HL Deb 23 April 1986 vol 473 cc1169-74

3.55 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on the Foreign Affairs Council which is being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Geoffrey Howe. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Twelve that took place in Luxembourg on 21st April, and the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which followed on 21st and 22nd April. My honourable friend the Minister of State, the Member for Wallasey, and I attended.

"The Meeting of Foreign Ministers concentrated on the urgent problem of Libya. We had already agreed in the emergency meetings on 14th and 17th April on the importance of taking effective collective action to prevent further acts of Libyan state-directed terrorism and to defend ourselves against that threat. On 21st April we agreed to a 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; 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 cooperation 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 EC/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 EC at the ACP/EC Council of Ministers which begins in Barbados on 26th April.

"The Council discussed the United States' complaint about alleged trade loss as a result of the enlargement of the Community. It reconfirmed the EC'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 European 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 28th April, to consider in detail the 1986 budgetary situation and the 1987 reference framework for expenditure.

"That too will clearly be an important meeting".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement. We support the further measures now agreed by the Community, although we wish that more specific multilateral economic sanctions could have been agreed upon because we believe that these would have been more effective than anything that has hitherto been tried. Does the noble Baroness not now agree that effectively applied economic sanctions are preferable to attacks from the air?

The Foreign Secretary said (and I quote) that the measures would, go a long way to persuading the United States that we are serious". I assume that that means that the Foreign Ministers in the Economic Community are serious. Can we be told precisely what the Foreign Secretary meant by that, how much further would he like the Community to go, and whether economic sanctions were in his mind when he made that statement? Furthermore, can the noble Baroness tell us the present level of EC sales of agricultural surpluses to Libya, and the element of EC subsidy in this? Can the noble Baroness say whether these sales of subsidised agricultural produce to Libya are now to cease?

I understand that an announcement has been made during the last hour or so that the Libyan Government have today expelled 300 EC and US journalists. Can the noble Baroness confirm this news and clarify the position, especially with regard to the security of the British subjects?

On the other important matters raised in the Statement, can the noble Baroness say what will be the precise nature of the United States unilateral retaliatory action and the equivalent measures proposed by the European Community? Can she say how this may affect United Kingdom trade with the United States? Could not these steps of retaliatory action by the United States and the response by this country be postponed pending the new GATT negotiations, to which the Statement refers?

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for repeating this Statement. The measures taken against Libya by the Council of Ministers and announced in this Statement are obviously good as far as they go. But why should not members of the Community be prepared, like us, to sever all diplomatic relations with the Libyan Government so long as that government maintain their insane policy of terrorism? After all, in our case, even in the absence of any diplomatic relations, our 5,000 nationals in Libya do not seem to have suffered in any particular way, and our trade with Libya seems to continue quite happily. Therefore, why should members of the EC not follow our example and confide their interests, as we have confided ours, to some neutral state, such as Switzerland? If they did so, they would not be worse off, and the pressure on Colonel Gaddafi would, I should have thought, be very great.

As regards expelling Libyans—and, incidentally, there is no mention in the Statement of students, and I do not know whether or not that is significant—would it be possible for our security services to distinguish on their records between known Gaddafi opponents—because there are quite a lot among the students—and those who may be presumed to be potential terrorists? Would that not be a sensible step to take?

As I think the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said, there is no mention in the Statement of any economic measures at all. Is it really a fact that we are continuing to export agricultural surpluses to this revolutionary regime? I cannot believe it and I should like some assurance from the noble Baroness to the effect that we shall stop these exports as soon as possible. After all, if we are considering serious economic pressure as members of the Community, why should we not indulge in an oil embargo? Would it really be intolerably expensive and counter-productive if we did so? No doubt it would have some ill effects on the economies of some members of the EC, but if it were done the effect on Gaddafi would be tremendous and might very well result in toppling him—something which continued bombardment is quite unlikely to do.

Finally, even more important than Libya from the point of view of its potential effect on the whole North Atlantic Alliance, is the announcement in the Statement, which I did not in fact know, that even now the United States is taking unilateral retaliatory action against our trade. Does this mean that we are now in the middle of a trade war? Perhaps the noble Baroness will comment on that and say what is the position. However, is it still possible, in the near future, to arrive at some compromise in GATT which would put an end to a trade war which, unless I am wrong, is in operation at the moment?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for his support for the measures which have been agreed in the European Community. The noble Lord said that he welcomed them, though he regretted that nothing had been said about economic sanctions—a point which was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who also referred to an oil embargo. I think that both noble Lords will be aware of the Government's view on sanctions against Libya. The possibility of a trade embargo has been considered on a number of occasions, but the Government have always concluded that it would not be an effective response. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told another place on 22nd April, sanctions will only work provided everybody operates them. With regard to an oil embargo, we believe that this would be most unlikely to be effective, and no such sanction would have an impact comparable to a reduction in the price of oil.

Both noble Lords raised the vexed question of the sale of European Community food surpluses to Libya. I can confirm that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised with his Community colleagues and the Commission the need to examine what uncovenanted benefits Libya receives from the Community's agricultural policies. Our latest information from the Commission is that no further subsidised dairy sales are in prospect.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked about the expulsions of Western journalists. I can confirm to the noble Lord that we understand that all European Community and United States journalists—about 250 in total—have been asked to leave Libya as soon as possible. We have seen reports that the reasons given range from retaliation for the measures agreed by Foreign Ministers of the Twelve on 21st April to administrative problems. I can only say that we deplore this unjustified and vindictive action.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also raised with me a point about Libyan students in Britain. There are in fact about 1,800 students, and this number should fall as their studies are completed. The number admitted has been reduced from 2,350 in 1983 to about 264 in 1985, and we have circulated to our European Community partners the names of Libyans who have been expelled from Britain.

Finally, both noble Lords raised with me the vexed question, which arose in the Statement, of the United States complaint about an alleged trade loss as a result of the enlargement of the Community. These accusations, that the accessation of Spain and Portugal will lose the United States trade, are, we believe, completely ill-founded. On the contrary, we believe that enlargement will bring them trade benefits. The United States threats of aggressive unilateral action are most regrettable and would indeed be contrary to the GATT rules. We hope that this matter can be settled in the new GATT round, and the Community is ready to begin negotiations in the GATT to settle this issue as soon as possible. It agreed a mandate for negotiations at the April Foreign Affairs Council, and we are urging the United States to do likewise.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness not agree that there is an element within the Statement which is totally disappointing and completely perplexing? Certainly many of our European partners, together with Members on these Benches, have expressed grave apprehension at what the Americans did in their belief that they could stop terrorism. Yet our European partners seem to be totally reluctant to apply sanctions against Libya. I do not think that they can have it both ways, and it is up to the Government to press very hard on this. Nor can we say in future that all state terrorism inflicted on people with black skins in South Africa ought to be answered with sanctions. It does not lie within the mouths of our European partners to condemn the United States, on the one hand, and then not to have the courage, on the other, to apply strong economic sanctions against Libya.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I fully appreciate the strength of feeling of the noble Lord and on the part of his noble friends on the question of sanctions against Libya. I have explained again our view about sanctions. We do not believe that they would be effective, and they are certainly not effective unless everybody applies them. We have, after all, had some experience in applying sanctions. As the noble Lord will be aware, we took steps against Libya two years ago following upon the assassination of Woman Police Contable Yvonne Fletcher. We are glad that our Community partners agreed the steps they did at the last meeting held on Monday.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, did the meeting not discuss the root causes of Middle East terrorism? Will the noble Baroness confirm reports that the Prime Minister is proposing to take an initiative for a settlement at the forthcoming meeting in Tokyo?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the topics discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council were the ones on which I have reported in this particular Statement. I cannot of course say what topics might be discussed at the Tokyo summit, and I do not believe that the noble Lord would expect me to do so on this occasion.

Lord Alport

My Lords, although it is obvious that Libya is implicated in the terrorism of the present time, the fact that this is happening relates to the general problems of the Middle East in the sense of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the position of Syria, and the fundamentalist movement. Is there really any chance of our being able to deal with terrorism simply by dealing with Libya without at the same time trying to take some steps in order to find some tolerable solution to the major problem? Was this problem discussed at any length at the Council of Foreign Ministers?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have already confirmed to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I shall confirm to my noble friend, that the topics that were discussed to the Foreign Affairs Council are the ones on which I have reported. I take entirely my noble friend's point about the importance of a discussion and a search for a solution to the problems of the Middle East, but that was not one of the topics discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, would the Minister make it clear that the view of the Government on this matter is, irrespective of what are called the underlying problems in the Middle East, that no political situation of any kind justifies the indiscriminate murder and maiming of innocent men, women and children m the pursuit of political aims?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad to confirm what the noble Lord has said. We do not believe that the use of terrorism is justified on behalf of a political cause.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, can the Minister give us any more comfort about this question of the GATT negotiations? They have traditionally been terribly slow to get going. If the United States are already contemplating, or even taking, action which damages trade with Europe. which, I should have thought could be terribly damaging to all of us and to the Americans themselves, could the Government do anything more to hasten the GATT negotiations and to get them going more quickly than would usually be the case?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I take the point of the noble Lord. Preparations for the new GATT round are under way in Geneva. I would share his view that what could develop is serious, because if the United States takes unilateral action in the way that has been suggested, as the Statement makes clear we would not hesitate to retaliate to defend Community interests. This cannot be in the best interests of either the United States or the Community. That is why we hope that this problem can be resolved in the GATT negotiations.