HL Deb 02 March 1981 vol 417 cc1227-35

3.40 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Common-wealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place, which is in her own words:

"I visited the United States from 25th to 28th February, accompanied by my noble friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I had talks in Washington with President Reagan, Vice-President Bush, Secretary of State Haig, Defense Secretary Weinberger and other members of the President's Cabinet. I also met members of both Houses of Congress. In New York I had a meeting with the Secretary General of the United Nations.

"The reception given to us in Washington was warm and generous, testifying to the health of the Anglo-American relationship and also to the excellent understanding which President Reagan and I had established even before either of us assumed our present responsibilities. My talks with President Reagan and members of his Cabinet covered all the most important aspects of the international scene. The discussions were particularly timely, since the new Administration are still formulating their policy on many of the issues raised. At this early stage in the new Administration's period in office there was, of course, no question of new commitments being entered into by either side.

"We exchanged views on East-West relations as a whole, and in particular on the speech President Brezhnev delivered a week ago. We agreed that it contains, besides much that is unacceptable to Britain and America, certain points which need to be explained and explored. This applies, for instance, to President Brezhnev's remarks about arms control, which both President Reagan and I see as a necessary complement to defence and deterrence.

"On the Middle East, I explained the objectives of the European initiative stemming from the Venice Declaration of last June. I pointed out that this initiative was intended not to compete with American efforts but to complement them.

"On Southern Africa, we agreed to keep closely in touch, especially in relation to Namibia—a problem to which the United Nations is increasingly turning its attention.

"On El Salvador, the Americans expressed their concern about the developing conflict, and in particular made clear their opposition to the support which the guerilla movement is receiving from external sources.

"My noble friend and I indicated that the British Government shared the American view of outside interference in the internal affairs of El Salvador. We explained that we condemned violence from whatever quarter it came, and that we considered that the people of El Salvador should be able to determine their own future peacefully and democratically.

"The President and I discussed the threat to the stability and security of the Gulf and South-West Asia following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I said that Britain shared the determination of the United States, and of our other allies, to prevent Soviet encroachment in this region. We discussed the possible creation of a rapid deployment force which would be available for use, if necessary, in an emergency in this or other areas of the world. This matter will be the subject of consultation. I made it clear that if such a force was created the United Kingdom would be ready to contribute to it, in the same way as, in conjunction with the United States and France, we have already stationed naval units in the Gulf in response to the situation arising from the Iran/Iraq war.

"In my discussion with Defense Secretary Weinberger I pointed out that this year and last the United Kingdom had increased its defence spending in accordance with the NATO target. The Defense Secretary and I agreed that there should be better balance in defence purchases between this country and the United States. This would lead to more effective use of the alliance's resources.

" On all matters we discussed President Reagan and the members of his Cabinet whom I met expressed their intention of consulting even more closely and frequently than in the past not only with Britain but also with America's other allies. Indeed this is already happening. I naturally welcome the American intention, and I hope that my own visit will have contributed to deepening the understanding on which such consultation must always be based ".

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his Statement, may I first of all express pleasure at the friendly reception which he and the Prime Minister received in Washington. The special relationship—and I for one am never chary of using the term—does in fact exist, whether or not everybody approves of it. However, it should never be the relationship of Siamese twins each tied indissolubly to the objectives of the other. Unfortunately, over the weekend many of us have had the impression that there has been a rather hasty, inadequately thought-out British over-commitment to certain exaggerated American objectives. I hope I am quite wrong about this, as I speak as one who firmly believes in the special relationship within NATO. The Statement, however, does tone down the fairly authoritative reports we have had over the weekend, and I welcome the tone of the Statement to that extent.

However, it is still pervaded by a note of strident belligerency in regard to the revival of détente. There are many things in Mr. Brezhnev's latest speech that the West would do well to consider very carefully and favourably. The reports, including this Statement, do not encourage one to think that there will be a positive trust in that direction when the diplomacy is resumed in regard to a resumption of talks with the Soviet Union.

First, on the vital question of the revival of détente and of promoting arms control, we entirely agree that détente must be a two-way affair and that the Soviet Union must make its full contribution to its success. However, we also believe that whenever Mr. Brezhnev or any other authorised Soviet leader makes a proposal we should not instantly react in an adversarial attitude. We must examine and welcome, so far as we can, the positive element of any such declaration. We would have liked a little more clarity and a little less clamour in Washington in relation to the Russian initiative.

We would also like to know to what extent were our partners in the Community consulted before the visit, particularly in regard to the obviously necessary reply from Washington, during the visit, to Mr. Brezhnev's speech. Were our partners consulted? Was there a consensus as to what should be said? All this is extremely important, because if the Community is to mean anything it must grow in grace in regard to political unity more than in any other direction.

Secondly, the commitment of the United Kingdom of forces to a rapid deployment force in the Gulf. It seems to me to be rather obviously unthought-out beforehand. The question of intervention in the Gulf is a very complex and a very sensitive one, as I personally know from some years of experience of this matter. The Statement underlines the commitment rather than tones it down. We are, it seems, committed to joining with the Americans in forming a force to intervene, to interfere, in the Gulf. Within hours of that being known, at least three of our best friends in the Arab world reacted in a hostile if not abusive fashion. I suggest that that is not the best way of helping the legitimate and vital interests of this country and the West in the Middle East.

As regards El Salvador, none of us, I hope, would underestimate the sinister implications of Cuban intervention, whether independent or surrogate, in the affairs of Central and Southern American countries, nor indeed its continuing intervention in Africa and its threat to stability in Namibia. However, is it the best and wisest course to strive to counter that intervention by military means? Is it not better to concentrate on economic and political aid and to get at the roots of the disturbance in countries like El Salvador and to cut from under the feet of those who have a vested interest in de-stability in that area, the reasons for that instability?

Moreover, perhaps the Foreign Secretary might tell us how much time was really given during this visit to the urgent need for concerted action to deal with the world recession. What did the other Mr. Reagan, the US Treasury and trade officials have to say to him and to the Prime Minister about the British performance? Were Professor Friedman and his wife present, perhaps, at these discussions? Did they exchange their experience of mistakes or of success? Did they have any exchanges on the vital question of joining together in the West to defeat the worst recession that the world has ever experienced?

Finally, does the reference to the ever closer consultation between the United States, ourselves and our partners refer to all the countries of NATO plus those outside NATO who are, without being members of NATO, nevertheless by interest as well as inclination in agreement with the purposes of NATO? There is much to be hoped for from a reappraisal of the role of NATO—a restrengthening of its political as well as its military structure—and I would hope that the Foreign Secretary, if not today then fairly soon, may be able to tell us that he and the Americans were at one in extending and making more politically effective the consultation between us and our friends in the alliance.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we too would like to thank the Foreign Secretary for repeating the Statement. Obviously we have not had time to consider all its very grave implications, but I would say at once that we are very glad that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary had such a good reception in Washington and, generally speaking, we of course welcome the Prime Minister's declared intention to support the new American Administration in their policy of resisting aggression, and notably Soviet aggression, anywhere in the world. Apart from that, we welcome the note of caution sounded, I think, as a result of the talks with the President, as regards the relationship of the United States with El Salvador. I would only say that I think there is general agreement that, if we want to get the third world and the potentially revolutionary forces in the third world on our side, it is not a very good plan to decrease aid to those countries, which seems to be the present intention. Subject to that, I think that we welcome the note of caution.

It is as regards the rapid deployment force that I think we would have certain reserves, although we note, of course, that there is no agreement on that and that it was only subject to discussion. I hope that it will also be the subject of discussion, and early discussion, with our European allies, and that we shall eventually be able to get some kind of agreement on the possible deployment of that force. Generally speaking, we rather doubt the desirability in the present conditions of sending any such force, either on the part of the Americans or on the part of ourselves. I may be wrong, but the Russians show no present intention of advancing towards the Gulf; and might not the Foreign Secretary agree that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the whole present balance of power in the area might be upset—conceivably as a result of revolutionary moves—by the arrival of any substantial, perhaps NATO force, even granted that there would be agreement in NATO on its despatch? I think that that is a question which should be seriously considered, and I hope will be considered, by the Government when they have talks with their allies on the subject. Generally speaking, we also hope that there will be early talks with our European partners not only on this grave issue—the whole question of the Middle East—but also on the attitude that we should take towards Mr. Brezhnev's recent initiative. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is giving every attention to that.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken and I shall try to answer very briefly the questions they have raised. Some of the issues are very wide and it would be difficult to deal with them in question and answer. I do not think that the noble Lord opposite need worry about over-commitments—I do not think that they were commitments. Nothing further was done in Washington about which I think the House does not already know.

There has been no reply from this country to President Brezhnev's speech. What I was reporting was that there had been a discussion between the Prime Minister and President Reagan about it and they found that, although certain things in it were unacceptable, there were certain things that were well worth while exploring and one of them was very significantly the question of arms control. Another was the acceptance—although I think it is a little unclear how far it goes—of the proposal for confidence building measures up to the Urals, although it is not entirely clear how far some sort of reciprocal geographical area is required on our side which might be either impossible or unacceptable. So that there are areas in which further exploration is necessary, but I think it would be very foolish of us, or indeed of the Americans, not to examine these proposals very carefully and to have our policy very carefully thought out before there is a considered response.

As regards Community consultation, of course we talk continually with our Community colleagues; I talked to my Community colleagues before the Washington meeting and so I was very well aware of what they were doing. My French colleague had already been to Washington and my German colleague is going to Washington next week. We of course are very closely in touch, together with our other colleagues.

As regards El Salvador, the statement which Her Majesty's Government put out on (I think it was) the day we left for Washington very clearly states our point of view. We think that the evidence which the American Administration have as to Cuban and Soviet involvement in Central America generally, not just El Salvador, is very convincing and greatly to be deplored. At the same time we believe that the Government of El Salvador have a duty to have regard to human rights in their own country and to make sure that the forces at their disposal behave properly, and we hope very much that there will be an opportunity for the people of El Salvador to decide their own future. I think that probably the noble Lord opposite will have noticed that these sentiments were echoed by Mr. Haig in Washington a day or so ago. I do not think that there is any difference between us about that.

In so far as the question of the rapid deployment force is concerned, noble Lords will know that the rapid deployment force has been a matter of consultation and discussion over a period of time. It was originally the idea of President Carter's Administration and the Americans have been considering it since then. I do not know whether I misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, but, of course, the point of a rapid deployment force is not that it is stationed in any area outside the United States, Europe or wherever it might be, but that it deploys rapidly. That is what it means. So there would not be a physical presence. As the NATO Treaty is restrictive in its operation—and undoubtedly there are incidents around the world which affect the West and the NATO countries—it is at any rate a very good idea to see how it is wise to respond in certain cases to prevent any further Soviet aggression. It seems to me that that is a sensible thing to do. No commitments have been entered into; the rapid deployment force is still in the stages of being thought out.

I should have thought that all of us in the West ought to think very carefully how best to deal with a situation such as Afghanistan. I do not believe that our neighbours and our friends in the Gulf need have any fear that the proposal is directed at them or that any action will be taken in their defence for which they do not ask, or that kind of thing. I think that this sort of matter is a matter for consultation, as the Statement has said. Therefore, I do not think that anything was said or done in Washington about which anyone in the Middle East, or, indeed, in this country should have any doubts.

The last question I was asked by the noble Lord opposite was, I think, about consultation. Of course, it is a matter for the United States who they consult. However, there is no doubt that they intend to consult the NATO allies and the European Community. Of course, there are opportunities for consultation with other countries, particularly at the Economic Summit Meeting. I have no doubt that we shall all do that. Perhaps we are in an even more fortunate position, in that not only are we friends of the Americans, but we are a member of the Community, a member of NATO and a member of the Common-wealth; of course, we consult all our Commonwealth colleagues in exactly the same fashion.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, on the concept of an international force for rapid deployment, can my noble friend confirm that it is the intention that such a force would not be deployed in any country except after a request from the country concerned? If he can confirm that, could not that be made public immediately in the parts of the world where there now appears to be anxiety? Can he not also publicise in those areas the fact that, if there were troops and supporting arms in a reasonable state of readiness, such a force should be helpful to them if they felt threatened?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the object of such a force would be to contain Soviet aggression. If the force is set up and if we belong to it, I cannot imagine a circumstance in which that force would be used against the wishes of a country.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, when the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said that the Government of El Salvador had a duty to have regard to human rights and that this point of view was echoed by Mr. Haig, can he tell the House the practical implications of that statement? In other words, if, in addition to the 10,000 murders—including the murders of the Archbishop of San Salvador and of the three American nuns—which have been committed by the Government security forces and their auxiliaries, there continue to be massacres such as that described by David Blundy in the Sunday Times last week, does the noble Lord think it right for the American Administration to continue to supply arms to the El Salvador regime?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that questions about American policy ought to be directed to the American Government and not to me. I have made clear on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that I deplore terrorism, from whichever quarter it comes.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his expression, when he said that there were no real commitments, will have done something to assuage the fears of some of us? I do not remember the exact words, but they meant that. I welcome the statement because it modifies the Statement of the Prime Minister. Secondly, the Prime Minister warned the President to be careful in dealing with the Soviet Union. It does not need a sophisticated nation like the United States of America to be warned by Britain how to deal with a foreign power of the size of the Soviet Union. I do not think that that kind of language helps.

Thirdly, nothing has been heard—but, to be fair, there may have been talk about it—about the Brandt Report. Rather, we heard about factors which, as regards our little country, are dangerous. It is now time that the policy-makers of this Government realise that we are only a small island nation and that militaristic, powerful talk by Britain alone, without full discussion with NATO powers or without discussion with the EEC, no longer puts us in the place where we were 40 or 50 years ago. We must now face the fact that, when we talk of Britain alone taking commitments which are beyond our ability to keep, that type of talk is economic, military and political nonsense.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I sincerely hope that we never do that; that would not be very sensible, as the noble Lord has said. The only commitment that was made—and it was not a commitment—is what the Prime Minister said: that if a rapid deployment force was set up, in principle, we would be prepared to take our share; that is all. With regard to the warning, I never heard the Prime Minister warn the President at all. I never heard anybody warn anybody of anything. I have no doubt that, with his usual assiduity, the noble Lord has been reading all the newspaper reports, which may have translated a conversation into a warning.

As regards the Brandt Report and so on, the Mexico summit was discussed between the Prime Minister and the President, and between Mr. Haig and myself, so your Lordships may rest assured that that was not overlooked.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Secretary of State in a position to tell the House anything about the relation between American and European policies towards a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, from that point of view I think that the meeting was very useful. I think that there had been—perhaps not so much in the American Administration but in some quarters in the United States—a misunderstanding about the Venice Declaration. The Prime Minister and I took the opportunity to explain, both publicly and to the Administration, what the European Community sought to achieve. As I said in the Statement, we reiterated that we were not in the business to rival, to compete or to undercut what the United States sought to do, but rather that we sought to help in a complementary fashion. I believe that this is much more clearly understood now than it was before our visit.

Lord Duncan-Sandys

My Lords, in view of some of the criticisms that have been made, does my noble friend the Foreign Secretary appreciate how greatly all realistic people welcome the recognition by the two Governments that the dangers to the safety of the NATO countries extend beyond the NATO area, and that closest co-operation with a view to necessary action outside that area is very necessary?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend because, from looking at the situation in the world and at what has happened in the last few years, he would be a very unwise man who did not understand what has happened in parts of Africa, in South-East Asia and, indeed, in the Middle East. If I may say so, I do not think that it is wholly wise to be too critical of realistic leaders who seek to devise means to make the world a safer place.

Lord Janner

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what advance was made at the meeting in order to deal with the Middle East situation, as arranged at the Camp David settlement? From what the noble Lord said, is it now to be understood that any violence used in order to achieve an object similar to the one that is at present confronting the Middle East, is not to be tolerated? Will the noble Lord assure the House we are not deviating from the policy that the state of Israel should be recognised by everyone who is participating in the negotiations before it is acceptable that that particular body, whichever it may be, can participate in the negotiations?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do not believe that the right way to settle international disputes is by force, and we have made that abundantly plain over a period of years. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, will perhaps recollect that in the Venice Declaration it was clearly set out that the Arabs had to recognise the state of Israel and the right of Israel to live in security within its own boundaries. Until such time as that is recognised by the PLO and by all the Arab states I do not believe that it is possible to get a solution. Equally, on the other side of the coin—that is in the Venice Declaration—there is a need for Israel to recognise that the Palestinians have rights.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, before the Committee resumes, I am sure the House will allow me to thank the noble Lord for the great care he has taken in dealing with the points raised by my noble friends and myself and others on this important Statement, and also to congratulate him on the efficacy of his efforts. He has clarified a number of points that troubled Members in all parts of the House, and no doubt in all parts of the country and possibly throughout the West. In particular, we welcome his reassurance that the rapid deployment force is not something meant for the Gulf only. The impression has been created—unfairly and unjustifiably perhaps, but it is there as we heard this morning—that it is something for the Gulf. The reaction from our Arab friends, and among them some of the true friends of Israel, has been instant and hostile. What the noble Lord had to say on the RDF will be particularly welcome in many quarters of the world.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that. The rapid deployment force is a force to be deployed rapidly, not in one particular direction, but where it is needed. May I follow up what my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys said. Those of us who look at these things with care, understanding, experience and knowledge should welcome the fact that, with the responsibilities of the United States as the leader of the free world, and as the country with the most military power in the world, such a country is giving a lead in trying to contain what I think is unacceptable Soviet expansion.