HC Deb 30 November 1988 vol 142 cc697-700
7. Mrs. Margaret Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will next attend a meeting of the European Community Council of Ministers; and what subjects he expects to discuss.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The next Foreign Affairs Council will be held on 19 and 20 December. Subjects currently on the agenda are GATT, New Zealand butter and sheepmeat, hormones, Community and EFTA relations and steel tariffs.

Mrs. Ewing

Given that today is St. Andrew's day, if not every Andrew's day, can the Foreign Secretary tell us on how many occasions he has been accompanied to the Council of Ministers by the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have not had the pleasure of that experience. At meetings of the Council, representatives of the United Kingdom speak for the United Kingdom as a whole and the policies of Her Majesty's Government make sure that the interests of every part of the kingdom are taken into account.

Mr. Soames

In the course of those busy meetings, will my right hon. and learned Friend see whether he can raise with our partners in the EEC the pressing difficulties relating to European air traffic control? Is he aware of the tremendous inconvenience to which enormous numbers of people were put last summer? Will he do his best to try to put the matter at the top of the agenda?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend and I share the privilege of being neighbours of Gatwick airport, I share his concern about the point that he has raised. There was an effective meeting of Euro control last week at which those issues were advanced. We shall continue to press the case that he has put forward.

Rev. Martin Smyth

When the Foreign Secretary speaks to his fellow Ministers, will he underline the perhaps naive view of people in Northern Ireland that Governments are there to protect law-abiding people and to punish evildoers? Will he therefore support his right hon. Friend's comment that high-sounding declarations are not sufficient when dealing with terrorists, unless they are backed by deeds?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall certainly emphasise the point made by the hon. Gentleman. It is of the utmost importance that, when correct legal procedures are followed, extradition requests are prepared in consultation with another Government and no grounds are given for believing that they are incomplete or insufficient, the necessary will should be forthcoming to ensure that people who should be brought to trial do face trial.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity on St. Andrew's day, which also happens to be the 114th anniversary of the birth of Winston Churchill, to remind the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) that, if her dream of secession of North Britain from Great Britain is achieved, she will also have achieved the secession of North Britain from Europe and that it will require to get over the veto of Great Britain to get back in there?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No one could put the point as effectively as my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Alton

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there is concern among many hon. Members about the failure to extradite Mr. Ryan? When he raises the matter with the Belgian and Irish Governments, will he also bear in mind that this does at least present us now with the opportunity to press for European Community-wide legislation to combat terrorism? Does he agree that, in accord with the concept of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it would be far better to underpin our joint determination to fight terrorism if that legislation were jointly enacted by the House and the Dail?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand the force of the general case made by the hon. Gentleman, but no part of the law has so far been more carefully preserved for national enactment and consideration than the criminal codes. There are wide variations between the countries of the Community in respect of criminal law, so it is all the more important for us to secure effective, sustained and workable co-operation in arrangements for extradition and matters of that kind. It is important that both partners to the Anglo-Irish Agreement should recognise that we have a joint, sustained and important interest in achieving effective action in the courts against terrorism.

Sir John Stokes

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Council of Ministers if it could forcefully instruct the Commission against interfering in petty and stupid details? Is he aware, for instance, that English sterling silver, which is unequalled throughout the world, has recently had its hallmark stopped by some faceless EEC bureaucrat and an EEC number substituted?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is our constant purpose to diminish the number of regulations applying throughout Europe. It is for that reason that we recognise the case, in certain examples, for having a single common European standard rather than 12 diverse different ones. I shall consider the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Mullin

Is not the main obstacle in persuading other European Governments to help us with effective extradition the widespread belief' that an Irish person charged with a terrorist offence cannot hope to receive a fair trial in this country? Is that not boosted by the conviction of the six innocent people for the Birmingham pub bombing and the 11 innocent people held in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings? If we wish to occupy the moral high ground and to work out effective extradition procedures, would it not be best to face the fact that, in those cases, we have made a terrible mistake?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It cannot be stated too clearly and too often that all sides and all nations that are concerned with the intensely difficult struggle against well-organised terrorism have an equally important interest in the effectiveness of action to bring terrorists to trial, and in the justice of the trial proceedings when they take place. There is no doubt about that. One of the purposes of the exchanges that we have throughout Europe and through the Anglo-Irish Agreement is to promote progress on both those fronts. The patterns for scrutiny of decisions of the courts in this country, subject as they are, in due course, to the European Commission on Human Rights, will stand comparison with those anywhere in the world. If we are seeking to enhance confidence in the British system of justice, the hon. Gentleman should think twice before advancing some of the allegations that he has put forward this afternoon.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in matters concerning the European Community, as in other matters of foreign policy, he enjoys a degree of admiration and support that extends well beyond Conservative Benches? Does he agree that there is no need to set up another body to give my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the sort of foreign policy advice that Sir Horace Wilson gave to Neville Chamberlain?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I do not think that any such body is in contemplation.

Ms. Short

The Foreign Secretary will know that there has been speculation that the EEC might take an initiative to back a two-stage solution in the middle east. What is the Government's view about that? There is a real chance now of peace between the Palestinians and Israel, but his remarks earlier this afternoon were incredibly biased. The degree of terror that Israel is using in the Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza should be denounced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, just as he has denounced the acts in which Palestinian individuals have engaged. There is a chance for peace. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take a lead? Will Europe take a lead?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Lady should recall that last week in Brussels, at the end of a long discussion on the subject by the Foreign Ministers of the Community, not only yesterday in New York, we all recorded our unanimous view that what has happened in Algiers represents a positive step forward, to which there should be an Israeli response. We recorded our continuing concern, which we have expressed many times, at the implications of the violence that is committed by the Israeli Government and Israeli forces in the occupied territories. We deplore violence of whatever sort that is committed by either side. We look for a positive response from both sides to get a conference working through which it will be possible to arrive at a solution.

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