HC Deb 23 November 1977 vol 939 cc1521-9
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

The Foreign Affairs Council met in Brussels on 21st and 22nd November. There was also a joint meeting of Foreign and Finance Ministers, a meeting of the nine Foreign Ministers on Political Cooperation, and a Ministerial meeting of the EEC/Cyprus Association Council.

In political co-operation talks, the nine Foreign Ministers issued a joint statement on President Sadat's courageous initiative. We expressed the hope that his action would pave the way for an early resumption of the Geneva Conference and the negotiation of a comprehensive settlement.

On Africa, we discussed what further steps might be taken to ensure wider international acceptance of the Code of Conduct on Employment Practices for companies of the Nine operating in South Africa; and the need to bring home to the South African Government our concern about the repression of dissent in the light of the Security Council's recent mandatory arms embargo resolution. We issued a statement making clear that we would not recognise the so-called independence of Bophuthatswana.

My colleagues and I agreed that it was too early to make a judgment about the final results of the Belgrade Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe follow-up meeting. We discussed the Community position over follow-up meetings after Belgrade.

The problem of United Kingdom and Irish budgetary contributions in 1978 and 1979 under Article 131 of the Treaty of Accession was discussed at the Joint Meeting of Foreign and Finance Ministers on the evening of 21st November. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary will take an early opportunity to inform the House about this.

The Council had a general discussion on the serious crisis facing the European steel industry and agreed to return to the subject next month.

There was broad agreement in discussion of the new regional development fund on the desirability of maintaining or increasing the fund's activity. But it was not possible to reach agreement yesterday on a number of outstanding points, including the size of the fund in 1978, which will probably be discussed at the European Council on 5th and 6th December.

Other subjects covered include the mandate for negotiations on an agricultural agreement on Cyprus. I shall circulate in the Official Report fuller details of the outcome of the Council.

Mr. John Davies

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I wish to associate this side of the House with the Community's remarks on the subject of President Sadat's courageous initiative, and I express the hope that it will be recognised that what he has done is to assert the commitment to peace. That is of great value in the present tense situation. I express the hope also that there will be a positive response to the initiative taken by President Sadat.

On the code of conduct in respect of South Africa, will the Foreign Secretary say whether there was consultation with the organisation representing employers in Europe before the code was defined, particularly in relation to the apparent device of segregating black and white unions, which would seem to entrench the racial division within the framework of the industrial enterprise and which seems hardly desirable?

On the subject of the budget, and bearing in mind the very important sums, involving, I understand, upwards of £500 million, will the Foreign Secretary accept that we support the Government's view in this matter and hope that no compromise will be accepted which substantially increases what should be our proper contribution to this budget?

Finally, on the subject of the regional fund, we recognise that to reach this stage of the year without any certainty as to the future of the fund, given its importance to this country, appears to be an indecision on the part of the Community which represents serious dangers to those who have to plan in these matters.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about President Sadat's initiative. I am sure that the whole House will wish it well and will believe that it has broken through the wall of mistrust. We have yet to see how much progress it will produce, but I believe that things will never be the same after that visit.

On the code of conduct, I confirm that no formal consultations have taken place with the European employers or trade unions. I raised this issue when it was discussed by the Council of Ministers. The general feeling was that it was impossible to hold these conversations without the Community position being revealed, and it was felt that there should be consultations afterwards. It was felt also that the code would have to be modified after a year anyhow in the light of experience. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is anxious to commend the code to British companies with subsidiaries in South Africa and to provide explanatory guidance. He is to discuss this guidance with the CBI and the TUC in this country.

The hon. Member referred to the question of black trade unionism. I should have thought that all hon. Members thought that this matter cut across both black and white, and in the peculiar circumstances of South Africa it is widely recognised that the recognition of black trade unions is inevitable and is one of the major steps forward in eradicating segregation at work.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's support on Article 131. This is a major decision, and a lot of money is involved. That is why it would be right for my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to reflect on the discussions which took place before deciding formally what will be our position.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the regional fund. The Government's position has been quite clear throughout the discussions. We wish, an expansion of the fund. The sooner we can reach a decision on that, the easier it will be to carry out forward planning.

Mr. Spearing

On the question of the regional fund, does my right hon. Friend not agree that since July the EEC Assembly has received increased powers of recommendations over the budget? If it wanted a large regional fund, would that not create a dangerous confrontation between the Assembly and the Council, and if it were directly elected would that not be an even greater source of friction?

Dr. Owen

The recommendation that the figure for the regional fund should be 750 million EUAs—that is about £400 million—was originally put forward by the Commission for the first year. That seems reasonable to the Government, and it was endorsed by the European Assembly.

This is a case where the European Assembly has been acting in the best interests of the Community as a whole and of Britain and other areas with severe regional economic difficulties. I welcome the pressure on some member States to increase the regional fund, but that does not mean that the powers would be increased. That would have to be agreed between the Assembly and the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Russell Johnston

As for Belgrade, is it not the case that the European Community representatives have consciously avoided making any relationship between the trade links in Basket 2 and the human rights issue in Basket 3? If that is the case, should we not give Mr. Orlov and his colleagues some support? Is it likely, as has been rumoured, that Belgrade will drag on into February, and possibly even later?

Dr. Owen

I am not certain when Belgrade will end. Personally, I shall be surprised if it ends before Christmas. At this stage it is too early to try to assess the credit and loss account at Belgrade. It is true that the Community has agreed a position. It has been broadly agreed with the United States and many of the neutral countries that we should avoid going to Belgrade and having a confrontation inasmuch as there has been a discussion on issues which hitherto have never been discussed. To that extent, it has been successful. I cannot claim that a great dialogue has taken place. I cannot yet claim that any great progress, especially on human rights, has been maintained.

Governments have taken the view that individual cases are best discussed within general principles, but individuals have raised individual cases, such as the one referred to by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), on which there is strong feeling. I hope that all the countries that are a party to the Belgrade discussions will recognise that they cannot ignore public feeling if we are to make progress in these discussions. I think that the point is being made clearly and forcibly at Belgrade that those who are monitoring progress on the Helsinki Act should not suffer the consequences for their monitoring.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that the time devoted to these matters will come out of the debate that is subject to a timetable motion. I hope that the House will be aware of that and that hon. Members will ask brief questions.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Did the Council discuss the French Government's threat to the regional fund, or has that threat been made since the Council met? If it has, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a serious matter? Did the Council discuss the confrontation between Britain and the rest of the member States, except Ireland, brought about by the claim made so bravely by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that Britain has the right to take unilateral conservation measures up to 200 miles? Was that discussed? If it was, how was the matter left?

Dr. Owen

Our position on our right to take conservation measures is firm and rests on the Hague Agreement that I negotiated last year, on which Britain stays quite positive and firm.

The regional fund was discussed. The French wish to change the present key. Once we start unravelling the basic key I believe that it will become almost impossible to reach agreement on the regional fund. I believe that it is wise to keep to the present key. However, further discussions are taking place to ascertain whether some flexibility can be found—for instance, on the non-quota section, if that section were to be agreed.

Mr. Dalyell

Was anything said about the Davignon plan to bring non-steel work to steel areas within the Community?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend draws attention to the very serious situation that faces the steel industry. This is an inter national problem. The steel industry worldwide faces a severe problem. The discussion on steel was not as specific and detailed as many of us had hoped, but we have been promised firm Commission proposals to deal with restructuring and some of the employment implications to which my hon. Friend has referred. They have been promised well before the next Council meeting. I think that at the next Council some firm decisions will have to be taken. That is the position of the British and French Governments.

Mr. Marten

Does the Community support the British Government's policy towards Rhodesia? What is its attitude towards the question of the forces that might have to take over? What is the legal status of the sort of foreign affairs statements that the Community issues, such as statements on Rhodesia, South Africa and Sadat?

Dr. Owen

Political co-operation is extra the treaty, so they have no legal or juridical foundation. They are merely statements of an agreed view between the Foreign Ministers of the Nine. As for Rhodesia, the Community countries have strongly supported the Anglo-United States initiative. One of the interesting things throughout the past few months has been the solidarity of the Community in dealing with a number of complex African problems—for example, the internal situation in South Africa, Namibia, Rhodesia and Zaire. We should not forget that France, Belgium, to a lesser extent Germany, and Italy have all had historically strong involvement with and interests in Africa. That means that the Community can speak with some authority on that continent.

Mr. Roper

Was there any further discussion on progress in member States towards legislation on direct elections? Was the German Minister able to indicate whether there had yet been agreement in Germany on the method of election to be adopted?

Dr. Owen

The Germans are confident that there will be agreement on how they handle the particular problems of the list system. They are agreed that there should be a list system. All that remains is the question how they split it up with reference to the Länder. I am not aware whether they have reached agreement. The Germans believe that they can reach the May-June target date. It is clear that eight members of the Community can meet that target date. They are looking to us, and they will pay particular attention to when we discuss the method. If we were to agree to a regional list system, I believe that it would be possible to meet the May-June 1978 target date.

Sir Bernard Braise

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most dangerous and intractable problems facing the Community is the continued deadlock in Cyprus? Is he aware of the continued refusal of the Turks to give any information about missing Greek Cypriots? On humanitarian grounds alone there is every reason for the Community to act as one. Was there any disposition on behalf of the Council of Ministers to think along those lines?

Dr. Owen

The Community discussed the EEC-Cyprus association agreement. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office made it clear that he thought that the Community position was not understanding enough to Cyprus. The discussion was on economic issues. There was no discussion of a political settlement. The political settlement has been held up by a number of problems, not least that there will plainly have to be elections for the President of Cyprus, and the situation following the Turkish elections. I have no doubt that this is a subject on which there must be further movement. The inter-communal talks must come down to discussing the nitty-gritty of both a constitution and the territorial claim. Some other way must be found to introduce a more serious discussion of the necessary compromises on both issues.

Mr. Hooley

On South Africa, was there any discussion of the possibility of taking the initiative within the United Nations to impose an oil embargo? Has any progress been made following the suggestion that ministerial meetings should be in public in future?

Dr. Owen

There was no discussion of an oil embargo. The discussion was limited to possible economic measures, and no decisions were taken. It was agreed that the study of those measures would continue. As for the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in public, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy attempted to get an open discussion on an issue of conservation policy at the last Energy Council meeting, when he held the presidency. That proposal was rejected. I believe that there are some Council meetings that could be held in public with advantage, and that is the view of the Government. There are other sessions, especially those that are effectively negotiating sessions, when it is wise not to meet in public. There is a balance that needs to be struck.

Mr. Temple-Morris

On Southern Africa, was any reference made to trying to influence certain members of the American Administration to refer less rashly to South Africa in general, and especially to Mr. Vorster and Mr. Smith, to whom we have to talk? Was any reference made to that, and to trying to influence them to behave in a more statesmanlike manner?

Dr. Owen


Mr. Molloy

On Southern Africa and Rhodesia, was any reference made to the courage of many white people in both Southern Africa and Rhodesia who abhor apartheid and demonstrate and say so, and who want democratic rights created? A word of encouragement in this House and in the EEC for their efforts—I refer to the white people in Southern Africa and Rhodesia—would not come amiss.

Dr. Owen

I agree with my hon. Friend. This was raised in the question of the code of conduct. The argument for the code of conduct is that this is a way of peacefully influencing attitudes towards apartheid in South Africa. It has been very interesting that this has received quite a warm welcome inside South Africa. The Financial Mail, which is a reputable South African economic journal, said that there was nothing in the code of conduct which would act against South African existing legislation, that it could be implemented, that it should be implemented and that all that was needed was the guts to implement it.

Mr. Newens

Was there any discussion of the need for the representation of the Palestinians at Geneva? Does anybody in the Community believe that any real progress towards a lasting peace can be brought about until this is provided for?

Dr. Owen

The statement issued by the Council of Foreign Ministers stated in one of its paragraphs: It is urgent that genuine peace at last be achieved for all the peoples of the area, including the Palestinian people, on the basis of the principles recognised by the international community which are embodied in particular in the declaration of the European Council of 29 June 1977. So there is a strong recogntion that the Palestinian problem must be grappled with, and it would have to be grappled with at any Geneva conference.

Following is the information:

In addition to the items covered in my oral statement the Council discussed the following subjects.

Commissioner Cheysson told the Council of the importance the Commission attached to the dried skimmed milk programme for 1978 and to maintaining its present level. Various aspects of this question will be followed up in subsequent meetings of the Council.

The Council agreed a mandate for the negotiation of a trade agreement between the Community and the Chinese People's Republic and agreed that the Committee of Permanent Representatives should work on a draft mandate for a renewed trade agreement with Yugoslavia. It was also agreed that negotiations should open for the second phase of the EEC-Cyprus Agreement on agriculture. The Council heard a report from the President-in-Office on the latest developments in the Common Fund Conference in Geneva.

On Fisheries, the Council agreed that an attempt should be made to break the deadlock in fisheries negotiations with the Soviet Union by sending the Soviet Government a list of Community vessels which the Community wishes to be licensed to fish in the Barents Sea.

The Commission reported on the bilateral textiles negotiations. My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Trade emphasised the importance of adhering to the agreed mandate and of preparing the autonomous measures which will be necessary if the results of the bilateral negotiations are not satisfactory. The Commission confirmed that the mandate would be observed.

The Council discussed the preparations for the European Council meeting on 5th-6th December. It took note of a Danish statement on home rule for Greenland and considered the development of the EEC-ASEAN dialogue. It agreed to approve an increase requested by the Commission in the subsistence allowances for Community staff and to prolong the secretarial allowance pending a decision on the staff regulation revision.