The negotiations began formally with a ministerial meeting on 24th July, and the agreed objective is to complete them by the spring. A second ministerial meeting, which I attended for the United Kingdom, was held in Brussels on 21st December in order to take stock of the progress made so far and to indentify the issues requiring further negotiation. Human rights was among the subjects discussed, and it was agreed that there was a need for further discussion of the problem.
Is the Minister making progress on this matter of human rights? Is it Her Majesty's Government's intention to continue to press for some provision in the Lome convention for suspension of aid to countries which grossly and persistently violate human rights? Moreover, has he found that the developing countries recognise that this subject must be discussed, despite their natural reservations about their own sovereignty?
The hon. Gentleman has put the point fairly. One of the indications of the progress is that, increasingly, the ACP countries accept that this issue needs to be discussed. We are certain that in the Community's future aid programmes human rights must be given higher consideration and that the agreement should effectively reflect this need.
With regard to help for underdeveloped countries through the EEC, may I ask what is happening about the sugar producer countries of the Caribbean and of Mauritius, which seem to be suffering from regulations being made by the EEC which will make the standard of living in those poor countries much lower?
The special sugar arrangements are not part of the negotiations currently going on about the future of the Lome convention. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would find that reassuring, because the protocol on sugar firmly protects the interests of Commonwealth sugar producers, for whom, as we all know, the sale of their sugar crop is a matter of life or death.
The Community is anxious to work out an effective economic relationship with those countries which should properly belong to the ACP grouping. Certainly there is a strong argument that if we can get such effective economic arrangements this will enable them to have more balanced general political arrangements than might otherwise be the case.
Is not there a fundamental political contradiction in having one criterion, namely, human rights, for the Lome convention, and another criterion, namely, status quo, when dealing with countries such as Iran?
My right hon. Friend he Secretary of State has been very candid about this matter with the House on a number of occasions. The constant argument of the cynic throughout history is, that because it is impossible to make progress on the whole front at once one should take no steps forward. We believe that if one cares deeply about issues such as human rights it is important to approach the issue pragmatically, to build by getting results which can achieve progress in particular situations and have a cumulative effect.
Why, under the Lome convention, are Commonwealth countries in Africa given trading privileges into the Common Market which are denied to Commonwealth countries in Asia, such as India? Is not this a blatantly unfair discrimination, to which the Government were signatories? What do the Government intend to do about it?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there is a certain dichotomy here. The Government are emphatic that the Community must have an effective and growing programme of assistance to the so-called non-associates, because we do not want to see the Lome convention becoming a divisive measure in so far as our relationships with the Third World as a whole are concerned.