HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc299-311 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Twelve that took place in Luxembourg on 21 April, and the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which followed on 21 and 22 April. My hon. Friend the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker)—and I attended.

The meeting of Foreign Ministers concentrated on the urgent problem of Libya. We had already agreed in the emergency meetings on 14 and 17 April on the importance of taking effective collective action to prevent further acts of Libyan state-directed terrorism and to defend ourselves against the threat. We agreed on 21 April to the following series of measures to this end: a severe cut in the size of people's bureaux throughout the Community; confining members of those bureaux to the city where they are officially assigned; restricting the size of other official Libyan bodies to the minimum necessary for their stated business; applying a much stricter visa regime to Libyans; and ensuring that any Libyan expelled from one member state will be expelled from the Community as a whole.

The Twelve also reaffirmed their ban on arms sales to Libya, and will be pressing other countries to join it. They agreed to look urgently at further action on the abuse of diplomatic immunity. Interior Ministers of the Twelve will be meeting today in the TREVI group to concert the closest possible co-operation between Interior Ministers, the police and security services of the Twelve. Transport Ministers have been asked to step up their co-operation urgently on aviation security. We shall follow up all these decisions urgently with our partners.

To have achieved an effective package of measures against Libya, in force throughout the Community, is a considerable step forward. We shall continue to press for further action and for vigorous implementation of the programme of action now agreed.

The Foreign Affairs Council briefly reviewed the issues likely to be discussed at the Tokyo economic summit. Ministers discussed improvements to the Community's mandate for the negotiations with Mediterranean third countries on the adaptation of their co-operation and association agreements to take account of the accession of Spain and Portugal.

There was a brief discussion of the new Community/Thailand manioc agreement; this is expected to be formally agreed at another Council in the near future. The Council also reviewed and confirmed the position to be adopted by the Community at the ACP-EC Council of Ministers which begins in Barbados on 26 April.

The Council discussed the complaint of the United States about trade loss as a result of the enlargement of the Community. It reconfirmed the Community's readiness to settle the issue in early GATT negotiations and agreed a mandate for the Commission to conduct those negotiations. Ministers regretted the United States' intention to take unilateral retaliatory action and noted that the Community would be bound to take equivalent measures to defend its interests

The Council reviewed progress on implementation of the report of the People's Europe Committee and agreed to adopt the Council of Europe flag for use on appropriate occasions. No requirements are placed on member states by this agreement.

There was an exchange of views on the budgetary situation. It will now be for the Council of Finance Ministers, meeting on 28 April, to consider in detail the 1986 budgetary situation and the 1987 reference framework for expenditure.

That, too, will clearly be an important meeting.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

I notice that the Foreign Secretary has described the decision of the European Council as a step forward. The last position from which we were said to be stepping forward was described by the right hon. and learned Gentleman as "vigorous and appropriate" and by the Prime Minister as "passive and supine". Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us how far these decisions represent a step forward, and from what base?

Secondly, why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not press on his colleagues some economic or financial sanctions such as the withdrawal of export credit—[Interruption.] In answer to the supine intervention of some anonymous hon. Member on the Government Benches I would point out that the financial sanctions against Iran that followed the taking of the American hostages proved to play a major role in securing their release. The Libyan situation is not dissimilar in many respects.

Thirdly, I understand, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention the point, that the Council agreed to send missions to the United States, the non-aligned countries, the Arab world and Libya to explain its position. When will those missions leave? How will they be composed? Precisely what position will they be explaining?

Fourthly, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us anything about the effect on British trade with the Arab world of the decision taken by Her Majesty's Government? Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already cancelled visits to Britain to discuss the increase of trade, and I understand that the American company AT and T has decided not to participate in an electronics fair in Britain for fear of terrorist action against it, following the British decision.

Finally, why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman so supine in responding to the American position on all those issues? We know now that 21¼ tonnes of C4 plastic explosive were exported from the United States to Libya by an ex-CIA agent. Only a few ounces of that explosive were required to blow up the TWA aircraft recently. We have heard this morning that the United States has discovered an arms ring operating in America which was planning to export over $2 billion of fighter aircraft, tanks and missiles to Iran and terrorist organisations via Israel. Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman discuss with his colleagues the part played in that operation by citizens of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Greece?

As President Reagan is still threatening further action of the same nature as last week's against states that he regards as fostering terrorism, could the right hon. and learned Gentleman make it clear to his Common Market colleagues that Her Majesty's Government will not again act as a Trojan horse of the United States by authorising the use of RAF bases without bothering to find out what specific targets are to be attacked, and with what weapons? If not, did he propose to his Common Market colleagues that the European Community flag should be the stars and stripes?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

So far as flags are concerned, I was content to endorse the sensible proposition that on European occasions the Council of Europe flag should be worn—should be displayed. [Laughter.] I contrast that with the reported attitude of the Opposition, who although the red flag has been their banner for as long as man can remember, are now attempting to conceal that banner in an attempt to mislead the people.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a range of fanciful questions. He must try to restrain his enthusiasm for new epithets when he finds them. The word "supine" has been over-used in his vocabulary.

The substance of the information disclosed today, stopping short of the right hon. Gentleman's fanciful ramblings, is that action is being taken by the authorities in the United States against a conspiracy for the export of arms to illegal destinations. That is something we should applaud and endorse. That is all there is to be said about the matter.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I made plain in the House last week, any question of further action by the United States would be a matter for separate consideration in quite separate circumstances when and if it did arise.

I shall now deal with the substance of what the right hon. Gentleman asked. The reaction of many countries in the Arab world has been a great deal more understanding than many people at first thought of the horror with which the Western democracies react against sustained Libyan state-directed terrorism. The Saudi business mission to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is in the country at present.

The issue of economic sanctions has been dealt with frequently. Experience of the cases in which they have been used previously shows that they have not proved to be an effective weapon. They cannot even be regarded as decisive in the case of Iran.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a step forward. As a result of the meeting this week, there was agreement throughout the Community on the wide range of measures I told the House about in my original statement. That represents a significant advance, as can be evidenced by the reaction of Libya to what has already been done.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us will feel that he has been excessively charitable in his statement today towards our EEC partners? It is quite clear from the bland communiqué that came out of Luxembourg that very little has been achieved. Furthermore, it is not likely that there will be any EEC unity in taking action against state-sponsored terrorism.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that my hon. Friend needs to keep a balance in assessing these matters. Plainly, we would have wished for a firmer and more united response from our European partners at an earlier stage. Having said that, the range of measures on which agreement was reached at the meeting on Monday represents a significant advance. It represents a commitment by 12 member states of the European community to take action across the Community, which is manifestly producing a reaction in Libya itself.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Do not the Americans have a legitimate complaint that we have been very slow in Europe in taking concerted action against Libyan-inspired terrorism? Does not the Foreign Secretary find it disturbing that even the sadly limited measures agreed yesterday had to follow in the wake of the American bombing raid? Will the Foreign Secretary remind the House of the terms of the Government's 1985 defence White Paper, which called for a more cohesive Europe operating on equal terms with the United States of America? If that is to be achieved, will he remind his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that that must mean a greater unity of purpose in both economic and political issues with our European partners than has been generally shown by the Government so far?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Although I am not prepared to accept the rebuke with which the right hon. Gentleman closed his question, I plainly endorse the need for more effective European co-operation. That is why this country promoted the political co-operation treaty which we are discussing later today. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have been in the van in pressing our European partners for collective effective action for some time. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) must stop his supine interjections.

Mr. Healey


Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman must remember that I am answering a question from another right hon. Gentleman, and even he does not have the right to intervene on that.

Two years ago, we had our experience with the Libyan people's bureau. Since that time, at international gatherings of the Seven, the Ten, or the Twelve of the Council of Europe we have been pressing for effective action. We got a plain agreement in January this year on, for example, a ban on arms sales and an urgent study of further steps—not enough. On Monday 14 April we pressed again for further action and got a commitment to three steps—not enough, but we were in the van the whole time. This Monday we got a commitment to the steps I have described in the House today. That is still not enough, but it is substantial progress; let us be thankful for it.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my right hon and learned Friend accept that we are very pleased that, with his usual determination, he is making steady progress? Does he take comfort from the speech by Chancellor Kohl in the Bundestag stressing that Europe must act against terrorism? Does he believe that he is a substantial ally in this fight?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I acknowledge with gratitude the tribute paid to me by my hon. Friend. It is reminiscent of one of my more fortunate school reports. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. The Chancellor of the Federal Republic is giving substantial support for effective action. We must continue to press for it ourselves.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Did the Foreign Secretary emphasise to our friends in Europe yesterday, as strongly as the Prime Minister did to the House, that the Americans had a free right to choose which weapon systems were used in the attack on Libya? Did he mention to our European colleagues that the Prime Minister did not deny that those aeroplanes could have carried nuclear weapons?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a fanciful proposition. It is perfectly plain that the exchanges between the British Government and the United States Government laid down the nature of the targets that were permissible and laid down that the attacks should be undertaken in a fashion that limited collateral damage and civilian casualties on the ground. There was no question of any use of nuclear weapons. To introduce it into this context is fanciful and ridiculous.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that exports of cheap food from the European Community to Libya have been banned? Will he admit that, in view of the way things have gone—he said that the measures did not go far enough—it is no surprise that the Americans took the action they did? Does he consider that the measures which he has just announced are too little and and too late?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have made it perfectly plain that the perception of this matter on both sides of the Atlantic was bound to be influenced by what was happening on the other side. Obviously, there was a connection between the slow reaction of the European Community to Libyan terrorism and the view taken by the United States. For that reason, I have pressed for a more effective response by Europe. As a result, we have been able to get a more effective answer than previously.

As to food surpluses, last week I raised with the Commission our concern about any action to authorise subsidies for dairy exports to Libya and other countries. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed that to the House yesterday. The latest information I have from the Commission is that no further subsidised dairy sales are in prospect. There is no question of any special benefits or concessions for Libya alone.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

What about beef?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The beef may be from Scotland, and that would be of interest to the hon. Gentleman. He has a special insight into the problem. The choice of export destinations for produce such as beef and cereals is a matter for individual traders. Community export refunds are available for a wide range of destinations. The refunds are designed to bridge the gap between the local price and the world price. Libya has not benefited from any special treatment. The Commission is clear about our concern that that should not happen.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

In view of the German police investigations into the bombing of the disco in Berlin and the British police investigations into the E1 A1 incident, will the Foreign Secretary tell us, at the earliest possible opportunity, whether there is a link between Libya and the E1 A1 incident? If such a link is established, will action be taken by the European Community and other countries to stop flights into Libya as one of the least possible sanctions that must be taken if the European Community and others are to be taken seriously?

Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to reply to a queston that was raised in debate, because the Secretary of State for Defence said elsewhere that Britain did not agree to each specific target? The fact is that the Government did not appear to know or to question the Americans about the targets in Tripoli.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On the last point, I can simply repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House at the time. The clearest possible response was given to the United States about the nature of targets that could be involved—targets demonstrably connected with the promotion or control of terrorism. The attacks should be undertaken with the highest possible regard to the avoidance of casualties—civilian or otherwise—and collateral damage.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I am not in a position, at this stage, to say anything about the evidence that may or may not be given in connection with cases in Britain—that is sub judice. All I can say is that the police are pursuing their inquiries.

I recognise the important point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, but it would not be right for me to say anything further at this stage. I can appreciate that the plain identification of responsibility for an attack on airlines and airline safety would legitimately raise consideration of the question that the right hon. Gentleman has put.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Despite all this macho talk about vigorous action and an effective step forward, will my right hon. and learned Friend admit that all that the European Foreign Ministers have done is make a rather feeble attempt to half-shut the stable door after the F-111s have bolted?

As European policy now appears to be confined, in vigorous terms, to waving the Euroflag, will my right hon. and learned Friend admit that only a nation state and not the European Community can mount an effective and vigorous foreign and defence policy?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, I should have thought that the lesson to be drawn from these events is precisely the opposite. If each of the 12 nation states of Europe sought, independently, to take vigorous effective action, entirely of their own design, that would be far less effective than the 12 nation states taking effective collective action.

I have made plain the extent to which we would have preferred stronger action at an earlier stage. If we have effective implementation of these measures they will certainly have an impact on the threats against which they are directed.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Did any of the European Foreign Ministers tell the Secretary of State exactly why none of them supported Britain's involvement in the Libyan bombings?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That question was not raised, because it was quite clear that there was a widespread understanding of the ways in which different countries have reacted to what took place. Their concern was far more constructive and sensible—namely, what further action could and should be taken by the member states to diminish and eliminate the threat of terrorism.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Foreign Secretary continue to press the EEC not to spend a great deal of money on offering the same subsidies for food dumping to Libya as it does, for example, to India and Pakistan? Did the Secretary of State thank the representative of the Spanish Government for the fact that, although we are not able to buy Australian or South African sherry because of Spanish opposition, they have given us permission to continue to sell British sherry in Britain for another 10 years?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not recollect any recent discussions with my Spanish colleague or anybody else about the outstanding qualities of British sherry. The disposal of Community food surpluses takes place on world markets with the benefit of export subsidies. We are concerned to secure reform of the common agricultural policy because so much of the money is directed to either storage or disposal of food surpluses.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Did his European colleagues try to establish from the Foreign Secretary whether his version or the Prime Minister's version is the correct one as to when he first knew of the decision to attack Libya from British bases?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is and has been no mystery. My European colleagues have expressed no curiosity. The Prime Minister told the House in her first statement last week that we heard of a tentative decision, in principle, from the President before the weekend. There were discussion between the President's representatives, the Prime Minister, and the heads or Foreign Ministers of a number of European countries during the weekend, of which I was fully informed on my return from Germany.

On the Monday, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, no Foreign Minister present at the meeting of the European Foreign Ministers had any knowledge that a final decision had been taken or of its nature and timing.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the report in yesterday's Irish Times that Mr. Barry and the Irish Government intend to ensure that cheap EEC food should continue to go to Libya? Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain today how it is possible that the EEC can have some form of foreign policy when it is based on so many different and divergent traditions and interests?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The answer to that is to be found in my statement. The 12 European Community states have agreed on substantial common action. One cannot expect, even if one wanted it, an entire foreign policy to spring into existence overnight. It is a far more effective to have 12 member states acting together—

Mr. Budgen

But they do not.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

—instead of acting separately. I am afraid that I do not study The Irish Times with the same assiduity as my hon. Friend, but I heard nothing from the Irish Foreign Minister on Monday to suggest that Ireland is other than as deeply concerned as we are at the link between state-sponsored terrorism and the IRA. There was no suggestion whatever of their wanting to give any comfort to Libyan state-directed terrorism.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall do my best to call those hon. Members who have been rising, but I ask for brief questions.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Did the other EEC Foreign Ministers know of the widespread opposition in Britain to the bombing raids and the use of bases here? Why should the innocent be slaughtered because of the crimes of the guilty? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that he would have served his country far better if he had stood up to the Prime Minister last week and made it clear that it was folly to carry out the bombing raids and for bases here to be used for such purposes?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is characteristically, ranging over a wide area that the House has already covered. The Prime Minister, I and the other colleagues concerned were all committed to our decision. There was no question of anybody standing up to anyone else. Nor was there any question of my colleagues in the Community pressing me with criticism of what had been said and done. Of course they knew that opinions such as those expressed by the hon. Gentleman had been expressed in the House. They also knew that the Government had a substantial majority in the following debate. Nobody who has been connected with this matter can be unaware of the death and injury to innocent people. We have all made plain that we deeply regret that factor. It is not possible, however, in today's world to take effective action in defence of the innocent citizens of this and other communities who are killed by terrorist action and to guarantee that they will not be killed or injured, by such action.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Could we look a little more closely at the use of my right hon. and learned Friend's phrase "state terrorism"? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the phrase is most appropriately applied to countries that have invaded and occupied neighbouring countries in defiance of United Nations resolutions, such as the Soviet Union of Afghanistan, Vietnam of Kampuchea and Israel of Jordan, the Lebanon, Syria and Egypt? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that American foreign policy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the EEC meeting.

Mr. Adley

I was going to ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend agrees that the Venice declaration produced by the European Community was the most constructive proposal that has yet emerged to solve the Palestinian problem, which lies at the root of middle eastern terrorism? What is being done to regenerate it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with the central point on which my hon. Friend closed his wide-ranging question and I agree with him about the importance of trying to inject new life into that approach.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Is not the best way in which to eradicate terrorism to remove its cause? Does that not mean tackling the problem of the Palestinians and Jerusalem? What measures does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to take with his American colleagues—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are again running wide of the statement.

Mr. Deakins

I should just like to ask what further steps with the United States are being proposed to resolve these problems in the middle east.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am anxious not to get drawn into a wide-ranging discussion of this question. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the central question. However, it must be acknowledged that one of the problems we face, which was made clear in the discussions last week with His Majesty King Hussein, is that of securing sufficiently effective representative Arab unity to enable the dialogue to be advanced as we all wish. However, I shall not be drawn further than that.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, despite the measures that were agreed upon earlier this week, many hon. Members and many people outside Parliament consider that the response of our European partners has been woefully inadequate? I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's determination to continue to try to put some backbone into our European partners, but can he assure the House that the failure to reach agreement in Europe will not be a constraint upon further effective measures by this country, and that such measures could and should include the severing of all transport links with Libya and the exclusion of all Libyan nationals from our territory save those who qualify for political asylum?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The points raised by my hon. Friend go rather further than anything that has yet been suggested. We must bear in mind that our argument is not with the entire Libyan people but with the regime that is responsible for the direction of Libyan state-supported terrorism. In that context, we are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure the security of this country, as evidenced by the action that was announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As for the Community, our actions and our own willingness to take far-reaching action two years ago, and again in the last fortnight, shows that of course we are prepared to take such action nationally as we think right, but equally I shall use the arguments of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in supporting the case for more effective and widespread action in the Community.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

The House has yet to see the evidence that justified the murder of innocent Libyan people. Today I was informed by Salaheddin Msallm, the official who represents the Libyan Government, that he had been banned by the British Government from making any public comment about all these issues. Could it be that this Government, who allegedly proclaim their belief in free speech, are frightened of the truth coming out about this sad, sordid affair? There have been no reprisals against the British community in Libya. They have been well protected and well cared for. They are part of a counry that recognises their worth. Whether this Government recognise their worth is another matter, bearing in mind the danger from bombing that threatens not only the lives of Libyans but also the lives of British citizens.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is difficult to approach such a long question that has been posed from such a different perspective from that of most of the rest of the House. However, the hon. Gentleman must understand that the House is concerned about whether or not effective action can be taken against a deliberate and sustained series of attacks on innocent people by terrorist means. In that context, I do not believe that our record on freedom of speech can sensibly be compared with that of the Libyan regime, which today has proposed the expulsion of 250 Community and European journalists, either in retaliation or for some other reason. The hon. Gentleman ought to be pointing his gun in the opposite direction.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Did my right hon. and learned Friend have the chance to stress to our European friends, particularly the weak-kneed French, that the Western Alliance and NATO would not last a week without the backing of the United States and the force that it can bring to bear? If we are to be isolated, is it not best to be isolated with our friends rather than with our enemies? If the allies continue to deny to America the right to defend its people throughout the world, we shall end up with America becoming isolationist again. That would damage the interests of the free world, possibly for years to come.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely understand the importance of my hon. Friend's point. I have tried to point out, both within Europe and across the Atlantic, the importance of both pillars of the Alliance taking full account of each other's opinions and sensitivities. It is of the utmost importance that we should not allow Colonel Gaddafi to achieve within the Alliance what Moscow has been unable to achieve.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Albeit there was no knowledge of a final decision, will the Foreign Secretary spell out what he meant in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) when he referred to "separate considerations and separate circumstances"? If we are a Community, there is surely a certain candour between Foreign Ministers. The French, having been asked for the use of air space, must have known what the proposition was. Why was there no discussion among the partners—albeit the circumstances were not, apparently, appropriate, according to the Foreign Secretary—on this vital, urgent issue? Why was it that the Secretary of State for Defence was left in ignorance until Monday 14 April? Will the Foreign Secretary answer the question that was eloquently put by Field Marshal Lord Carver in another place: who was consulted, and who agreed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have been trying to answer questions eloquently put in this place rather than those put in another place. The story has been plainly outlined. I have explained that the Prime Minister, myself, the Secretary of State for Defence and other colleagues were consulted in the first week. The Overseas and Defence Committee was convened on the—

Mr. Dalyell

Did the Foreign Secretary say that the Secretary of State for Defence was consulted?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That has been public knowledge for a long time. The knowledge of the Secretary of State for Defence, the Prime Minister and myself on the Monday was precisely the same until we heard—

Mr. Dalyell

But on Scottish radio he was for stopping attacks.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Our knowledge was the same, on the basis of the consultations that took place during the weekend. The knowledge of a number of other European countries was on the basis of similar consultations, but not all of them. But none of us received news of any final decision that had been taken about what and when, until late on the Monday.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it comes ill from the Opposition to be critical of United States weapons, equipment and other factors that were used in the raid on Libya, because when they were in office their idea of deterrence in the middle east—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is asking a question that goes wide of the statement.

Mr. Walker

It refers to questions that were asked by the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member should be asking a question of the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Walker

The European action was helped, but when the Opposition were in office it was not helped. Their idea of deterrence in the middle east was to order the Royal Force into action in battle zones unarmed. Their idea of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman could get his question in if he were a little more sophisticated about it.

Mr. Walker

The Opposition's idea of effective deterrence was the ineffective Beira patrol.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not think that I sufficiently follow the inwardness of that question to be able to answer it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the British people will have noticed in the measures that he has announced today that there is no reference to the possibility of banks and other commercial institutions being affected in any way whatsoever? Is that not best exemplified by the fact that this Government refuse to take part in any exercises that result in a loss of profit for their friends in the City, although the Prime Minister is prepared, on a nod and a wink, to say to President Reagan, "Go ahead, you can cause loss of life?"

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, the hon. Gentleman has it absolutely wrong.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend able to evaluate the number of Libyan nationals to be expelled throughout the EEC? Does he share the concern of many people in this country that not a lot, and not enough, have been expelled so far? Will he confirm that security at Rome and Athens airports was looked at, bearing in mind that terrorist activity has taken place at both of them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The specific incidents at Rome and Athens airports take us back some way in time. However, I know that at that time, and subsequently, much closer consideration was given to security at those airports. The intensification of airport security is one of the matters upon which agreement was reached last Monday. It was agreed that airport security should be the subject of urgent study by the Community's transport ministers. The best point to make about expulsions is that, as a result of the intensely strict visa regime that has been applied by this Government in the last two years to Libyans, the number of Libyans being admitted to this country including students has been reduced to about 10 per cent. of what it was previously.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Did any EEC country with American bases say that it was willing to allow them to be used in the event of a further American attack upon Libya? Was there not a very curious contradiction in the latter part of the Foreign Secretary's statement? He announced that we are on the brink of a trade war between the EEC and the United States of America, but there was no announcement of a trade war between the EEC and Libya. On the contrary, we are continuing to supply cheap foodstuffs to Libya, to which the Americans, quite rightly, object.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The first question did not arise. The second question is a completely false parallel In the course of the action and counter-action being taken in relation to trade by the Community countries and the United States, both sides contemplate the imposition of retaliatory sanctions if, but only if, negotiations under article xxiv.6 are not successful.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

What institutional initiatives are Her Majesty's Government taking so that in future cheap European food is not used to strengthen those regimes that we would wish to weaken? Will my right hon. Friend take it from the Conservative Benches that there is nothing quite as supine as the IMF doormat on the Opposition Front Bench?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am always glad to endorse, even from my hon. Friend a valid judgment of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). The broader question must in essence be looked at in the context of the case for and against economic sanctions and in the context of the sustained action that is necessary to reduce the volume of subsidised exports for disposal.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

In the discussions between representatives of the American Government and the Prime Minister about targets to be bombed in Libya, did the Americans at any stage say that one of their objectives was the killing of Colonel Gaddafi?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my right hon. Friend told the House, we set strict criteria for the use of those aircraft based in the United Kingdom. They were to be directed against clearly defined targets related to terrorism"—[Official Report, 15 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 729.] and every effort would be made to minimise collateral damage. The operation arrangements were within those criteria.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Did my right hon. and learned Friend remind his opposite numbers of the growing disenchantment in the United States at the European attitude, and in particular of the importance of the NATO Alliance? did he draw to their attention the damage that would have been done to the Alliance had not the United Kingdom supported the American action last week? In those circumstances, did he call upon his opposite numbers to take more effective and constructive action to deal with state-sponsored terrorism?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is precisely the point that I have already made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont Dark). I have made plain to the United States and our European partners our concern for effective united action within the Alliance. If either side is heedless of the interests or concerns of the other side, that poses a risk to the Alliance.

Mr. Healey

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm the statement of the Secretary of State for Defence on the "Today" programme this morning that Her Majesty's Government have the right to refuse permission for the use of the RAF bases on which American aircraft are based in Britain for the delivery of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, but has only the right of consultation on the use of those bases against countries with which NATO is not in dispute? That is exactly the opposite of what a former Conservative Prime Minister told the House in the debate last week. Secondly, will he inform the Secretary of State for Defence that those bases are RAF bases, not American bases?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Plainly, they are RAF bases. Equally plainly, the whole basis of agreement rests on the Churchill-Truman understanding—

Mr. Healey

Answer the question.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am coming to that, if the right hon. Gentleman could contain his supine self for a second.

That 1952 agreement reaffirmed that the use of those bases in an emergency would be a matter for a joint decision by Her Majesty's Government, and under that arrangement either party can withhold agreement until it is satisfied on any point.

Mr. Healey


Mr. Speaker

No, I think—

Mr. Healey

May I intervene for a moment as Pithecanthropus Erectus?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has had two bites.