HL Deb 01 December 1983 vol 445 cc805-13

3.40 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

"I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a Statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which I attended in New Delhi and Goa from 23rd to 29th November. My right honourable friend, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, also attended for the first three days. I have arranged for the communique to be placed in the Library of the House.

"Two specific matters—Grenada and Cyprus—were considered early in the proceedings. On Grenada there was a long and detailed debate. Heads of Government decided to concentrate on the future, not the past—on reconstruction, not recrimination. They welcomed the establishment of an interim civilian administration, looked forward to free and fair elections and confirmed their' willingness on certain conditions to consider sympathetically Grenadan requests for assistance.

"There was also a more general discussion of the practical need to give greater security to small states, many of them islands, not only in the Caribbean but elsewhere in the Commonwealth. The Secretary-General was asked to undertake a study of the problem. As the House knows, this is a matter to which Her Majesty's Government are also giving thought. Regional groups may have a special role to play.

"With regard to Cyprus, Commonwealth leaders fully endorsed United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 which deplored the Turkish Cypriot declaration of secession as legally invalid, requested the United Nations Secretary-General to pursue his mission of good offices and called upon the parties to co-operate fully. But it was also felt that the Commonwealth should itself try to help bring about a solution, and an action group was established to assist in implementation of the Security Council Resolution. Britain is not a member of that group since we already have a particular role as a guarantor power.

"Among the other specific subjects Southern Africa was discussed at length. We considered the implementation of the United Nations plan for Namibian independence and the present obstacles to its achievement. The concept of a conditional link between the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola was rejected. But clearly the fact that other nations have made the linkage is material to how and when the problem will be resolved.

"On more general matters the meeting issued two declarations. The main theme of the Goa declaration on international security is that at a time of heightened tension in the world the first objective must be to re-establish a constructive dialogue between East and West, by increasing contacts and by rebuilding a climate of confidence. We support that objective.

"The statement on economic action deals with current international economic problems, notes that all countries have a responsibility for pursuing prudent domestic economic policies and recognises the need for the Bretton Woods institutions to be adapted and better equipped to deal with the problems of the international economy. It was decided to establish a consultative group, on which the United Kingdom will berepresented, for the purpose of promoting wider agreement on the issues we discussed. The group will report to Commonwealth Finance Ministers before their 1984 meeting in Toronto".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. Would he agree that the Commonwealth and these periodic summit conferences are of real value, notwithstanding some of the obvious limitations of an association of this nature? Is he aware that we welcome the measure of agreement which emerged on a number of subjects; for example, on apartheid and on Namibian independence through the implementation of UN Resolution 435? Will he give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will continue to pursue this matter with vigour?

The Statement which he has just read refers to linkage. Will he confirm that we are not committed to the principle of linkage, and that we reject it? It is important that the Government should make that point absolutely clear. Was the question of South African aggression against neighbouring states discussed in the conference, and did Her Majesty's Government have any proposals to make to deal with that? We welcome the agreement—also referred to in the Statement—that the emphasis in Grenada should be, "on reconstruction, not recrimination", and on the establishment of an interim civilian administration on the island.

The Statement also refers to assistance to Grenada. What assistance did the summit conference have in mind, and what contribution are her Majesty's Government expected to make? Is the noble Viscount aware that we also welcome the reference in the Statement to the Goa declaration on the problems of small states, and the proposed study by the Secretary-General of their special needs? Can he confirm that we are supporting the Trudeau initiative, about which. according to the press, there was some doubt at some stage?

Is he aware that we also support the initiative proposed to deal with the problems of Cyprus and the setting up of the action group? Although the United Kingdom cannot sit as a member of the group, because this country is a guarantor, will he confirm that we shall continue to work for a just solution as one of the guarantor powers?

Can the noble Viscount confirm whether it is true that there was in fact a good deal of disagreement about a new Bretton Woods conference, and that the Prime Minister exercised the veto on 10 occasions? If this is true it shows that the Prime Minister behaved at the summit as she does in the Cabinet of which the noble Viscount is a distinguished member. Did she oppose the initiative for a conference on the international economic situation, and will Her Majesty's Government support that? May I say that we on this side most warmly welcome the call by the conference on the United States and Soviet Russia to resume a genuine political dialogue. Will the Government continue to work for a meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Andropov?

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Viscount for being good enough to repeat this important Statement in your Lordships'House. I want to underline a good deal of what has already been said. In particular, I want to underline what the noble Lord. Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, has said about the welcome we give to the fact that the Prime Minister was able to find the time to go and encourage the holding regularly of these Commonwealth conferences, to which we attach enormous importance.

Is the noble Viscount aware that we welcome many of the paragraphs included in the Statement? For example, we welcome the willingness to consider sympathetically Grenadan requests for assistance. Is he aware that we further welcome the importance put on establishing a constructive dialogue between East and West? It would be difficult to attach too much importance to that Statement, so vital is it in the current situation in the world. Is he aware, too, that we welcome in the Statement the recognition of the need for the Bretton Woods institutions to he adapted and better equipped to deal with the problems of the international economy?

I hope that the noble Viscount is pleased with the number of examples that I have given of the way in which we welcome points in the Statement. Is he aware that it is not unusual to put the welcoming parts first and to go on, secondly, to those parts for which one has less than a full welcome? Therefore, will the noble Viscount say a good deal more about the things which are hinted at in the Statement and which are expressed in other media as being areas of disagreement? In particular, will he say whether the Prime Minister regards herself as primus inter pares

The Lord Chancellor


Lord Diamond

My Lords, I am grateful for the lesson in refreshing my knowledge of the classics. Perhaps I was referring to the phrase primus inter pares, and to the non-sexual nature of a Prime Minister. Will the noble Viscount therefore say whether the Prime Minister regards herself as limited to that responsibility and attitude in dealing with the Commonwealth Conference, as all Prime Ministers hitherto have considered themselves primi inter pares?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their response to the Statement and for the general welcome they have given to the holding of a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, and its value. It is very easy to point to the resolutions as being compromises or, in some cases, as not meaning very much, but surely the important point is that the conference provided the opportunity to have a dialogue and discussion with many nations from different parts of the world which hold totally different points of view on many issues of world-wide significance. The fact that the 48 nations of the Commonwealth, so diverse as they are, can come together and have a dialogue and discussion is surely of great value. Those who criticise these conferences for not coming to more concrete conclusions sometimes claim at the same time how vital it is that there should be dialogue and discussion in the world. They cannot have it both ways. If, therefore, dialogue and discussion take place on this scale, surely it is of value to the world and to the Commonwealth. I know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister feels very strongly that this is the case.

That covers the welcome which both noble Lords have given to various parts of the communique. Perhaps I may now turn to some of the detailed points. The noble Lord, Lord Clewyn of Penrhos, asked me about the problems in South Africa and Namibia, and the linkage with Angola. As my right honourable friend made clear, we have to accept that that linkage exists in other people's minds and that we shall not solve the problem until we can find a way of getting round it. We are ready to do so and we are seeking to do so. Certainly we support Mr. Trudeau's initiative.

So far as Grenada is concerned, we have given an undertaking that we shall he prepared to help, with others, in such matters as policing and elections. I believe noble Lords will agree that this country has considerable experience in these matters, as my noble friend Lord Soames made so clear in Zimbabwe, and we could again give help, if required. I would give the same answer to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. We have already promised some £750 million of overseas aid, and—I believe the figure is not £750 million but £750,000. I will find the correct answer and give it to your Lordships.

As to the question of disagreement, to which both noble Lords referred and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, who asked whether the Prime Minister regarded herself as primus inter pares at the Commonwealth Conference, I would reply to both noble Lords in the same sense: wherever the Prime Minister is, whether she is in Cabinet in this country, at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference or anywhere else, she shows herself to be an outstanding and a very great leader, which is of great value to this country. Much of the success of the conference was due to the Prime Minister exhibiting those very qualities.

Lord Oram

My Lords, we understand that Mr. Trudeau left the conference and went to Peking in order to seek Chinese help in bringing the two superpowers into a better state of relationship. Can the noble Viscount say whether Mr. Trudeau went, so to speak, as an envoy from the conference or whether he went to Peking on his own initiative? Did Mr. Trudeau return to the conference and report to his colleagues, and, if so, to what effect?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, Mr. Trudeau went on this tour on his own initiative, but he had had the benefit of discussions with his colleagues at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers'Conference. Naturally, the talks would be held in the light of the knowledge he had gained from his Commonwealth colleagues. Perhaps I could say at this point that the previous answer I gave was wrong. The figure was £750,000, not £750 million.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he heard the early morning broadcast which said that Mr. Mugabe and the Prime Minister had had a very agreeable discussion which would make a great difference to their friendship in the future?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am glad to be able to inform my noble friend and the House that I understand that the Prime Minister and Mr. Mugabe had a very useful exchange of views. The Prime Minister said this morning how pleased she was to have heard on the radio that Mr. Mugabe also thought that to be the case. It may help my noble friend and the House to know that the question of the air force officers, naturally, was paramount in the discussions. A fourth officer was released following the recommendation of the review tribunal. My right honourable friend understands that the appeal of the remaining three officers will come before the review tribunal in the same way, so we continue to hope for their early release.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, may I put two supplementary questions to the noble Viscount? First, I see that, very rightly, they are looking forward to elections in Grenada. May I ask the noble Viscount whether the intention is that the elections should be held before the American troops evacuate the island, or afterwards? If afterwards, will elections be held in the presence of a Commonwealth force? Will somebody keep order during the elections? My second question is related to the assistance given to small states and to the general idea that the Commonwealth should in certain circumstances act in much the same way as the President of the United States acted in regard to Grenada.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, on the noble Lord's second point, which I shall answer first, this matter was remitted for study by the Commonwealth Secretary-General. No further decision was taken. It is for the Secretary-General to report his conclusions as a result of his study. I do not wish to make further commitments beyond that. The noble Lord's first point has certainly not been discussed or decided. Everybody hopes—it is known that the United States Government so hope—that it will be possible for United States forces to he withdrawn from Grenada as soon as possible. The question of assistance and who would take over has still be be discussed in a wider forum than the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. It is for the Governor to decide when he thinks it would be best to hold the elections; but we remain ready to help, should we be required to do so, in the conduct of those elections, or with any policing problems which might arise.

Lord Soames

My Lords, in view of the welcome so very rightly given by the conference to the Grenada request for future Commonwealth assistance, was it at any time considered during the conference that gratitude should be expressed to the United States for the assistance they gave to Grenada in their hour of greatest need?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I must answer my noble friend by saying that if this was discussed during the conference it did not appear in the communique. I have no knowledge of what was said during the detailed discussions.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I, from the Back-Benches, repeat my thanks to the noble Viscount for repeating this Statment and congratulate the Government on the very full report which they have made to Parliament. Would he not agree that it is extraordinarily welcome that the Commonwealth Ministers, representing many countries which were struggling for their independence 30 years ago, now linked with Great Britain and with her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, and with the Dominions, should reach agreement on so many important issues?

Added to that, may I ask the noble Viscount whether he does not think it regrettable that our Prime Minister found herself on so many occasions during the conference in a minority, supported by only one or two against the great majority of representatives at the conference? I could recite the instances, but is it not particularly regrettable that she opposed the idea of an international conference to review the Bretton Woods decisions? Those decisions on trade relations between the developing countries and the developed countries have left 13 million people in hunger and in a state of medical neglect. Surely our Government should be supporting an international conference to review those uneven trading relations?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his general welcome of the Commonwealth Conference and the possibility of so many nations with diverse views, as I said earlier, coming to substantial agreement on many issues. Equally, the noble Lord was generous to mention the very real position of Her Majesty the Queen as part of those conferences when she goes there. I am sure that was greatly welcomed by everybody concerned, and I am sure that this House will wish to say so.

When it comes to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister finding herself in a minority on certain issues, it must be for me to say that what matters in the end is what the communiqu says; what comes out of the communique, and what is the agreed communique. There may be all sorts of discussions about who may have said what during the conference, and what may be published in the press. Some of those reports may be true, and some may not. But I would have thought it was true that in a gathering of that sort a great many Prime Ministers found themselves in a minority on many different issues, and I would have thought it very surprising had it been otherwise.

For that reason. I do not consider it is unreasonable if we in Britain, with our particular interests—which are manifestly not the same, after all, as those of some other countries in different parts of the world—stand up for those interests and for what we believe to be best. That, surely, is the position of our Prime Minister. If I may say so to the noble Lord, that has been the position of Prime Ministers of this country at such conferences for a very long time.

Lord Drumalbyn

My Lords, may I ask one question on the Cyprus issue? My noble friend referred to an action group that had been set up in that connection. I doubt if he is in a position today to give them to us, but I would ask him to give the House details of that action group at an early opportunity, as it is a matter of great importance. In particular, it will be important for the action group to find out at first hand for themselves what are the grievances of the Turkish Cypriots which have led to the action that has been taken by them.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend I can say that the action group will consist of Australia, Guyana. India, Nigeria and Zambia.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount three questions? First, is it not the case that the Secretary-General made a specific appeal before the conference started for a new form of Bretton Woods conference? Whilst welcoming that part of the communiqué which suggests that a working party be set up, already there has been disappointment expressed as to the powers that it may have. What attitude do the British Government take to that?

Secondly, is it not disappointing that during the conference the Prime Minister took the opportunity, according to Press reports, of lecturing third world countries as to how they have to standon their own feet, whereas the Commonwealth itself is based upon a co-operative venture between rich and poor, as outlined not just in the Commonwealth but also in the Brandt Commission Report?

Finally, as the British Government have always steadfastly opposed the concept of linkage with the presence of Cuban troops helping the Angolans to defend themselves against South African aggression, can the noble Viscount say that. whatever there may be in the communiqué, the British Government have not altered their opposition to that linkage by one iota?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, first, on the point which the noble Lord raised on the question of the economic summit, my right honourable friend made perfectly clear to the conference that our position stoodon these matters where it was at the Williamsburg Summit, and we could not accept any commitment to an international conference. Our position had been made clear before and was made clear throughout, that that was the reason, and it is fully consistent with the position we have persistently taken up.

On the second point, the noble Lord referred to press reports about what my right honourable friend said at various parts of the conference. If we were to conduct our view of exactly what happens at every conference by just picking up whichever press report happens to fit in with our own views, we would not have a very productive time. I do not believe that my right honourable friend lectured them at all. I have long experience of my right honourable friend, and she frequently tells me her views and makes them very clear to me; but I would not describe her as lecturing me on that basis, and I do not believe that many people would so describe her. My right honourable friend made it perfectly clear what she felt in those debates. After all, that is what this country would expect her to do.

On the noble Lord's last point concerning linkage. I hope I made myself clear in answer to the previous questions. It is a fact that we do not like the idea of the linkage. We do not approve of it, but we have persistently said that it is a view held by other countries and it is therefore only by getting around that particular problem that the very difficult position of Namibia can hope to be solved. We shall continue to use our best endeavours to that end.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House aware that it gave particular pleasure to those of us on these Benches when in the Statement we heard the words constructive dialogue between East and West"? The noble Viscount knows that although those of us who sit on these Benches do so by virtue of our English bishoprics, yet we have a relationship right across the world in the Anglican community, which is really coterminous with the Commonwealth. Does the noble Viscount know that it gives very great pleasure to the bishops to hear that in the wider setting of the Commonwealth—a third, perhaps, of the whole of the world—his right honourable friend the Prime Minister made that particularly strong and resolute call for constructive dialogue between East and West? Does the noble Viscount know that that is something which pleases this Bench; and will he assure the Prime Minister of our prayers for her continued work for world peace?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate for what he has said. I will certainly communicate his views as coming from the Bishops' Bench to my right honourable friend, and I know that she will he extremely grateful. Perhaps I might say in return that many of us notice that which the Bishops of the Church of England, the Anglican Bishops, do in the world to promote such dialogues, and particularly the very wide travels (of which I know he has taken another) of the most reverend Primate, who has travelled much over the world and, I am sure, has done a great deal of good in that way.