Home Page

Column 175

House of Commons

Wednesday 9 May 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to seek to secure the release of John McCarthy.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : We are delighted that the former American hostage, Mr. Frank Reed, has confirmed that John McCarthy is alive and in reasonable health. Mr. Reed's release indicates that Iran and Syria can, if they wish, secure the release of hostages in Lebanon. We shall persevere with our efforts to persuade them that continued holding of hostages is in nobody's interest. We believe that this is true both in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Mr. Barnes : Just what are the efforts that the British Government are involved in? Will they stop taking an intransigent stance and seek to develop a position in which they can at least talk about the possibility of diplomatic relations being established with the problematic regimes of Iran and Syria? Will they take a lead from the President of the United States, who has condemned all hostage taking in the middle east, including the Israelis taking Palestinian hostages, and will he be willing to use third parties such as the United States to achieve results similar to those that that country has achieved?

Mr. Hurd : We follow up every lead and piece of information which we think might be promising and we use every contact that we think might bring results. I have discussed our position with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Baker, in the past few days and it is on all fours with United States policy. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer that I gave, he would have heard me say that I believe that the principle that the continued holding of hostages is in nobody's interest is true in the Lebanon and elsewhere.

Mr. Temple-Morris : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to approach this matter is this? There are three British hostages, one Irish British hostage, and Roger Cooper who has been languishing in prison in Tehran for some four years and was near release last year when certain events took place. How far can we get towards effectively implementing their release without the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran and Syria? I ask about the two countries separately.

Column 176

Mr. Hurd : I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned Mr. Cooper. It is true that we have three substantial problems with Iran : the hostages ; Mr. Cooper, who has been in prison for four and a half years ; and the Rushdie affair, in which the Iranians maintain their threat to the life of a British citizen as well as making demands of the British Government which we could not meet. It is worth recalling that it was the Iranians who broke with us. To be precise, the Majlis passed a resolution in February last year demanding that we show respect for Islam, withdraw our support for Rushdie and his book and express regret at the offence caused to Muslims. When we rejected that, they broke off relations. I have made it clear that we have indirect contacts with Iran, and I do not rule out the possibility of direct talks if we felt that they were likely to produce results, but the restoration of diplomatic relations against such a background is certainly not a matter for the British Government alone.

My hon. Friend also mentioned Syria. We broke with Syria in 1986 over state -supported terrorism and that issue remains unresolved. We have had indirect contacts with Syria since then on behalf of hostages.

Sir David Steel : As the Foreign Secretary correctly said, we broke off diplomatic relations with Syria and Libya some time ago for good reason, but now that other Governments have acknowledged the helpfulness of the Syrian and Libyan Governments with the release of hostages, is not there a case to reconsider reopening diplomatic relations with those two countries?

Mr. Hurd : As I said in my original answer, according to what we have heard the Syrians have been helpful with the release of the American hostages. I welcome that, as do the Americans, but it does not remove the background that I mentioned. Obviously, the future nature of our contacts with Syria must depend on their prospects for success.

Mr. Adley : We all utterly deplore without reservation the taking of hostages, but do not the Israelis take hostages just as the Iranians have done? Is not one of the problems the fact that in the middle east we are not perceived to be even handed in the way in which we deal with people who behave in that way?

Mr. Hurd : I hope that my original reply to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), which I have already repeated once, will reassure my hon. Friend when he studies it. The process of hostage taking is a dangerous and criminal affair by whomever it is done.

Mr. Kaufman : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there must be no deals that reward hostage taking or give incentives to further hostage taking? That being so, will he respond to the charges made by the released United States hostage Mr. Frank Reed and by Mr. al-Shara the Syrian Foreign Minister that the British Government are not being sufficiently active in their efforts to release the hostages? Will he assure the House that the Government are active day in and day out in their efforts to secure the release of the British hostages? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that the British people, seeing hostages of other nationalities being released, have every right to expect the release of the British hostages?

Mr. Hurd : They have every right to expect what the right hon. Gentleman asked for--day in and day out efforts on our part with that aim. I can assure him that

Column 177

those efforts continue. I have every sympathy with Mr. Frank Reed, who has survived a terrible ordeal, but of course he is in no position to know anything about our efforts on behalf of the British hostages.

I do not regard the Syrian Foreign Minister as an entirely objective observer. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman what our policy is. I think that it is a policy which he accepts, and it would be useful to have it on record as the policy of the House. We shall do everything that we can to bring about the release of all hostages, short of making concessions or striking bargains with those who hold them. That is because we want a safer world and not a more dangerous one.

Mr. Lawrence : Is not there a world of difference between doing a deal, striking a bargain and making an offer of something substantial which Iran and Syria want in return for release, and carrying on discussions and talks with a view to resolving differences between countries? Is not my right hon. Friend doing the latter and perfectly properly refusing to do the former?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. and learned Friend draws the borderline exactly where I do. It is perfectly right to have contact and discussions and it is utterly wrong to strike bargains or make concessions with those who have taken hostages.

German Unification

2. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to meet West Germany's Chancellor Kohl and the Foreign Minister to discuss German unification : and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I meet Chancellor Kohl and the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic often. We did so at the special European meeting in Dublin on 28 April where we discussed German unification. I also met Herr Genscher at the NATO Council on 4 May and the two-plus-four meeting in Bonn on 5 May. I expect that there will be further contacts soon. We have made clear our long-standing support for German unity on the basis of free self-determination.

Mr. Skinner : Is not it a sad sight to see the Tory Government and politicians of all parties grovelling at the feet of the West German Chancellor about reunification? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that at the weekend the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated the No. 2 spot at the IMF to the Germans, along with the Japs, and Britain was relegated to No. 4? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that a large body of British people understand all too well that the West Germans are turning their economic power into political muscle and getting too big for their jackboots?

Mr. Hurd : I am not sure that there has been much grovelling. That is certainly not the accusation usually made against us. We have played a good and consistent role. We have maintained our support for the principle of German unification, as have successive Governments for many years, and we have helped to establish the machinery for making it clear that the external aspects of unification should be decided and pursued in an orderly way.

Column 178

Sir Peter Blaker : Is it the judgment of my right hon. Friend that the new and negative Soviet attitude in the negotiations on arms control and reduction is due to the Soviet Union's desire to put pressure on the west in connection with German unification and membership of NATO? If so, is that not rather unwise in view of the state of collapse of its economy and its need for economic help from the west?

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend is right. There has been a stiffening of Soviet attitudes in the arms control negotiations, at the open skies conference and at the two-plus-four talks in Bonn. That stiffening owes much to the pressures on President Gorbachev and the Soviet Government, of which they now speak more openly. We wish to see perestroika and those policies succeed, but we shall not follow that aim at the expense of western interests or principles. It is in the interests of Britain and Europe that a united Germany should be a member of NATO.

Mr. Rowlands : Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to clarify the position following the two-plus-four talks as there appears to be some difference in interpretation between Chancellor Kohl and his Foreign Secretary? Where does the Foreign Secretary stand on the proposal made by the Soviet Foreign Minister to decouple external security issues from German unification?

Mr. Hurd : That proposal was not put forward by the Soviets at the talks--it was put to Herr Genscher by the Soviet Foreign Minister before the talks. Herr Genscher reported it to the allies and we agreed that we should examine it. I agree with Chancellor Kohl's comments. It would be wrong and possibly dangerous to uncouple or delink the internal and external aspects of German unification.

Mr. David Howell : My right hon. Friend spoke of his hopes that perestroika would succeed, although many people feel that it has failed. What view does he take about the increasing talk of the ungovernability of the Soviet Union? What effect will that have on the two-plus-four process? If it has delayed and slowed the settling of the external security position of a united Germany, will it also delay the unification process within Germany which is moving ahead so strongly?

Mr. Hurd : The latter point is not likely to prove correct, but my right hon. Friend is right about the link between what is happening inside Soviet Union and the effect of its policies on the rest of us. The Soviet Union has three big problems--the national problem, the economic problem and the problem of the disintegration of the one-party state, all of which are developing rapidly and there is a limit to our influence on them. We must deal with the external aspect and maintain our principles and interests.

Mr. Kaufman : With regard to the implications of German reunification for NATO, does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Prime Minister said after her meeting in Bermuda with President Bush that she continued to advocate the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons? President Bush has now announced that they will not be modernised. With whom does the Foreign Secretary agree--the President or the Prime Minister?

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman has manufactured a difference which simply does not exist. A replacement for Lance has been abandoned by the United States and by the

Column 179

alliance because circumstances have changed, but the President and the Prime Minister--in Bermuda and since--have been absolutely clear that NATO will continue to need a sensible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons in Europe. I hope that the Opposition concur with that.


3. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on the present situation in Lithuania.

4. Mrs. Margaret Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further representations he has made to the Soviet Union about Lithuania.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : We have repeatedly stressed the need for progress through dialogue between the Soviet authorities and the Lithuanians so that a settlement acceptable to both sides can be reached, enabling the Lithuanian people to decide their own future. That was the theme of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's message to the Prime Minister of Lithuania when the latter made a very welcome call on her at 10 Downing street this morning.

Mr. Jack : Many of my constituents would encourage my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in his endeavours to encourage the brave people of Lithuania in their fight for freedom. To that end, do the British Government properly recognise the legitimate claims of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia in their quest for freedom? Will my right hon. Friend tell us more about the practical steps being taken to encourage them in their quest?

Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend is right and it is well known on both sides of the House that no British Government have ever accepted the incorporation of the Baltic states as a result of the infamous Molotov- Ribbentrop pact. We must now advise on and address from outside the question of how it is most likely that their right can be achieved. It would be irresponsible to lead them to believe that help of a kind that cannot in reality be forthcoming from the west could be so forthcoming. We are urging on both sides a diplomatic and constitutional process that will lead to their right being made a reality.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : As the Government recognise the importance of negotiations, have they stressed to President Gorbachev in particular the need to recognise the Helsinki agreement and the rights of people to determine their own internal and external political status? If we are to encourage the President of the USSR to come to the negotiating table, will the Minister stress that the west wants to speak with one voice and to achieve a resolution through integrity and dignity and not through force? We will not stand by and see any more Munichs or Czechoslovakias.

Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Lady is entirely right. I am happy to say that we see no prospect of that, but if there were to be suppression in the way that the Czechoslovakian, Hungarian or East German people were suppressed by tanks and overt force, all the gains that have been made in east-west relations would surely be lost. I am

Column 180

sure that Mr. Gorbachev understands that. It is worth remembering that it is very unlikely that the Baltic states would have this glimmer of real hope ahead of them if Mr. Gorbachev was not in place in the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Currie : Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us were able to meet Mrs. Prunskiene, the Lithuanian Prime Minister today, and were very impressed with what we saw and heard? Will my right hon. Friend comment on the Lithuanian view that pressuring Mr. Gorbachev helps rather than hinders him in his fight to maintain democracy and reform in his country against the reactionary forces which would prevent not only independence for the Baltic states, but any reform throughout the Soviet Union?

Mr. Waldegrave : I am happy to say that the two Prime Ministers left their meeting this morning saying that they saw eye to eye on those issues. Both were more optimistic and they agreed that there was no reality of progress without the development of a diplomatic and negotiated process. We see eye to eye on that.

Mr. Robertson : Does the Minister accept that there is widespread sympathy in the House for the ambitions of the people of the Baltic states for greater autonomy, but that the future of President Gorbachev and of his reform programme, both of which have contributed to allowing the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian people to express their views now, are of acute concern to the Baltic states and to the world in general? Will the Minister adopt the wise and cool approach of the American Administration and continue efforts to get dialogue and negotiations going in a spirit of compromise between Moscow and the Baltic republics?

Mr. Waldegrave : It is very pleasant to hear from Opposition Members for the second time today the belief that American policy is our best touchstone in these matters, and I agree. The American President has behaved wisely and I am glad that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) joins us in stating that our exactly parallel policy--which has, of course, been discussed with the Americans--is the right one.

Mr. Quentin Davies : As it is clear that we have never recognised the annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union and, therefore, that we still recognise those nations as independent states, may we have an assurance that the Foreign Office will apply without bias its usual criteria in recognising democratically elected Governments in those countries and will deal normally with them?

Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend conflates two things. We recognise states, not Governments. It is perfectly clear at present that there is no independent state of Lithuania to recognise. We wish to encourage the processes that could lead to that rightful outcome.


5. Mr. Lewis : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Government of Pakistan concerning the situation in Kashmir.

8. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of India concerning the situation in Kashmir.

Column 181

10. Mr. Allan Stewart : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of India concerning the situation in Kashmir.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : We are in regular contact with both thIndian and Pakistani Governments who are aware of our views on the current situation in Kashmir.

Mr. Lewis : I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does he recognise that Britain has a special role to play because two Commonwealth countries are in conflict? Does he agree that the most important thing is to make sure that that conflict does not reach the point at which armed conflict takes place? Has not the time come to bring in the United Nations as a mediator in that terrible conflict?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am sure that the whole House shares the hon. Gentleman's desire that we should seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict. I hope that he accepts that it is primarily a matter for the two Governments involved. Indeed, under the 1972 Simla agreement, India and Pakistan resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed between them.

Mr. Madden : Why do the British Prime Minister and Government cheer the struggle for self-determination by the people of Lithuania but ignore the struggle for self-determination by the people of Kashmir? Will the Minister urge the Prime Minister and the British Government to persuade the Government of India to allow the people of Kashmir an early opportunity to determine the destiny of their own country? Will he also urge the Indian Government to lift the news blackout and allow a British parliamentary delegation to visit Kashmir at an early opportunity?

Mr. Sainsbury : If the hon. Gentleman considered the history of the position in Kashmir he would realise that there are few parallels with Lithuania. In the various United Nations resolutions on Kashmir over a long period the issue was always whether Kashmir should accede to Pakistan or India--not independence, which was never on the table.

Mr. Stewart : Will my hon. Friend confirm the importance of the New Delhi-based report from the committee for initiative in Kashmir, which has confirmed not from Pakistani or international sources but from Indian sources the scale of the atrocities and repression that the people of Kashmir are suffering at the hands of Indian forces? Does he agree that the propaganda from India that the conflict is wholly caused by infiltrators from Pakistan is the most absurd nonsense? Can he tell the House why the Commonwealth seems incapable of taking any action in a dispute involving two Commonwealth member states?

Mr. Sainsbury : We are aware of the recent report on events in Kashmir, compiled by a four-member team on behalf of the committee for initiative in Kashmir. We are worried at the report from Jammu and Kashmir of abuses of human rights. My noble Friend the Minister of State made clear when speaking to the Indian Foreign Minister

Column 182

the importance that we attach to respect for human rights. We have also made it clear that we cannot support those who use violence for political ends.

Mr. Oppenheim : Bearing in mind the disgraceful way in which the Indians have behaved in Kashmir and other areas, is not it surprising that Opposition Members have not called for sanctions, as they do for countries in other parts of the world?

Mr. Sainsbury : I share my hon. Friend's surprise to some extent. We should all combine to urge both sides of the conflict to show restraint and to follow up what they agreed to do in the Simla agreement, which is to seek to resolve their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.


6. Ms. Armstrong : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received concerning delays in the processing of visa applications at United Kingdom high commissions and embassies.

11. Mr. Worthington : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received concerning the procedure for processing visa applications at United Kingdom embassies and high commissions.

Mr. Sainsbury : We receive a number of representations, both from hon. Members and from the public, about entry clearance procedures and delays at our embassies and high commissions.

Ms. Armstrong : Will the Minister give the House some assurance that Government policy will be changed soon to ensure that people who are applying for visas to this country are treated in a humane way rather than a squalid one and are not subject to the delays in which many representations have said the present policy results? Such practices do the British Government and the British people no credit and I hope that the Minister will ensure that the current situation is not allowed to continue.

Mr. Sainsbury : I can assure the hon. Lady that we keep our systems, procedures and facilities under constant review. I look into any complaints about individual cases that are brought to us. If the hon. Lady has any, perhaps she could let me know so that I can have them investigated.

We strive to treat the different categories of visa applicants on a different and fair basis. The House may be aware that the vast majority of visit visa applications in the Indian sub-continent are dealt with within 24 hours, but settlement visa applications obviously require a longer procedure and more inquiries.

Mr. Worthington : Is not it obvious to the Minister that something more needs to be done, as the complaints are always from black countries rather than white ones? The Government should get rid of the suspicion that their immigration policy, either operated at Lunar house in this country or at their overseas embassies, seeks to ration applications and treats unfairly those applications from members of the black Commonwealth. Something more active needs to be done than what the Government are now proposing.

Column 183

Mr. Sainsbury : I totally reject the suggestion that there is some discrimination on grounds of colour in our visa policy. We get complaints about delays and the procedures from many countries, including eastern European ones. It is not without significance that the total number in the queue awaiting interview at the end of 1979 was 42,800, whereas now it is 7,104.

Mr. Dickens : Was not it the Labour party that gave two amnesties to illegal immigrants? Was not it this Government who promised firm but fair immigration controls? When issuing visas for visiting the United Kingdom, we must take great care and that means taking time. Sometimes it is understandable that such care means taking time at our embassies.

Mr. Sainsbury : On that matter, as on many others, my hon. Friend is entirely correct when he states the Opposition's policy. In the case of applications for settlement in this country, we need to make certain inquiries, and if we are to do that fairly, a little time is required. Equally, we seek to deal with all applications for visit visas as quickly as possible, and the greatest number of those are dealt with within 24 hours.

Mr. Boswell : Bearing in mind the recent events in eastern Europe and the large number of people who will want to travel from there either for holidays or for working holidays, will my hon. Friend keep in mind the possibility of relaxing the visa provisions so that, apart from anything else, we do not build up large quantities of unconvertible foreign currencies to match the visa applications that are extremely expensive for the applicant?

Mr. Sainsbury : We keep the possibility of relaxation under constant review and we have just agreed, under a European Community initiative, that we are prepared to negotiate a visa abolition agreement with the German Democratic Republic. We are responding to the increasing demand from eastern Europe wherever possible by allocating increased resources for the visa-issuing procedures in those countries.

Mr. Foulkes : But does not the Minister accept that there is widespread and genuine concern both in the House and beyond about the confusion, overcrowding, long waits and delays that many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on his recent visit to India, have experienced? They have seen the queues, the confusion and the unfortunate circumstances in which people have to queue. Instead of dealing with this in an ad hoc way, as the Minister implied in his earlier reply to my hon. Friends, would he seriously consider initiating a special and systematic review of the staff complements and procedures in our embassies and high commissions for dealing with the problem, to see if we can alleviate it and treat people in the civilised manner they deserve?

Mr. Sainsbury : I hope that the hon. Member will appreciate that there are substantially fewer people queueing now than 10 years ago and delay times are substantially less than they were a year or two ago. I do not think that a review at any one moment is a sensible way forward, because we wish to allocate resources to meet requirements that change from time to time, even from month to month, and vary between different countries and

Column 184

different posts in the same country. Therefore, we believe that the best way forward is to keep under constant review the queue lengths, number of applicants and resources we have, particularly of manpower, at each post.

Hong Kong

7. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have been held with the Chinese Government in respect to Hong Kong ; and what

confidence-building measures Her Majesty's Government have urged the Chinese Government to implement.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Francis Maude) : The Chinese ambassador called on the Prime Minister on 16 March to discuss Hong Kong and other issues of common concern. Our ambassador in Peking is in frequent contact with the Chinese Government ; and the Sino-British joint liaison group met in Peking from 24 to 27 April. There is therefore a close and continuing dialogue. The Chinese Government have reiterated their commitment to the joint declaration and its implementation.

Mr. Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that the unhelpful, if not belligerent, comments coming out of China about the government of Hong Kong only cause instability that is not in the interests of Britain, Hong Kong or China? Does he agree that, if the Chinese Government were to continue such comments, they might invalidate the Sino-British agreement of 1984 by doing so?

Mr. Maude : As I have said, the Chinese Government have consistently reaffirmed their commitment to the joint declaration, which binds us and the Chinese Government to work together for the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. We shall continue to work together to achieve that.

Mr. Tony Banks : When next discussing Hong Kong matters with the Chinese Government, will the Minister raise the issue of trade in ivory between China and Hong Kong? Dr. Leakey has recently been saying that there is to be an extension of the reservation on behalf of Hong Kong. As the Minister has an opportunity today, will he make it quite clear that in no circumstances will there be an extension of the reservation allowing further trade in ivory from Hong Kong beyond mid-July?

Mr. Maude : I am glad to take the opportunity to reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no extension of the reservation. We said that there would not be, and there will not.

Mr. Banks : Thank you.

Sir Hal Miller : Does the Minister agree that it was because the events in Tiananmen Square undermined confidence that China accepted the principle of one country, two systems that there was such a loss of confidence in Hong Kong? What measures have our Government suggested to the Chinese Government to demonstrate to the people of Hong Kong that the concept of one country, two systems is alive and well?

Mr. Maude : The Chinese Government have specifically said and done nothing to undermine their commitment to the separate maintenance of the capitalist democratic system in Hong Kong. They have constantly reaffirmed

Column 185

their commitment to the joint declaration, which retains that separate way of life in Hong Kong. We and the Hong Kong Government have taken a number of steps within our powers to reaffirm and reassert confidence in Hong Kong, and support by the Chinese Government for those moves would be helpful.

Mr. Michael Welsh : Will the Minister ask the ambassador to tell the Chinese leaders, when he meets them again, that it would help to build confidence in Hong Kong if we had a reassurance that after 1997 they will send into Hong Kong just the police and not the army? If they were to send in the 27th, I would not like it.

Mr. Maude : It was always understood that, once Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong returned in 1997, there would inevitably be a right for the Chinese Government to station troops in Hong Kong, should they choose to do so, but that troops could be there only for external defence purposes. We have constantly said that the way in which troops are deployed will affect confidence in Hong Kong.


9. Mr. Andrew Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made towards free and fair elections in Romania.

Mr. Waldegrave : There has been some progress. The interim authorities have passed an electoral law and welcomed outside observers. But we remain concerned at the continuing allegations by some opposition parties that they are being unfairly treated during the election campaign.

Mr. Mitchell : Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the concern expressed, not least by the Church, which, after all, fired the revolution in Romania, about the unfairnesses to opposition parties? Will he make it absolutely clear to the Romanian authorities that continuation of reconstruction funds, and in particular know-how funds, will be dependent upon the election being seen as fully free and fair?

Mr. Waldegrave : I confirm that we have received a number of allegations, from both representatives of the Churches and from a wide variety of opposition groups. I am also delighted to reaffirm that not only Britain's support but the support of the European Community and the Group of 24 is clearly conditional upon progress and upon the legitimacy of the next Government in Romania. That depends on the fairness of the election. We have not released know-how funds to Romania. We do not yet believe that we should do so. We have given some humanitarian aid. We will watch the election carefully to see whether the conditions which we have all laid down are truly met.

Mr. John D. Taylor : In connection with travel between Romania and the United Kingdom, what progress has been made towards the abolition of the requirement for visas?

Mr. Waldegrave : These matters are discussed jointly with our European partners, because it is obviously sensible to try to move in step. So far, we have made a move in relation to the German Democratic Republic because that is a special case.

Column 186

Sir Bernard Braine : Surely my right hon. Friend is now aware that the situation in Romania is deteriorating fast and that the prospect of the election later this month being either fair or free is fast disappearing. Is he aware that there is widespread intimidation, including physical harassment, of democratic parties and their leaders by the Communist provisional Government, and a refusal to provide them with the normal facilities of newspaper publicity and a share in broadcasts? Is he further aware that there will be no independent scrutiny of the voting or counting procedures in the election itself, and that the army will be taking the ballot boxes away for six days before the announcement is made? [Interruption.] In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend persuade our European partners--

Mr. Cryer : Send an observer from the Lords to discuss abortion.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) should not barrack the Father of the House.

Sir Bernard Braine : In these disgraceful circumstances, will my right hon. Friend ensure that our European partners make it crystal clear that, unless the position changes quickly, there can be no aid or support after a fraudulent Government are returned?

Next Section

  Home Page