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Column 1453local authority identifies sites which it perceives as right for development in future, the Government will look more sympathetically on its applications.
There is also scope for town centre regeneration. Many outstanding buildings in the Border towns--in Kelso, Jedburgh, Chirnside and Hawick-- are not being used to the full. Redevelopment is expensive and difficult and it is hard for the local authority to persuade private owners of these buildings to undertake large-scale redevelopment when it has no inducements or incentives to offer them. A small amount of money through a rural development fund or agency could give the local authority something with which to go to private owners or commercial businesses in key areas such as Kelso square and Jedburgh market square so that some of these buildings can be tastefully redeveloped. The local authority would like to do that, but the planning authority is restrained by the financial limits placed on it by central Government.
A rural development fund or agency could also co-ordinate trade and industrial promotions. The Minister knows that "Fashion 88", a project mounted in conjunction with the local authority and the chamber of commerce in the Borders last year, was a considerable success. It had a triumphant impact, and many internationally known designers attended. Its consequences are only now beginning to flow through the system, and many valuable economic and commercial contacts were made during the time that it lasted. I congratulate everyone involved in it and I hope that it will be repeated in the future. With good will and the right people doing the right things at the right time, local authorities have a great deal of scope to engage in industrial and trade promotions such as "Fashion 88". Environmental improvements organised by the SDA in the recent past have been a conspicuous success in many Borders towns and have brought in their train economic development which would not have taken place under other circumstances. There is much scope for rural development agencies in the hands of local authorities or similar bodies to make considerable improvements to the Borders. The list of possibilities is inexhaustible, and the potential is great. A quarter of the population of the borders live outwith settlements of more than 500 people. Even since I was elected in 1983, and certainly in the past last few decades, I have noticed a difference as I travel up the Craik and the Borthwick valleys, or up to Westruther or Longformacus. Rural areas have been suffering from the fragmentation of Government policy and from the competing interests of pressure groups. The local authority has a role to play in this too. I congratulate Borders regional council, which is a progressive and forward- looking body, doing the best it can subject to central Government restraints.
Other areas, such as the Highlands and Islands, which has its development board, and England and Wales, which have a rural development commission, are in a better position than we are to look after their interests. I know that COSLA is working through the rural affairs committee, and I know that a rural development programme is in place in Berwickshire, and that the local rural area development opportunities study will provide valuable ideas. But we have been here before : we have done pilot projects and examined ideas, and we know what
Column 1454needs to be done, but we enjoy no coherent assistance from central Government. In the past we have been able to live with that, relying on the continued prosperity of agriculture to support our rural area. I do not believe that we can do that with any confidence indefinitely into the future. I warn the Government that, if they do not take steps in that direction, I shall return year after year to the House to argue the case until Ministers see some sense and develop a rational, coherent and over-arching strategy for rural development, not just in the Borders, but throughout the United Kingdom. 12.9 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) on his comprehensive and good speech. I will provide a slightly more optimistic note than he revealed in his speech. I have good news for the hon. Member, and for the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The House of Commons Library has revealed that the unemployment rates in their constituencies are among the lowest in Scotland. Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale has the lowest level of unemployment, followed by Orkney and Shetland, which is followed by Roxburgh and Berwickshire. The two Borders constituencies are in the top three and that is a very encouraging sign for the future.
I want to elaborate on the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire about the comprehensive strategy. I am very sympathetic to his theme of revitalising the villages. I should stress that building on local government initiatives is something which the Scottish Office will be pursuing in consultation with the development agencies and other interested bodies in the months to come. The hon. Member is aware that there is evidence of activity on that front within his constituency.
The Scottish Development Agency is working with local authorities and the local communities in the villages of Creetown and Newcastleton to implement projects to improve the environment and regenerate the local economies. In Newcastleton, the agency has undertaken a scheme in partnership with a local traders' group to renovate the frontages of retail premises and to improve external display signs. The agency has also supported the promotional activities of the traders' group and similar initiatives are progressing in Creetown. The agency is also currently involved in a study of the Berwickshire area which aims to identify ways of stimulating the development of the rural economy.
I visited Roxburgh and Berwickshire district council last year and last Friday I visited Tweeddale and Ettrick and Lauderdale with the right hon. Member who represents that constituency. I should stress that Scottish Homes will complete a rural housing strategy by mid-1990 and it has special teams set up to look specifically at the needs of housing in rural areas. After visiting Ettrick and Lauderdale, representations were passed to Scottish Homes that there should be more Housing Association activity there. I take the point raised by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire about town centre regeneration, and improvement grants have an important part to play in that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire on covering this subject, which he pursues
Column 1455with commendable vigour on behalf of his constituents. In a period when there are many changes under way and in prospect for Scotland as a whole, it is entirely appropriate that we should take this opportunity of considering how these affect developments in the Borders.
The hon. Gentleman was right to call attention to some of the problems of rural communities. I do not wish to underestimate those for a moment, but I would suggest that they should be kept in proper perspective. Rural areas of Scotland, including the Borders, have performed relatively better in terms of population growth and employment than other parts of Scotland in recent years. Over the period 1971 to 1987, when the overall population of Scotland fell by 2.4 per cent., the population of the Borders rose by 4.3 per cent. I know that the increase in the Borders reflects in part a rise in the numbers in the retirement age groups, but that in itself is surely a tribute to the fact that many people find the Borders an attractive place to live and are no doubt making their own contribution to the life of the local communities in which they have settled. The Borders, too, have been relatively insulated from the radical changes which have affected the rest of the Scottish economy in recent years. This is largely due to the fact that the region's manufacturing base is founded on distinctive local
industries--particularly wool, textiles and knitwear--rather than on the traditional heavy manufacturing industries which are now in decline. That is not, of course, to say that the local manufacturing sector has not had to work equally hard to keep up with the process of change. Indeed, it is a tribute to the effort and initiative of the local industrial community that these industries on which the Borders have depended for generations are still continuing to show their strength and resilience in an increasingly competitive world. This is, of course, largely due to the readiness with which Borders industries have adapted to technological change, and have sought to harness the new technologies to the task of remaining competitive. In that respect they have set an example which Scottish industry as a whole would do well to follow.
The strength of the Borders economy is well reflected in the latest economic indicators. Next to Grampian, unemployment in the Borders is the lowest in mainland Scotland. Since January 1987, the numbers unemployed have fallen by almost 2,000--or 46 per cent.--and the current regional rate of unemployment is 3.6 per cent. below the Scottish average, which itself is at its lowest for over eight years. Clearly, therefore, the region's economic base is sound, despite the problems which may persist in particular communities. At the same time, it is very much in the region's interest to broaden its industrial base so far as possible, and I welcome the efforts which are being made to diversify into new industries such as electronics. Important as the traditional industries continue to be, I believe it is through such diversification that the region's economy--like that of Scotland as a whole--can look forward to an increasingly assured future.
Any debate on rural development must take into account the impact of agriculture. It underpins the economic and social well-being of all our rural areas, not only through direct employment but in related industries. In Scottish terms, agriculture contributes around £1.3 billion a year to Scotland's national output.
At a general level, agriculture, which is of the considerable importance to the Borders, is having to face
Column 1456up to change as we continue to reform the common agricultural policy. Change is never easy, but farmers themselves recognise that the process must continue if the long-term future of our agriculture is to be secured. The days are gone when commodities could be produced without regard to what the markets could absorb or the cost of production. Such inefficiencies did not benefit the farmer, the consumer, or the taxpayer. We have paid a high price for over-production encouraged by the common agricultural policy--£11.5 billion is spent every year on storage and disposal. Action was, and continues to be, necessary to tackle these problems.
In this context, we welcome the recent agreement on the reform of the sheepmeat regime because it removes uncertainty and will create, by 1993, a level playing field for our producers so that they can compete in Europe on equal terms. I am confident that the sheep industry in the Borders, with its natural advantages and long tradition of experience and efficiency, will be able to capitalise on the emerging opportunities in these European markets and that it can prosper under the new sheepmeat regime of the 1990s.
In recognition of the need to seek out opportunities beyond traditional agriculture, the Government have pursued a number of measures designed to provide farmers with the opportunity to develop alternative sources of income. The range of possibility for diversification is wide indeed--for example, adding value to conventional farm produce, developing leisure, craft or tourism-related initiatives. It has to be recognised that diversification will not suit everyone, and each farmer has to consider carefully his own circumstances and make his commercial judgments accordingly.
There are other possibilities. The set-aside scheme, which provides for payments to farmers who take land out of production, will help to curb surplus production, reduce dependence on cereal and oilseed production, and provide land for alternative uses such as farm woodland or non-farming enterprise.
We also have the environmentally sensitive areas scheme, which encourages environment-friendly farming. Farmers who enter this scheme in the Whitlaw and Eildon ESA can receive payments based on the amount and type of land on the farm. The scheme thus provides an additional source of income for farmers and also has the potential to generate demand for traditional skills such as dyking or hedge work. Those changes will not undermine the continuing importance of traditional agricultural production in the Borders. The mixed nature of agriculture in the Borders means that there is no particular reliance on any one crop or agricultural sector, and this year promises to be a better one for Borders' farmers. The mild open winter, excellent lambing conditions and buoyant sheep and cattle prices have all contributed to a promising outlook. The good early summer weather resulted in good quality cuts and yields of hay and silage and although the lack of rain has affected summer grazing, crops are standing well and harvesting conditions look good. With the dairy sector also benefiting, the position of farmers in the Borders this year looks sound. However, the extent to which farmers can bolster their income and security through alternative forms of self-financing activities has to be encouraged. The Government continue to make available significant support to agriculture in itself, but are also providing additional opportunities to promote new developments.
Column 1457I should answer a few of the hon. Gentleman's questions. I share his disappointment that the European Commission has not included the Borders region in its initial list of rural areas eligible for objective 5b of the structural funds. The Goverment felt that the Borders had a good case in terms of the criteria for objective 5b, and put the case to the Commission as forcefully as it could. But funds for objective 5b are at present limited, and in Scotland only the Highlands and Islands and Western Dumfries and Galloway were selected at this stage. We shall continue to press for the inclusion of the Borders region in any subsequent list, although it is not possible at present to predict when the Commission will consider further areas. I should, however, like to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the case remains on the table in Brussels. The hon. Gentleman has referred to Eyemouth harbour. I am well aware of the importance of Eyemouth harbour not only to the local fishing industry but to the wider community which suffers from higher than average unemployment. The scale and cost of the proposed development has, however, acted as a deterrent and the proposals have had to be examined carefully. We are certainly not cold on the application.
It has been suggested to the Eyemouth harbour trust and to Borders regional council that they should consider whether a less ambitious scheme would be possible and then discuss any proposals they may have with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. No formal approach has been made to the Scottish Development Agency for assistance towards the costs of any redevelopment of Eyemouth harbour. The agency will, of course, give all due consideration to any proposal which may be forthcoming.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned trunk roads. As he recognised, an additional allocation was given to the Borders and Dumfries regions. In regard to routes south of Edinburgh, a consultation paper will be published on the study report's findings fairly soon, and we will be particularly interested to hear the views of the hon. Gentleman and the Borders regional council on the best way forward in the light of the representations that he made today.
We also recognise the importance of tourism in the Borders. Tourists obviously purchase a wide range of goods and services from the local community, and, in doing so, help to support the rural community in the broadest sense possible. This year we gave the Scottish tourist board £1 million extra. That should be of considerable benefit in helping to expand tourism. I realise that the Scottish tourist board does an excellent job for tourism in the area and recognises that there remains considerable potential for improving the area as a visitor destination, and development activity in the area has been at a fairly low level recently.
There are undoubtedly gaps in what is on offer. I understand that several exciting proposals are emerging, including major golf complexes, and that is encouraging news. Government agencies exist to help local authorities and the private sector, and the STB is well aware of the area's needs. The board's current development strategy is to assist the creation and improvement of visitor attractions. Accommodation projects are of considerably
Column 1458less importance, but the STB will consider applications where there are local shortages, and that strategy fits in well with the particular requirements of the Borders.
The hon. Gentleman has argued in the past for a range of powers for the Borders comparable to those available to the HIDB. I appreciate his wish to see the maximum stimulus being available to Borders development, but we must bear in mind the fact that the HIDB was created by a set of unique circumstances in the United Kingdom. The HIDB's area presents problems of remoteness and economic difficulty which call for very special solutions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would argue that the economic problems of the Borders match those of the Highlands and Islands, or that they justify the same distinctive approach. As I have said, the SDA has an extremely wide range of powers which it is already using to good effect, and its economic development projects bring benefits across the whole range of community life. On the social development side, there is much that can be done both by local authorities, central Government and the voluntary organisations.
Mr. Kirkwood : I understand what the Minister says--I have been at pains to endorse and recognise what work has been done--but the burden of my remarks is that there is no overall coherence to the plans. There is no overall strategy. If there were a rural development agency that could work with the local authority it would be much easier to co-ordinate all the various approaches, but they could be much more effective if there were some coherence and an overall strategy.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is important that that should take place in the housing sector. That is why the rural housing strategy of Scottish Homes will be important. Scottish Homes will work closely with the SDA, but I stress that the entire range of the agency's services is available in rural areas. The agency can provide factory buildings for sale or let ; it can offer a range of advice on such matters as marketing and finance ; and it can provide finance in the form of loans or equity to help new businesses and to enable existing companies to develop and expand.
I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the programme for rural initiatives and developments. It is designed to stimulate private sector involvement in projects suited to the rural economy. PRIDE has already proved its worth in stimulating a range of developments in rural areas, and last year alone an agency commitment of just over £150,000 succeeded in attracting private sector investment of over £1 million.
The Government remain firmly committed to the work of the agency. The advent of Scottish Enterprise will enhance the value of that work and give it a whole new dimension. I believe that the agency's work in the Borders and other rural areas will provide Scottish Enterprise and its local enterprise companies with a firm base on which to build for the future.
The hon. Gentleman wanted me to say a word about the textile industry. The Borders textile industry continues to play an important role in the economy of the region and provides an important source of quality employment. Certain sections of the industry are experiencing difficulties because of factors such as external economic conditions and changing fashion trends. The industry as a
Column 1459whole is in a healthy state. I have every confidence in those in the industry to react positively to the market changes that lie ahead.
The multi-fibre arrangement is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Government are committed in the current round of the GATT multilateral trade negotiations to look for a way of reintegrating the textile industry into GATT, but the Government are equally clear that that needs to be done on the basis of strengthened GATT rules to ensure that there is fairer international trade, and are pressing developing countries, particularly the more advanced, to open their markets to United Kingdom exports. That would create new opportunities for the textile industry in Scotland. I do not underestimate the employment provided by the textile industry.
We have taken two steps on the natural environment that will interest the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire. First, Lord Sanderson has assumed a special responsibility for co-ordinating Scottish Office rural policies. I attribute much significance to his new responsibility, and I have no doubt that he will carry out his duties extremely successfully.
The second initiative is the Government's announcement of proposals for reorganising the agencies responsible for nature conservation and countryside matters in Great Britain. That will provide an opportunity to achieve the right organisational structure for conservation and the countryside in Scotland.
I assure the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire that the Government are firmly committed to the welfare of rural communities. We have already given firm proof of our commitment to the various measures of assistance that I have outlined. The aim of all the measures must be to stimulate rural communities to work out their future for themselves. The spirit of enterprise is no less active in rural communities than throughout the rest of society. Given the necessary encouragement, those communities will rise to the challenge and seize the opportunities that are available.
Many of our rural communities in the Borders and throughout Scotland are as vigorous as they have been for many years. It will be the Government's aim to promote the welfare of those communities, so that rural Scotland can continue to play its part in a strong and vibrant Scottish economy.
I thank the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for giving us an opportunity to discuss these matters today.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : I am grateful for the opportunity to have this Adjournment debate on Lebanon. The public view is of a country filled with warring factions all as bad as one another, but I believe that that is not so and that, although no one faction or side is wholly blameless, we can make some sense of Lebanon, and it is in the West's interest, as well as being its duty, to do so. I applaud the comments made by the then Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) in the last Adjournment debate on 16 May, when he said :
"In the last analysis, it must be our aim to enable the Lebanese people themselves to find ways of restoring peace to their country without foreign interference."--[ Official Report , 16 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 297.]
I understand that that view was endorsed by the EEC Twelve in their last statement on the subject.
One of the wisest foreign policy decisions taken by the Government since they took office was to sever diplomatic relations with Syria. Terrorism was the main reason, especially the Syrian attempt to blow up an El Al airliner from Heathrow airport. Few regimes in the world are so obnoxious that we are unable to have diplomatic relations with them. Syria is one of them and it is Syria which now occupies three quarters of Lebanon. Against that bald fact, we must evaluate the options facing, and the decisions taken by, General Aoun. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Lebanon was peaceful, prosperous and, above all, tolerant--conditions which, sadly, are rather rare in the middle east. Its constitution was based on conventional groups- -a system despised in the West with its ordinary democratic system. One must ask, however, how many other Arab countries have an independent judiciary, the rule of law and the protection of minority groups. Until the early 1970s, all these things prevailed in Lebanon. Indeed, it was a haven for persecuted groups. It is my thesis that Lebanon has been the victim of multiple external aggression.
When the Jordanians expelled the Palestinians to Syria, the Syrians rapidly sent them on to Lebanon, having given them some extra weapons. The Lebanese generously, but I am afraid unwisely, took them in. They were given land for their camps, much of it from Lebanese religious orders. The camps became centres for lawlessness, and armed bands roamed the countryside causing trouble, murdering, raping and looting. Inevitably, there was retribution by the local population against those lawless groups, and a number of unpleasant attacks were made on the Palestinian camps. Those attacks were far more widely publicised in the western press, however, than the horrific incidents that provoked them.
A further factor was internal, but it was generated from the outside. The Shi'ites, who had always been a minority among the Moslems in Lebanon, and who are among the poorest people in the country, tended to live around those camps. They bore the brunt of the Palestinian onslaught. Expelled from their villages and greatly impoverished they fell prey to the agents of the Ayatollah. Out of the increasingly unhappy morass the feared Hezbollah--the so-called party of God--emerged. That turned on the local Christian community and, to a lesser extent, on the Sunnis,
Column 1461driving many of them from their villages. Eye witness reports, mainly from the French and British visitors, talk of murder, torture, public executions carried out by chainsaw and other methods, and desecration of churches, not least by sacrificing animals on the altar.
Inevitably, the villagers fled to the cities, principally the Christian end of Beirut, where they armed themselves and have since been identified by much of the western media as Christian Fascist militia. I have no doubt that they, too, have committed atrocities. Another aggressor is Israel. Its counter attacks against the Palestinian camps were, like every other outside interference in Lebanon, unhelpful to the Lebanese people, many of whom were killed in crossfire. Israel has now withdrawn to a small strip at the bottom of the country. In fairness to Israel, it must be said that conditions in that southern strip are much better than in the three quarters of the country controlled by Syria.
The final outside factor, and by far the most important, has been Syria. That country is so obnoxious that we cannot have diplomatic relations with it. It controls three quarters of the unhappy state of Lebanon. The Syrians were invited in in 1976 by the disgraced Christian president, Sulaiman Franjiya, and elements of his Government. They were sponsored by the Arab League, I believe in good faith. However, the units--that is almost too grand a word because they were little more than military delegations--from other Arab League countries rapidly came under attack from guerilla groups, some of which even at that stage were sponsored by Syria, and withdrew leaving the Syrians in sole charge.
Since then, Syria has carried out a reign of terror in the three quarters of Lebanon that it controls. Its artillery bombards the country, not just the remaining so-called Christian enclave where the city of Dora", its commercial centre, was flattened earlier this year, but, reports say, areas within the Syrian-controlled territory where artillery provides a useful adjunct to the secret police in imposing Syrian rule.
I do not intend to adopt a position on Yasser Arafat or the Palestine Liberation Organisation. However, he was independent of Syria. Since the Syrians expelled him by armed force, all the Palestinian groups, to a greater or lesser extent, are under Syrian control and rely upon the Syrians for the safety of their leaders and for their supply of weapons. Equally, the Hezbollah, originally set up by the Ayatollah, enjoys its supply of weapons principally from the Syrians. The same applies to the Druze and to the two major renegade Christian groupings which operate in the Syrian area. It is worth observing that in the unhappy Syrian- controlled zone, the drugs trade, which was always an important part of Assad's foreign policy and his principal supplier of foreign exchange, is flourishing based in the Beka'a valley.
North of Beirut is the so-called Christian enclave--25 per cent. of the country controlled by General Aoun. I say "so-called"--I have said it several times--because General Aoun was appointed by the outgoing president. The constitution says that if the deputies cannot meet and agree on a president, the outgoing president should appoint a Christian figure-- all the offices are allocated to different conventional groups--who should act as leader.
Column 1462At that point the Christian and Sunni deputies had said that they were unwilling to meet in the puppet process set up by the Syrians under their armed control. Therefore, the outgoing president rightfully appointed General Aoun as an interim successor. General Aoun has found increasing numbers of people from other faiths in his enclave, in particular many Sunnis and a significant proportion of Druze who do not accept the leadership of Walid Jumblatt and are sheltering from the Syrian rule of terror. The West is reproaching General Aoun because he believes that the only way in which to prevent the Syrians from taking the last remaining part of his country is by meeting their force with force. The West has counselled him several times that that will lead to the extinction by armed force of the remainder of his enclave. The West may well be right, but it is difficult to see any alternative for Aoun-- there is no evidence from any analysis of Syrian foreign policy that I have seen to suggest that the Syrians will negotiate with anyone except at the end of a gun.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a number of questions. As I gave him very short notice, I shall understand if he wishes to reply to some of them in writing. Can he confirm that we severed diplomatic relations with Syria because of its active involvement in worldwide terrorism, not merely as a result of one terrorist incident? Are the Syrians continuing to sponsor international terrorism and to neglect even the most basic niceties of international law? In particular, is it true, as has been widely claimed, that the Syrians are believed to have been behind the Lockerbie bombing?
Is it true that the Syrian move into Lebanon was sponsored--in good faith-- by the Arab League, but that the Arab League proved unable to retain its grip on the Syrians and had to pull out the non-Syrian troops in the face of aggression from various groups? Is it true that the various terrorist groups and militias outside the so-called Christian enclave and the Israeli -dominated southern strip all now depend to a greater or lesser extent on the Syrians for their weapon supplies--including the group who seized Terry Waite, wherever that unfortunate man may be now?
Is it true that those who have spoken out against Syria have been executed or assassinated? Is it true that the recent tragic death of the Sunnite Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khalid--to whom my hon. Friend referred in a speech in May--had commented through a spokesman only days before that the recent shelling of Moslem west Beirut had been carried out by Syrian regular forces and not by guerrillas? Furthermore, is it true that that murder took place only hours after Sheikh Khalid had refused an invitation to Damascus to explain his spokesman's comments? Is it true that 247 mm mortar shells were fired in that incident in west Beirut? Those are enormous shells, and there is no conceivable chance that any group other than the Syrian regular army could have fired weaponry of that kind.
Is it true that the reign of terror has extended to foreigners--for example, French journalist and academic Michael Seurat, tortured to death by the Syrians for putting out an anti-Syrian line? Is it true that in Syrian-occupied territory people are held for years without trial, torture is rife and the drug trade continues from the Beka'a valley, and has been steadily expanded? Is it true that 100,000 Moslems have fled into the so- called Christian enclave and recognise General Aoun as it leader, and that 30 per cent. of his troops are now Sunmis? In
Column 1463particular, is it true that two Moslem brigades of the Lebanese army have moved over into his area in the past few weeks and are now fighting on his side, despite the terrible threat that that poses to their families, many of whom are still in the Syrian area? Is it true that the Syrian navy is illegally blockading the two Christian ports of Beirut and Byblos, and that people are starving as a result? Finally, is it true that it is believed to have been the Syrian regular army that reduced Do"ra to rubble earlier in the year, and that last night 5,000 shells were fired at the Christian stretch of the coastline, with casualties still being assessed?
That is a lot of questions. Let me end by making four quick points. First, I firmly believe that the Government are right not to recognise Syria--it cannot be trusted and negotiations are possible only from a position of strength.
Secondly, the key to Lebanon's problems lies in the withdrawal of external forces, both Syrian and Israeli. I understand that there was another Israeli incursion last night in which a Hezbollah leader was seized. Thirdly, the Arab League means well, but there is not the slightest evidence from anything that one can look at in the past in Lebanon to show that the league could deliver anything that it tried to set up. It has acted in good faith in the past and that is how it is acting now, but it cannot bring pressure to bear on Syria because Syria does not recognise diplomatic pressure. Fourthly, the West must ensure that the remaining free enclave in Lebanon is not snuffed out.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I support my hon. Friend and echo his questions to the Minister. He has rightly said that we are talking about a country which in the past was a noble example of how communities could live together in a significant form of democracy. Perhaps when the Minister is responding to the debate and outlining British policy on this part of the world he will bear in mind that although we would like to see Britain act even handedly towards the Lebanon and its communities, that even-handedness cannot override the need for humanitarian aid. As my hon. Friend has said,
even-handedness cannot apply to Syria. We must not fail to take into account General Aoun's attempts to stop the drug trade which is so polluting the international scene and, not least, affecting people in Britain. We should not discourage France from taking the lead in an area where, traditionally, it had a role and influence.
My fourth conclusion was that we must not allow Lebanon's remaining free enclave to be snuffed out. I agree with my hon. Friend that the French are the appropriate people to take the lead in this matter. The Lebanon is a Francophone country. I am no great sycophant towards France and I share the Prime Minister's views on the French revolution, but France has great ties of blood and culture with Lebanon and understands it much better than we do. We should support France in any initiative, which should include lifting the illegal Syrian blockade of the Christian ports and ensuring that General Aoun has the weapons that he needs. Those are the only ways in which the Syrians will be brought to meaningful negotiations.
Column 146412.47 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) for once again giving the House an opportunity to consider the tragic situation in Lebanon. He made certain underlying assumptions with which we can all associate ourselves. In the old days, which now seem far off although they ocurred not many years ago, Lebanon was one of the most attractive countries in the middle east and its different communities had a unique system of mutual toleration. My officials do not need to be reminded of that because the majority of them learned their Arabic in the now sadly defunct Middle East College for Arabic Studies. Because of that many of them know the old Lebanon extremely well and remember what it was like. Since that time the country has descended steadily into anarchy and horror. I suppose that, apart from the huge scale of events in Cambodia, some of the most frightful atrocites since the second world war have taken place in the territory of the Lebanon. The situation is bleak. I am happy to have been given this opportunity by my hon. Friend to try to answer some of his questions and to place on record the Government's position. We do not think that the situation can now be easily resolved because of what I might call the polarisation between the West and the East on one side or the other. My hon. Friend showed that he is well acquainted with Lebanon's complex history and he will understand that we must reserve our position about who among the many players have contributed to the disaster. As a Government in western Europe and as a permanent member of the Security Council, we must try to take such steps as we can to return events to a process that might lead to peace and a practical solution.
Although I know very well from those to whom I have talked about these matters, both inside and outside Government, that it is almost impossible to speak about the Lebanon, if one knows it well, without passion and a passionate partianship, it is the Government's duty to try to put that aside and to take such steps as we can that we objectively believe will lead to progress. To take two names at random, if one put into the same room Patrick Seale and my good friend Professor Roger Scruton, one would find on each side a passionate partisanship and a great deal of knowledge, but a passing of ships in the night in their analysis of who should be blamed for what.
My less emotional task--although it is still emotional to have to stand back--is to analyse and advise on what we should now be doing to ensure progress. It is clear that in the Christian enclave some of the traditions of the old Lebanon are still alive. It is clear that all Lebanese, except those who directly profit from the anarchy, want peace. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury spoke of drug dealers, and others who thrive on the anarchy that has been created. Those who are involved in terrorism sometimes dress up as a political cause things that are closely related to the making of money. Some have profited by attachment, one way or another, to one or other of the external forces which have arrived in Lebanon--the Syrians, the Israelis and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Therefore, there are those who, sadly, have a vested interest in the maintenance of the horror. Apart
Column 1465from those, I agree with my hon. Friend that ordinary Lebanese from any community--Shi'ites, Sunnis, Christians-- long for the departure of the external forces.
My hon. Friend is right to speak as he did about General Aoun, for his most bitter opponent would not doubt his patriotism or his honesty of purpose, and he is supported in his enclave by both Moslems and Christians. We have to weigh our words when we talk because they have some reverberation. My hon. Friend said that the words of a French minister might have more reverberation than ours, but we are permament members of the Security Council and we have long experience of, and influence in, the area. Therefore, when we are speaking as Ministers, it behoves us to judge what we say. I make no criticism of my hon. Friend because it is legitimate for him to see what he has seen and say what he has said on the basis of his own experience and research.
I have a slightly different responsibility. My anxiety is this. If the British Government were to commit themselves to a line of policy that made it look as though we were ready to intervene, whether militarily or in any other way, which we are not and cannot be, to rescue a Christian enclave under invasion, we might ourselves have caused those in the Christian enclave, and General Aoun, to misjudge the extent to which the conflict would be internationalised, and the interventions that would result. Above all, we must recognise the history of external interventions in the Lebanon recently. It is not now 1958, when American marines landed. In that near post-colonial time, order could be re-established relatively easily. That world has passed. No American aircraft carrier or battleship can restore order in the Lebanon. No arriving French or British soldiers with bases in the region and with friends and Governments willing to act with them throughout the middle east, as was still the case in 1958, could impose a solution from outside.
Mr. Brazier : I suggested that we should restore the rule of international law in international waters by clearing the blockade. That is something that we have done recently. The West has done it collectively in part of the Gulf where a much larger scale conflict was taking place until last year.
Mr. Waldegrave : It is true that our own ships and those which carried our flag, along with American ships and those which sought the protection of the American flag, did enable the complement of British and, ultimately more important in the scale of events, American naval forces to continue their passage to and fro in the Gulf. There is a long history of blockades in the Levant. In recent years, too, the Israelis have intervened on many occasions to stop ships. They have searched ships widely if they believed that that was necessary for their security. We deplore blockades, and my hon. Friend is right to say that on many occasions international law is being flouted. I must not give any signal to those who might then take action which
Column 1466might end in even worse tragedy that there is any immediate prospect of the Royal Navy or, as far as I know, the American navy, coming to the aid of those who are seeking to bring supplies or weapons into the Lebanon. I must make it clear that we do not think that it is possible for sheer straightforward military action to drive the Syrians out. We want the Syrians to go. We believe that the Lebanese should be allowed--they have the right--to seek their own future without intervention. We want the Israelis to go. We deeply regret the intervention of Iranian proxies, which only complicates the situation further. We do not think that anything will be gained by Iraqi intervention, which often follows the mirror image of Syrian intervention. If the Lebanon becomes the playground or the battleground, by proxy, of all these external forces, there is no hope.
We must analyse what is the best way forward. We believe that those Arab countries which have great power, both financial and otherwise, over many of the key players, must take the responsibility in this new world in which we can no longer look to the disposition of events by external super-power agreement or ex-colonial power agreement. It must be for the regional powers to take responsibility themselves. We are doing what we can to back the Arab League interventions, and they are extremely important. Nothing that we would want to do should be seen as undermining the action that the Committee of Three is trying to take to achieve, first, and above all, a ceasefire. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury was quite right when he said that the shelling in the past few days has been intense and some of the worst in the whole period from both sides, and there have been many casualties on both sides.
Secondly, there is a need to find a forum somewhere, perhaps outside the Lebanon, where people can talk and begin to put together what is bound to be necessary--a new constitutional settlement. Many on the Christian side recognise that. My hon. Friend is aware of the demographic changes that have taken place since the original settlement. There will be a need, I am sure, in future for constitutional change. As that change is discussed, in parallel with it must come pressures above all from the Arab world, and from those who have direct influence on Syria, such as the Soviet Union. We have talked about these matters to the Soviet Union. Pressure must come for the Syrians to withdraw, but not by using the excuse of the Israelis. We on our part should bring pressure on the Israelis to withdraw. That is not certain of success, but it is the only hope of a way forward.
My hon. Friend urges us to analyse our policy again. We do not overestimate our influence, but I shall respond to his request by making sure that we do not for a moment take our eyes off the Lebanon. If we can make any practical intervention to carry forward the process towards peace, we shall make it, with the one proviso that we must be careful not to encourage a belief that only a military solution is possible.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : The two cases involving my constituents that I shall present in the debate justify my extremely serious concern or anger and illustrate remarkable or serious official inadequacy. I regret that the Government seem willing to be entirely disdainful of the constituency responsibilities and involvements of hon. Members. That cause for regret is clearly demonstrated by these cases, which persuaded me that I should delay my return home. I was drawn to Yorkshire before the weather broke, so the Minister will understand I did not enter this debate lightly, but the cases are sufficiently serious to justify my detention here today.
My attention was drawn to the outrageous experience of Mrs. Janette Caglar more than a year ago. The Minister will be aware of the enormous volume of correspondence which has flowed between my desk and his office. Mrs. Caglar lives in Wath upon Dearn in my constituency. She met her husband, Mr. Ondir Caglar of Izmir, some time ago. They married on 18 February last year, and Mr and Mrs Caglar sought to live together in Britain. That determined young lady had made sure that there were jobs and accommodation for them. Mr. Caglar's entry was refused, and their marriage was dismissed as one of convenience. That view has been maintained since they married in February 1988. It was still maintained when Mrs. Caglar became pregnant several months after the marriage and when their baby daughter was born on 20 July. The Home Office appear to disregard such biological demonstrations quite happily.
The baby girl was born in Yorkshire, while Mr. Caglar remains in Turkey. They are separated by more than 1,000 miles and Mr. Caglar, had to learn the news of the birth of his daughter by telephone from his mother-in-law in Wath upon Dearn. My constituent has been saddened and enormously distressed by her experience. She has also been caused indescribable frustration and anguish. At one time, she spent hour after hour trying to speak to the relevant office of the Home Office without being able to get through. While the official view may be that that does not happen, many Members of Parliament must be aware that British citizens and taxpayers frequently find it difficult to get through to public offices. It becomes particularly distressing when a constituent feels that Government Departments are insulated from human contact, especially when individuals feel anxious or despairing.
Mrs. Caglar decided to return to Britain to have her baby and to be with her mother in Wath upon Dearn. She hoped that the visit would be possible and that she could be accompanied by her husband ; after all, she was to have her first baby. I felt that it was reasonable for Mrs. Caglar to want her husband to be with her in those circumstances. I contacted a Home Office official, who appeared to be extremely helpful. He thought that such a visit was possible and asked me if I could help by telling the Home Office on what date and at which airport Mr. Caglar would be arriving as a visitor. I immediately obtained that information from Mrs. Caglar's family, passed it on, only then to receive a message from the Home Office that a mistake had been made and that Mr. Caglar could not come in. The Home Office then knew, however, on what date he proposed to come and at what airport he would
Column 1468arrive. That was a distasteful and irritating experience. Perhaps a genuine mistake had been made, but it justified further consideration, but none was forthcoming.
On behalf of her husband, Mrs. Caglar then launched an appeal. The time passed and the hearing was set for May. Mrs. Caglar went to the hearing full of hope, but she was distressed and her hopes were dashed when, as soon as the hearing began, the Home Office representative asked for an adjournment to have more time for the investigation. More time--when months and months had elapsed since the case started, and months and months had elapsed since I first made representations to the Minister. That was a cruel blow to my constituent, and I shared her anger and frustration.
That young couple continue to live apart and they maintain contact by letter and telephone as they did during their courtship, when Mr. Caglar learned English in order to maintain communication with his future wife. Perhaps the Home Office feels entitled to be awkward as I believe that the Home Office suspects that one of Mr. Caglar's brothers may have acted a little improperly in the past. I know little about that, but I do not see how Mr. Caglar can be held responsible for the actions of a brother who is a good deal older than him and with whom he has little or no contact. It is not consistent with my regard for justice that a man should be punished for the offences of his brother. The Home Office should not pursue such an attitude.
The second case concerns Miss Tannanum Nawaz--I hope that my pronunciation is reasonably accurate. Miss Tannanum Nawaz is the neice of Mr. Tareen Farouk, a respected resident of Swinton in my constituency. He is a successful, well regarded, intelligent and responsible business man. His wife, a local lady, is employed in a position of considerable trust, and both are of excellent character. Mr. Tareen has lived in England for a long time, but he had a sister in Pakistan with whom he enjoyed an extremely close relationship. Mr. Tareen was particularly attached to his sister and to her daughter, his niece, Miss Nawaz. Mr. and Mrs. Tareen regularly visited his sister and their niece in Pakistan.
Sadly, Mr. Tareen's sister died, and he immediately visited Pakistan once again. The purpose of that visit was, partly, to spend some time with his niece, but also to help her to arrange to come to Britain for a holiday. Miss Nawaz is due to be married in a few months' time and the Minister will understand that in that situation, the planned holiday must have taken place before the marriage. Miss Nawaz has a job and has arranged to take leave for the holiday and to return to her job once that holiday is over. Mr. Tareen is an intelligent, honourable and successful man. He went with his niece to the appropriate office in Pakistan to seek to arrange her entry to Britain. He had to pay a fee. The interview was not completed, so Mr. Tareen had to return the next day and pay a second fee. The Minister knows that I find that surprising. Miss Nawaz sought to provide the information that was requested at the two interviews and was asked how much money she had and would be bringing with her for her holiday. She said that she had $3,000. Mr. Tareen, who as I said is an experienced and honourable man, tells me that he believes that that is the reason for the application being rejected.
I suppose that they were in a catch-22 situation : if she had nothing, clearly she could not be accepted ; as she was
Column 1469bringing a reasonably substantial sum, the officials suspected that it was her intention to stay. As I pointed out, the family is not impoverished. It is not the poorest in the land. Miss Nawaz was coming for a holiday before her marriage. She would have intended going shopping with her uncle and aunt. I believe that no regard was given to the circumstances of that case.
Miss Nawaz inherited her mother's property. No doubt, she would have enjoyed being with her uncle and aunt in my constituency. I know that the uncle and aunt were greatly looking forward to having their beloved niece visit before she entered matrimony which, as the Minister knows, is a relatively binding and substantial arrangement for Pakistani ladies.
Mr. and Mrs. Tareen fear that their beloved niece will never be able to visit them. I think that they have cause for bitterness at their treatment. They see the approaching solemnisation of Miss Nawaz's marriage as obviously cause for rejoicing but also cause for permanent regret, in that it could mean a disruption of the close relationship which they have enjoyed and which has always been strengthened by the frequent holidays that Mr. and Mrs. Tareen have been able to spend.
I find the whole experience of my constituents utterly unacceptable, partly because it seems to assume that responsible people like Mr. and Mrs. Tareen should have their record and character brought under little better than nasty suspicion. The Home Office disregarded the realities. If the Minister searches the record, he will know that I gave my assurance in the case of Miss Nawaz. I have given my confirmation as to the character of Mrs. Caglar, who lives in the same small town in which I live.
The Minister might also recall that, some years ago, I gave an assurance to the Home Office in a case where one constituent asked me to assist when a friend of his family was coming on holiday and had been detained at Heathrow. He gave me a clear assurance that the purpose of the visit was a holiday. The Home Office accepted my assurance and let that young man go to my area. A few days later, my constituent contacted me and said, "We have got over the first hurdle, Mr. Hardy. Now we want to arrange for him to stay." I said, "Your word may be worthless, but mine is not." I informed the Home Office that my assurance was then qualified and that I had no objection to the law taking its course. That is the view that most hon. Members would take, yet there seems to be no appreciation in the Home Office that hon. Members value their word. That word seems to be regarded as worthless or scarcely worth recognising. That case is on the record, although I have not taken the trouble to look up the necessary reference and date.
Mr. Tareen knows that I took that action. He knows that if Miss Nawaz should break her word to her employers who have given her leave of absence, disregard the marriage contract into which she has entered and seek to stay permanently in my constituency, I could not possibly accept that such a change of arrangement was possible. I would be the first to inform the Home Office that the assurances which I had given had been broken. I have no doubt that Mr. Tareen would want to keep his word, as I would want to keep mine. I regret that this ridiculous affair has taken place.
Column 1470I know that the Minister says that the rules are important and that he can intervene only in the most exceptional circumstances. The two cases that I have presented are exceptional. If the Minister thinks that they justify inaction, we do not need a Minister--all we need is a computer terminal regurgitating interpretations of the regulations, with the Minister passing on to Members of Parliament whatever it suggests. The Minister has his job to exercise a degree of discretion and to insist that Home Office officials--they are paid handsomely by the taxpayer--answer the telephone. His job is to ensure that, when someone appeals against a decision, and a lot of time has elapsed since the case was presented, Home Office officials do not go to the tribunal to ask for an adjournment for more time.
I have written to the Home Office time and time again about these two cases, and they should have received rather more consideration. We have no racial tension in my constituency. The younger members of a political party with which the Minister is familiar attempted to bring in a racist headmaster from Bradford to stir things up, but fortunately that went off like a damp squib. In the Rotherham area, partly because of the good will and common sense of the people, and partly because of the work of the community relations structure, the local authority and the police, we have avoided racial tension. I do not want it to develop, but the official suspicions and niggardliness evidenced in this case were scarcely helpful.
I shall not say much more ; I look forward to hearing the Minister's views. It would be nice if, when I get home this afternoon--or evening, if the traffic is as bad as I fear it may be--I could call on Mr. and Mrs. Tareen, and on Mrs. Caglar and her new baby, and tell them that common sense and compassion have not entirely disappeared from the establishment in Britain.