HC Deb 09 April 1986 vol 95 cc155-7
8. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the Government's policy concerning the provision of aid by the United States of America to the Contras in Nicaragua; and if this policy has been communicated to the United States.

13. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will call for an early meeting of the European Economic Community Council to consider issues raised by United States military aid to the Contras in Nicaragua.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We support the Contadora peace initiative and, together with our European partners. publicly welcomed the impetus given to Contadora in January by the Carabelleda declaration. We do not believe that the problems of Central America can be solved by armed force. The United States Government are well aware of our views. A further opportunity to discuss the matter with Community Foreign Ministers will arise on 21 April.

Mr. Banks

Has the Secretary of State communicated directly to the American Government the point that funding the Contras amounts to international terrorism and must be condemned by all civilised people?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We advocate a political solution through the Contadora process rather than a military solution. Nicaragua should be ready to negotiate seriously on the basis of the Contadora objectives and avoid such actions as the recent incursion into Honduras. I repeat that we do not believe that the region's problems can be resolved by armed force. We constantly urge restraint on all sides. We regularly discuss important questions, including the situation in Central America, with the United States and it is well aware of our views.

Mr. Madden

Will the Foreign Secretary dissociate the British Government completely from American support of the Contras, who are guilty of brutal terrorism and of attempting to overthrow a democratically elected Government by force? Does he realise that, unless the British Government take a more robust line in that respect, their condemnation of international terrorism is rendered less effective and appears partial and highly selective?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman must understand what I have just said. We discuss this matter regularly with our Community partners. We have made clear our view that the problems of the region cannot be solved by military means. A solution should come from the region itself. That is why we give our strong support, together with our colleagues in the European Council, to the Contadora process.

Mr. Jackson

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a real danger that American policy in Nicaragua may fall between two stools, neither overturning the Government there, nor reconciling Nicaragua to Western interests?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is at heart a matter for the United States, and it is one of the questions that has led to differing views being taken by the two Houses of Congress on the proposal at present before them.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider it wise for any local authority to twin with Nicaragua, bearing in mind that Leicester city council has announced just that? Does he consider that that might be embarrassing to the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Funded by America? A bit wide, I think.

Mr. Bruinvels

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must be much more sophisticated than that.

Mr. Bruinvels

I thought that I had made it clear that I was referring to the role of the Contras and asking whether it was embarrassing for the Government to have any connection with the Contras on this.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question concerns aid from the United States Government to the Contras.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Should not the Foreign Secretary, as he has already said to the House, be building on the clear difference that there is between the two Houses of Congress in the United States and the President and giving support to those forces in America who realise that President Reagan's initiative, which appears to be his own, will not help the Contras of Central America? Should he not be assisting those in America who believe that the best way forward is to work with the members of the Contadora group and to meet the democratically elected Government of Nicaragua?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have made it plain in answer to almost every one of the questions so far asked on this matter that the United States Government are well aware of our views on this question, upon which we have our own policy. We support a comprehensive and verifiable Contadora agreement, based on the well-known objectives of that process. We believe that the matter should be resolved by a political solution rather than by military means.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that this is an issue on which frank speaking by friends of the United States must serve the interests both of this country and of the United States? Is it not becoming obvious that the exaggerated and endless claims that Nicaragua represents a major threat to that great country are unhelpful to its European partners?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

One must make a judgment on the claims of both sides. There is no doubt about the extent to which Nicaragua is observed by a number of the others taking part in the Contadora process as having some responsibility for failure to agree in that process. One of the problems identified at the meeting of the Contadora process earlier this week was Nicaragua's refusal to agree on arms levels. That is one of the matters still to be taken into account. We have made it very clear to everyone concerned that we believe that this problem cannot be solved by military means and that it is necessary to have restraint on all sides, and in that sense to seek a solution within the Contadora framework.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that the only way to put an end to the bestial killings by the Contra forces in Nicaragua over the past seven years is for the British and European Governments to tell the United States very clearly that it must end all military aid, covert and overt, to Honduras and to the Contra forces themselves, as the only way to bring any peace to that region?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Even if I shared the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis, I am not at all sure that that would be the right way to advance his case. I shall restate the case that I have made many times this afternoon. We have discussed this matter many times with our Community partners and have reached a common view about the need for this problem to be solved not by military but by political means, and to be solved on the basis of restraint on all sides—I repeat, on all sides. The United States is in no doubt at all about our view.

Mr. Healey

First, may I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his safe return from what must have been an exhausting visit to the subcontinent, and on his acceptance during his visit of a gift of two sheep, which I trust are both still in good health.

On the question of American aid to the Contras, who are conducting a terrorist compaign against the legally elected Government of Nicaragua, may I take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's somewhat encouraging reply to earlier questions implies that he would support all members of the Contadora group in opposing military aid by the United States to those terrorists? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Governments of Honduras and Costa Rica have already made it clear that the American Administration told lies about their view on the issue, and that in a BBC broadcast a week or so ago the American ambassador in Costa Rica also admitted that the American Government had told lies about the views of Contadora countries? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore confirm my interpretation of his cautious answer as meaning that he opposes American aid to the Contras, who are fighting a terrorist compaign against Nicaragua?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman on his discursive and anecdotal ramble through a series of observations—[HON MEMBERS: "Yes or no?"]—save only to say that the Contadora objectives require all sides to end the support for the subversion of other states. That applies to Nicaragua as well as any other state. It is on that basis—the basis of restraint on all sides—that we urge a conclusion of the problem, on the basis of the Contadora principles.

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