Previous Section Home Page

Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury) : Yesterday the House debated Hong Kong and the need for Britain to do all in its power to ensure the safety of Hong Kong's inhabitants when they lose the protection of British rule. People in this country feel a moral responsibility towards the Hong Kong people and it is right that we should consider all the options that might help them. Yet nothing could be worse than to make a promise now and then to cut and run when

Column 1282

the time comes to redeem it. That is what we did to the Palestinians, as I shall remind the House during my brief speech. Fifty years ago, there was uncertainty about Britain's intentions in Palestine ; the British Government published a very solemn undertaking :

"His Majesty's government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state. They would indeed regard it as contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate, as well as to the assurances which have been given to the Arab people in the past, that the Arab population of Palestine should be made the subject of a Jewish state against their will."

If the Palestinians had known that the British would let them down, they might have handled their case differently--we cannot tell. Whatever might or might not have been done, it is certain that the outcome would not have been worse for the Palestinians--every one of whom is now living in exile or under Israeli military occupation. We should never forget our responsibilities for the Palestinian tragedy, which should form the background to our thinking when we examine British policy today and reflect on whether we are doing enough at this important time, when action aimed at making progress towards peace is possible. President Reagan and Mr. Shultz were totally committed to Israel, regardless of western interests and irrespective of international law, justice and morality. President Bush and Mr. Baker are not. They take a more balanced view. But for the situation to change not only in theory but practice, President Bush's Administration must do more than make even-handed statements. It must act firmly and speedily in making it clear to Israel that no longer can it get away with flouting international law and successive United Nations resolutions, and at the same time benefit from American economic aid and uncondit-ional support.

By accepting United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, and by rejecting the use of violence, Chairman Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation adopted the policy that successive British Governments and Western Governments continually urged upon them. That was a statesmanlike decision, especially bearing in mind the horrors of Israeli repression on the West Bank and Gaza. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) seemed to advance the extraordinary proposition that, if brutality and repression is carried out by an elected majority, it is somehow better than if carried out by a dictatorship. In fact, it is more repellent. Very little has happened since the PLO's statements and concessions. The Israeli response was almost wholly negative, contemptuous and dismissive. Admittedly, at long last a dialogue has started between the Americans and the PLO, but so far that significant development has not achieved much. Also, Shamir was shamed into making some response, and produced half-baked proposals to hold elections. During the several months that we have been discussing the form that those elections should take, Israeli repression has continued unabated, and racist Jewish settlers on the West Bank, acting as agents provocateurs, have stepped up the shooting and killing of Palestinian men, women and children, with little effort being made to restrain them. Meanwhile, Shamir admitted, when speaking privately to his own party supporters, that the whole election idea was a gimmick.

Column 1283

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Why does not Arafat call off the intifada? Then there would be less bloodshed.

Sir Dennis Walters : My hon. and learned Friend must make his own speech in due course.

Shamir admitted that the election gimmick was designed to buy time and was never intended to be a serious initiative. Sharon's antics have since brought out into the open the fraud that had already been admitted in private.

Where do we go from here? The European Community, with Britain taking the lead instead of lagging behind, should nudge the American Administration into action. The first step should be an international conference with the participation of the parties to the conflict, naturally including the PLO, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France. I was glad to learn that Mr. Baker is beginning to look upon that proposal with some favour.

From there, we should explore the possibility of a transitional period of autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza. Twenty one years have passed and the landscape of the population is quite different from what it was when the draftsmen of United Nations resolution 242 envisaged a restoration of the status quo ante of June 1967. The Israelis are unlikely to countenance conventional United Nations peace-keeping, either now, to relieve Palestinian suffering, or in a transition arising out of negotiations. Should we not therefore explore with the Americans building on the Venice commitment to participate in "guarantees on the ground", the possibility of a non-United Nations force, perhaps including themselves and the European Community? I realise that the multinational force in Beirut is not the happiest of precedents but the multinational force and observers in Sinai is. The assumption must be that all the parties want a peaceful settlement. That was true in the case of Egypt and Israel but not in Lebanon in 1982 and 1983.

I do not believe in the good intentions of the present Israeli Government, and the lack of them has been comprehensively demonstrated, as has their de facto rejection of resolutions 242 and 338. However, there are people in Israel with good intentions who, unlike Mr. Shamir, Mr. Arens and Mr. Sharon, are willing to abide by those crucial resolutions and would like to talk to the PLO and reach an acceptable peace settlement. This is the time for them to show their colours, and I hope that the Labour party there will do so. It would help if serious pressure was applied on Mr. Shamir by the Americans and Europeans, and now is the right time to apply it. As a minor and obvious step, we should upgrade PLO diplomatic representation. I was pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met Mr. Bassam Abu Sharif yesterday. He should meet Mr. Arafat soon and I hope that that will be arranged. President Mitterrand and France are well ahead of us.

For reasons of history and self-interest, and in order to prevent the possibility of a future disastrous war in the middle east, Britain should be in the vanguard, promoting actions and initiatives to resolve the conflict and trying to bring peace to the middle east. I urge the Government to be bolder and more far-sighted, for there is an opportunity and an opening now and it should not be missed.

Column 1284

12.47 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : We do not often get an opportunity to have a go at Foreign Office Ministers in this place ; hon. Members have already mentioned the infrequency of foreign affairs debates. We can get at all the other Departments but not the Foreign Office, and now it has chosen a Friday to hold this debate. This is our opportunity to get stuck in to Foreign Office Ministers and find out what they intend to do about the issues that they are neglecting. Most hon. Members have an interest in one particular country, and my interest is Cyprus. I was disgusted that the Minister of State did not mention Cyprus when she opened the debate. Given the difficulties and problems facing that beautiful island, something could have been said, especially bearing in mind the work that has been done outside the British Government. The Government have sat on their hands, and they must get off them. They have to get stuck in and do something. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) made a first-class contribution for the Opposition to show where this nation stands in foreign affairs. Since 1979, we have gone downhill, and we will go further downhill until the next election, when Opposition Members will be on the Government side and will do something about the problem.

My hon. Friend mentioned the way in which the Prime Minister goes about her job. She flits here, she flits there, she flits every damn where, but she does not like to flit to Europe because of what happens there and the opinions expressed about the British Government. I do not want to waste my time. I want to refer to Cyprus. The Minister can take the grin off his face. That applies also to his Parliamentary Private Secretary behind him, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell). This is a serious matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) told me not long ago that his father said that all the wise men come from Swansea, East. I believe that, because he advises me wisely on Cyprus. A chappie in the high commission in London, Mr. George Allis also feeds me information on what is going on in Cyprus. What do we hear from that lot on the Treasury Bench? Not very much, unless we go down on our hands and knees to ask them exactly what is happening. I am thankful, too, for what is happening in the United Nations. The Secretary General certainly set his stall out about what should be happening on that divided island. I have visited the island--not very often ; I cannot afford to go there often. Many hon. Members can fly out of Heathrow. I accused the Secretary of State for Energy of doing that the other day, because I have a problem about energy and I could not get hold of him. I suggested that the Leader of the House should go to Heathrow and grab him one day before he goes and bring him here so that I can give him a going over. I hope to give the Minister a going over about Cyprus.

We want some answers. We want to know what the Government are doing, bearing in mind that many people outside the United Kingdom are working like mad to try to sort out the problem.

There was the invasion of 1974. Troops poured into Cyprus from the mainland of Turkey. I am particularly interested in Cyprus, and I am sick of asking the Foreign Secretary about the missing people. More than 1,600

Column 1285

people from the north of that island went missing when the invasion took place. We do not know where they are. It is the Minister's responsibility, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government. Here is another Member who continually asks, "Where are the 1,600 people?" If Denktash can be invited to speak to the Prime Minister, surely she can ask him where they are. The Minister should get the message and have a word with the Prime Minister so that, next time she sees this Denktash fellow, she can ask him where those people from the north are.

We have a real problem with Cyprus. Many hon. Members are showing their concern about what should happen. My responsibility is to stand here and tell the Government what the Opposition feel about them. [Interruption.] Yes, at our annual conference only last year we discussed the problem of Cyprus. What do we get from the Conservative party conference? Not a word about Cyprus. What do we get in the House of Commons? Not a word about Cyprus. The Government could not care less. All they are bothered about are pounds and pence. That is all that is behind their policies. That is why the people denied them all those seats in Europe. My hon. Friend was correct. The people of this nation have had a bellyfull. [Interruption.]

That Whip, the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), has just walked in from the Whips Office because he saw my name appear on the monitor. He is now bawling from his seat. A Whip should behave himself. I always do. I speak when I am invited to do so by the Chair. I respect the Chair at all times. When I am sat down doing the Whip's job, I keep my mouth closed. The hon. Gentleman has just come in from the Whips Office and now he has his mouth wide open.

The Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones) rose--

Mr. Haynes : I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman has come into the Chamber to be educated about foreign affairs, particularly about Cyprus.

I want to know what the Government intend to do about that island. After the next election I shall not be here. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] Before I leave this place I want a settlement in Cyprus. It has a marvellous president. He sweeps clean, like a broom. He is a breath of fresh air. He is saying all the right things. The other side is listening to his suggestions. I have promised to have lunch or dinner with him in Kyrenia after the problem has been sorted out, so get stuck in, Minister.

We want action by the United Kingdom Government. We do not get much action on foreign affairs because we are rarely given the opportunity in this Chamber to question Foreign Office Ministers. I often have a word with the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) outside the Chamber about foreign affairs, but I want him to tell us today exactly where the Government stand on Cyprus and what they intend to do to settle the argument so that Cyprus can be peaceful, with the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots living peacefully together, as they ought to do. Then we should all be welcome in Cyprus.

Column 1286

12.55 pm

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) on the theme of Cyprus, but I recall that when the Turkish forces landed in Cyprus a Labour Government were in power under Lord Wilson, as he now is. The hon. Member for Ashfield ought to ask Lord Wilson what happened to those who are missing.

The Commonwealth has not yet been referred to in this important foreign affairs debate. It is a remarkable institution. It consists of a great variety of nations that hold many different views. It is held together as an institution by Great Britain. That common thread has helped it through difficult times. It is now stronger and more able to perform a constructive role.

I pay full tribute to the outstanding leadership, hard work and dedication of the Queen who, as Head of the Commonwealth, has done so much to hold the Commonwealth together. All the members of the royal family are conscious of the importance of the Commonwealth. They spend a great deal of time visiting Commonwealth countries, which I am sure helps to bind the Commonwealth together. I am delighted that Pakistan is to rejoin the Commonwealth. It will be most warmly received at the Prime Minister's conference in Kuala Lumpur. I praise the work that is done by the Commonwealth, but much more could be done, particularly to improve the environment and protect the rain forests. The Commonwealth can also help to improve democracy. We are always trying to find ways to improve our own democratic institution. It is a hard enough task to make changes here. But it is important that younger democracies should have the advantage of connections with officers of this House. The connections between those officers and the officers of the various Commonwealth legislatures need to be extended wherever possible.

The Commonwealth has had its fair share of famine and poverty. We should do all that we can to improve the way in which we tackle poverty and famine throughout the Commonwealth. Nothing is of greater importance than protecting the health of populations by means of new methods of health care. Education is of the utmost importance, too. Student exchanges with Commonwealth countries play a major role in creating stable democratic institutions and in binding together the Commonwealth as a whole.

I turn now to the role of the Commonwealth in the problems that we are facing in Hong Kong. I praise the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend yesterday, following his courageous visit to Hong Kong. That colony has been through--and is still going through--the most colossal emotional turmoil. To a certain extent, logic, reason and patience are overridden by the instant frenzy and anxiety that has taken over as a result of what happened in China.

It is important that we act as soon as possible to try to give as great a reassurance as we can to Hong Kong while the horrible memories of what happened in China are fresh in people's minds. I am sure that those memories will remain in people's minds but I believe that it is in the immediate future that we have an obligation to try to find a way of giving the citizens of Hong Kong the insurance of rights of abode if in 1997 the situation was such that they wished to leave that beleaguered colony.

Column 1287

Although I believe that there could be changes in China in the intervening period, we must work to undertake the obligation to provide that insurance. Through its collective discussions the Commonwealth can draw the attention of each and every member of the Commonwealth to the part that it should play in giving a pledge and creating that necessary insurance.

There will, of course, be discussions on this in the European Community and in the United Nations, and I welcome both. However, I hope that the Commonwealth will be able to do something constructive and positive. I do not under-estimate the great difficulties in doing that, but we must focus our attention on the fact that we are asking for a pledge for each member country to take a proportion of people from Hong Kong by giving them a right of abode in the event of the Armageddon scenario.

In my view, we are not going to suggest--nor should we suggest--that a right of abode should be granted to all Hong Kong citizens ahead of 1997. The way forward is to suggest that through the machinery, which I hope will be set up within the Commonwealth with possibly a group of other nations which are prepared to take in people, the necessary documentation can be issued accepting requests for a right of abode within agreed quotas. Only in the run-up to 1997--possibly in 1996--should those requests for a right of abode which have been made and documented then enable the individual concerned to obtain the right of abode guaranteed by the request document.

Individual countries would have to decide for themselves how to evolve the selection procedure. It is not for us to dictate to other countries that might be good enough to take Hong Kong residents in the Armaggedon scenario exactly how they should undertake the selection procedure. However, in each of those intakes, I believe that there should be a ballot for part of the intake to ensure that there is an element without discrimination. If the procedure were over-subscribed, the ballot would mean that there was always a chance for some of the people involved being accepted without


If we can bring about those provisions, they would ensure that, by their actions, the Chinese Government would have to persuade the people of Hong Kong that their safety and future could be safeguarded ; otherwise, China would be faced with the humiliation of a mass excursion of people from Hong Kong in the run-up to 1997. I am convinced that it is in the interests of the people of Hong Kong to remain in Hong Kong for the time being, until 1997 at least. I am also convinced that it is in the interests of China to ensure that Hong Kong continues to flourish, because that is the major way in which Hong Kong can be of use to China's economy. I hope, therefore, that, through the continuing dialogue with China, we will build on the Sino -British agreement. I hope that we will go forward to a better future for Hong Kong in the light of that discussion. Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. It will be evident to the House that many hon. Members still wish to speak. The two Front-Bench speakers hope to catch my eye at 1.45 pm. I am grateful to hon. members who are co-operating so well in making short speeches. I hope that

Column 1288

there will be even shorter speeches from now on. In that way, it might be possible for every hon. Member who wishes to speak to do so.

1.5 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I suppose that the 200th anniversary of the French revolution is an appropriate time for the House of Commons to have a debate on foreign affairs. I am not surprised by the Prime Minister's remarks. What she said in France was inappropriate and rather impertinent. One wonders what would have been the position if, on a visit to this country, the President of France had started to pontificate on the events of 1642 or any other aspect of British history. In making those remarks about 1789, the Prime Minister certainly did not speak for the majority of the British people.

I agree with every word of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) about South Africa, about which I have spoken many times here. I shall not say more because I agree entirely with the sentiments of my hon. Friend's speech.

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, my view remains that the failure of Israel to show genuine willingness to start talking with the PLO about the future of the occupied territories--they are occupied territories in international law--plays into the hands of the worst kind of extremist and terrorist who completely rejects any kind of Israeli state. The sooner that Israel recognises that there is no meaningful alternative to talks with the mainstream of the Palestinian movement and that the West Bank does not belong to Israel, the sooner there will be a chance of peace. I have always supported Israel's right to exist, even before 1948 when I wanted that state to emerge. I do not know what more the PLO leadership can do at this stage to bring Israel to the negotiating table. I hope that, first and foremost, the United States will apply the pressure that must be applied on the Israeli leadership.

I want now to talk about the present events in eastern Europe. I welcome the substantial political changes in Hungary. Those changes are warmly welcomed by the Opposition. As long as I live, I am never likely to forget Sunday, 4 November 1956, when the uprising in Hungary was brutally crushed by Soviet troops. That was the second intervention. The first, in late October, sparked the uprising. I learnt about what had occurred not on the radio but a few yards from here. I was on the largest demonstration that I have ever been on, one organised by my party against the Suez adventure. Aneurin Bevan was the main speaker. Many of us felt so humiliated by what had happened and by the collusion with France and Israel that we continued to demonstrate until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock in the evening. It was on that day that I, like others, learnt of what the Russians had done in Hungary-- two crimes on the international scene at the same time.

I am also extremely pleased by the progress in Poland. The House last debated Poland as such on 22 December 1981, when Solidarity had been banned and martial law was imposed. I took part in the debate, and in the course of deploring those events I said that if genuine, free elections were held in Poland it was unlikely that the ruling party would receive more than about 5 per cent. of the vote. Bearing in mind what has happened in the at least limited free elections in Poland, I have not, I suppose, been proved wrong. I am pleased that Solidarity is again a legal

Column 1289

force in Poland and is playing its legitimate part in the affairs of that country. I welcome those events, and I hope that they will lead to political progress in the rest of eastern Europe. However, I am concerned that some western leaders, such as President Bush, can over-react. What is happening in Poland and Hungary is new in any country under Communist control. Any over-reaction could produce a backlash. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was right today. The Soviet Union will not necessarily give up its empire, so all the talk about Communism being defeated and the ideas of western Europe dominating the rest could play into the hands of very conservative forces in the Soviet Union and the other countries concerned. There could be a backlash. When we consider what happened in the 1950s and the 1960s, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, we should be rather cautious and wary about making remarks and acting in a way that could play into the hands of those elements in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that do not want to see political progress.

So much in eastern Europe depends on what happens in the Soviet Union itself. Does any hon. Member imagine that the changes that we can see in Poland and Hungary could have come about without the political changes in the Soviet Union itself since 1985? Could such progress have come about under the Brezhnev regime? The answer is obvious. To repeat the point I made in an intervention in the Minister's speech, if it is right that the countries of eastern Europe should be able to pursue their own policies, that should also be recognised in central and south America by the United States. I remember what happened in Guatemala in 1954, and no one can argue that it is now a country where the rule of law exists. I remember only too well the coup encouraged in so many ways by the United States which overthrew the democratic Government in Chile in 1973 and the efforts to destroy or destabilise the current regime in Nicaragua. If it is right for eastern Europe that people should be able to decide their own future, that should apply equally in central and south America.

I am concerned that there has been no political progress in Czechoslovakia. We know, of course, that since the invasion in August 1968, the most conservative elements have been in control and that there has been continued repression. Czechoslovakia remains, if not a totalitarian dictatorship, a very authoritarian one in so many ways. I am not sure of the distinction between the two. I went to see the Czech ambassador by arrangement on 1 March to protest against the imprisonment of Va clav Havel, the distinguished Czech playwright, who has since been released. The ambassador would not allow me to put my views, and I wondered why he had agreed to see me. I had not gone to the embassy to discuss my holiday plans in Czechoslovakia or the climate there, yet he refused to listen. It is unfortunate that there has been no political change in Czechoslovakia.

Alexander Dubcek campaigned for and tried to bring about change and reforms within the Communist structure in the first six to eight months of 1968. Such progress is happening elsewhere in eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union now. Mr. Dubcek was somewhat before his time,

Column 1290

but it will be a happy occasion indeed when the people of Czechoslovakia have far more freedom than they have now.

All countries in Europe should be able to enjoy basic human rights and civil liberties. As I have said on other occasions, although not necessarily in the House, I hope that I shall live to see the day when there is not a single dictatorship in Europe. I hope that what I have always wished for will come about soon. Many of the dictatorships in western Europe have disappeared. Greece, Portugal and Spain all now have the rule of law and the democracy that we have been fortunate enough to enjoy for so long.

Democratic liberties are starting to appear in eastern Europe and that is not only good for those who live in those countries, who have as much right to enjoy freedom as we have, but for Europe as well. There will be far less tension and less possibility of an incident triggering an international crisis that could threaten international security and world peace. I hope that the progress that we have witnessed in eastern Europe, albeit on a limited scale, will continue because that will be a very good thing for the whole of Europe, east and west alike.

1.16 pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : I wish to speak on four subjects--the European Council in Madrid, development and the environment, growing out of debt and right of abode in view of events in China.

The European Council made some very serious decisions about the European monetary system and future arrangements for finance in Europe. Those matters have not so far been discussed in this Parliament, although they were recommended for debate on the Floor of the House by two Select Committees--the Select Committee on European Legislation and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. They were not introduced for debate before the Madrid conference and they have not been debated since.

That leaves the House with a problem. We have a Government, elected from among Members of Parliament, who do not wish and will try to stop Parliament discussing matters connected with the European Council. Unless this national Parliament asserts its sovereignty over the Government, it will never be able to discuss or seriously influence policy matters for discussion at the European Council and other forums of the European Community. That leaves a serious democratic deficit in the Community. The House must consider how it can control its Ministers and influence the policy of the European Comunity. Either the House will have to address that subject or we shall have to find or invent different institutions through which we can control and influence democratic decisions made in Europe. I welcome the initiative of the Minister for Overseas Development in going to Brazil and presenting a practical programme by which we can help people in Brazil to make a living by harvesting the forests without damaging them. That is perfectly possible, particularly in timber exploitation, if we allow the forest to regenerate. That means a system of management of the forest. Third-world countries, which do not have managerial and administrative skills at their fingertips need exactly that sort of assistance. Significantly, the Brazilians, who resent much of the criticism levelled at them by unthinking

Column 1291

environmentalists in this country, accept and will work with just the kind of assistance that we have offered. I congratulate the Government and the Minister for Overseas Development on the initiative.

It may have escaped the notice of many hon. Members that the conference held in the Grant Committee Room on 6 December last year, which was led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has given birth to a book entitled "Growing Out Of Debt" produced by the all-party group on overseas development. In the introduction, ideas are put forward based on the contributions of international figures ranging from Mr. Cheysson of the Commission to our own Chancellor of the Exchequer and Senator Bradley of the United States.

We call for a new initiative to be led by Britain, following logically Britain's initiative on debt in Africa. The key point here is that the developing countries--the indebted countries--are paying massive sums in capital repayments and interest to the developed world. Any initiative must redress that flow. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer initiated the idea that we should forgive debt in Africa, recycle it and put in grant money. I am glad to see that Germany, Canada and the United States followed our example. As a result, there is now a positive flow into most Africa countries from all the efforts of the IMF and the World Bank. This has reversed international financial flows--Government flows--but has done nothing about investment by the private sector in Africa. Such investment is essential if those countries are to grow again and achieve a better standard of living, above the level of starvation that many African countries face. We must also reverse the flows in Latin America and other debtor countries, including eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary.

We made a suggestion about a Government initiative, and this is being taken up by President Mitterrand with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Paris today, so it is apposite to talk about it, particularly as the forthcoming IMF and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development meetings in Washington will have to follow up the Brady plan, which was almost stillborn. It has been discussed but nothing has been implemented since March this year. Many steps will have to be taken, such as reduction in debt, the issue of bonds, debt-equity swaps, and changing the economies of the indebted countries so that they are in a condition to grow, and are benign to inward investment and private investment. Debts must be reduced, interest rates must be reduced and the period over which debts are repaid elongated, until they reach a level of repayment per annum that the exports of the country can stand.

Furthermore, to make such economies attractive to private capital and to keep money in that country instead of taking it back overseas, we should permit the creditors to put the money into a local account in local currency. They should be asked to invest that money, with the help of local government and entrepreneurs, in industries that will grow and provide the foreign exchange that is necessary to repay debts. In this way, those debts will be kept in active accounts and will not have to be written off. Such a scheme would need an international guarantee power, and that should be formed by the IMF and the World Bank. The capital would never be called, but it would act as a guarantee of repayment for the private investor who puts his money or retains it in the

Column 1292

under-developed country, in accordance with the agreement made for reinvestment and keeping the money in the local currency account. In this way, we shall engage the abilities and the resources of private banks and private entrepreneurs, the IMF, the World Bank, Governments and local entrepreneurs, in trying to rebuild economies and recycle the money for the benefit of the country concerned and the banks themselves. Such an initiative will reverse the terrible outflow of money haemorrhaging from the developing world to the developed world, to the disadvantage of both.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and I want to say this to the people of Hong Kong who seek the right of abode here. The whole reason for trying to get the right of abode here is to restore confidence in the future of Hong Kong. That is the crucial objective of their seeking the right of abode here--it is a sort of insurance policy. We know that 60 per cent. of the people there will never come here--they have said so. The trouble is that it is an insurance policy which will not produce the confidence that is needed, particularly if, in practice, Britain cannot provide the right of abode for all people in Hong Kong.

Therefore, we must look for other confidence-building measures, and I have two to suggest. One is that advanced in the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee--that students who come here may be permitted to count their time as a student towards citizenship. The second is that we should reduce the amount of money that people must bring to invest here before they are permitted the right of abode. If that is combined with a serious effort to get guarantees from the international community to assist the Hong Kong people, should there be an Armageddon after 1997, and with the democracy proposals and additional safeguards that we are seeking from the Chinese, I believe that there should be a bright future for the people of Hong Kong. I suggest, and hope, that they abandon this pursuit of the impossible--the right of abode in this country.

1.25 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Bearing your guidance in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to keep my comments to the absolute minimum.

In the forthcoming South African elections on 6 September, and with the new leader, Mr. de Klerk, we want quite clear guarantees that South Africa will take steps to end apartheid. When the Minister of State opened the debate, she gave us a list of certain items, but I know that it was by no means finite. The two chief things we must have as a sign of commitment to ending apartheid in South Africa are the ending of racial registration and the Group Areas Act. Those two pieces of legislation underpin apartheid, and until they are removed we will not see an end to that policy, which we want to be removed as speedily as possible.

I shall concentrate my remarks on Namibia, as I was there at the end of May and the early part of June. I therefore know how seriously concerned the people, particularly in northern Namibia, are about the absorption into the south-west African police force of former Koevoet forces.

We were in northern Namibia for only a few hours before we saw the large number of Casspir vehicles that

Column 1293

constantly go along the main roads during the day. They were most threatening, intimidating and worrying to the people of Namibia. It was quite clear that the people were worried during the day, but at night, when the vehicles go off the main roads into the bush, and through the villages, they became terrified.

Unless the Koevoet forces are withdrawn completely--their former commander is now in charge of the police force in that area--the people cannot believe that they will be allowed to have a free and fair election.

I know that the Government have made their view known, but they have to continue to say on every possible occasion that we condemn the Koevoet force and that it must be completely off the scene if the process is to move forward peacefully.

In our short time there we saw five separate abuses of human rights. They were quite clear violations, all of them since 1 April. The worst incident involved young men who were forced to dig holes in the sand. They were buried head first until they were nearly suffocated, pulled out and beaten. The process was repeated time and again. It is that type of activity, which is still taking place, that gives rise to concern about genuine moves towards free and fair elections. Britain must ensure that it makes clear on every possible occasion to the United Nations special representative, Martti Ahtissarri, and the UN forces there that we shall give them our full support in their role in that country, which is to supervise and control free and fair elections. There is, of course, a great difference between the phrase "supervise and control" and the word "monitor". We have to ensure that everything possible is done to enable supervision and control to be carried out. If at any time assistance in election matters is sought, I hope that the Government will respond positively.

Farm workers form a large part of the electorate and political parties must have access to them. Each farm is marked on the map and as they are private lands there is restricted access. The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance is holding meetings and the farm owners are taking people to them. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) spoke about SWAPO. Any evidence of bribery involving large sums of money which I saw while I was there showed that the DTA rather than SWAPO was the suspect. I hope that the Government will do everything possible to ensure people's access to all the political parties contesting the elections later this year.

South Africa is clearly creating some financial difficulties for Namibia. It is responsible for the financing of services until Namibia becomes independent, and we must ensure that it carries out that role. We must also do everything possible after independence to ensure that there are proper negotiations about outstanding debt. It would be totally wrong if Namibia were asked to take over the massive and crippling debt incurred by a Government in which the people of Namibia had no say. That is extremely important.

After independence we shall still have to consider the question of Walvis bay, which will be a problem for future negotiations. Major concessions have been made about the registration procedure for the election. We need to ensure that the procedures and regulations governing the election will ensure confidentiality so that people know that they can vote freely and fairly. Illiterate people must

Column 1294

know exactly how to vote. They fear that if they cannot be assisted to vote in a confidential manner the secrecy of the ballot will be destroyed.

Namibia has a small electorate and any fiddling at the edges can affect the outcome of the results. A party or grouping needs to have 66er cent. of the vote in order to draw up a constitution, and for that reason the matters that I have mentioned are important. The Government must show that they want a free and fair election and they must back the United Nations 100 per cent. in ensuring that the election takes place in November and is free and fair. We all look forward to Namibia achieving its independence.

1.32 pm

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) : I should like to explore the ground that lies before us after the Madrid summit. That was a good result for the United Kingdom and it was helpful that the Delors report was demoted from the status of the absolute truth and that we managed to neutralise the issue of British membership of the exchange rate mechanism-- although both those gains are short term.

The agenda has not changed and the other states have not renounced the Delors goal of economic and monetary union. That means that there is a certain ambiguity at the heart of our relationships. The minimum, though in many respects sufficient, definition of monetary union must be an area of permanently fixed exchange rates with no exchange controls or other barriers to the free movement of capital or the circulation of currencies. For most of the other member states that remains the launch pad for further integration in the European Community. I am not sure whether at the moment the United Kingdom acknowledges that as the ultimate destination, although I was reassured to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say that we should move as rapidly as possible to the first phase of Delors. I hope that that somewhat contradicts the idea that we were batting for beyond the next general election in the conditions that we laid down. We have bought time, not cancelled the difficult decisions. The important thing now in the short term is to ask how to use that time, and I should like to make two suggestions about that.

First, there is no need at the moment for another idelogical war over the principles of economic and monetary union. Secondly, our proposals, which we have promised, must not be so minimalist as to be insufficient to serve as a rallying point for those who may share some of our reticence about the full scope of the Delors report--the full scope of economic and monetary union. There are people who agree with many of our points, but we must offer them a flag behind which they can line up. If we are minimalist, they will not be able to do so because they will feel that we are not partaking of the ultimate goal.

I want to offer the Government two pieces of cautionary advice. First, it would be helpful if we did not so assiduously give the impression that we are desperately hoping that the liberalisation of exchange controls in France and Italy will lead to chaos. One cannot help but notice occasionally a suppressed anticipation that, with a bit of luck, that liberalisation will cause problems that will let us off the hook. We must be careful not to will that.

Secondly, I suggest that we need to be cautious about the canonisation of the president of the Bundesbank. He is

Column 1295

a non-elected official, and the political decisions in a democracy are taken ultimately by elected members of Government. Chancellor Kohl does not necessarily share the bank president's views, and it would help the latter if we did not pray him in aid so often as a supporter of our opinions.

I believe that the conditions for the United Kingdom membership of the exchange rate mechanism will be fulfilled--and rather earlier than we expect. There will be an intergovernmental conference in which we shall take part, and an insistence on a treaty change for which we would do well to prepare ourselves. We must be careful about the attitudes that we adopt. I vividly remember Ministers arguing several years ago that we did not need a treaty change to achieve the single market ; we needed only the political will. It would be difficult to deny now that that treaty change has stimulated a much more accelerated approach to the whole notion of the single market. I recognise and share the Government's dislike of much of the philosophy behind the social charter. It will return in a new form. At the summit in December there is likely to be a declaration geared to employment. There is unlikely to be a legislative programme as an integral part of the declaration, and that will mean measures emerging under the existing competences of the Commission, measures which we should bat as they come. We do not necessarily need to declare war on the whole idea, because legislation will come forward in a conventional form which we shall treat on its merits as it appears. Our priority must be to press forward with the internal market, particularly in the important areas of insurance and public procurement.

I also suggest that the Government be more willing to acknowledge the victories that we have had. I notice that press statements from the French cabinet note with satisfaction when a certain decision has been taken in Europe of which the French Government approve. We tend to go in for great publicity about the issues over which we find ourselves in conflict ; we are rather less good about

praising--without crying triumph--those that go our way. Examples that come to mind are the banking directive and the fact that Europe has not embarked on a protectionist course. There will be no fortress Europe, given the decisions taken over the past few months and years.

It would be helpful if the United Kingdom would acknowledge that we are still determining the agenda in many respects in the European Community. The triumphs that we have had and the consensus on certain issues should be the subject of just as much comment as the areas on which we find ourselves in opposition. I note with satisfaction that the Government do not object to the use of article 90 in the telecommunications proposals of the Commission. That does not flow from the Single European Act--it would be a mistake to regard all these matters as flowing from that. It is an article of the treaty and as such it shows that the treaty can be used directly to obtain the deregulatory, free-market objectives of the European Community. I hope that we shall not be too alert to the possibilities of objecting to article 90 when it is used in areas that we find somewhat inconvenient. I think that some of my hon. and right hon. Friends would merely say that in taking that approach we were being rather cleverly French. That is an argument to which I would not necessarily object.

It is unfortunate that we allow the impression to be gained that there is a perennial British problem in Europe.

Column 1296

I suggest that there is also a French problem of a dirigiste tradition in adjusting to the internal market. There is also an Italian problem, which involves a history of non-implementation of regulations, about which the Italian Government propose to do nothing. Milk quotas do not yet exist in Italy. There is also a German problem that involves a highly protected financial services market. There will be traumatic events when the Germans come to dismantle that market. I resent the implication that Britain is always the one-man awkward squad in the Community. Sometimes we make ourselves appear to be the awkward squad when frequently we can argue legitimately that we are leading the field and setting the pace when it comes to issues that are important to us. We must not define Europe exclusively in terms of the things that we want. We must understand that other member states have legitimate reasons to define Europe from their point of view.

There are other issues that have a rather broader effect on the Community than those to which I have referred. A major economic problem that lies at the heart of the Community is the massive German perennial trade surplus. If we had a more balanced and more evenly distributed growth in Europe, there would be far less demand for a social charter, and certainly much less demand for vast regional and social funds, which are essentially mechanisms to recycle the German trade surplus.

I have some sneaking sympathy with the countries that look forward to a central European bank as a means of applying a slightly more reflationary philosophy than that which governs the German economic policy. Some advocates of the British membership of the exchange rate mechanism take that stance on the ground that effectively the president of the Bundesbank would be in charge of British economic policy. One can see the attraction of that if one's priority is to counter inflation. At the same time, German policy is not always conducted in the common interest. It is not healthy for there to be a permament structural imbalance at the heart of the Community's economic performance.

The French identify the same problems with Germany as we do. However, they have opted for the embrace rather than the admonition. It is true that Chancellor Kohl and Mr. Mitterrand have met on about 67 occasions. The French have opted for what might be described as a suffocating embrace. This has meant, however, that they are able to exercise an important influence on German policy. Sovereignty, as in the French definition, is national sovereignty, and applies to the direction in which the nation wishes to go. That reflects a national interest generally and not necessarily the rather narrower terms of parliamentary sovereignty, which I suspect is the way in which the debate will be focused in this place.

The Community will face a significant problem which it has barely begun to address in an era of much freer frontiers, and it will lie with immigration and sanctuary. There will be problems if, for example, the Tamils are accepted in Holland and rejected in Belgium, or if the Syrians are accepted in Belgium and rejected somewhere else. These difficulties will be important within the Community, and we must consider them carefully.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said about the importance of the EFTA. We have much more trade with it than with the United States and Japan combined. We are spending too much time talking about the demise of the Soviet empire. I welcome the

Column 1297

prospect, but I note from my history that institutions tend to survive for longer than external circumstances would suggest. EFTA is at the heart of Europe, and it is difficult to conceive of economic and monetary union with Switzerland or Austria--Switzerland has an especially important currency--outside the EFTA system. I hope that the United Kingdom, with its special relationships with the EFTA countries, will see that it has a leading role in trying to achieve closer relationships. I accept that some special status will have to be devised, at least until we have completed the European single market in 1992.

It is somewhat strange that the Opposition should claim to be the great new party of Europe. I recall our last debate when Labour's new, sparkling European policy was unveiled, only to be promptly assassinated by every Opposition Member who spoke. It is curious that we should be portrayed as the divided party and the Opposition as the united party when the opposite is true. We may be divided on certain ultimate goals, but we are not divided on the concept. That realisation has yet to dawn upon the Opposition.

1.45 pm

Next Section

  Home Page