly 20,000. That, too, should be acknowledged. We are doing our utmost to ease the problem and we shall be responding to the Sub-Committee shortly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Hong Kong Government have acted most commendably in their acceptance of refugees from Vietnam? Will he confirm that the only reason for having closed camps is the fear that their abolition would lead to an even greater influx of Vietnamese refugees? In responding to the Sub-Committee, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that if this country accepted a small number of Vietnamese refugees other countries could probably be persuaded to take many more?

I note my right hon. Friend's last point, and we are considering urgently our reply to the Select Committee. The Hong Kong Government should be praised for looking after the refugees for over 10 years. It is very important to note that since the introduction of the closed camps in Hong Kong in July 1982 there has been a substantial decline, compared with the rest of the region, in the rate of arrivals of Vietnamese refugees.

Does the Minister of State agree that it is somewhat indulgent for those involved to congratulate themselves upon the 1997 agreement when this great humanitarian problem, which is a challenge both to this country and to other civilised nations, remains unresolved?

I must tell the hon. Gentleman, if he did not hear me say it in a recent Adjournment debate, that we are treating this matter with the utmost urgency. We wish this problem to be resolved and the closed camps to be ended as soon as possible, but this has to be balanced against the very real problems with which the Hong Kong Government have to grapple in terms of numbers of arrivals.

Will my hon. Friend accept that the free world as a whole has an obligation both to the Hong Kong Government, which is carrying the burden in the way that he described, and to the refugees—not only to those in the closed camps but to some of those who are in what are described as transit centres where they have been living for several years? Is there not a very real obligation upon us to try to help, and is it not true that other nations are looking to Britain to take a lead in order to solve this international problem?

I acknowledge my hon. Friend's point, and I commented on these matters in my evidence to the Select Committee. But the House should not lose sight of the cause of this problem. Because of the gross abuse of human rights in Vietnam there have been more than I million refugees from there during the last 10 years. If only Vietnam would start to respect human rights, we might not have this problem.

Is the Minister of State aware that the Hong Kong Government deserve great credit for their humanitarian attitude towards the very large numbers of Vietnamese refugees with whom they have had to deal, but that it is intolerable that thousands of people who are partly our responsibility should still be incarcerated in what are effectively prison camps? Since very few of the refugeess who are now in those camps will be relocated unless the British Government take a lead, urgent action should be taken by the Government that will encourage other Governments to follow our lead. The Government have been warned during the past 18 months — long before the Select Committee took evidence—about this problem.

We have been generous to the Vietnamese. During the last five or six years nearly 20,000 Vietnamese refugees, which is a quite substantial number, have been taken into this country. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that this country, in addition to Hong Kong, has a responsibility towards these people, and we are treating it as a matter of urgency.

Lebanon (Christian Community)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what contact he has had with the Syrian and Lebanese Governments concernin the plight of the Christian community in the Lebanon.

We deplore the continuing violence in different areas of Lebanon. Her Majesty's embassies have been in touch with leaders of the Lebanese communities and the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli Governments to express our concern about the recent fighting in the Sidon-Jezzine area between Moslem and Christian groups.

Will the Minister of State confirm that it is the Syrian-backed Druze, Shi'ite and Palestinian militias who have been responsible for the attacks upon Christian communities in the Lebanon? What is being done to aid the 50,000 Christian refugees?

It is a matter of the greatest urgency that the various communities in the Lebanon—both Christians and Moslems of all confessions—should find a way to live with each other again, otherwise, there will be continuing casualties and abuses of human rights.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Christian community in the Lebanon is, sadly, as responsible as any other for the situation in the Lebanon today? Does he further agree that if the Lebanese factions do not think very soon about the Lebanon they will have no country to think about?

I do not think that it would be proper for me to apportion blame between communities for the present condition in the Lebanon, save to say that it is extremely serious and that if the Lebanon is to survive, which is in both the national interest and the interests of this country, it is essential for those communities to reconcile their differences.

Papua New Guinea

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his talks with the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea on 24 to 25 April.

On 24 April I held talks with the Foreign Minister on Papua New Guinea. Mr. Giheno and I were also present at the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. The subjects covered included matters of concern in the south Pacific and East-West relations.

Apart from the pleasure given to this country by the visit of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, did my right hon. and learned Friend have the opportunity to consider the remarkable economic development of that country, much of it with British participation, both private and official, and does he envisage further opportunities for participation in that laudable objective?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the success of economic development in Papua New Guinea and its importance, because total British investment now approaches £250 million. We are also backing, through the Export Credits Guarantee Department, the finance for the first stage of a new project at OK Tedi Mining Ltd. and have also made a renewed offer of aid and trade provision funds to cover a feasibility study for the further development of Jackson airport. All those represent opportunities for Papua New Guinea and for ourselves, of which both sides are taking advantage.

During these discussions, did the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea express his concern about Indonesia's external policies—those that involve East Timor that might have consequences for Papua New Guinea?

There was no specific discussion about that. We welcome the steps taken by Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian Government to resolve their border problems.

Middle East

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a middle east peace settlement.

We and our European partners have welcomed recent moves in the search for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is up to the parties concerned to take the lead in working for a just and lasting solution. For our part, we are in regular contact with the United States Administration and with King Hussein, and look forward to discussing the next steps during the visit to Britain of the Israeli Foreign Minister.

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Shultz have recently visited the middle east. Does my hon. Friend feel that the visits have brought a relaunching of the Reagan initiative any nearer? In the context of progress towards peace, will he comment on the reported testing of Israeli nuclear weapons?

We welcome the fact that Mr. Shultz has recently undertaken a tour of the area and that Mr. Murphy is keeping up a regular contact with the middle eastern countries. As my hon. Friend knows, we believe that the agreement between the Jordanians and the Palestinians of 11 February is a basis for making progress. We are keeping in close touch with the parties. My right hon. and learned Friend and I will be seeing King Hussein tomorrow morning, and he will be coming through this country again following his visit to the United States.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the courageous initiative of King Hussein has made the prospect of peace on the west bank and between Jordan and Israel very much closer? Will he give an undertaking to use his best endeavours not only on behalf of the United Kingdom Government but within the Council of Ministers meeting in political co-operation to bring a European element into this discussion, which is vital?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who has recently undertaken a tour of the middle east and met many leaders. King Hussein is showing great courage in his efforts to try to make progress on this intractable problem—one on which there is an urgent need to make progress. That is why it is important for us, as we wish to give King Hussein every encouragement and support, to keep in the closest touch and to see him this week.

On the European Community, the Prime Minister recently issued a strong statement in support of the Jordanian-Palestinian proposals of 11 February.

Would it not, perhaps, be advantageous if the Government had less frequent contact with the United States Government, as it is quite clear that that Government are not prepared to put pressure on Israel—which has been the aggressor and which is not prepared to enter meaningful talks towards a resolution of these problems?

I do not agree with that. I think that it is important that we should keep in regular touch. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had two discussions with President Reagan recently and my tight hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has regular discussions with Mr. Shultz. The Americans have an extremely important role to play in the middle east if there is to be progress, and I think it is right that we should keep in close touch with them.

In the light of the deplorable events in the Lebanon to which we referred earlier, are not the Government of Israel entirely right in being concerned about the security and safety of Israel's northern border. and will my hon. Friend reaffirm the commitment of the Government that that must be an integral part of any eventual peace settlement?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that in the withdrawal of the Israeli forces which is taking pace now, and which we welcome, it is very important that there should be security arrangements between Israel and the Lebanon. That is why I think it is regrettable that the two Governments are not at the moment prepared to talk about these arrangements.

Will the Minister commend the increasing signs of realism in Israel in respect of the need to involve the PLO in discussions, even within the columns of the Jerusalem Post, and urge on the Israeli Government the need to deal with the PLO before the PLO is undermined by the failure to achieve progress in the middle east?

We shall be able to discuss these matters with the Israeli Foreign Minister when he comes to London the week after next, and we welcome the fact that Prime Minister Pares has made some positive remarks about a direct dialogue between the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Has my hon. Friend managed to establish whether it really is the PLO's view, as expressed by Hani Al-Hassan on 26 April, that it is prepared to agree to a deputation with the Jordanians which does not include prominent members of the PLO?

If my hon. Friend is talking about the delegation that is being proposed to visit the United States, these are matters for the United States and for the parties concerned to work out. We are concerned with focusing our attention upon supporting the proposals that have been produced by King Hussein and the Palestinians, which we think are a basis for progress.

Will the Minister answer the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) about the testing of a nuclear device by the Israelis?

Yes, Sir. I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) that I lost sight of the question. I think that it concerned trigger weapons, on which we have seen reports of their export from the United States to Israel. We have seen these reports, we are concerned by them, but we have no knowledge about this. The House will be aware that Israel is not a signatory to or a member of the non-proliferation treaty. We believe that it would be in her interests and in international interests if she were now to sign the treaty.

I think that the issue concerning us mostly now is the report from the United States that the American Navy Department, after examining the results of an explosion in the south Atlantic, came to the conclusion that it was the explosion of a nuclear weapon and might well have been an Israeli weapon tested by the South Africans. Have the British Government any information of this?

The Minister may answer, but I thought that the south Atlantic was not in the middle east. [HON MEMBERS: "Israeli weapons".]

I do not know that it is for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to interpret the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, but I understood him to be talking about the trigger mechanism. With regard to Israel, all I would say is that it would be very much in the international interest if Israel were to sign the non-proliferation treaty. I think that that is the most important thing.

Spinelli Report

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he proposes to have with other EEC Foreign Ministers concerning the Spinelli report; and if he will make a statement.

We are in regular consultation with our Community partners in preparation for the European Council in June at which the question of possible institutional reforms of the European Community will be discussed. We do not believe that the Spinelli report, which would radically change the balance between Community institutions, is the right way to make progress.

Will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not bring forward proposals to the House based on the Spinelli report and also that we will not countenance any transfer of any more sovereignty from the House to the EEC?

I can say to my hon. Friend that not only will Her Majesty's Government not commend proposals based on the Spinelli report to the House, but it is very unlikely that any other Government will wish to do so either, so far as we can tell. Most of the discussion taking place within the Community takes into account the report of Mr. Spinelli and his colleagues, but is essentially based on other proposals that have been discussed in the Dooge report and in other fora.

How can the European Assembly be given a greater role in Community affairs without, in effect, giving it greater power?

The question whether the European Parliament should have greater powers is an issue that will be discussed. Her Majesty's Government take the view that the existing powers of the European Parliament are already considerable and substantial, and we are not convinced that there is a satisfactory argument for increasing the powers of the European Parliament. We would, however, wish to see the European Parliament more intimately involved in the early consideration of proposals that will subsequently go to the Council of Ministers, so that the Parliament's views can be more fully taken into account by the Council of Ministers when it deliberates on these matters.

What advice will my hon. Friend be giving to the Prime Minister when the subject of the recommendations of the Dooge report come before the meeting in Milan? Will he, in particular, be warning the Prime Minister not to accept the terms of reference suggested in the Dooge report, which would pre-commit any conference to the concept of further European unity and the principles of Spinelli?

I fear that my hon. Friend has not properly read the Dooge report to which he refers — [Interruption.] — because there is no commitment in it, either by the majority or minority, to incorporate the proposals of the Spinelli report. There is one passing reference to that report, but no commitment or support for the fundamental recommendations of Mr. Spinelli and his colleagues. Her Majesty's Government believe that there is a good prospect of reaching agreement at the European Council on a package of proposals that will help decision-making in the Community and will help to make progress on the internal market, on political co-operation and on other matters which the vast majority of hon. Members believe are important and desirable in the interests of this country and the Community.

Is it true that the Prime Minister welcomed the use by the German Agriculture Minister of the veto and encouraged Chancellor Kohl in the continuation of that policy?

We were happy to support the proposals of the Commission on cereal prices. We attach importance also to the right of any member state to indicate when it believes that its important national interests are at stake, and therefore we abstained when the essential question was considered by the Council, to show that we believed that the Federal Republic was entitled to use that procedure if it thought it appropriate.

Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that Altiero Spinelli is neither more nor less than the Father Christmas of Italian politics and that his report is neither more nor less than the futuristic fancy of a man old enough to have been imprisoned by Mussolini but not, it seems, too old to daydream?

The report to which his name has been given covers a wide range of issues. The basic institutional reforms proposed by the report are not seen by Her Majesty's Government as providing an acceptable basis for the future of the Community.

During the discussions, will the Minister raise the crucial issue of the veto and highlight the cloud of hypocritical humbug that is now being raised on this issue? When we note the actions of the two Governments most in favour of abolishing the veto — first, France vetoes the idea of trade talks and then the Federal Republic of Germany vetoes the farm price review — we have amply illustrated the gap between rhetoric and reality on this issue.

While I do not believe that the example of the trade talks is relevant to this question, I agree that the French Foreign Minister has made it clear that France believes in the continued indispensability of the right of veto, and the recent action by the Federal German Republic demonstrated the position of that country in the matter. The vast majority of Governments in the Community accept that it is unthinkable that on any vitally important matter any country should be overruled. Therefore, the consideration of the Heads of Government will not concentrate on replacing or removing the right of veto, but rather on ways of ensuring that it should be used only when important national interests are at stake and not to hold up progress on other matters.

Is it not our task to enforce the existing treaty obligations of the Community rather than take a leap into the unknown with Mr. Spinelli and his report? In particular, will my hon. Friend insist on a freer market in financial services, where Britain is comparatively strong? Will this be top of the agenda at the Milan summit?

My hon. Friend is right to comment on the fact that the completion of the internal market is required under the original treaty and is not yet fully implemented. It has not only been a unanimous recommendation of the Dooge report but features in the list of priorities of the President of the Commission. The completion of the internal market should be the first priority of the Community. It will be the policy of Her Majesty's Government to emphasise the essential importance of the subject at the European Council.

Stockholm Conference

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent developments at the Stockholm conference on confidence-building measures.

We are working with our allies to get more discussion on the details of our proposals for confidence-building measures. We will work hard for progress during the current, sixth, session which began last week.

While it is very welcome that discussions are taking place, must we not judge the talks by their practical results? Can my hon. Friend confirm that confidence depends ultimately on carrying out a number of commitments that have political and humanitarian aspects, as well as military ones?

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. Of course, we must remember that this conference is not, strictly speeaking, an arms control conference but stems, as he suggests, from the CSCE process, which goes wider than arms control. The objective of Britain and our allies, on which we put forward proposals, is to get practical confidence-building measures that will lead to greater harmony between both sides and might lead to a better climate for arms control negotiations.

What is the Minister doing to try to increase public interest in these talks which have been going on for a long time and which are to continue for some time yet? Should not the Government increase the amount of information that is available to the public instead of relying on an occasional question at Question Time in the House, with very little information in the newspapers, so that the public can support — or otherwise—the policies which we are pursuing at these important talks?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. Certainly the British Government are most anxious to get across information about what is taking place in various arms control and other talks. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence produce a great deal of information about arms control talks. That information is available to the public, and is made available.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, with the whole mechanics of arms control creaking dangerously at the seams, the talks need to be given added and more important impetus?

If my hon. Friend is referring to the Stockholm talks, he must be assured that we are giving them the greatest possible support. That is why it is good that the procedure for the new session has been improved so that there will be two working committees and we can focus attention on the practical proposals which the British Government and our allies in the Western worn: have produced, so as to get down to the nuts and bolts of confidence-building.

Federal Republic Of Germany

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I met Chancellor Kohl at Chequers on 18 May. I next expect to meet him at the Milan European Council on 28 June.

Will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that, when he next meets Chancellor Kohl, he will discuss with him the serious position between America and Nicaragua? Will he consider a joint approach to bring sanity to American policy on that country'

There are questions on Nicaragua further down on the Order Paper. I can only confirm that at the meeting that took place between the Heads of State and Foreign Ministers at the Bonn economic summit Nicaragua was one of the questions that was discussed.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets Chancellor Kohl, will he explain to him how sad it would be if Germany, which has as much interest as the United Kingdom in making a success of the European Community, were, by wanton resort to the use of the veto, to make the process of necessary reform quite impossible?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter about which I know he has thought a great deal. The recourse by the Federal German Republic at this month's Agriculture Council to the Luxembourg compromise confirms a political reality, which is that no member state is ready to be voted down when an important national interest is at stake. It is our view that, to prevent that right being abused, a member of the Council insisting upon the veto should, through a special procedure of the Council, explain fully and more formally why his Government consider that a vital interest is at stake. It is important to reach a practical balance which recognises national interests while enabling the Community to proceed apace.

If the German Chancellor is, rightly, to continue championing the cause of European unity and more majority voting, would it not be better if he stated unequivocally that he believes that the Luxembourg compromise is necessary for the development of the Community and that, if there is to be a treaty amendment to allow majority voting, the new treaty must incorporate the Luxembourg compromise?

The important feature is that the Federal German Government have practically exercised and recognised the Luxembourg compromise. The other important feature is to ensure that we are capable of achieving majority voting more effectively and more frequently, as that will enable us to make progress.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell Chancellor Kohl that it is now clear from Germany's attitude towards the price of cereals that there will be no fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy until national parliaments say that they will give no more money to the EEC? Further, does he agree that it would be a good thing if the British Parliament started the process?

No. I shall leave my hon. Friend to transmit his own message for himself. The result of decisions taken in 1984 and subsequently is that substantial steps are being taken towards reform of the CAP. Price cuts and freezes have been applied in a number of areas. The milk quota has been established and reinforced. It is important that the same discipline should apply to cereal prices.

El Salvador

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current human rights situation in El Salvador and the implications for relations with the United Kingdom.

We support the Salvadorean Government's efforts to improve the human rights situation in El Salvador. On 13 March the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed. with our support, a resolution which took account of the improvements in this field.

Are resolutions sufficient? Since January, 501 civilians have met their death at the hands of the death squads. Bombings in the north of El Salvador are increasing apace and bombing by helicopter in the west has been introduced. Is the Foreign Office doing all that it can to exert British influence in this sensitive area?

I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. He should take cognisance of the fact that the United Nations resolution on human rights, to which I have referred, shows an awareness of the need for further improvement in human rights in El Salvador. It takes account of the dramatic fall in the number of murders by death squads in recent months. It is clear that further improvements are necessary, but, as the resolution has recognised, there have been substantial improvements.

The Government have offered to train officers from El Salvador. As it is highly likely that any such officers will have been involved in the death squads, will the Government reconsider their unfortunate decision?

No, Sir. We have offered the Government of El Salvador the provision of one or two places for suitably qualified El Salvadorean officers to attend staff college courses in the United Kingdom. The offer is compatible with similar offers that we have made to a wide range of developing countries. The hon. Gentleman likes to see the issue in a black light, but when the officers return to El Salvador they will have the opportunity to consolidate democratic rule in El Salvador in the face of, should it occur, a destructive insurgent war.

Gulf War

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what initiatives he is considering to assist the United Nations in bringing an end to the fighting in the Gulf war.

We wish to see the earliest possible end to the conflict between Iran and Iraq. We shall, therefore, continue to support any realistic initiatives, especially through the good offices of the United Nations Secretary General. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend and I were glad to be able to discuss these questions with the Arab League delegation which visited London last week.

Why do the Government not press the United Nations to institute a ban on the supply of all arms, including chemical weapons, to both sides in this horrific dispute?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we, along with other Governments, have strongly condemned the evidence of the use of chemical weapons. The Secretary General of the United Nations has produced eight points, which are the best basis for making progress towards a comprehensive solution to the Iran-Iraq war, as opposed to other initiatives. We shall give all our support to them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that Britain recently gave permission for the dispatch of two logistic ships to Iran? Is he aware of the allegations that one of them was instantly equipped with anti-aircraft machine guns? Can he confirm that it is still the British Government's position to maintain neutrality in this?

I can confirm that it remains firmly our position that we shall not sell defence equipment that can in any way prolong or exacerbate that war. It is true that two ships from Yarrow have been released. They cannot he used in the war between Iran and Iraq, and are principally for disaster relief. I have seen the reports to which my hon. Friend refers, but there is no evidence available to me to support them.

Anglo-Zairean Relations

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Anglo-Zairean relations.

Anglo-Zairean relations are good. I visited Zaire during 6 to 8 May, and had discussions with Zairean Ministers on matters of mutual interest.

When my hon. Friend met the Prime Minister of Zaire. did he raise the issues of human rights there and the expropriation of the assets of British people in the 1960s and 1970s?

I can confirm that the expropriation of British assets was raised with the Zairean authorities. We emphasised the importance that we attach to this matter, and the Zairean authorities implied their willingness to introduce an investment promotion and protection agreement for all future British investment. As to human rights in Zaire, this was considered at the last session of the United Nations commission on human rights under the confidential procedure, and our views on this matter are well known to the Zairean Government.

Departmental Staff

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the latest estimates for numbers employed in his Department during 1985–86.

The average estimated provision for staff employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including the Overseas Development Administration, in 1985–86 is 9,885.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend expect to make any further reductions beyond those projected in the Government's expenditure plans for the next three years?

No, Sir. Staffing levels in my Department have already been substantially cut. Since 1969, the diplomatic staff has been cut by more than 17 per cent., and the overall reduction since 1979 is over 14 per cent. We are working towards the manpower targets for 1988 that are set out in the Command Paper to which my hon. Friend refers.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied with the human and industrial relations between his Department and the staff of GCHQ Cheltenham? Specifically, will he look in detail at the case of the distinguished cryptoanalyst, Mr. Hamilton, who is no longer working in Cheltenham?

If I am asked a question about that specifically, I shall try to answer it.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there are already too few diplomats, especially diplomats of the second grade—implying that the posts are too small—and that ambassadors have to spend most of their time cleaning cars and doing washing up, which is not efficacious for diplomacy?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's graphic illustration of the effectiveness of our economy campaigns, which need to be maintained, but within the bounds of reason.

Geneva Disarmament Talks

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he has held with his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation opposite numbers about arms control following the end of the opening round of the latest Geneva disarmament negotiations.

My right hon. and learned Friend has had the opportunity to discuss arms control issues with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation colleagues on a number of recent occasions; at the ministerial meeting of the Council of Western European Union in April; during the economic summit in Bonn; during the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Austrian state treaty in Vienna: and at a number of bilateral meetings.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the Russian propensity to seek to drive a wedge between th United States and its NATO allies, such consultations should continue as a matter of urgency? Does my hon. Friend accept that the strategic defence initiative is one area within NATO where we should seek to find common ground?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that it is of the utmost importance that we continue this intensive consultation—not only with the United States but within the NATO Alliance — on these important issues, including SDI. This is something to which we attach the highest importance, and we shall certainly continue in that direction. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union is still indulging in wedge-driving between Europe and the United States.

Is it not the case that the real wedge was driven by the unilateral decision, within the Alliance. of the United States to pursue SDI and then to revise its position on SDI repeatedly since the meeting last December with the Prime Minister? In view of the serious deadlock during the first series of meetings in Geneva, has not the time come — the Foreign Secretary having expressed some wise reservations about SDI in a recent well-known speech to which we have all given our assent —for the Government to take the initiative in organising European action to break the deadlock by combining action to prevent experiments in space-related weapons with a massive reduction in offensive weapons? This is the only way forward. Only Britain can lead an initiative within NATO in this direction.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the objective agreed for these talks between the United States and the Soviet Union was to prevent unconstrained military competition in space and to limit and reduce nuclear arms on earth. The two surely complement each other, as, indeed, the United States Administration made plain. My right hon. and learned Friend said earlier that we stick rigidly, as does the United States, to the four-point agreement reached between President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This includes the fact that there must be negotiation before there is any deployment of weapons.