HC Deb 07 May 1986 vol 97 cc137-9
5. Mr. Sumberg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last discussed the question of international terrorism with the other Foreign Ministers of the European Community.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The most recent discussion among Foreign Ministers of the Twelve was on 21 April. Terrorism was also dealt with by Ministers of the Interior in the Trevi group framework on 23 and 24 April. I discussed it at the Tokyo summit with those European Foreign Ministers who were present. The outcome among the Twelve and at Tokyo has been agreement on specific measures for effective national and collective international action against terrorism.

Mr. Sumberg

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take an early opportunity to tell his European colleagues that the decisions reached at Tokyo, which were reached largely through the efforts of our own Prime Minister, have widespread support in the House? Will he consider extending those measures to all countries engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, not merely Libya? In that context, will he confirm the report in The Times today that the Foreign Office has asked for the withdrawal of a Syrian diplomat who has been engaged in terrorist activity in this country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not face any difficulty in following the first part of my hon. Friend's advice, because my European colleagues were well aware of the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to measures of this kind and to secure the endorsement of them in Europe. It is clear that the measures agreed in Europe and Tokyo are intended to be applied in suitably proven cases to other examples of state-sponsored terrorism.

On the second point, I can only say that there are police investigations involving the custody of a man called Hindawi who is charged with conspiracy to murder and attempting to destroy an aircraft in service. Investigations are continuing. I do not want to say anything which might prejudice the judicial process, but the Syrian ambassador called at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week at our request, and again on 5 May this week at his request. I can confirm that we discussed the El Al bombing incident with him, but I can give no further details while the investigation is continuing.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Will the declared intent at Tokyo, and possibly in Europe as well, to limit the number of diplomats from certain countries require an amendment to the treaty of Vienna?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that we took action two years ago in respect of the near total establishment of the Libyan People's Bureau. We have taken action more recently in connection with the reduction of numbers, and we remain ready to do so in suitable cases.

Mr. Jackson

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a real risk that all the welcome action being taken against terrorism in the middle east may be vitiated by the lack of progress in tackling one of its fundamental causes—the Palestinian problem?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend will recall, in the debate on this subject a couple of weeks ago the point was made strongly from both sides of the House that we need to address ourselves to the search for progress on the peace process in the middle east. It must be said that at present the opportunities for such progress are not looking too hopeful, but we shall continue to look for them.

Mr. Nellist

In the Foreign Secretary's discussions on 21 April, did he relate to the other Foreign Ministers the content of his letter to me of 17 April which defined state-sponsored terrorism as being where a state recruits, trains and finances terrorists? Over the following three weeks, in refusing to condemn the United States' military aid for the Contras in Nicaragua, was he aware of reports which appeared in The Observer on Sunday, which described the assassination of Nicaraguan people by the Contras by a method known as the tie—the victim's throat is cut and his tongue is pulled out over his breastplate to form a tie? What other description is there for assassination such as that than state-sponsored terrorism?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman makes a long connection with an elaborate account of some incident he has seen reported. On the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has just said.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

In dealing with terrorism, my right hon. and learned Friend will know how vital it is to obtain agreement on extradition procedures. What further steps does he propose to take to persuade the Americans of the importance that we attach to the Senate passing the Extradition Treaty Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Extradition procedures are important. That is why improvement of those procedures was one of the points specifically agreed by the Tokyo summit. In that context, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I underlined to the President and the Secretary of State the importance that we attach to ratification of that treaty. They left us in no doubt about the commitment of the American Administration to that end, and they and we are doing everything possible to secure the right answer from Congress.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Foreign Secretary exercise some caution, even in the justifiable indictment of Libya, so that he does not fall into the trap of putting all the Arab nations against us, in order to satisfy the aims of the United States-Israeli axis?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no question of the Government taking any action to satisfy the aims of that or any other axis for its own sake. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point that it would be wrong to allow the justified condemnation of Libyan state-directed terrorism to lead us into any general position of confrontation or disagreement with the other Arab states.

Sir Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in contrast with the European Parliament, when the 20 countries of the Council of Europe met at their Assembly recently, when the subject of Libyan terrorism was debated, many of them seemed thoroughly ashamed of their previous inaction and recognised both the importance of the Atlantic Alliance in this context and the need for more robust action by all of them to combat terrorism?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am delighted to hear the report given by my hon. Friend. We welcome support for our position from the European Council assembly, as from everywhere else.