HC Deb 22 June 1982 vol 26 cc155-63 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Francis Pym)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the visit which I paid to Luxembourg on 20 and 21 June, during which I 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.

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 discussions 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 which 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 18 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 22 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 21 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 10 April 1980 would have been implemented on 25 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.

Mr. Eric S. Hefter (Liverpool, Walton)

Is it not clear that the Foreign Secretary has come back from Luxembourg with little to offer the country, and that his statement today cannot satisfy anyone? Is he aware that his understanding concerning the Luxembourg compromise veto offers no real guarantees, and that we cannot guarantee that in future our EEC partners will not carry out majority voting as they did on 18 May? All that we have is a continuation of the agreement to disagree, instead of the clear commitment to the Luxembourg compromise that we asked for.

On sanctions against Argentina, have not our EEC partners acted—in my view—with indecent haste? Is it not clear that the lifting of the sanctions will make a final ceasefire and settlement more difficult? Also, what guarantees are there that no more Exocets, Mirages or other weapons will find their way to Argentina, especially as, I understand, the final statement agreed said nothing about arms sales? In fact, the right hon. Gentleman said in his statement that the ban will continue for the time being. What does that mean in practice?

On the Lebanon, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the provisions of United Nations resolution 512 are being carried out? What truth is there in the allegation that medical and other supplies for United Nations agencies are not being allowed through by the Israelis?

On Gibraltar, does this make any difference whatever to the Government's attitude to Spain joining the EEC partnership? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will clarify that matter.

I am sure that the whole House is glad—certainly the official Opposition are—that the Genscher-Colombo so-called European Act got nowhere, and that it has been put on ice. May we have an assurance that it will remain on ice, because I did not like the reference suggesting that it would be opened again?

Lastly, is it not clear that our partners in the EEC are not to be completely relied upon? Can we, therefore, be assured that when the Prime Minister meets the Heads of State of the EEC later this month she will press for a real commitment on the Luxembourg compromise that it should be in the form of a written agreement, and that if Britain's interests are not secured the Government will stop merely using words and will proceed to positive action?

Mr. Pym

As I made clear in my statement, obviously I would have preferred a clear-cut outcome. However, that is not to be had at the moment. In 1966, five of the partners did not want to go along with the arrangement of protecting important national interests. France was in that position at that time. The position today, after the talks that I had this weekend, is that five countries support that view. That gives one ground for hope and expectation that the member States will continue to take their decisions as they did up to 18 May. There cannot be any certainty about that, and I accept that, but, as I said in my statement, if it is necessary we shall have to return to the matter. Our position has been made quite clear, and we shall protect our national interests on the basis that I made quite clear.

It will be some time before agreement on the Genscher-Colombo proposals is achieved, if, indeed, it is. That remains an open question.

There was a long discussion about sanctions against Argentina. Two views were argued. First, it was argued that sanctions should remain. The alternative, which was eventually agreed, was that sanctions should be lifted subject to the cessation of hostilities continuing. Some member countries believed that such a measure would deter Argentina from taking any military action. That is a legitimate point of view. The decision to react immediately if force was used again by Argentina is acceptable and right.

I regret that progress cannot be made on the question of Gibraltar. The Government of Gibraltar would have liked the frontier to be opened and the whole Lisbon process to have been started. As that would be almost certain to end in failure, and in view of the request made by the Spanish Government, it was right not to go ahead. Spain is still keen to join the European Community. It was present in Luxembourg for that purpose. The Foreign Minister realises that if Spain were to join it would be inconceivable that the frontier should remain closed. I am pretty confident that the frontier will be opened before Spain joins. I hope that we can work towards the attainment of that objective.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to be fair to those hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate on the Middle East, questions on this matter will not go beyond 4 o'clock.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Am I right in thinking that the Community will automatically reimpose sanctions on Argentina if hostilities continue? If that is so, is that not a perfectly satisfactory outcome of the discussions?

Was anything more said about Lebanon? Was the American request that Israel should withdraw from Lebanon discussed? If so, was it supported? Were there any suggestions as to what should happen in the Lebanon, which has clearly been reduced to an appalling state by the war? What help can Europe give to that country?

Mr. Pym

The Ten considered whether sanctions should be automatically reimposed. It was decided to meet immediately when and if force was used again by Argentina in the South Atlantic to consider what to do, with the clear and positive intention to take action.

We spent a long time discussing circumstances in the Middle East. We discussed the whole matter of withdrawal and the future of the Palestinians. We shall have a debate later this evening on that important topic. A lot of time was spent on the matter and withdrawal was urged.

On 9 June the Ten made a strong statement about the war. On 14 June a message was sent to Israel asking it to clarify its position. The President of the Community made that public yesterday. We have not yet had a satisfactory reply to those questions. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that more time was spent on that subject than on any other during the weekend.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of repeating that there can be no question of any change in the status of Gibraltar without the full agreement of its people.

Will my right hon. Friend also give an assurance that now that Spain is a member of NATO there can be no question of Spanish ships, aircraft or men using Gibraltar's NATO facilities until the blockade has been lifted?

Mr. Pym

I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance for which he asks. The Lisbon agreement states: For its part the British Government will fully maintain its commitment to honour the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the preamble to the Gibraltar constitution.

I should not like to give a definitive answer to my right hon. Friend's second question. The effect of the postponement on NATO will be minimal. However, I am well aware of my right hon. Friend's points.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

In the light of recent happenings, has it not yet been borne in on the Foreign Secretary and the Euro-maniacs in the Foreign Office that the EEC is based not on partnership, but on self-interest, taking advantage of other countries in difficulties and gutless expediency? Is this not the time for the Foreign Secretary and the Government to start withdrawing from the institutions of the EEC and to rebuild bridges with the Commonwealth?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speed with which he has asked the governor of Gibraltar to come to Britain for discussions.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that when Sir Joshua Hassan and his colleagues come to Britain tomorrow he will arrange for them to see the Secretary of State for Defence to discuss the closure of the Gibraltar dockyard, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to obtain additional aid for the serious economic problems that will now arise as a result of the border's failure to reopen on 25 June?

Mr. Pym

I look forward to seeing Sir Joshua Hassan and his colleagues myself and I shall convey my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we share his disappointment about the postponement of the meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister and the continued closure of the frontier? We were particularly disappointed that his statement referred to the meeting being arranged "in due course". That suggests that it may be some time before it is possible to arrange such a meeting. Is it not important that it should be arranged at an early date as the matter is important not only for NATO but for Spanish entry into the European Community?

Mr. Pym

It is important that the meeting should be arranged at a propitious date when progress can be made.

It was decided yesterday that to name a day now would be difficult. The wise course would be to wait until the circumstances seem more propitious and then to come to a conclusion. As I said in my statement, we shall keep in close touch with each other.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

As the Foreign Secretary has failed to obtain a clear agreement on the national veto, does he accept that the assurances given in the Government's statement issued at the time of the referendum that there should be a national veto and that no decision or tax could be imposed without the agreement of the British Minister have now been abrogated?

Mr. Pym

As I have told the House before, it was an agreement to disagree. A clear-cut commitment cannot be obtained at the moment. However, there certainly is a strong desire to continue with the procedures and practices that were used until 18 May when an event took place that some members of the Community may regret. We must see what progress can be made and how to continue from here. If necessary, I shall return to this matter and raise the subject again with our partners.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems associated with the Luxembourg compromise is that what national interest would justify a veto has not been clearly defined?

Does he also agree that the veto has been used on occasions in circumstances which clearly do not constitute a serious national interest? What does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Pym

It has always been up to each member State to judge whether its important national interest is at stake. It would be extremely difficult to try to define the circumstances in which that might apply. It would be a difficult road to take, and I do not recommend it. Each country should be left to decide for itself.

Will my hon. Friend remind me of his second question?

Mr. Hogg

Has the veto been used on occasions which do not constitute a serious national interest?

Mr. Pym

There have been controversies on a number of occasions about the use of the Luxembourg compromise. We have never challenged its use by anyone because we respect the right of other member States to claim that their important national interests are at stake. Certainly we expected that our claim would be respected, although it was not on 18 May. There has been some controversy, but I hope that, after the experience of last month and the long discussions that we had this weekend, we shall now be able to proceed on the basis that operated before and which worked satisfactorily whatever its demerits on paper.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

Is it not clear that since 18 May we have had one rebuff after another and the continuous defeat of vital British interests in our relationship with our Community partners?

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how we can welcome a new member of NATO only to have a frontier closed against it? How shall we take into and involve in NATO Spanish armed forces when the frontier with Gibraltar is closed and military secrets are supposedly to be shared?

Mr. Pym

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about events since 18 May.

NATO will be strengthened by Spain and it is entirely right to welcome that country to it. The hon. Gentleman knows the history to the closure of the frontier and also knows of the desire to reopen it. In addition, he knows the steps that the Government have taken to achieve that. Perhaps he will be wise enough to understand the circumstances immediately applying that make it extremely difficult for the Spaniards to proceed. I am confident that the frontier will be opened in due course and I look forward to that day just as much as he does.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

In my right hon. Friend's discussions on the Genscher-Colombo proposals about European union, was there any mention of the evolution of European security policy? My right hon. Friend will be aware that at the General Assembly of the Western European Union the French Foreign Secretary, M. Cheysson, last week reaffirmed his Government's view that Western European Union was the appropriate body for concerting European security policy.

Mr. Pym

Not much progress was made in discussing the plan and it will be proceeded with later.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

What pressures did the right hon. Gentleman and his European colleagues consider could be applied to Israel to make it abandon its inhumane obstructionism over the availability of international medical and relief supplies which could alleviate the desperate need in Southern Lebanon? When does the EEC intend to consider imposing a sanction against Israel because of its genocidal policies in the Lebanon—

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

Do not talk rubbish.

Mr. Faulds

—by the introduction of the abrogation of its financial and trade agreements with Israel?

Mr. Sandelson

Stop play acting.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What comment can be made about some silly loon in the House who on such a serious issue, makes that sort of lunatic, juvenile comment?

Mr. Sandelson

The hon. Gentleman is not a serious person.

Mr. Faulds

The hon. Gentleman never had a principle to abandon.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There has been more than one juvenile exhibition this afternoon.

Mr. Pym

Perhaps I should answer the question. Humanitarian aid is being brought to bear both nationally and on a collective Community basis. We have applied direct pressure to Israel. Pressure has been applied both individually and collectively, as I said in response to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). In addition, we have been in close touch with the United States of America, because its influence is infinitely greater than that of any other country. Many countries, including some member States of the Community, have been in touch with the United States of America.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, had it not been for the fact that both sides of the House expected the Gibraltar blockade to be terminated this year, it would have been very difficult, to say the least, for Spain's entry into NATO to have been ratified? Since uncertainty has proved over and over again to be the worst enemy of foreign policy, will my right hon. Friend reiterate that it is not only politically inconceivable but legally impossible for a country to join the EEC when it has closed frontiers with another member State?

Mr. Pym

I have publicly said and believe it to be the case that it is inconceivable that a country could join the Community with a frontier with another member State closed. However, Spain's membership of NATO will undoubtedly strengthen the collective defence of the West, and that is one of our major interests.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Has it been brought to the right hon. Gentleman's attention that in response yesterday to question No. 16 the Minister for Trade promised that the Government would look at the whole system of end user certificates? Does he realise that, whatever he may have said about arms embargoes in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), they are a sham if the system of end user certificates is not carried out to the letter? Do his colleagues, particularly his French colleagues, understand that Aerospatiale Dassault is still boasting about the sale of its wares to Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador, as well as to other countries? Unless we are sure that end user certificates are honoured, it is tanamount to supplying the most sophisticated weapons to the Argentine.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman has raised a valid point. There is no way in which we can be certain about the matter. In recent weeks we have been particularly concerned about the ultimate destination of certain weapons and the Community — which certainly includes France—could not have been more helpful, taken more trouble, or made more effort to ensure that a despatch of arms did not go beyond its destination. Many steps were taken to try to ensure that that was so—

Mr. Dalyell

Try, but not succeed.

Mr. Pym

There is no certainty, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Many steps were taken. In some cases the nature of those steps was shared with us and we were grateful for the efforts made to achieve the objective that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

On the subject of the Luxembourg compromise, although it is gratifying to know that five members of the Community are agreed that the supreme national interest veto must apply, what are those five doing to ensure that their view will stick? Since the Argentine still threatens—if necessary, by force—to take the territory of a member country of the EEC, what arrangements are the other countries making to prolong the arms embargo until the Argentine has given up its intentions and what arrangements are being made in the meantime to enforce the embargo on arms sales to the Argentine?

Mr. Pym

In 1966, only one country out of the Six wanted that safeguard for major national interests. That situation endured until last month. Today, five countries wish to ensure that that procedure is adhered to. That shows that there is a general desire—after lengthy discussion—to continue with the procedures and practices that existed before.

The arms embargo is being continued by member countries without any time limit at present. That matter may be raised by member States at later meetings. That is a matter for them to decide and we shall consider it at the time. The condition of the import ban is that the ceasefire should continue in the South Atlantic. At present, there is a de facto ceasefire, which is not enough as far as we are concerned. If a shot was fired, or if there was any aggression or military activity the member States would immediately reconvene and take further measures. They have therefore reached a clear and pretty decisive conclusion.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

As the Camp David accords sadly appear to have died in blood-drenched Lebanon, what discussions have taken place about the possibility of reviving the European initiative pioneered by my right hon. Friend's predecessor, Lord Carrington, which sought to find, through the European Community, a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem?

Mr. Pym

We have much discussion on that subject and we shall debate it later today. To give my hon. Friend a preliminary answer, my view is that the events in recent weeks in Lebanon have made it infinitely more difficult even than before to achieve that lasting settlement. We must give much more thought to it and work much harder at it.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the Gibraltar Minister comes tomorrow discussions will be confined to how the Government can help the dockyard and that there is nothing outstanding to discuss with Spain, apart from the reopening of the frontier?

Mr. Pym

I am prepared to discuss any matter that is raised. I support the Lisbon process, which represents a sensible way forward. However, I am ready to discuss any matter with the governor of Gibraltar.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, despite what he said about the EEC decision immediately to lift sanctions against Argentina and about the Luxembourg compromise, there is a growing feeling in Britain, which I hope that he will take on board, that the United Kingdom's interests are not the interests of the rest of the EEC? Unless we mend some bridges, our future in the Community is undoubtedly in jeopardy.

Mr. Pym

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. It is easy to get into a mode of thought where one believes that everything done by the Community may not be in our interests. The combined interest of the Ten is infinitely greater than it would be if we were not joined in the Community.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Does my right hon. Friend find it odd that hon. Members who have argued that the Treaty of Rome and the common agricultural policy are poisoning our relations with our European allies a:7e doing their best to inject their own venom because, although the Community gave us loyal support at the worst moment of the Falklands crisis, they now take a different view of tactics on sanctions?

Mr. Pym

I note what my hon. Friend says. There is certainly some truth in it.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As my right hon. Friend knows, this House and this country agreed to join the European Community on the basis of the Luxembourg compromise. Will he give a commitment to the nation now that he will take whatever action is necessary to restore the Luxembourg compromise, otherwise we shall have what has recently happened: as Europe has voted, we have paid?

With regard to the Middle East, as we had European sanctions against Argentina because it committed aggression, will we likewise have sanctions against Israel until it withdraws?

Mr. Pym

The Luxembourg compromise was an agreement to disagree, but at the discussions this weekend no one wished to rearrange the compromise. They wished to proceed on the basis of it. We must see whether that works out. If it does not, we shall have a new position and I shall certainly raise the matter again. Now that five member countries wish to protect their vital national interests when they judge that there is a risk to those interests, it seems to give grounds for good hope.

As for the Middle East, we are discussing the possibility of economic measures as suggested by my hon. Friend, but there has been no decision yet.

Mr. Heller

The Foreign Secretary must be aware that his answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is disappointing, to say the least. Surely we cannot rely upon hopes. Will he return to my question which he did not answer? Will the Prime Minister be prepared to raise the matter at the meeting of Heads of State to try to obtain a clear commitment and agreement from the rest of the Community?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman says that we cannot rely on expectations. The basis of the so-called Luxembourg agreement was a curious arrangement with which five member countries originally disagreed. They do not wish to reopen or to alter the matter. They will not come to a clear commitment such as the hon. Gentleman and I would prefer. That is not available. We must make the best use that we can of the procedures and practices that are available to us. I acknowledged in my statement that I would much rather have had a clear-cut outcome, but we must carry on as we were before. It worked perfectly well under Governments of both parties. If anything similar were done in the future, that would be a serious matter, and I should raise the question again.