HC Deb 21 January 1981 vol 997 cc254-6
29. Mr. Hicks

asked the Lord Privy Seal what initiatives he proposes taking to achieve closer co-operation with his European colleagues in foreign policy; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Ian Gilmour

My right hon. and noble Friend has made a number of suggestions for the strengthening of foreign policy co-operation. I refer my hon. Friend to his speech at the Ubersee club in Hamburg on 17 November, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Hicks

In the context of the European initiative for the Middle East, is it not a fact that any possible solution will have to involve a settlement of the questions of Palestinian refugees and the occupied territiries? Is it not therefore sensible and logical for the European countries to recognise the PLO as the legitimate spokesman for the Palestinians, as has already been done by more than 100 countries?

Sir Ian Gilmour

As my hon. Friend will have heard, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just been dealing with questions of that sort. The Government recognise only States. We do not recognise organisations such as the PLO. However, we made it clear in the Venice declaration and since that we strongly believe that the PLO cannot be excluded from the peace process.

Mr. Healey

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) was rather like saying that yesterday was Tuesday and the communiquésaid nothing about Wednesday? Will he answer the question that was put to him, particularly now that the hostages have been released? Will he assure the House that the Government will use their influence inside the Community to ensure that no Community countries supply arms to the combatants in Iran and Iraq until a lasting peace is established?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I cannot speak for Community countries, but I can speak for us. There have been no sales to Iran, including the Kharg, since November 1979, and all sales will remain subject to customary licensing procedures. Future applications will be considered in the light of all the relevant circumstances, including the situation in the area that relates to war and our relations with Iran.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will my right hon. Friend be discussing with the European countries the removal of sanctions against Iran by all member countries? Before trade can be resumed, will he discuss with them the need for the return of the British citizens who are being held illegally in Iran? Does he agree that it is in the common interest of Europe and the West as a whole that our future relations with Iran should prevent that great and important country from slipping either into chaos or under the Iron Curtain?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I am sure that the whole House will agree with the concluding words of my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that sanctions were imposed in the context of the American hostages, and will be lifted immediately. Of course, like my hon. Friend, the Government attach the greatest importance to the release of the four British people who are detained in Iran. We hope that that will take place soon.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that closer political co-operation would be facilitated if there were an effective permanent secretariat attached to the Council of Ministers? Are the Government still pressing that case, and if so, what response have they had to it?

Sir Ian Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. and noble Friend has put forward that suggestion on one or two occasions, notably in his Hamburg speech. We think that it would improve political co-operation. There are different views about it in the Community, and a general view has not yet been formed.

Mr. Peter Fraser

Even though, as my right hon. Friend said, it has now been agreed with our European partners that the sanctions that were imposed last year by this House and by other countries should be lifted, will he assure the House that not only this country, but other countries, too, will pay the greatest regard to the export of military hardware to Iran unless and until we get our four prisoners home?

Sir Ian Gilmour

That is not particularly relevant to the release—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] There is a clear distinction between the position of our detainees and that of the American hostages. The common factor is that neither group should have been detained in the first place. Apart from that, the Americans have been engaged in a long bargain with the Iranians to get back their hostages. We do not believe that there should be a bargain. We believe that the detainees should be released forthwith.