As amended, considered ; to be read the Third time.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar) : There is close co-operation between central and Latin American countries and the rest of the international community to combat drug trafficking. The United Kingdom is contributing to these efforts both bilaterally and through the United Nations.
Mr. Tracey : Is my hon. Friend aware of the extremely good work being done by the Bahamas Government in co-operation with the United States coastguard and the drug enforcement agency to combat drug trafficking from Colombia in particular to Florida? Will the Government consider any form of assistance for the Bahamas defence force in this good work?
Mr. Eggar : I recognise the degree of co-operation between the Bahamas Government and the United States Government--and, indeed, our own authorities, both in the dependent territories and in the United Kingdom. I shall shortly visit the Bahamas, where I shall have discussions on drug matters with the Bahamas Government.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister agree that although good work is being done there is a tendency to be complacent and that, if the success being achieved continues, the scene of drug trafficking could move to Europe, particularly to Spain and Portugal? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that, and what steps have been taken in co-operation with others to deal with it?
Mr. Eggar : The hon. Gentleman is right. There is, unfortunately, a considerable amount of evidence that the drugs cartels have targeted the whole of Europe for an increase in the export of cocaine, especially from Latin America. Also, because of the difference between the
Column 824wholesale price of cocaine in London and in the United States there is an increasing trend towards exporting refined cocaine directly from the United States to the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. We face a considerable threat and, together with other European countries and other countries throughout the world, we are doing what we can to combat it.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the unfortunate fact that for large areas of Bolivia at present the cultivation of coca is the only economic way of life? Does he agree that we should be putting a considerable amount of assistance into developing alternative crops, in the form of technical and marketing assistance for the people of those areas?
Mr. Eggar : I agree with my hon. Friend. The return to the peasant farmers of Bolivia at some times of the year is considerably greater from the cultivation of cocaine and the coca crop than it would be from any alternative crop. That is why we have a large aid programme--well in excess of £2 million--in what we call the crop substitution area of Bolivia. I pay tribute to the Bolivian Government for their determination to end drug trafficking in their country.
Mr. Bowis : I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will find an opportunity to do so when Afghanistan is free and independent. In the meantime, will my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend press the Soviet Union to ensure that it lives up to its promise to be out of Afghanistan by 15 February? Will my hon. Friend urge upon the Soviets that their good faith depends on this? We do not want to hear any more nonsense about partitioning Afghanistan or about insisting that the Communists take part in Afghan government in the future, given that the people there have rejected that?
Mr. Eggar : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Soviet Union must honour the Geneva commitment to withdraw all its forces by 15 February. If Russian troops were to stay, not only would that be a breach of the agreement, but it would prolong a senseless war. The present regime in Kabul is doomed.
Mr. Atkinson : Does my hon. Friend recall that negotiations between the European Community and Comecon were suspended in 1980 as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan? Those negotiations have now resumed. Will they be suspended if the Soviets do not leave Afghanistan as promised?
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : Mr. Arafat's recent statements, which we welcome, have pointed the way to the PLO's eventual participation in peace negotiations. The world now looks to Israel for a positive response. All of us, meanwhile, should work to see that present opportunity for real progress is not wasted.
Sir Dennis Walters : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Israeli oppression and repression on the west bank continues unabated? Can any steps be taken to assist the Palestinian population? Is he further aware that it is the declared intention of the Israeli Government to sabotage the talks between the United States and the PLO? Can we do anything to prevent this happening and to prevent the wrecking of a very hopeful initiative and of progress toward a peaceful settlement?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree with my hon. Friend that there are still grounds for very grave concern about many of the things that are happening in the occupied territories, whether in terms of recent deportations and detentions or in connection with many other aspects of Israeli conduct in those occupied territories, which have to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention. The occupation is illegal and does not contribute at all to the prospects for peace. We shall go on making as plain as possible to the Israeli Government our recognition of the right of Israel to a secure existence behind secure borders and our clear view that that right is jeopardised by continuing conduct of that kind. As I have said on many occasions, it is for Israel to respond to the opportunity for peace that is now open.
Mr. Cartwright : Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the use of heavily armed Israeli troops to shoot down Palestinian children armed only with stones does not help to produce the sort of atmosphere that is necessary for a reasonable settlement? Will he continue to take every opportunity to press the need for sensible policies by the Israeli Government in the occupied territories?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We are seriously concerned at continuing unrest of all kinds. We regret deaths and injuries of all kinds, particularly of innocent civilians. It is worth noting that more than 330 Palestinians have been killed while the number of Israelis killed is 11. We regret all deaths, but that balance shows how important it is for the people and Government of Israel to recognise that violence and repression offer no solution, and that it is for them to join the rest of us in seeking a peaceful solution.
Mr. Dykes : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work that he has done in trying to bring true peace to the middle east. I am sure that the whole House will wish the Minister of State well on his visit to Tunis tomorrow to meet both Yasser Arafat and senior members of the PLO. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Mr. Shamir is not leading Israel down the path of true peace with, for example, his attitude to the President of the European Parliament during a visit this week? However, the indication from Mr. Shamir that the United Nations
Column 826can somehow be involved is encouraging. The death toll among Palestinians to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred is an unacceptable statistic. There is a large national constituency in Israel yearing for true dialogue, true negotiations and real peace. Mr. Shamir must accept that.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I recognise the force of my hon. Friend's points. He is right to remind the House that the Israeli Government were only quite recently elected and have promised a new initiative in this respect. The Prime Minister of Israel has referred to the possible role of the United Nations, and I can certainly assure the Israeli Government that we shall be ready to look at any initiative that they offer on its merits. We certainly want to see early action on their part and I hope that we can have early discussions with the Israeli Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited Mr. Shamir, the Prime Minister of Israel, to come to the United Kingdom and I look forward to the opportunity of early contact with Israel's Foreign Minister.
Mr. Robertson : Surely the Foreign Secretary agrees that recent American activity in the Mediterranean is likely to damage the whole peace process in the middle east. We agree that Colonel Gaddafi is, and has been for a long time, both an unstable menace and a friend to terrorists and that the construction of chemical weapons plants, whether in Iraq, Libya or elsewhere, should be of acute concern to the world, but the Foreign Secretary will surely also recognise that by manufacturing tension and brinkmanship the United States is dicing with death in the middle east. Why, therefore, do the British Government still insist on their lonely encouragement of American action, including the veiled threats to bomb the poison gas plant near Tripoli, especially when all our European allies have counselled a sober and safe course of action?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who normally has a balanced approach to these questions, should have been distracted by the opportunity of denouncing the United States without any justification whatsoever. In the course of my recent contacts with five Governments in the Arabian peninsula, although the matter of the shooting down of the Libyan aircraft was raised--I made it plain that it was done in self- defence--it was not seen as standing in the way of sensible discussion of the main problem of the Arab-Israel peace process, nor should it be allowed to do so. The hon. Gentleman is being distracted by something that is less than worthy of him.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : On reflection, does my right hon. and learned Friend not feel that Britain's three abstentions in the United Nations Security Council in respect of the middle east were unworthy and gave us little credit in the international community? Should not Britain be playing a greater part in the European Community to make sure that Europe takes the lead in trying to get both sides in the middle east together?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know my hon. Friend's particular interest in this subject, but I must tell him that his question could not be more misconceived. In all my discussions in the past 10 days, Britain's role and responsibility has been clearly recognised and welcomed. We abstained on those three resolutions because we took the view, for example, that the refusal of the visa was wrong and that the
Column 827language being used to condemn it was also intemperate. Our abstension was entirely respected and we were regarded as having played an effective and valuable part in building the bridge to the talks that will now take place between the United States and the PLO. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, but I can assure him that it is totally without foundation.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : My right hon. and learned Friend met the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Velayati, in New York on 30 September last year. I met him on 9 January this year. We discussed progress in the resumption of full diplomatic representation in London and Tehran. I raised the imprisonment of the Briton, Roger Cooper, in Iran, and the British hostages in the Lebanon.
Mr. Wareing : Does the Minister agree that, quite apart from the holding of hostages by the terrorist regime in Iran, British diplomatic recognition of that regime can be forthcoming only when it stops violating the human rights of its own people? There have been reports of up to 12,000 people being executed since the end of the Gulf war by what can only be described as the butchers in Tehran. Are we so keen to have trade relations with that country that we are willing to forget about human rights? Does the Minister agree that this is another Government who are doomed, or should be?
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that we never broke diplomatic relations with Iran. Iran is an important country in the region and it is right that we should have diplomatic relations with her. When I met the Foreign Minister, I thought that my principal duty was to seek the release of the British citizen held in Iran and to seek Iran's help, which we believe it could give, in the release of the hostages in Lebanon. We have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that the human rights abuses to hich the hon. Gentleman referred in Iran are unacceptable to us, as are those elsewhere.
Sir Bernard Braine : My hon. Friend referred to certain meetings of a diplomatic nature. Was reference made at these to the disgust and horror of the British Parliament and people at the continued execution of political prisoners in Iran? That subject must be dealt with before any high level exchange of the kind which may have been suggested at those meetings takes place.
Mr. Waldegrave : I think that the Iranian Government and Dr. Velayati are in no doubt about the feelings in this House and elsewhere about those matters. I regarded it as my principal duty in the meeting the day before yesterday to seek Dr. Velayati's urgent help in the case of Mr. Cooper and over the hostages in the Lebanon because we believe that the House and the British people will not allow us to relax in our relations with Iran while they believe that more can be done from the Iranian side.
Sir Russell Johnston : Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it was also his duty to raise the matter of the executions? The matter is important. Even if 12,000 is an exaggeration, the figure is still appallingly large. I hope that the Government will not react by increasing export credits as they did when Iraq used chemical weapons.
Mr. Waldegrave : I repeat what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I regarded my duty to this House as being to put help for the hostages and our own citizens at the top of my agenda. Of course we make repeated representations on the wider human rights context as well.
Mr. Temple-Morris : Does my hon. Friend accept that, concerning the ever-continuing detention of Roger Cooper, who has been detained now for three years in the Evin prison in Iran, it is exclusively within the power of the Iranian Government to provide his release? Does my hon. Friend further agree and accept that in addition to other matters that have validly been raised, full resumption of diplomatic relations must depend on the release of Roger Cooper in the first place and on the Government's satisfaction that the Islamic Government of Iran are doing all that they can to deliver the freedom of British hostages held in the Lebanon?
Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend puts it most accurately. We should also recognise that a welcome step was made with the freeing of Mr. Nicola. We welcome that unreservedly and hope that it is a sign that the kind of improvement in relations with Iran that my hon. Friend wants, and which we all want, will be possible if Iran responds to the concerns of this House.
Mr. Winnick : The Minister was absolutely right to give priority to making representations about British citizens who are being held completely unjustly as hostages. However, does he not recognise that the Government have a responsibility to express the feeling of revulsion and horror in this House and in many parts of the country at the way in which the regime is carrying out executions of political prisoners on an almost daily basis? If it were a Communist regime, the Tories would be in uproar and rightly so. Why is there not the same reaction to the bloodstained regime in Iran?
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman started well, but then characteristically fell off the rails. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) raised the same matters with perhaps more dignity. However, I take the point.
Mr. Robert Hicks : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is public recognition that it was correct to restore our diplomatic mission in Tehran, but since then there has been increasing impatience over the delay in the release of Roger Cooper and the role that the Iranian authorities can play in helping to secure the release of the hostages in Beirut? Will he take on board the growing impatience of the British people about those specific points?
Mr. Waldegrave : I sympathise with my hon. Friend's impatience and I sympathise even more with the impatience of Mr. Cooper's family. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the welcome release of Mr.
Column 829Nicola shows that the careful and limited steps that we have been taking have paid off. We hope that there will be further steps in the same direction before too long.
Mr. Anderson : We could have made representations to the Iranian Government on the appalling mass executions as, of course we did properly about Mr. Cooper and the hostages, because we maintained a residual diplomatic link with Iran. On the other country in the region which the Minister mentioned as that important country of Syria, we cannot make direct representations about the British hostages in the middle east or generally about the middle east peace process. Have the Government now come to the point where they are reconsidering diplomatic relations with Syria?
Mr. Waldegrave : No. There is no change in the situation in relation to Syria. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we find it impossible to have relations with a regime, senior officials of which took steps which might have led to a catastrophe in the centre of London as bad or worse than that which we recently saw in Lockerbie.
Dr. Marek : Can the Minister confirm that the constitution of Fiji published last autumn by the military-installed Government is not democratic and does not allow the people of Fiji to participate in periodic and genuine elections by universal and equal suffrage? Will he do what he can to persuade the rulers of Fiji to accept a constitution under which they could, without any trouble, become signatories to the United Nations declaration on human rights? Can he also tell the House what success he has had in that respect by giving aid in the drafting of the constitution to the present Fijian Government?
Mr. Eggar : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have consistently urged the Fijian Government to return to parliamentary democracy. They are currently looking for a constitution that will be acceptable to all communities within Fiji. The hon. Gentleman, from his experience of Fiji, will be aware that that is not an easy task. We have undertaken to recruit an expert to draft the new constitution, but that expert will be working for the Fijian Government and not for the British Government.
Mr. Boswell : Will my hon. Friend clarify the position of Fijian nationals resident in the United Kingdom and of other Anglo-Fijian ties in the light of Fiji's inevitable but regrettable self-inflicted withdrawal from the Commonwealth--or has that made no difference at all?
Mr. Corbyn : Can the Minister throw any light on information that he may have received concerning the circumstances of the overthrown Bavandra Government in 1987? Many people are suspicious that a Government
Column 830committed to a non-nuclear and non-aligned foreign policy should be destabilised and overthrown. Does the Minister agree that an investigation is necessary into the circumstances surrounding that destabilisation, bearing in mind other destabilisations that have been effected in the Pacific area wherever countries have followed a non- nuclear, non-aligned foreign policy?
Mr. Eggar : Obviously the hon. Gentleman has been refuelling his supply of conspiracy theories over the Christmas period. I am surprised at the nature of his question. Is he suggesting that the British Government should enter an independent country and conduct an inquiry?
6. Mr. Atkinson : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the concluding document of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe review conference in Vienna.
Mr. Waldegrave : We hope that the Vienna meeting will conclude shortly with the adoption of a substantial and balanced document. That should represent a major step forward on previous CSCE commitments--for example, on religious freedom, freedom to emigrate, and freer flow of information.
Mr. Atkinson : I commend my hon. Friend and his western colleagues on their refusal to conclude the Helsinki review conference until substantial progress on implementation can be agreed. Will he accept that, far from a few dozen religious and political prisoners being left in the gulag--as was suggested following Chancellor Kohl's visit last October, when he announced that all prisoners would be released--there remain several hundred prisoners, the names of whom I have given to my hon. Friend? Will my hon. Friend confirm that there will be no human rights conference in Moscow until further real, substantial and irreversible progress is made on human rights in the Soviet Union?
Mr. Waldegrave : As we have said, the United Kingdom's attendance at the Moscow conference depends on the Soviet Union's making further specific human rights improvements between now and 1991. I shall arrange for a copy of the Foreign Office statement on the matter to be placed in the Library of the House.
Certainly some political and religious prisoners remain in the Soviet Union, but we think--and this is a happy state of affairs--that my hon. Friend's list is somewhat out of date, and that the number is now somewhat less. However, it is still very much higher than a few dozen.
Mr. Michael Marshall : My hon. Friend will be aware of the parliamentary exchanges through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which are part of the CSCE process. Will he take this opportunity, in a week when the leader of the German IPU delegation is visiting the House, to reaffirm his understanding of the position whereby both British and German parliamentarians have refused to meet in Romania in May to discuss CSCE progress? Does he understand that position and support it?
Mr. Waldegrave : It is no news to the House that Her Majesty's Government regard the human rights position in Romania as very unsatisfactory and getting worse. There are problems now between Romania and its allies, who, I think, are almost as fed up with it as we are.
Mr. James Lamond : Is the Minister looking forward to the talks about conventional weapon reductions in Europe which should flow from any agreement in Vienna? Will we be making a positive, progressive proposal there, rather than taking the negative attitude that we have taken to the proposals of President Gorbachev?
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises the next great step forward available to us, which should result--as he says--from agreement in Vienna. The principle of reducing the disequilibrium in conventional forces to which President Gorbachev has committed himself is very welcome, and there will certainly be a practical response from the western side.
Mr. Corbett : Given the importance that the Foreign Secretary attaches to the rights of individuals who have emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel to be reunited with their families there, does the same principle apply to people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have waited for up to a decade for their families to join them in this country?
Mr. Lawrence : I hope that I shall not embarrass my hon. Friend, but what on earth happened to the Government's commitment of only 11 days ago not to support a human rights conference in Moscow until the Soviets had improved their performance on human rights more than they have so far managed to?
The position is clear. We believe that it is right that the progress that has been made should be recognised by an acceptance in principle of the possibility of a human rights conference in Moscow, but we reserve the right not to go if the firm pledges made by President Gorbachev and his colleagues are not met, and we shall retain that right up to the day before the conference.
Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that when I visited India during the Christmas recess I was pleased to find that relations between Britain and India were very much better than they have been in recent years? Will he please pay a tribute to the British high commissioner in Delhi and his
Column 832staff for the patient work that they are doing, and will he continue to be aware that a number of very fragile issues need watching if the position is to continue and indeed improve further?
Mr. Eggar : I am very pleased indeed to hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and I shall of course ensure that his comments are passed on to our high commissioner in Delhi. I should also like to pay tribute to the work of the present Indian high commissioner here in London- -the deputy high commissioner who took responsibility when Dr. Alexander returned home after a distinguished period as Indian high commissioner in London.
Mr. Jessel : Are not the relations between Britain and India of great importance as the Commonwealth link, in that the traditional ties of history, language and law can act as a bridge between Europe and Asia? Does my hon. Friend accept that a modern India wants close relations with Britain as a whole and with the Conservative Government and that any idea of a special link with the Labour party is 40 years out of date?
Mr. Eggar : I agree with my hon. Friend about the close ties between the two countries. I would not want to create any kind of a divide across the Chamber on the importance of the relationship between India and the United Kingdom, under whatever Government.
Mr. Madden : Does the Minister understand that the introduction of DNA testing as a formal part of entry clearance procedures in India or elsewhere on the Indian sub-continent, whereby the applicant would be charged several hundred pounds, is wholly unacceptable? Will he look at the terms of early-day motion 249 where he will see the expressions of concern about such a procedure, and will he undertake urgent discussions with Home Office colleagues to ensure that their secret plan is scrapped and that there is no introduction of charges to applicants or sponsors for DNA testing?
Mr. Eggar : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that DNA testing applies mainly to people from Bangladesh and Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, to people who wish to come to this country from India, because of the difference in the period of time that has elapsed since the main amount of immigration from India compared with the other two countries in the sub-continent. I shall of course have discussions with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office about DNA testing. The hon. Gentleman well knows that the matter is under consideration.
Mr. Eggar : For my hon. Friend to put the question in that way is extremely unhelpful and it is inappropriate in the House. My hon. Friend is well aware of the Government's position on this matter. It was fully explained to him in an Adjournment debate before Christmas.
Mr. Wall : Will the Minister have early discussions with the Indian Government about a time scale for the withdrawal of the Indian peace- keeping force from Sri Lanka? In view of the Indian Government's close interest
Column 833in the island of Sri Lanka, will the Minister also ask the Indian Government when they feel that conditions in Sri Lanka will return to normal so that business people and tourists can go there and peacefully carry out their activities, with this Government no longer carrying the odium of threatening to send refugees back to that country--including sending Viraj Mendis, the refugee, back to his death?
Mr. Eggar : The hon. Gentleman should remember that Indian troops are in Sri Lanka at the request of the Sri Lankan Government. The newly elected President of Sri Lanka has recently asked for a reduction in the number of troops from India, and I understand that that is happening.
8. Mr. Gerald Bowden : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plan to meet the secretary- general of NATO to discuss North Atlantic foreign policy co-operation.
Mr. Bowden : When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the secretary-general of NATO, will he explain that, while we welcome the progress that the Soviet Union is making towards cutting the numbers of nuclear weapons, we are nevertheless witnessing an increase in their quality? While the numbers may go down, the quality goes up. Does that not make it even more important that NATO should have its own modernisation programme?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is quite right. The Soviet Union's modernisation programme is continuing at full speed with, for example, more accurate SS21s replacing FROGS, without any diminution in numbers, despite the massive 14 : 1 Soviet superiority in SNF missile launchers, the continuing build-up of Backfire and Fencer aircraft, nuclear -capable artillery being modernised and SSM21 sea-launched cruise missiles recently deployed. Hon. Members must understand that whereas NATO is considering modernisation options, the Soviet Union is going full speed ahead with a whole panoply of programmes.
Dr. Owen : Will the Secretary of State ensure that when the NATO Foreign Ministers meet they will discuss a statement by Secretary Shultz that has not received much publicity? Mr. Shultz said that there is a grotesque spectre of the proliferation of biological weapons. He alleged that nations were stockpiling and producing different and more virulent strains of bacterial weapons, in direct contravention of the 1972 biological weapons treaty. That is a very serious allegation. It is the first time that it has been made in such strong and trenchant terms. Will the Secretary of State ask NATO Foreign Ministers to name the countries that are breaching the treaty and take co-ordinated action to bring them to book?
Column 834been pressing for a long time for a world- wide, effective comprehensive ban on chemical weapons, and the case against biological weapons is just as strong.
Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reject the views of the West German Admiral Schma"hling who is talking about the reunification of Germany and the withdrawal of all American forces?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The views expressed by that gentleman have not been described as the views of the West German Government, who understand, as was made clear in their commitment to the NATO summit communique last spring, the importance of the continuing presence of United States troops in Europe.
Mr. Robertson : Will the Foreign Secretary comment on reports that the Americans have decided not to develop an air-launched stand-off missile and that they are increasingly reluctant to consider any replacement for the Lance missile system? Will he comment on what that will do for the present NATO posture, especially the Government's enthusiasm for modernisation? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the meeting on 9 and 10 June will be a Foreign Ministers meeting, or will it be upgraded to a meeting of Heads of Government?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned at the start of his question are only some of the aspects affecting the modernisation of NATO forces under consideration by the United States and the Alliance. No decision has yet been taken about the possibility of a summit this year. At present, the June meeting is foreseen as being at Foreign Minister level.