Home Page

Column 271

House of Commons

Wednesday 13 June 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill


That the Committee on the Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill have leave to visit and inspect the areas affected by the proposed works and their environs, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visit and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his agent or other

representative.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Oral Answers to Questions


South Africa

1. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he intends any change to the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the subject of sanctions and South Africa ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Our policy is unchanged. We want to see the abolitioof apartheid and the peaceful transition to a democratic multiracial system in South Africa. We shall maintain our policy of encouragement and pressure on all sides to enter into negotiations on a new constitution. I welcome the decision of the South African Government to lift the state of emergency, except in Natal.

Mr. Hughes : Does the Secretary of State accept that there is widespread recognition in South Africa that sanctions have been one of the key contributory factors to the present and welcome change in the position of the South African Government? Does he further accept that the appropriate response from the Government and European Community would be to retain the present structure of sanctions until the remaining legislation and obstacles to negotiations are finally removed, and to respond, as and when negotiations develop, to the creation of a new constitution by the removal of sanctions during that period? Prompt action would be inappropriate.

Mr. Hurd : We are not planning to remove all sanctions, but we see the need to give practical proof that we are encouraging President de Klerk in the dramatic steps that he is taking, at great risk to himself and his party, towards a new South Africa without apartheid. I believe that those moves are irreversible.

Column 272

Mr. Burt : Is my right hon. Friend encouraged by the successful talks that are taking place between the business community and the mass democratic movement in South Africa, including the African National Congress? Does he agree that the need is to maintain pressure on the South African Government for the speediest possible reforms? It is only through political reform and change that we shall lay a sound economic basis for the future of South Africa, as all sides wish.

Mr. Hurd : The right mix of pressure and encouragement must be achieved. The business community in South Africa is well placed to do that. It has recognised for a long time that an apartheid South Africa is bad for investment and bad for the prosperity of all South Africans.

Mr. Anderson : The Foreign Secretary said that the Government are not planning to remove all sanctions, yet the Prime Minister said in the House :

"I believe that there is now no place for sanctions".-- [Official Report, 22, May 1990 ; Vol. 173, c. 167.]

It is not our job to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but will he use his considerable skills to reconcile what are, on the face of it, fundamentally different propositions?

Mr. Hurd : The Prime Minister has often defended, at the European summit and in the House, the step-by-step approach that we are practising. We are moving step by step to encourage the South Africans as they move, while maintaining pressure on them. The sanctions issue is becoming yesterday's argument. It is no longer the most effective means of pressure. The pressures that we have exercised have shown themselves to be effective.

Middle East

2. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what initiatives are currently being considered to help advance the peace process in the middle east.

Mr. Hurd : My recent visit to the middle east has convinced me more than ever of the urgent need for direct dialogue between Palestinians and Israel. I can see no other starting point for a genuine peace process. We shall continue to work for that with our friends in the region and elsewhere. The grim alternative to dialogue is extremism and more killing.

Mr. Evans : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. If the United States withdraws from dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organisation for not condemning the attack on an Israeli beach, shall we support the United States? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with Iraq and Libya heading towards having a nuclear arsenal and with the Israelis having an extreme Government, we should be encouraging world opinion to bring about peace in that part of the world?

Mr. Hurd : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's second point. We must not forget, as the other problems in Europe and South Africa yield to treatment, that the problem in the middle east is getting worse and more poisonous.

On my hon. Friend's first point, we have urged the PLO to condemn the attack on the beach in Israel. It is important that the United States should remain fully

Column 273

engaged in the peace process, which means maintaining the contacts that have led to the understanding with the PLO about the Baker plan.

Mr. Ernie Ross : Given the gross violations of human rights that occur regularly on the west bank and in Gaza--the most recent of which was the throwing of grenades into a United Nations clinic yesterday--does the right hon. Gentleman think that this is the most appropriate time for the Prime Minister to co-sponsor an Israeli state of the art exhibition at the Barbican centre in October? Does not he think that it would be much more helpful if the Prime Minister made it clear that she regards the failure by the Israeli forces to behave properly on the west bank and in Gaza as a stopping point on any further co-operation between this Governent and Israel?

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister of State and I have never been slow to condemn the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces in dealing with the intifada. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and all friends of the Palestinian cause are prepared to condemn individual terrorist attacks. It is not enough simply to say that they are against terrorism.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Although new settlements on the west bank do not help the peace process, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is worth while pointing out that Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel are not moving to the west bank in sizeable numbers, contrary to what we sometimes read in the world press?

Mr. Hurd : There is some dispute about the figures. If east Jerusalem is included among the occupied territories--we certainly include it--the situation is different. We need from the new Government of Israel-- I very much welcome the fact that there is a new Government--a clear statement and practical measures to ensure that Soviet Jews do not settle in the occupied territories. We welcome the fact that they are able to leave the Soviet Union.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Kaufman.

Mr. Kaufman : Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the attempted terrorist attack in Israel a few days ago? Will he join me also in welcoming the statement made after that attack by the PLO, in which it said that the PLO

"oppose and denounce any military action that targets civilians"? I am interested in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the formation of a Government in Israel who are totally opposed to any genuine peace process. Will he send a message to the new Israeli Government that the peace process is more vital than ever? Will he make it clear that a policy of settlements in the occupied territories is unacceptable to both sides of the House?

Mr. Hurd : I have already made the second-to-last point clear in my previous answer. I believe that a Government in Israel is better than no Government. The peace process has been completely stymied for weeks because there has been no Government. I hope that, now that there is a Government, all the friends of Israel can begin to persuade them that they should play a positive part in the peace process.

While I was in the middle east, I condemned the attack on the Israeli beach. I note what the PLO has already said ;

Column 274

I just wish that it would go that much further because that would make it much easier for the United States to remain constructively engaged, which I believe is crucial.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that this will help hon. Members who are concerned about not being called. I draw their attention to the fact that I am constantly being urged to speed up Question Time, and that is what I am seeking to do. Moreover, I am today giving some precedence to those who were not called during questions on the Prime Minister's statement yesterday.

Mr. Skinner rose--

Mr. Speaker : I think that the hon. Member was called. I call Mr. Snape.

Short-range Nuclear Weapons

3. Mr. Snape : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to discuss the future of short- range nuclear weapons with the United States Secretary of State.

Mr. Hurd : I met Mr. Baker and other NATO colleagues at the North Atlantic Council meeting held at Turnberry on 7 and 8 June. NATO agreed at that meeting that negotiations on United States and Soviet short-range nuclear weapons systems in Europe should begin shortly after a conventional forces in Europe agreement is concluded. We shall continue to keep in close touch with the United States on this subject as we prepare for the NATO summit in London from 4 to 6 July.

Mr. Snape : Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the best thing to do with these relics of the cold war would be to return them to the United States of America? If he is not prepared to do that, will he tell the House against whom he anticipates the weapons ever being deployed?

Mr. Hurd : They are there to deter any aggressor in the future.

Mr. Favell : My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) mentioned the problems in the middle east. As so many nasty regimes in that area still possess very nasty weapons, would not it be a mistake for us to throw down our arms at this stage?

Mr. Hurd : What we agreed at Turnberry--as has been agreed many times before and as will be agreed many times in the future--is that the 16 NATO allies need an appropriate and sensible mix of nuclear and conventional forces at the lowest level consistent with our security needs. That mix of forces, under an integrated command, is designed to deter attack on our area from any quarter.

Mr. Kaufman : Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how it was that a few days before President Bush announced that there would be no modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons, the Prime Minister was alone in NATO in continuing to advocate the modernisation of such weapons? Will he ask the Prime Minister to stop doing what she was doing yesterday--that is, jabbering on about the NATO flexible response

Column 275

strategy, given that the intermediate nuclear forces treaty and the American decision not to modernise short- range weapons mean that that strategy is dead?

Mr. Hurd : Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman is confusing two issues. He is confusing the follow-on to Lance, which is what President Bush has abandoned--he consulted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Bermuda before making the

announcement--and the general position of NATO, which my right hon. Friend continues to emphasise. I do not know what the Labour party's position is, but our position is the one that I have just stated : we need a sensible mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, including weapons below the strategic level, to protect our security.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty

4. Mr. Strang : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he intends to have with other Governments in advance of the non-proliferation treaty review conference.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : The United Kingdom is one of the three depositary powers of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and we consult regularly with the other depositary powers and other interested parties.

Mr. Strang : Following the successful military use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, should not we be even more terrified at the prospect of countries such as Argentina, Iraq and Pakistan--to name only three--developing nuclear weapons? Is not the best contribution that the British Government can make in this matter to hasten progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty? Only if the nuclear weapons states make progress in that direction can we have the maximum impact against the proliferation of nuclear weapons in third-world countries.

Mr. Waldegrave : I share the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman expressed in the first part of his question. We were interested in President Mubarak's initiative for the middle east. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty would be the best way of carrying the matter forward, in the middle east and elsewhere. On the partial test ban treaty, the hon. Gentleman will know the Government's position, which was shared by the Labour party when it was in power : as a nuclear state, we must have the right to test our weapons to ensure that they work.

Mr. Churchill : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great concern in this country and throughout the democratic world about the prospect of some of the tinpot military dictatorships in the middle east acquiring a nuclear and biological weapons capability allied to a long-range delivery system? Is not it time for us to work closely not only with our European partners and our American allies, but with the Soviet Union, so that those countries are effectively persuaded not to go ahead with those programmes in the year ahead?

Mr. Waldegrave : I agree with my hon. Friend that the only way to avoid what would be a very unstable and inefficient attempt to set up a complex deterrent system in the middle east would be the spread of the non- proliferation treaty. That is the objective of our diplomacy.

Column 276

Sir David Steel : Does the Foreign Office accept that the greatest possible nuclear flashpoint has now moved from Europe to the middle east? Amid all the hope and excitement in eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and South Africa, will the Foreign Office make it a priority to secure a settlement in the middle east that will stop that flashpoint becoming a reality?

Mr. Waldegrave : I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There are perhaps two dangerous flashpoints at the moment--one in Kashmir and the other in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already conveyed the sense of urgency that the Government feel about progress in the middle east.

Drugs Trade

Dr. Twinn : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken to assist the international community to strengthen its offensive against the drugs trade.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : We are vigorously pursuinaction internationally against drugs. We hosted the recent world ministerial drugs summit in London, and are playing a leading role in United Nations and European Community anti-drugs co-operation. We have expanded our overseas drug-related assistance programmes, and have so far signed 15 bilateral agreements or arrangements for tracing, freezing and confiscating the proceeds of trafficking.

Dr. Twinn : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. I know his deep concern about the international drugs trade. Can he confirm that we are unlikely to make much progress in tackling that evil trade until we have the fullest possible international co-operation among as many countries as possible.?

Mr. Sainsbury : I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the need for international co-operation. One of the very welcome aspects of the world ministerial drugs summit was that 127 countries unanimously agreed on the need for international co-operation to counter drugs trafficking.

Ms. Abbott : Does the Minister agree that we shall not make progress in fighting that evil trade until we seriously address the problem of crop substitution? The economies of many third-world countries are heavily dependent on the production of marijuana and cocaine. Will the Minister assure the House that the Foreign Office is continuing its support for the sugar protocol?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that alternative development or crop substitution is one of the important ways in which that trade can be countered. That is only one way, but it is something which we recognise as important. Indeed, our support for the United Nations fund for drug abuse control, which plays a leading role in alternative development, is evidence of our support for crop substitution and alternative development. Indeed, we are the fifth largest donor to UNFDAC.

Column 277

Political Union

6. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in formulating the United Kingdom position on political union ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : We are active in all those Community discussions. I set out our views in some detail in the debate in the House on 11 June.

Mr. Gill : With regard to subsidiarity, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the necessity to protect the best features of our national and local democracy. What assurance can he give the House that that will amount to more than crumbs from the European Commission's table?

Mr. Hurd : I listened to my hon. Friend's particularly interesting speech on that theme on Monday, and I commend it to the House. The powers of the European Community are not vested in the Community and then, as it were, the Community lets us have some crumbs from the table. It is the other way round. In the treaty of Rome, the treaty of accession and the Single European Act, this country, this Government and this Parliament have given certain clearly defined powers to the Community. Therefore, those powers cannot be increased without the same process and amendment of the treaties.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Does the Secretary of State recognise the inconsistency of European politicians who speak about political union and who, at the same time, use every opportunity to restrict movement within the European Community? Does he deplore the partitionist policy of the Dublin Government in forbidding their citizens to have day-trip shopping in Northern Ireland? Does he condemn the decision of the Dublin Government yesterday to defy the European Court, which condemned the 48-hour shopping restriction?

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman is right. There is an occasional and lamentable gap between the Europe of phrases and the Europe of facts, and it is part of our job in this country to try to bring the Europe of facts into line. I assume that bonfires are burning on the mountains of Mourne today as a result of the European Court's decision against the Republic. I am sure that the Irish Government will pay proper, due regard to the findings.

Mr. Marlow : No one is quite sure what is meant by European political union. If further powers are to be given to European institutions with regard to the initiation of policy, will my right hon. Friend undertake on behalf of the House that, if there is to be further policy initiation by the European Community, it should be done by elected bodies and not by the civil service or Treasury?

Mr. Hurd : We now know more clearly what political union does not mean. Thanks to the answers to questions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put at Dublin, it does not mean doing away with our basic national institutions or powers of peace and war. What will happen under that heading is a search for greater effectiveness of the Community's institutions, and part of that is democratic accountability. We believe that there is a stronger role in that process for national Parliaments

Column 278

--not just this House--across the Twelve. It is encouraging that that view is held increasingly in other member states as well.

Mr. Robertson : I am sure that the whole House will be gratified that the Prime Minister has been able to save the monarchy at one fell swoop in her discussions at Dublin. Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the speech made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry last Tuesday, when he advocated a future Europe of two speeds, with Britain at the second and lower speed? On Thursday, the deputy Prime Minister advocated an integrated Europe, with Britain not in an outer circle, in the same way as Austria, and incapable of influencing events that are going on there. Is the Foreign Secretary in the Ridley camp, the Howe camp, or has he a tent of his own?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman will achieve even greater performance in his political career if he actually studies the texts that he describes before manufacturing differences that do not exist. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is not suggesting that Britain should in some way be in a secondary position. What we are doing is maintaining a central position by active, constructive and, I hope, agile thinking in all the discussions. It is not in our interests that we should be left behind or be negative in the discussions.

Latin America

7. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with the Latin American countries.

Mr. Sainsbury : We have excellent relations with the countries of Latin America, and strongly support the return to democracy in the region.

Mr. Arnold : Is my hon. Friend aware of the widespread unease in Latin America because of our concentration on events in eastern Europe? What reassurance can my hon. Friend give our Anglophile friends in Latin America that that concentration will not lead to a reversal of the growing interest that we are now showing in the region?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am happy to have this opportunity to reaffirm our interest in the region and to assure my hon. Friend that in no way does our interest in important events in eastern Europe detract from the importance that we attach to our relations with Latin America. Indeed, I draw his attention to the fact that several distinguished Latin American leaders, including the Presidents of Mexico and Colombia, and the President-elect of Brazil, have recently visited London.

Mr. Dalyell : What agile thinking are the Government giving to the speech in the western Amazon of President Collor de Mello who, unlike President Sarney, is in favour of debt-for-nature swaps?

Mr. Sainsbury : I assure the hon. Gentleman that we give a great deal of thought to the assistance that we can give to protect the environment, particularly the tropical and rain forests of Latin America and Brazil. Debt-for-nature swaps is one issue which has been raised and one suggested way of achieving better protection which will certainly receive consideration.

Column 279

Mr. Rathbone : Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will apply ever more agile thinking, particularly in terms of economic support and ensuring that the European Community is outward looking, to ensuring economic stability, without which political developments cannot be successful?

Mr. Sainsbury : We certainly attach the greatest importance to economic stability and progress towards greater prosperity in the region because that is an important way of supporting democracy. The European Community is taking an active interest in seeing what it can do to promote trade in the region. Recently it reached an agreement with central American countries to that end.

Middle East

8. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest progress towards the release of British hostages held in the middle east.

Mr. Waldegrave : The recent release of two American hostages is a welcome development. We very much hope that it will be followed by the release of all hostages in Lebanon. Those events show that Iran and Syria can, if they wish, use their influence effectively to bring about the release of hostages. We urge them to persevere. The holding of hostages, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere, is wrong in itself and in no one's interest.

Mr. Evans : Will the Minister acknowledge that, besides British hostages, nationals of many countries are held captive in the middle east? Does he agree that incarcerating innocent individuals will not solve the many difficult problems of that region? Will he consider convening a conference in London, under United Nations supervision if necessary, to try to reach common agreement that the tactic of kidnapping individuals for political reasons will be abandoned and that all captives will be released?

Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman is right. The House, with its natural concern for British citizens, concentrates on them, but many other people are held, and more Lebanese than any other nationality. I am interested in his suggestion. It is already against all international and national laws to hold hostages. I doubt whether such a conference would take us much further forward, but we rule out nothing and try to discuss these matters in every available forum.

Mr. Temple-Morris : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in efforts to assist the hostages, the best way of pursuing parliamentary relations and diplomacy with Iran is through a properly constituted parliamentary exchange with the Iranian Majlis which should consider not only the hostages but all aspects of our relations, including hostages?

Mr. Waldegrave : I am aware of the suggestions for a parliamentary delegation. That could help. Those who are concerned, including my hon. Friend, are in touch with the Foreign Office about it.

Mr. Winnick : Is not the taking of hostages a most barbaric action which causes immense strain and torture, first and foremost to the victims, but also to their loved ones who, month after month and year after year, simply

Column 280

do not know whether the person is alive or dead and, if alive, under what circumstances? Does the Minister agree that with or without a delegation to Iran or any other action, it is essential that the Government, together with the Opposition in this Parliament, make it clear that there can be no appeasement of those who are responsible for kidnapping? If there were such appeasement, it would undoubtedly be an incentive for further kidnapping.

Mr. Waldegrave : I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I have spent many hours with the families of the British hostages--both the Waites and the McCarthys. I pay tribute to Mr. McCarthy senior, who is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. The hon. Gentleman is right that there can be no question of appeasement in any of these matters. But it is vital to see whether genuine misunderstandings can be removed and to improve background relations if we can. None of those who hold hostages, whether Israel, which took Sheikh Obeid last year, the Hezbollah groups or others, advance their cause by so doing.

Mr. Hind : Does my right hon. Friend agree that agile thinking is needed when considering the problem of hostages? Does he agree that the way to do so is to develop stronger links with Iran and, preferably, eventually to re-establish full diplomatic relations with that country? Only through that process shall we be able to put pressure on those in the Lebanon who hold British hostages and eventually persuade them to release their hostages.

Mr. Waldegrave : Yes, but we should remember that Iran broke relations with us. We believe that we have some legitimate complaints against Iran, including the problems with Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Cooper and the influence which we know that Iran can now exercise over hostage groups. None of that means that we should not explore the signals that are being sent from Iran. We welcome what Mr. Moussavian said recently in the interview with The Sunday Times. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made it clear that there was no question of the British Government or the British people wishing to insult Islam or any other of the great religions.


9. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has had expressing concern about non-scientific activities in the British Antarctic territory.

10. Sir Russell Johnston : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he is taking to ensure that the environment is protected in Antarctica.

Mr. Sainsbury : We have received representations from many hon. Members and members of the public. We fully support and comply with the relevant obligations under the Antarctic treaty system and the Antarctic minerals convention, which offer the best possible means of protecting the Antarctic environment.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Minister accept that any commercial exploitation of mineral reserves in Antarctica would cause intolerable environmental damage? Does he agree that the Government's position to date will have the practical effect of allowing industrial diggers to slip in via

Column 281

the back door? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that he will support the creation of a world park for Antarctica to give some protection to that last unspoilt corner of the planet?

Mr. Sainsbury : I fear that the hon. Gentleman has not studied either the provisions of the minerals convention, the history which led to its being on the table, or the widespread support for it of most of the nations that are parties to the Antarctic treaty. Our objective is to achieve the best possible protection for the Antarctic environment. In the absence of a minerals convention, there is nothing to protect the Antarctic against mineral exploitation and exploration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman wants that protection to be in place as soon as possible.

Sir Russell Johnston : Does the Minister accept that we have before us a proposal from the French and Australian Governments for a wilderness reserve and a proposal from the West German Government for a 50-year moratorium? Both are enlightened and workable solutions. Why do not we support them? Is not it time that we were on the side of the goodies just for once?

Mr. Sainsbury : I repeat my answer to the hon. Gentleman. If he studied the history of the Antarctic treaty system and the protection that it has provided to the Antarctic for 30 years, and if he would realise that it has taken about 10 years to arrive at an agreement on the minerals convention--in the absence of a minerals convention there would be no protection for the Antarctic environment--he would surely welcome that convention coming into force as soon as possible. We can move on from that to a comprehensive further package of environmental protection which we look forward to discussing at the next meeting in Santiago later this year. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that other proposals that have been put on the table by no means command unanimous support and, therefore, cannot be implemented. In the absence of the implementation of such proposals, surely a minerals convention that can command support is worth having.

Next Section

  Home Page