HC Deb 14 July 1981 vol 8 cc979-84 3.38 pm
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

With your permisson Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the outcome of the Foreign Affairs Council held in Brussels on 13 July. My right hon. and noble Friend took the chair at this, the first Foreign Affairs Council held under the United Kingdom Presidency, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and I represented Her Majesty's Government. Useful progress was made on a number of items.

There was a meeting at ministerial level between the Community and Spain in the framework of the negotiations for Spanish accession. My right hon. and noble Friend made a statement on behalf of the Community, reviewing the negotiations so far and confirming the Community's wish to intensify them and see them through to a successful conclusion. The Spanish delegation reciprocated those intentions and presented declarations on customs union, external relations and the right of establishment.

As agreed at the last meeting of the Council, there was further discussion of trade relations with Japan. The Council reaffirmed its statements of November 1980 and February and May 1981, conveying the Community's concern at the strain on the open trading system resulting from the pattern of Japanese trade. These will serve as guidelines for the Commission and those members of the Community present at the Ottawa summit.

The Council decided that the Community should join the 1980 international cocoa agreement, and emphasised its determination that existing buffer stock funds should be transferred intact by the 1975 cocoa council.

The Council endorsed the agreement reached at official level on the quantity of Yugoslav baby beef exports to be provided for in the Commission's mandate to negotiate an adaptation protocol to the EEC-Yugoslavia agreement, to take account of Greek accession to the Community. This agreement satisfactorily removes a long-standing irritant to EEC-Yugoslav relations, to which the Government attach great importance.

The Council resolved the final details of its position on the industrial customs union chapter of the negotiations on Portuguese accession. These negotiations will now be able to proceed in that sector.

The Council agreed a mandate to the Commission for the first round of substantive negotiations on the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement for trade in textiles. This provides a basis for the negotiation of a renewed MFA consistent with United Kingdom objectives.

Finally, my right hon. and noble Friend gave his Community colleagues in political co-operation an account of his recent visit to Moscow and other reactions to the proposal for a two-stage conference on Afghanistan. The Ministers agreed that the proposal remained a realistic and constructive attempt to solve an important problem, and that there could be no question of modifying its basic principles. They invited the Presidency to continue the work of promoting this proposal.

Ministers of the Ten also discussed the CSCE review meeting in Madrid. They agreed that a balanced and substantial conclusion should be possible before the end of this month and that the Ten should continue to work actively to achieve this.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that the results of the first meeting under the British Presidency are pretty exiguous and fall far short of the objectives that the Foreign Secretary set himself when he announced his intentions to the European Assembly?

On Spanish accession, will he confirm that the Spanish Government dragged their feet at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council? What is the Government's view of the import restrictions recently imposed by Spain? Does ,the right hon. Gentleman regard them as compatible with Spain's obligations if and when she finally joins the Community?

On the visit to Moscow and the conference on Afghanistan, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the fact that Mr. Gromyko himself, as Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, has ruled out any progress on the Foreign Secretary's proposals gives them small chance of success? Does he also agree, however, that that in itself should not be an obstacle to early talks on arms control between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I think that the achievements of the conference were modest rather that exiguous. As I have retailed to the House, some agreement was achieved. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there had been movements in some quarters of the House for a statement to be made after the Foreign Affairs Council. I think that it is generally agreed that this should not be done unless the proceedings are of particular interest, but it seemed that the first Foreign Affairs Council of this Presidency was a reasonable one to merit an oral statement.

As to the progress on enlargement, I agree that Spain had some reason to be disappointed that greater progress was not made. I hope that there will be greater progress in the future, but it was prevented on this occasion by the fears of one State. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Spanish trading policy is open to considerable criticism. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, his predecessor and I have criticised it personally to the Spanish Government in the past. We shall continue to do so until the improvement which we seek takes place.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is rather over-sour in his remarks about Afghanistan, as he was last week. I do not think that we can rule out any hope of progress. That certainly was not the view of the Ten at the meeting on political co-operation yesterday. At the same time, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that should be no reason why there should not be progress on arms control talks. Indeed, I hope that there will be such progress.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said in opening that the achievements of the Foreign Affairs Council fell far short of the objectives that my right hon. and noble Friend had set himself. As I am sure he will appreciate on reflection, that is not a very sensible remark, as my right hon. and noble Friend has been present for only a fortnight, so there has not been time for great progress.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

Did the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to tell the Spanish representatives that their rigid and old-fashioned nationalist view on Gibraltar was unhelpful in accession negotiations?

On Afghanistan, will the right hon. Gentleman draw his right hon. Friend's initiative to the attention of the Home Secretary? Is it not profoundly contradictory that a group of Afghans seeking political asylum in this country should be turned away and, to our shame, should be accepted not by us but by the Federal Republic of Germany?

Sir Ian Gilmour

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, our initiative on Afghanistan certainly does not need to be brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is well aware of it. All questions of immigration, of course are matters for him.

On Gibraltar, we had a meeing with the Spanish Foreign Minister in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council. It was largely about Community affairs, but we took the opportunity once again to express our hope that the frontier would soon be open. The Spanish Foreign Minister affirmed that he still stood by the Lisbon agreement.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to deal with any bilateral matters between Spain and Britain—notably, for example, the position of British wines and British sherry? Is he satisfied that the Spanish will recognise that they need the help and good will of all member States in achieving entry to the Community and that certain bilateral vital interests of that kind can be part and parcel of the total picture?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is important that Spain should abide by its trading agreements and should move towards a more open trading posture as soon as possible. The particular commodities and matters to which my hon. Friend refers did not come up, but he will be aware that it was a very short meeting and that we therefore confined ourselves to general issues.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have already been rising in their places.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

Given the position in the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations, does the Minister recognise the importance of this to 600,000 textile and clothing workers in this country? Bearing in mind the firm position taken by the Secretary of State for Trade in the House and the alternative position taken in Europe at least by the Germans, can the Minister say what areas remain problematic for this country? Can he assure the House that the Secretary of State has stood firm on every major point on which he emphasised to the House that he would stand firm?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the great importance of this matter. We are satisfied that the mandate that has been agreed is entirely consistent with the British Government's objectives as laid down by my right hon. Friend. We are certain that we have secured a sensible and realistic mandate.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Shall we be hearing anything more about the Venice initiative?

Sir Ian Gilmour

Yes, almost certainly, but it was not discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Will the right hon. Gentleman follow up the disappointing response on Afghanistan with a further meeting with the Russians, with a wider agenda, to deal with the nuclear arms race and the need for discussions on detente and disarmament, in view of the crippling effect of arms expenditure on the economy of this country?

Sir Ian Gilmour

I think that that would be to propose summitry for summitry's sake. My right hon. and noble Friend went to Moscow and put forward sensible and realistic proposals, which have been endorsed—indeed, it was an initiative by the Ten—by many other countries and which I am sure will be supported by even more countries in the coming months. The Americans have already said that they are prepared to enter into arms control negotiations with the Russians. We greatly welcome that. However, the hon. Gentleman must realise that so long as Russia continues to behave in Afghanistan in the way that she is now behaving it will cast considerable blight on East-West relations.

Mr. Nicholas Winteron (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend be a little more specific in response to the question of the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) about the MFA? Will he assure the House that the commitment given by the Secretary of State for Trade in the excellent speech that he made when we debated the MFA will be the basis of any agreement on the renegotiated MFA3? Can he also assure us that during our Presidency, all Ministers of the Crown, when they lead the European Community, will ensure that the mandate given to the Secretary of State by the House on that occasion will be carried through and that the jobs of 600,000 people in the textile and clothing industries will be safeguarded as a result?

Sir Ian Gilmour

When I said at the beginning of my statement that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and I represented the Government, I meant that the Minister represented the Government on this issue. Of all people, he is well aware of the mind of our right hon. Friend. He was therefore negotiating with full knowledge of what the Secretary of State had said. As I have already said, we are fully satisfied with the negotiating position.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Surely some consideration was given to the pursuit of the European initiative on the Middle East, which complements the Camp David agreement. Was consideration given to warning the newly elected Begin Government against any foolhardy attempt to take out the SAM missiles in the Lebanon?

Sir Ian Gilmour

No. We cannot discuss every part of the world at every Foreign Affairs Council or at every meeting on political co-operation. However, the Community's views have been well expressed, and, as my hon. Friend well knows, the Habib mission is still in being.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Lord Privy Seal said that this was a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, yet clearly the agenda trenched on a number of subjects, particularly trade. Has the custom of allocating different topics to different Departments and their equivalents in the Community been discontinued, and why was this mixture of agenda items made in this instance?

Sir Ian Gilmour

There has been no change in the procedures of the Foreign Affairs Council over the last few years. They are exactly the same as the procedures that operated under the previous Government. The matters to which I have referred have always been discussed by the Foreign Affairs Council, and so far as I know they will continue to be so in the future.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues take an early opportunity to disabuse the world of the myth being put around by the Israelis that their incessant attacks upon their Arab neighbours are pre-emptive strikes? Will he confirm that the number of Arabs killed by the Israelis is many times greater than the number of Israelis killed by Arab action?

Sir Ian Gilmour

There may be a great deal in what my hon. Friend says, but he will appreciate that this is a statement about the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, and I have already said twice that this matter did not arise.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Did the right hon. Gentleman remind his Common Market colleagues that just over 12 months ago the Tory Government decided to warn British industrialists not to trade with Russia as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan and to call upon the British people not to participate in events in Moscow and elsewhere? Did he also remind them that a few weeks ago the same Tory Government told British industrialists to go ahead and trade with the Soviet Union? Does that mean that Tory principles last about 12 months?

Sir Ian Gilmour

No, it does not. So long as the Russians try to subjugate Afghanistan our position will not be different. We have not altered our industrial policy—

Mr. Skinner

You have.

Sir Ian Gilmour

With great respect, we have not. What was altered was the decision on grain sales to Russia, because that was done as a result of President Reagan's decision to lift his grain embargo on sales to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

I return to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) about Gibraltar and his comments about Spain's accession to the Community. Was the implementation of the Lisbon agreement discussed with the Spanish Foreign Minister, and was it made clear to him that unless the border with Gibraltar is opened long before Spain's accession, Britain will not permit her accession?

Sir Ian Gilmour

It is well within the knowledge of Foreign Ministers—as I have said many times in the House—that it would be unthinkable for two member States to have a closed border. That has been made abundantly clear. As I told the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), the question of Gibraltar came up briefly. My right hon. and noble Friend and I again urged the early implementation of the Lisbon agreement, and the Spanish Foreign Minister stood by that agreement. However, as my hon. Friend will know better than most, it is now about 15 or 16 months since that agreement was reached; therefore, to put it mildly, its implementation is somewhat overdue.

Mr. Healey

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), is it not the case that the Secretary of State for Trade is now encouraging British business men to increase their exports to the Soviet Union, just as President Reagan is encouraging his agriculture producers to export grain to the Soviet Union? Does he not agree that these two reversals of policy suggest that the Conservative Administration's devotion to principle is at least modest, if not exiguous?

Sir Ian Gilmour

It is rather greater than the Labour Party's devotion to fact. There never was a ban on exports or trade to Russia. Therefore, the ban could never be lifted. There was an alteration to the COCOM rules on exports of high technology, and that has not altered at all.

  1. Statutory Instruments, &c. 85 words
  2. c984