Council of Ministers (Foreign Policy) (Hansard, 18 November 1987)
HC Deb 18 November 1987 vol 122 cc1056-8
10. Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether there have been any recent foreign policy initiatives by the Council of Ministers of the European Community.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The 12 have called on Iran and Iraq to implement Security Council resolution 598 forthwith, and have expressed their firm support for the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation. They have also welcomed the recent Central American peace agreement. They are working closely together at the Vienna CSCE follow-up meeting. The 12 have worked hard for the successful outcome of last week's record United Nation's vote on Afghanistan. They continue to intervene together on human rights questions.

Mr. Taylor

I welcome the news that the Council of Ministers meeting on political co-operation was more united on foreign policy. Will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to press his colleagues to go further on Afghanistan, and in particular to take further the overwhelming vote on 10 November, to which he referred, urging the removal of foreign troops? Will he stress that the whole European Community is dismayed at the continuing atrocities against people in Afghanistan carried out by the Soviet Union?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I can assure him that the 12 will continue to make plain their view exactly along the lines that he has described. For the eighth successive year, ahead of this year's United Nations debate, we have called for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops and for genuine self-determination for the Afghan people. We have made it clear that that is the thing for which the whole world is looking. The Afghan people deserve peace and they must be allowed to decide their own future on that basis.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Does the Council of Ministers intend to follow the example of the Political Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, which, at its last meeting, decided to become involved in the internal political and constitutional affairs of Gibraltar?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, the Council of Ministers does not intend to do any such thing. It respects the constitutional proprieties of each member state.

Mr. John M. Taylor

Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest to the Council that one of the main causes of transatlantic trade stress is the huge farm subsidies which the Americans feel obliged to match to protect their own agriculture, thus deepening their deficit, to the disadvantage of us all?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall certainly make sure that the European Community joins the United States in making plain the need for the removal of extravagant and grotesque food subsidies throughout the world. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her speech to the Guildhall on Monday, there are massive food subsidies in the United States, probably about twice as much as in the European Community. if one measures them in terms of dollars per cow per annum. In Japan, the prices being paid to the farming community are in some cases eight times the world price, so it is necessary for all countries to engage in the "disarmament" of agricultural subsidies as quickly as possible.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Has the Council of Ministers addressed itself urgently to the problem of famine, particularly in Ethiopia, or are we to have a repeat of the events of 1984–85 in spite of all the recent warnings by the BBC? Is the Council of Ministers prepared to try to prevent a crisis, instead of merely responding to it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman can be completely assured that this is a matter which my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development keeps well to the forefront of the agenda of Community Council meetings. Yesterday he announced a further extension of Britain's aid to Ethiopia because of the famine there, and he will be certain that this matter remains at the top of the Community's agenda.

Mr. Jack

In the light of reforms in the United Nations, will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest to his colleagues in Europe, that they take a joint initiative to try to persuade the United States fully to pay its dues this year so that the world body can continue the very valuable work referred to in my right hon. and learned Friend's responses to earlier questions?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that important matter. I have discussed the topic with Secretary of State Shultz on more than one occasion. It is a topic on which the United States Administration are striving to make headway, but on which they have not yet been able to persuade Congress.

Mr. Kaufman

Given that five of the seven naval contingents in the Gulf have been sent by Community members, and bearing in mind the recent Iranian attacks upon innocent shipping, and other recent acts of war by Iraq, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, four months after the passage of resolution 598, it is unacceptable that no action has been taken to implement that resolution and that killings and warfare in the Gulf continue? Will he therefore take an initiative, in collaboration with the members of the 12, plus the United States, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations that will contain a package of an immediate arms embargo, coupled with a United Nations command for the naval contingents in the Gulf? I know from my own discussions that that would be acceptable to both Kuwait and Oman.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman is supporting almost all the right propositions in his somewhat lengthy interrogation. It is certainly the case that all 12 European Community members and, more specifically, the seven members of the Western European Union, are actively engaged in maintaining freedom of navigation in the Gulf. Also, we are all equally committed to the implementation of resolution 598. That resolution carries with it two commitments:first, to sustain the work of the Secretary General ; and, secondly, to proceed to measures for its enforcement. The pressure that I, together with all the partners of the European Community, have deployed is to get effective commitment now from the Soviet Union to move on to the enforcement measure that is clearly necessary as part of that process. I believe— this is the one point where I part company from the right hon. Gentleman — that the proposal for a United Nations naval force is not one that we regard as a sensible way forward. The Soviet espousal of that idea has all the hallmarks of a propaganda exercise. The Soviets have not put forward details of the proposal that they support. The Soviet Union should now let its actions live up to the commitment made by Mr. Shevardnadze at the meeting in New York on 25 September.

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