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Luxembourg Meeting Of Foreign Ministers

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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3.49 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on the visit which he paid to Luxembourg on 20th to 21st June, during which he attended a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Ten and the first part of the Foreign Affairs Council, which continues today and on which there will be a report to the House. The Statement is as follows:

"At my request there was first a discussion of the Community's decision-making procedures. I left our partners in no doubt about the British Government's position that where a member state considers that very important interests are at stake, discussion must be continued until unanimous agreement is reached and that Community business should continue to be governed by this principle in accordance with the Luxembourg Compromise. This position was supported unreservedly by two member states and by two others with minor qualifications.

" The position is therefore that five member states support the principle that decisions must be deferred where a member state considers that its major national interests are at stake. It was not to be expected that the five members who declined to endorse this principle in 1966 would do so now, but they made it clear that they were not seeking to reopen the Luxembourg Compromise. The Community's practice since 1966 was based on an agreement to disagree, and this remains the position.

" In view of what happened at the Agriculture Council on 18th May, I would obviously have preferred a clear-cut result. Although there is now a better understanding in the Community of our position and of the principles involved, we may have to return to the subject. The crucial point is what will happen in practice when our very important national interests are at stake. We shall continue to defend them on the basis we have made clear to our partners.

" In addition to the discussion on majority voting, we also had a brief discussion on the Genscher/ Colombo proposals. No conclusions were reached but it was agreed that work on the proposals would continue.

" The Foreign Ministers agreed that the arms embargoes on Argentina imposed nationally by member states would remain in force for the time being. They decided that the European Community's ban on Argentine imports should be lifted as from 22nd June in the expectation that there would be no further acts of force in the South Atlantic.

" They also agreed that, should this not be the case, a new situation would arise to which the Ten would be obliged to react immediately. Normal commercial relations between Argentina and the member states of the European Community depend therefore on a lasting cessation of hostilities in the South Atlantic.

" Foreign Ministers also discussed the increasingly serious situation in the Lebanon. They expressed their determination to continue humanitarian aid both nationally and in the Community framework. The Community decided not to proceed at this stage with the signature of the second Financial Protocol with Israel.

" On 21st June I had a meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister. Sr Perez-Llorca informed me that the Spanish Government wished to postpone the arrangements by which the Lisbon statement of 10th April 1980 would have been implemented on 25th June 1982 with a meeting between us in Portugal and the opening that day of the Gibraltar border.

" Her Majesty's Government were fully prepared to go ahead and I much regret this further postponement. Nevertheless I agreed with the Spanish Foreign Minister that we were both determined to keep alive the process envisaged in the Lisbon agreement; that we would remain in touch on the matter personally and through diplomatic channels; and that the date for a new meeting would be fixed in due course. The Governor of Gibraltar will be returning to London for consultations tomorrow, and I hope to have talks with Sir Joshua Hassan and Mr. Isola in the near future ".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.54 p.m.

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Is she aware that that part of the Statement which deals with the Luxembourg Compromise is vague and unsatisfactory? Is the way not left open for the veto to be ignored once again, and what happens if that takes place? Is it not vital for further talks to be held as soon as possible to clarify the matter? And was not some procedure which would define a very important national interest, which is the wording in the Luxembourg Compromise, discussed? On the Genscher/Colombo proposals, are not the voting procedures dealt with in these proposals, and is there a chance that the work on the proposals might be completed fairly soon? Perhaps the noble Baroness could put a date on it.

While it is disappointing that the imports ban should be raised before the cessation of hostilities by the Argentine, can the noble Baroness enlarge on the proposal to extend the arms embargo, which is very welcome news? Can we be sure now that armaments from France, like the Exocet missile and other armaments, will not reach the Argentine through Peru or some other country?

With regard to the Lebanon, is the EEC now proposing any further action in accordance with the Venice declaration? Are any initiatives from the leaders of the EEC in view? Can the noble Baroness say if United Nations Resolution 512 is being implemented; namely, the resolution which deals with the humanitarian aspects of this matter, and the need for medical supplies getting through to the Lebanon from the United Nations and other agencies as soon as possible? Is it true, for example, that a ship in Cyprus is unable to get through because the port of Lebanon is mined? On the last point, Gibraltar, does the decision taken mean that the frontier at La Linea will remain closed indefinitely now, or will the 1980 argeement that the frontier should be opened be implemented before the talks are resumed? Will what has taken place now affect the United Kingdom's attitude to Spain's entry into European Community?

My Lords, we, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. First, I think, we would all like to express sorrow at the postponement of the talks on Gibraltar. We must all hope that when the tension over the Falklands has diminished somewhat they will still, as I think the Government anticipate, take place.

Even though the deplorable so-called compromise of Luxembourg has apparently been reinstated—and here I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn; I think it has been reinstated—as the accepted unofficial rule, we must at least hope, surely, that it will not be so disgracefully misused as it has been in the past. What is more sad, to my mind at any rate, is what I fear is the prospective demise of the Colombo/ Genscher plan. Since this plan, it seems, can only be accepted, even in a watered down form, by unanimous vote—I think I am right in saying that this is necessary —is it not obvious that no significant proposals contained in it will ever see the light of day? The Danes, for instance, have a veto, and seeing that the overriding objective is never to separate themselves, or to separate themselves as little as possible, from their Scandinavian friends, they will invariably exer- cise it in order to block the smallest advance towards European political unity, of which in principle they thoroughly disapprove. I would be interested to know if the noble Baroness can comment on that statement.

Would not the Government, therefore, agree that, if there is to be any advance in this direction, it must be made by such members as favour it? After all, political action is outside the treaties, and those who favour it can do so in any way they please. There is no reason, for instance, why members who favour some sort of co-operation as regards defence should not co-operate, without involving those colleagues who do not want so to co-operate, and who in any case would in no way be bound by any decision taken in this sphere. Otherwise, frankly, I see little future in common political action, still less in the formation of any genuine common foreign policy.

My Lords, I would like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their response to the Statement. They have asked a number of questions on different matters, and I will do my best to answer them. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked a number of questions, on the Luxembourg Compromise. I would like to say that five member states agreed that the Community should continue the practice of deferring majority voting when member states consider that major national interests are at stake. We can, therefore, expect that the Community will continue to operate on a basis which will enable us to safeguard our important national interests.

On the question of the Genscher/Colombo proposals—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos—again I can give no date when they might be implemented. Discussion continues between the member states and there are a number of problems still to be resolved. I am afraid that that does not answer the detailed points that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, raised but, as the noble Lord will know himself—and he no doubt will have heard the Government's views expressed in a speech by my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place last week—it has now been recognised that there is an ad hoc group of officials which have been examining the proposals, and they should continue this work under the Danish Presidency.

As regards the Lebanon, I was asked quite specifically about help on humanitarian grounds. We are contributing, through the European Community, to the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal for aid to the Lebanon, and the Government have also pledged almost £¼ million of humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict. This is being channelled through the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Lebanon Red Cross and other agencies.

Finally, both noble Lords raised the question of Gibraltar. I think that we all agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, made that it is most regrettable that the opening of the border has been postponed. I do not feel that I can go further than what I said in the Statement on this matter.

My Lords, as regards the Statement, I wonder whether the Government can give a little more information on three particular points. First, as regards the Luxembourg Compromise, did the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs find it possible to introduce the idea of a country giving its reasons in writing when it was invoking the veto—an idea which was very fully debated in this House?

On the question of the Genscher/Columbo proposals, we heard in the Statement that work would continue and, in her answer just now, the noble Baroness referred to an ad hoc group of officials. It all depends on the tone of voice, does it not? Is this work continuing among the group of ad hoc officials in a hopeful tone of voice or in a "sweep it under the carpet" tone of voice? I think that the House would like to know the answer to that.

As regards the Lebanon, we find that for the fifth time in a generation the Middle East is in flames; the Israel Army stands halfway up the Lebanon; and world war is nearer than it has been for many weeks at least, to put it mildly. Yet the European Community, after its considerable history of political co-operation and positive proposals in this matter, simply proposes not to proceed with the Second Financial Protocol. Can the Government at least tell the House what is the Second Financial Protocol?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has raised three further points. The first concerns the Luxembourg Compromise. I think that I can only say further on this matter that, on the question of whether or not it enables us still to have a veto, it was accepted by the Six nations that it did enable us to do so, and the agreement to disagree has worked for nearly 10 years among the Nine and the Ten. As regards the question of giving our reasons in writing, that certainly is an idea which was included in the Genscher/Colombo proposals, but there was no decision reached about the texts of this matter at the meeting which concluded on 20th June. I really cannot add anything further to what I have already said about the Genscher/Colombo discussions and certainly, if I may say so, not about the tone of voice. I have tried to indicate that the discussions are continuing, and I think that that is where the matter must rest. I have no doubt that, when it says that the report makes this quite plain, that is what is happening and it is continuing its work under the Danish presidency at present and will, of course, continue—should it not be concluded before then—under the next presidency.

The noble Lord finally asked me a further question about the Lebanon. I should like to say on this matter that we did once again maintain the firm commitments to the principles of the Venice Declaration as a framework upon which progress towards a negotiated settlement in the Middle East could be based. We are regularly in touch with the parties concerned to promote the acceptance of these principles.

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend two questions. The first concerns the Luxembourg Compromise, as regards which I think everybody would accept that the veto should be there for real and proper defence of national interests—that is, stopping people fishing up to the shores of Great Britain. But it seems to have been used recently as a bargaining counter. To use it as a bargaining counter—in other words, to say, "I will not pay my parking fine unless I get my case heard favourably in the House of Lords"—seems to be an abuse of that Luxembourg Compromise. I ask my noble friend to bear in mind what happened with the liberum veto in Poland. When that happened, the whole of the Polish constitution collapsed because everybody had the power of veto. Can we please have an undertaking from Her Majesty's Government that they will not use it in the way which I described as regards the parking fine in the House of Lords?

Secondly, I should like to go back to the problem of Gibraltar. When we have a situation like the Berlin Wall across from Gibraltar to La Linea, is it not rather odd that Spain should still be a member of NATO when it has not taken down that "Berlin Wall" between Gibraltar and Spain?

My Lords, I hope I made clear in what I said earlier that, as regards the question of whether the Luxembourg Compromise is still valid and when it would be used, from discussion it is quite clear that five member states, including ourselves, took the view that the practice of deferring decisions by majority voting where a member state considers that important national interests are at stake should be continued. The operative words are "important national interests I think that this is the matter upon which we should concentrate. It provides a basis for the Community's decision-taking procedures which will enable important national interests in the future to continue to be safeguarded.

On the question of Spain and NATO, of course, as a Government we have welcomed Spain's entry into NATO which has just taken place and which will be good for the NATO Alliance. We have not set any pre-conditions to this. However, it is a fact that it is regrettable that the border between the territories of two NATO allies should be closed, and that is why we hope that the situation will be rectified as soon as possible.

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness one very brief question. While we all hope for an amicable solution to the problem, can she give us an assurance at least that, so long as Spain keeps the frontier with Gibraltar closed, the accession of Spain to the Common Market will not be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government?

My Lords, on the question of the accession of Spain to the Community, I should like to confirm what I think has already been said—namely, that, although we have supported Spain's application to join the Community, it is inconceivable that there should be a closed frontier between the territories of two members of the Community, and we have made this point clear to the Spaniards.

My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House just one question. Although I welcome the arrival in this country tomorrow of the Governor and the visit later on of Sir Joshua Hassan and Mr. Peter Isola, in view of what has transpired in Luxembourg, will Her Majesty's Government be willing to place on the agenda of the discussions with these gentlemen the question of a Government reappraisal regarding the sustaining of the economy of Gibraltar? First, one is not sure that the commercialisation of the dockyard is viable. Secondly, the alternative economic activities which were looked into by a consultancy firm appointed by the ODA on behalf of the Gibraltar Government included tourism, financial operations, industrial activities and free trade zones. Are some of those not somewhat irrelevant in view of the fact that Spain has decided not to open the frontier?

My Lords, I have no doubt at all that when the Governor comes to London all these many issues will be discussed. They are, of course, material to all the reasons for wanting the frontier to be reopened. But as I have already indicated, it is an unhappy situation that Spain has not reopened the frontier, as we hoped she would.