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House of Commons

Wednesday 5 February 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Central America

1. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what monitoring of the ceasefire in El Salvador and the Central American peace process is being undertaken by him.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones) : Our embassies in all the countries of Central Americakeep a close watch on developments throughout the region, especially the progress of the peace process. Through the United Nations we support the work of the United Nations observer mission in El Salvador which has the task of monitoring all the elements of the recent peace agreement there, including the ceasefire.

Mr. Corbyn : Will the Minister join me in welcoming the ceasefire which is under way in El Salvador and the prospects that it brings for a long-lasting peace? Does he recognise that the underlying social problems within the region--in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as well as Nicaragua--are the basis of many of its problems? Will he ensure that the vast amount of aid which has been sent into the region for military purposes will in future be for peaceful purposes so that the region's social injustices are dealt with as rapidly as possible?

Mr. Garel-Jones : Certainly, I very much welcome what the hon. Gentleman said. Indeed, the Prime Minister sent a message of congratulation to President Christiani when the peace agreement was reached. Through the United Nations and the European Economic Community we shall certainly be doing all that we can to encourage the social reforms--for example, the reform of land ownership--to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We very much hope that such reforms will underpin the peace process.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does not President Christiani of El Salvador deserve widespread support, bearing in mind the fact that he was elected by the people of that country and that he has to cope with the violence of unruly military officers and also the murderous activities of the Farabundi Marti Front for the Liberation of the Nation? May I welcome the action of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in giving the president his direct support.

Mr. Garel-Jones : Yes. The Government have suppor-ted the process throughout. My hon. Friend may be aware

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that the prosecution of a number of military officers involved in the assassination of Jesuit priests was assisted by a team sent from Scotland Yard. That was much appreciated by the El Salvadorean Government and helped to bring the perpetrators of that murder to justice.

Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware that for once--perhaps surprisingly--the House is united in welcoming the agreement and in congratulating all those involved, including the FMFLN for their part in the peace process? We are also interested in what the priorities are now for demilitarisation and reconstruction, and I ask the Minister specifically to approach our American colleagues to ask them to convert the substantial military aid that has until now been given to El Salvador into civilian aid to help with that reconstruction. Also, will the United Kingdom take the lead in ensuring that the next elections are full pluralist, democratic elections in which all elements of El Salvador society can participate fully and freely?

Mr. Garel-Jones : Yes. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. As he will be aware, in June the United States Government had a sum of, I think, $21 million which had been earmarked for military aid set aside for the very purposes that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I understand that a further sum is now to be transferred from military aid to the promotion of the work that he suggests. I expect Britain and the European Economic Community to be standing ready to support the elections and the democratic process in El Salvador.


2. Mr. Watts : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on United Kingdom relations with India.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Our relations with India are now excellent. During mrecent visit I had discussions with the President, the Prime Minister, and five other senior Cabinet Ministers. The atmosphere throughout was friendly and purposeful. Among other matters we discussed Kashmir and human rights.

We shall continue to support the Indian Government's courageous economic reform programme both bilaterally and at the IMF. The Indian Government have said that they appreciate our continued close co-operation in the fight against terrorism. We hope to complete work soon on an extradition treaty and an agreement on the confiscation of the assets of terrorists and drug traffickers.

Mr. Watts : I welcome my right hon. Friend's encouraging report of his visit to India. He will be well aware of the grave concerns of many of my constituents about reports of infringements of human rights in Kashmir and the Punjab. Will he tell the House a little more about what representations he made to the Government of India on those important matters?

Mr. Hurd : I underlined, as we have done before, our deep concern about abuses of human rights by Indian security forces in Punjab and Kashmir. It is fair to say that the greatest violators of human rights across the world are terrorists, but I stressed the fact that it was important for the Government of India to be more open in dealing with the accusations. I suggested that they might allow Amnesty International to play a bigger part in

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investigating those accusations. At the same time, I welcomed the Indian Government's decision to hold elections in the Punjab, and I hope that all parties there will feel able to take part.

Mr. Vaz : I welcome the Foreign Secretary's visit to India, but will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on the speech that he made in Luton at the end of last year? He unwisely criticised the Governments of both India and Pakistan in most undiplomatic terms. Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that Kashmir is an issue primarily to be decided between those two Governments? Does not he feel that unwise comments such as those that he made do not help an already difficult situation?

Mr. Hurd : I did not find that any of the people to whom I talked in Delhi, either formally or informally, took that view. Our relationship with India, especially with the present Government of India, is such that we can talk about what is on our minds, and on the minds of many of our constituents, without causing offence. I shall not repeat what I said to the Government of India, but it is perfectly fair to say that it was well taken. At the same time, it is fair to point out to the Government of Pakistan, as we do, that is is not right or sensible for violence to be encouraged across frontiers.

Sir John Wheeler : Will my right hon. Friend continue to build on the excellent relationship between the Government of the United Kingdom and that of India, especially on the question of the vale of Kashmir? Will he urge on the Government of India the importance of allowing independent observers and visitors into that region, and of taking up Pakistan's offer that independent observers should be stationed along the line of control, to deal with the movement of people and the problem of terrorism, as well as the human rights issue?

Mr. Hurd : It is important, as I have said, that all practicable steps be taken to prevent violence from being encouraged across the frontier. I agree with my hon. Friend's first point. I made a point of saying to the Indian Ministers whom I met that, just as they had announced elections in the Punjab, so it would be excellent if they could start a political process in Kashmir so that there would be people representing the Kashmiris with whom the Government could talk.

Mr. Kaufman : In recent months I have had the opportunity to go to Kashmir by arrangement with both the Pakistani Government and the Indian Government, and I have seen the profound suffering among Kashmiris of both religions--Hindu and Muslim. Having seen the devastation in that beautiful valley that has resulted from the conflict, and having seen the impact of terrorism, which I deplore both there and here, may I say to the Secretary of State that while, of course, the matter must first be decided between India and Pakistan, no settlement can be acceptable that is not acceptable to the people of Kashmir, both Muslim and Hindu?

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman and I approach the problem from somewhat different angles, but I do not disagree with his conclusion. He is right that any settlement must be based not just on discussions between India and Pakistan, as provided for in the Simla agreement, but on the political process in Kashmir.

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Mr. Stanbrook : Did my right hon. Friend say that there might be a new treaty of extradition with India? If so, would that not be a retrograde step, considering that, at present, all extradition arrangements within the Commonwealth are governed by reciprocal legislation?

Mr. Hurd : I do not think that it would be a retrograde step. The matter has been under negotiation, off and on, for several years now, as I remember from my time at the Home Office. Such a treaty would help reassure the Government of India that, within what is possible under the laws of the United Kingdom, we are anxious to co-operate with them in dealing with terrorism.

Commonwealth of Independent States

5. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Commonwealth of Independent States.

7. Mr. Robert G. Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his recent visit to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

12. Mrs. Irene Adams : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had with the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States during his recent visit on United Kingdom relations with the members of the CIS.

Mr. Hurd : I visited Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia from 16 to 18 January. I held useful talks with the three Presidents Nazarbaev, Kravchuk and Yeltsin as well as with Ministers of their Governments. In each country my talks centred on the serious economic situation and military issues including proliferation. I also had a good talk on international topics with Mr. Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I welcome the reports that I have read in the newspapers of the latest version of the guns-for-butter strategy, whereby the republics give us their old guns or nuclear weapons in exchange for our Common Market surpluses. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House, however, that, before large amounts of financial aid are made available, he will make it clear to the Russian people and Government that it is not Governments but people who create wealth ? For that reason, the Russians will need to have a community in which there is private property, freedom from regulation and low taxation, with the opportunity for people to accumulate wealth and invest it. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government make that clear to the Russian people before advancing large sums?

Mr. Hurd : I think that President Yeltsin is already making that clear. These are lessons that the Russian people are learning fast and hard ; it is not at all easy for them. We believe that the macro-economic major help to which my hon. Friend refers should come through the International Monetary Fund and should be the result of a reform process with which the IMF is associated. That is why we are pressing so hard for Russia, Ukraine and other republics to be admitted to the IMF as soon as possible.

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Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the immediate and generous sending of food aid, particularly to Moscow and St. Petersburg, is enormously welcome? Does he further agree, however, that there are many cities, towns and villages in the former Soviet Union with less famous names which also need urgent food aid? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that they receive that food aid from the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hurd : Yes. It was a point that President Yeltsin made strongly to us. In parallel with the American emergency air lift recently announced, we are offering a supply of badly needed aid to Ekaterinburg, formerly Sverdlovsk--the kind of city of which my hon. Friend is thinking--and details of that British aid are now being worked out.

Mr. Macdonald : Will the Government reciprocate President Yeltsin's announcement last week and declare that British nuclear missiles will no longer be targeted on Russian cities or any cities in the former Soviet republics, including Moscow? That may be only a symbol, but it is an important one.

Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed our nuclear deterrent with President Yeltsin in London on Thursday. The hon. Gentleman will have seen what President Yeltsin said as a result. I believe that he understands more clearly than before the minimum nature of our deterrent--and that we intend to keep it.

Mr. Kaufman : Regarding that point, when the right hon. Gentleman saw President Yeltsin did he explain to him why until very recently this Government have said that a minimum effective deterrent is 512 nuclear warheads and why they are now saying that an effective deterrent could be fewer than 192 nuclear warheads?

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman is confused between boats and warheads. We have always said that four boats are the minimum. That is now the difference between us and the Labour party. The difference used to be much wider--before the right hon. Gentleman changed his tune. Formerly, he was in favour of the abolition of Trident, but he is now in favour of three boats. We believe that four boats are the minimum, but have always said that on those four boats the maximum would be 128 warheads per boat. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said again yesterday.

Middle East

6. Sir Dennis Walters : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards achieving a middle east peace settlement.

12. Sir David Steel : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress in the middle east talks.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : The issues dividing Israel and the Arabs are complex and wilinevitably take much time and effort to resolve. There has neverthelss been slow but steady progress towards a middle east peace settlement since the Madrid conference last October. I look forward to a further round of bilateral negotiations between Israel

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and her Arab neighbours soon. There is now a chance to secure a comprehensive settlement based on security for Israel, justice for the Palestinians and peace for all who live in the region. I urge both sides to seize it.

Sir Dennis Walters : After the early promise of Madrid, the peace talks have been disappointingly slow. To assist progress, will my hon. Friend and the EC consider telling Mr. Shamir that they will take economic action unless Israel stops its illegal settlement programme in the occupied territories and abides by the Geneva convention, which is being systematically broken?

Mr. Hogg : It was always inevitable that the talks would be slow. The issues involved are extraordinarily difficult and their resolution is complicated. I agree that the settlement policy that is being pursued by Israel is a serious obstacle to the conclusion of a peace settlement. I entirely agree that the Geneva convention--the fourth convention--applies to the occupied territories. We shall impress both those things on Mr. Shamir.

Sir David Steel : Is the Minister aware that I returned this morning from a short visit to four countries in the middle east? Does he accept that the recent Moscow round of talks has two universal consequences? The first is the conclusion that it does not do any good for any delegation to stay away from any part of the process and that all parties should hang in there and keep the discussions going with as much momentum as possible. Secondly, although it is understandable that the external leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation may be excluded at the moment, it is not understandable that the Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem should be excluded from the process.

Mr. Hogg : I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is undesirable for any delegation to stay away. I very much regret that both the Syrians and the Lebanese stayed away from the multilaterals and that, although present, the Palestinians did not join in in a positive way. On the question of representation within the Palestinian delegation from the diaspora, which is the point that the right hon. Gentleman is addressing--

Sir David Steel : From Jerusalem.

Mr. Hogg : From east Jerusalem, so be it.

The agreement on Palestinian representation was put together carefully before the Madrid talks. I should be reluctant to see the balance changed because that may destabilise the talks. There is greater scope for a change in the context of the multilaterals than in the context of the bilaterals. Clearly, the views of Palestinians with east Jerusalem must be represented some way or another.

Mr. Adley : Following the question by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), is there not essentially a double standard when one delegation can bring whomsoever it likes to the talks, whether those people were born in the Soviet Union or the United States, and another delegation is told whom it can and whom it cannot bring? How does my hon. and learned Friend expect Palestinians to feel that they will get a fair crack of the whip while they are subjected to those double standards?

Mr. Hogg : I understand the thinking behind my hon. Friend's point. In the abstract it has a great deal of force. That said, it is most important to get the parties to start the

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process of negotiation. For that purpose one must sometimes accept a composition of a team or delegation that in abstract terms is different from that which one would wish. The real objective is to get the talks started.

Mr. Ernie Ross : As part of the Minister's continued opposition to settlements, can he say how the British Government, as a member of the troika, will discharge their responsibilities under the recent protocol signed with Israel and the European Economic Community to ensure that none of the money will go to any Israeli projects with any connection with settlements on the west bank or Gaza?

Mr. Hogg : We shall have to consider the modalities when the time arises. I re-emphasise that the policy of settlements in the occupied territories is a serious obstacle to a peace settlement. I hope that the Israelis will desist. Indeed, if they were to announce their decision to desist, it would be an important confidence-building measure that could lead to others--for example, the suspension of the Arab boycott.

Sir Robert Rhodes James : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the strong opinion of all parties within Israel that the peace process is irreversible, that there is a desire to compromise and that certain comments from certain Members of this House are not helpful?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend brings a great deal of expertise to bear on this issue. I know that he paid a useful and constructive visit recently. I agree with him about the irreversibility of the peace process. That is correct.

Mr. Anderson : The Minister has said that the settlements policy pursued by the Israeli Government is a major obstacle to progress in the peace talks. Will he therefore take this opportunity of welcoming the positive statement recently made by Mr. Shimon Peres, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, that if elected in June he would put a freeze on the settlements in the occupied territories.

Mr. Hogg : I certainly welcome any statement made by any Israeli politician to the effect that if in government he would put a freeze on the settlement policy. I would hope that that would be the policy of Mr. Shamir's Government should they be re-elected in June.

EC Membership

8. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what definition of the geographical extent of Europe will be used when considering the applications of other countries to join the Community.

Mr. Garel-Jones : The treaty of Rome provides under article 237 that "any European state" may apply to become a member of the Community. The treaty does not define how this is to be interpreted geographically.

Mr. Gill : In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask him to have regard to the stresses and strains that already exist in a predominantly Christian European Community and to consider whether they would be increased if we admitted to the Community nations with a predominantly Islamic culture?

Mr. Garel-Jones : My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that a Turkish application to join the Community

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has been received. Indeed, the Commission has given its opinion. In so far as geographical definitions can be made, we have defined Turkey as a country which could be a member of the Community and for our purposes Turkey is regarded as a European country.

Mr. William Ross : At one time people used to talk about Europe ending at the Urals, but, given the extent of the former USSR, that is no longer a reasonable definition. Given the tremendous wealth in the far eastern regions of the former USSR, should we not consider them part of Europe if we are to try to expand the European Community for the benefit of all mankind?

Mr. Garel-Jones : I think that most hon. Members would agree that probably it is difficult to determine a strict geographic definition of Europe. The Community already has a substantial agenda for enlargement before it--an agenda in which Britain has been in the lead. Under that agenda we already have five applications on the table--two from EFTA countries and three from southern Mediterranean countries. We also have association agreements with three eastern European countries--Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. That will give us plenty to work on in the next decade, and that is probably as far as we should look for the time being.

Mr. Knapman : If we are to make further progress with our EC neighbours, surely we need to build on sure foundations. Such foundations would be laid by further progress towards a non-protectionist free market. Has my right hon. Friend made any progress in that direction?

Mr. Garel-Jones : My hon. Friend will be aware that the single market was an initiative originally pushed by the United Kingdom Government. It is due to reach its completion during our presidency in the latter part of this year. Its completion will be one of the leading priorities of the British presidency next year.

Mr. Robertson : The Government talk about the enlargement of the Community and apparently have included it as one of their objectives for the British presidency next year. How does that sit with the fact that the Austrian application lay on the table for two years before the British Government said a word of welcome to that country? When will the Government realise that enlargement will not be acceptable just as a slogan for the Tory re-election campaign, but that it means saying now, and clearly, that the EFTA countries are needed in the Community and that early membership for central and eastern European countries, according to realisable targets, should be a priority to which we are committed?

Mr. Garel-Jones : The House, the country and the rest of Europe are well aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) led the charge on enlargement and that that particular banner has been taken up with enthusiasm by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. It is well known in the EFTA countries and in those of central Europe that Britain has been perhaps the strongest advocate of enlargement. We will continue to be so.

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President Yeltsin

9. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his last meeting with President Yeltsin of Russia on matters relating to United Kingdom relations with the former Soviet republics.

Mr. Hurd : In a long meeting with President Yeltsin in Moscow on 20 January I discussed economic reform, security questions including non- proliferation, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and relations between Britain and Russia. On 30 January I took part in the Prime Minister's discussions with President Yeltsin, following which the British- Russian joint declaration and an agreement on consular posts were signed. In the words of the joint declaration, the two countries have opened a new page in their relations.

Mr. King : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, had this country adopted the supine, innocents-abroad foreign and defence policies of the Opposition parties, the reforms and changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union would not have resulted in President Boris Yeltsin being the president of Russia? Does he also agree that only by standing shoulder to shoulder with our American and NATO allies have we been able to win the war against communism in the Soviet bloc? Does he agree that we must now win the war of economic survival by those countries and that this country is well placed to meet that objective?

Mr. Hurd : There are kind and unkind ways of making that point. The kindest way is to say that, had we followed the advice so loudly and frequently given by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and his colleagues seven or eight years ago, it is highly probable that the hammer and sickle would still be flying over the Kremlin and, more importantly, that the Soviet armies would be massed in Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend that perhaps a moral can be drawn from that.

Mr. Tony Banks : Does the Secretary of State share many people's concern about the fate of some 100,000 Soviet or ex-Soviet nuclear scientists who seem to be voting with their feet, particularly those who appear to have the skills to dismantle the 27,000 or so warheads, and the possibility that those skills may be lost? What discussions has he had with Mr. Yeltsin about that serious matter, and what steps will Europe and the United States take to try to secure the services of those nuclear scientists in the Soviet Union?

Mr. Hurd : We discussed that point with President Yeltsin and it is very much on his mind. He takes the understandable view that it is for him to take the first steps in Russia, which he is doing to keep the scientists in Russia. The same is true of the other republics. However, he knows that several countries, including Britain, are willing to help in that process.

Mr. Temple-Morris : During my right hon. Friend's discussions, did he have a chance to discuss the appalling slaughter that is going on between Armenians and Azeris, not least over the Armenian conclave of Nagorny-Karabakh? What can the United Kingdom do to help, and in what context does President Yeltsin's pronouncement about some form of United Nations' supervision offer good news for the future?

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Mr. Hurd : The Russians are certainly trying to bring the two sides together for talks and end the fighting, but, so far, they are finding it a hard row. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State who went to the conference on security and co-operation in Europe meeting in Prague last week was able to take an initiative and arrange for the CSCE to send a human rights team to the two republics to see whether it can help matters. The fighting is extremely worrying, and anyone who has listened to the comments of my noble Friend Lady Cox on the subject must be deeply worried by it.

Mr. Cryer : What is the Secretary of State doing about nuclear non- proliferation? Instead of indulging in childish comments about the number of nuclear weapons, what does he say to the 140 non-nuclear nations who signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Does not he have some regard for them? Why does not he tell Russia and the other former Soviet Union countries that we want them to get rid of nuclear weapons? Would not it be a good idea if the United Kingdom, instead of embarking on the Trident programme, abandoned it and withdrew Polaris to demonstrate our solidarity and support for the vast majority of the world's nations which are signatories to the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Mr. Hurd : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so far behind the evolution of his party's policy. It is now in favour of three Tridents, but Opposition Members do not seem to have got that point yet. The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the non-proliferation treaty. The right answer is that all those who have signed the treaty should abide by it, the safeguards in the treaty applied to signatories such as Iraq should be strengthened, and countries that have not signed it should be encouraged to do so.

Baltic Republics

10. Mr. Cash : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how he intends to develop relations with the Baltic republics.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : We intend to develop relations actively. We are giving practical help in consolidating their independence, building up democratic systems of government and rebuilding their economies. The bulk of our assistance is being directed through the European Community technical and emergency assistance pro-grammes. We have also committed over £900,000 to projects through the know-how fund. We sponsored their UN membership applications. We pressed in the European Community for early trade and co-operation agreements : these are now being negotiated. We are supporting early IMF membership. Finally, we are resolving the Baltic gold question, in a prompt and effective manner, which will give an important boost to the Baltic economies.

Mr. Cash : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the importance that the Baltic states attach to financial autonomy? Does he agree that one of the most useful ways in which we can give them know-how is to tell them how we managed, in the light of the Maastricht agreement, to reject the principle of monetary union? Is he giving them advice, along the lines that he described, to ensure that they manage to implement the sensible planning that comes from being able to run their own affairs, as they obviously wish to do?

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Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the connection between the maintenance of a democratic system and a change in economic structures. That link must underpin that country's forward policy. But the most important action that it can take is to enter into a programme with the IMF as soon as possible, on the back of which it will gain access to many western funds.

Mr. Flynn : Will the Minister extend the application of the know-how fund in the Baltic states to the environmental problems that they have inherited, in particular the devastation left by the oil shale industry in Estonia?

Mr. Hogg : As I made clear to the House when I answered the main question, the know-how fund has been heavily used in the Baltic republics, on which about £900,000 has been spent. I think that the sort of environmental problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred is so great that it is probably best dealt with by multilateral institutions.

Mr. William Powell : May I say how welcome is the strong support that Great Britain has given to the Baltic states? Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the Baltic states today the problems of lack of food and hunger are just as serious as, if not more serious than, those in the big cities of the former Soviet Union, but that they receive little attention? Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that everything is done to enable food supplies to be extended to the Baltic states as well as to Russia?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend has made a sound point. He will know that £32 million of emergency food aid has been agreed through the EC mechanisms.

Mr. Trimble : The Minister will be aware of the substantial minorities in each of the Baltic states, some of which, prior to the recognition of their independence, were being used to impede that development. In respect of those minorities, has any suggestion been made to revise the frontiers of the Baltic states? Has it been thought necessary to make any special provision to protect the position of those minorities?

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman makes an important and serious point. There are ethnic minorities in all the Baltic republics. An encouraging agreement has been made between the Lithuanian Government and Poland on the ethnic Poles in Lithuania, which we support. There is a greater problem in relation to Estonia and Latvia, where there are substantial numbers of ethnic Russians. In the capital, Riga, ethnic Russians are in the majority. There are no proposals to vary frontiers. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we believe that frontiers should not be changed, save with the wholehearted consent of all the relevant parties. The issue of ethnic and minority rights is probably best addressed through the mechanism of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. All three states have acceded to the CSCE.


13. Sir George Gardiner : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his latest information on Iraq's nuclear capability ; and if he will make a statement.

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Mr. Douglas Hogg : The inspection reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, circulated as United Nations Security Council documents, provide the most detailed information on Iraq's nuclear capability. Copies of the first eight IAEA inspection reports are available in the House of Commons Library. The IAEA has issued a press statement on the latest inspection, the ninth, a copy of which will also be placed in the Library.

Sir George Gardiner : In view of the assessment by a nuclear expert from the United Nations Commission that Iraq has the technology and the means to produce up to four nuclear weapons a year, is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the United Nations inspection procedures are adequate to prevent the manufacture of those weapons? Is he satisfied that an effective deterrent system is in place to prevent their deployment?

Mr. Hogg : There are perhaps two important questions wrapped up in my hon. Friend's remarks. I think that the intrusive system of inspection that we have introduced through recent Security Council resolutions is probably adequate, provided that it is vigorously enforced, to prevent the Iraqis from developing a weapon. One cannot be certain about that ; one can only express an opinion as to the probability.

A different point--again a very important one--relates to the general powers of the IAEA and to its ability to monitor civil programmes to prevent covert programmes. There we are working hard to boost the inspection powers of the IAEA to try to address problems of the kind that were thrown up in Iraq.

Mr. Janner : Does the Minister agree that Iraq remains, whether now or in the foreseeable future, a potent, potential peril not only to its neighbours but to world peace? Is not it a pity that when we had the chance we did not finish the job?

Mr. Hogg : I think that Saddam Hussein is much less potent than he was, but I accept that it is a brutal regime and that it poses a threat to world peace. The question whether we should have proceeded with the Gulf war is another issue, but I remind the House of the repeated statements by my right hon. Friend, President Bush and others as to the limited purpose of that operation. We were acting under the authority of the Security Council for the purpose authorised by the Security Council, and that did not extend to the invasion of Iraq otherwise than for the purpose of driving it out of Kuwait.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : Will my hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to pay tribute to the United Nations inspectors in Iraq who suffered harassment while carrying out a vital duty on behalf of us all? May I wish my hon. and learned Friend well in getting proper safeguards over the vexed problem of undisclosed sites?

Mr. Hogg : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The House will know that 46 British inspectors have been involved in the process of inspection within Iraq. Certainly I pay tribute to them and to their colleagues from other countries.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, yes, it is important to enhance the verification and inspection powers of IAEA. I hope that we shall succeed in doing that, especially with regard to special inspections of previously undeclared sites.

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