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House of Commons

Wednesday 3 November 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

British Waterways Bill

[Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ; That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the next Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the present Session ;

That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ;

That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session ;

That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session ;

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.


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Oral Answers to Questions

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

South Africa

1. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he is taking to assist the democratisation of South Africa.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Since the House rose for the summer, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has held talks with President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, in which he restated our support for the transition to non-racial democracy in South Africa. I met Chief Buthelezi. We are discussing with our EC partners, the Commonwealth and the United Nations practical ways to help ensure free and fair elections in South Africa. The mandates of all the observer missions to which we contribute to help stem violence have been extended until next April's elections. Last year, we spent £11 million on direct aid to South Africa, and a similar amount via the EC programmes. We are funding more than 1,000 black South Africans on training courses here and in South Africa. I think that this is money well spent.

Mr. Burns : Will my right hon. Friend join me and, I am sure, all hon. Members in congratulating Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk on the award of their Nobel peace prize? Does he agree that in the difficult transitional period to a genuine multiracial and democratic society, the international community must give every assistance to help that process?

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if South Africa sought to rejoin the Commonwealth and it was felt that that would help assist South Africa in achieving its internal goals, the Government and the international community within the Commonwealth would agree to South Africa's rejoining?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend about the award of the Nobel peace prize. The State President and Mr. Mandela have worked nobly together, and it is right that they should receive the award together.

I also agree with my hon. Friend's second point. It will be for South Africa when the time comes to decide whether she wishes to apply to rejoin the Commonwealth. We would certainly warmly welcome that. It would bring to a happy end a sad chapter in the history of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Robert Hughes : May I associate myself with the congratulations to President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela? May I also commend the Government for what they have done so far, especially in the Commonwealth communique which recognises the elections to be held in April 1994 as of historic significance?

May I also commend the Government for recognising that the process is still fragile, and that much needs to be done between now and April to ensure that the elections are seen to be free and fair? While the Commonwealth and EC are doing a lot, what new initiatives will the Foreign Secretary take within the United Nations to make sure that the maximum amount of money is made available before the election for the training of people in the election


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process, and to make sure that the result when it comes is accepted by every party in the country as leading to a new democratic South Africa?

Mr. Hurd : The Government are not used to receiving praise from the hon. Gentleman on that subject, so I am grateful to him. I agree with him on his last point. I listed the things that we are doing. It is important that the April elections should be seen to be free and fair. We have a lot of experience in this country. That is available to the South Africans, and they know it.

Mr. Ian Taylor : My right hon. Friend knows how difficult it is to help the political parties to build up their own activities such as training and their understanding of the purpose of elections, particularly in the rural areas. In that context, will my right hon. Friend note the activities of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy? That all-party group was set up with Foreign Office funding, and it is trying to find ways to assist the democratic process in South Africa.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is quite right, and perhaps I should have mentioned that earlier. What the foundation is doing in South Africa is a sign that the House was wise to set it up on an all-party basis. I am anxious that good South African projects should come before the foundation which are worth considering and which can be approved. They should not be from just one group.

Mr. Simon Hughes : I also welcome all that the Government have done and the support for the foundation. On a specific point, does the Foreign Secretary believe that anything more can be done to try to ensure that Chief Buthelezi participates fully in the process between now and next April? He is a significant player in the South African game, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary agrees that no effort should be spared to ensure that he participates fully in the process before, during and after the elections.

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is quite right ; that is why we welcomed Chief Buthelezi here in September. We are saying to him, "You should rejoin the process", and we are saying to others, "Don't believe that he can safely be kept out." He is an important player, and he occasionally feels that he has been isolated. It is very important that he should rejoin the process.

Human Rights

2. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to meet the Foreign Minister of Belgium to discuss international co-operation on human rights.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs meets the Belgian Foreign Minister regularly.

Mr. Madden : Is the Minister aware of the arrest on 18 October in Brussels of Mr. Amanullah Khan, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front? I thank the Minister's office for conveying a request from myself and other hon. Members to visit Mr. Khan in prison which, regrettably, the Belgian authorities have, to date, refused. May I urge Her Majesty's Government to press the Belgian authorities to release Mr. Khan, who was visiting Belgium


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on a valid visitor's visa issued by the Belgian authorities and doing his best to bring a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict?

Mr. Hogg : I am indeed aware of the arrest of Mr. Amanullah Khan. As the hon. Gentleman, I think, will know, he was arrested on the basis of an Interpol warrant. As to whether he should be released and whether there is the possibility of delivering him to India, those are matters for the Belgian Government.

Miss Emma Nicholson : When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary meets the Belgian Foreign Minister, will he draw to his attention the profoundly important statement made by Prince Charles in Oxford last week in which he described the policy of Saddam Hussein towards the marshlands as "obscene lies"? May I congratulate the Minister on his statement contained in the film that was shown last week and urge him to support the work of Prince Charles by bringing to the UN Security Council the force and vigour that Prince Charles brought to Oxford and force the Security Council to implement the many resolutions it has passed, which at the moment are not worth the paper they are written on?

Mr. Hogg : As we are in the business of congratulating one another, may I congratulate my hon. Friend in this important respect? She has done more than anyone to draw the attention of the House and a wider public to what Saddam Hussein is doing in south Iraq with regard to the arabs in the marshes. That is a terrible business. The world community is alert to it, and that is due, in no small degree, to what my hon. Friend has done.

Mr. Kaufman : In his discussions on human rights, will the Minister take up the question of human rights in Jamaica, where, despite the welcome judgment of the Privy Council this week, many men are being held in appalling conditions on death row and where, for example, a prisoner called Lynden Champagnie, who has been on death row for 14 years since he was a teenager, has now been told after his sentence was commuted that he cannot be considered for parole for another 10 years? Is not the attitude of the Jamaican Government on that issue a disgrace and a scandal? Will the Government make that clear to the Jamaican Government?

Mr. Hogg : I certainly welcome the decision of the Privy Council. I have always thought that that type of question, particularly that of the death penalty, is essentially a matter for national Governments. I agree that one is entitled to have regard to the conditions in which people are held. I also agree that, when people are held too long on what is generally referred to as death row, it is an undesirable state of affairs. In general terms, whether or not there is a death penalty and whether it is carried out is a matter for national Governments.

Mr. Ward : Does my right and learned hon. Friend agree that the focal point in Europe for human rights is the Council of Europe? Will he do all he can to encourage it in its work on human rights, and encourage other nations to sign up to the various conventions?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend has asked three questions to which there are three answers, each of which is yes.

Mr. Rogers : The Government have correctly refused to recognise Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor and


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have supported the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. In view of the appalling human rights record of Indonesia, would it not be logical for the Government to extend their position and support the United Nations resolutions that proscribe the sale of arms to aggressor states, especially weapons that can be used for internal repression, and the diminution of human rights?

Mr. Hogg : We consider any applications to sell arms on a case-by- case basis. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the contract to sell Hawk aircraft. If we had stood in the way of that contract, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to complain.

Middle East

3. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further contribution Her Majesty's Government intend to make to the progress of talks between middle eastern countries in the moves towards peace in that region.

Mr. Hurd : We shall continue acts of support for the peace talks, both politically through our contacts with the parties and economically.

Mr. Hawkins : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he try to bring pressure to bear on the Arab countries to end the Arab boycott of trade with Israel when he has further talks with all the parties involved in the middle east peace process? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind, when considering the position of the various parties in that process, that the only democracy in the region is Israel and that there are great concerns about the position of some other countries on a variety of issues including Syria in particular? Does he agree that, while it is in our interest to promote peaceful talks between all the parties and encourage the development of the peace process, those concerns need to be recognised?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend about the boycott. There has been some progress--if he listens to British firms he will know of the welcome announcement from the Government of Kuwait during the summer--but not yet enough, and we shall continue to urge more. We need a comprehensive settlement. The Israel-PLO accord is a dramatic breakthrough which the House has welcomed, and Israel and the PLO are trying to put it into practice.

There will not be comprehensive peace until there are agreements between Israel and Jordan, Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon. While it is right that the sensitivities of Israeli democracy should be understood and respected--we always try to do that--equally, it is important that none of the three other tracks, with Jordan, with Syria and with the Lebanon, should be long neglected.

Mr. Ernie Ross : Does the Foreign Secretary understand that, if the accord signed by those two brave peoples is to work, the peace talks taking place in Taba must be assisted wherever they can be? Does he have any intention of raising with our European partners the possible attendance of a member of the troika to assist in that dialogue in Taba, which has unfortunately broken down?

Can he tell the House of any other initiatives that the European Parliament intends to take to ease the pressure in Gaza? Did the Minister of State take up the suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr.


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Cunningham) made at Brighton to invite Chairman Arafat to Britain to express his needs on behalf of the Palestinian people?

Mr. Hurd : I can point out what we are doing. I went to Syria not long ago in order to establish our credentials and our interests in that part. On Monday, in Brussels, Mr. Arafat will come at my suggestion and meet the European Foreign Affairs Council. I will be there. He will be coming to London in December. I think that there is a question on the Order Paper about that. I hope to go to Gaza, Israel and Jordan in the next recess. We British want to do our utmost to keep the process on the move and, where we can, give useful and practical support to do so.

Mr. John Marshall : Is my right hon. Friend aware that today the PLO has admitted that Ron Arad is still being held in captivity, seven years after he became a prisoner of war? [Interruption.] Is not that, as my hon. Friend says, quite disgraceful? Did my right hon. Friend raise that matter with the Syrians when he saw them? May we have an assurance that he will raise it with Arab leaders whenever he meets them?

Mr. Hurd : We have often raised that sad case with the Iranians, the Syrians and with any others who might be able to help. There is a multitude of tragedies arising out of wars and terrorist activities in recent years ; Mr. Arad is certainly one of them, and he deserves our support.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : What weight do the Government presently attach to the Damascus declaration? What is the Foreign Secretary's assessment of the likelihood of persuading the states of the Gulf Co- operation Council to make better provision for their joint defence?

Mr. Hurd : I am all in favour of their making greater provision for their joint defence, and I never cease to urge that on them. The Damascus declaration envisages that they could receive help from Syria and Egypt in that. We support that idea. It is up to them to decide how to put it into practice.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's comments following his successful visit to Syria. Does he appreciate that many of us would like to see the United Kingdom taking a rather more prominent role in trying to support the peace process, which has been achieved with remarkable courage and vision on both sides? Will my right hon. Friend concentrate on the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in particular? How does he see their future?

Mr. Hurd : We will try to take a more visible role. We have deliberately held back, as my hon. Friend knows, in recent years in order not to complicate what correctly seemed to us to be a genuine effort by the United States Administration to get things moving. Now we are in more open country, as it were, and I think that there is scope for more visible activity by ourselves, in support, as my hon. Friend said, of the peace process.

My hon. Friend is quite right about the refugees, not just in Lebanon but on the west bank and in Gaza. We are in the lead--£6 million a year-- in supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. We shall see more of that in January. I am also very anxious that there should be an Israel- Lebanon accord which can enable a settling down on that particularly difficult part of Israel's border.


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Dr. John Cunningham : I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's decision to invite Mr. Yasser Arafat to London for discussions. Is not it clear, though, that, based on many of the other comments--for example, the ending of the Arab boycott--the next key decision will be, if possible, and we hope that it will be possible, an agreement between Syria and Israel on the full guarantee of peace and security for Israel, contingent upon a full withdrawal by the Israelis from Syrian territory?

e right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about his discussions with President Assad about those matters? Does he share our concern at the rather abrupt break-off of discussions in Taba this week, apparently because the Israelis are now saying that they do not intend to withdraw their military from Gaza but simply to redeploy them? Is not that rather a negation of what has been agreed? Mr. Hurd : President Assad and Mr. Shara'a made it clear that they believed in "total withdrawal" and "total peace". Of course, what remains to be worked out is what each of those phrases means. That can be done only between the parties. There is talk in Israel of a need to digest the Israel-PLO accord--that is, to allow time to pass. I think that that is reasonable, provided that it does not go on for ever. That is the Syrian view, too. That is why it is important to stress that a comprehensive agreement includes Israel and Syria. I should be disturbed if I thought that the Taba discussions had broken down. I believe that what has happened is that the PLO, and the Palestinians in particular, feel the need for a break in order to consult. There is no doubt about the obligations undertaken by Israel as regards military withdrawal. It has always been clear that they are rather difficult to turn into practical arrangements. It is important that that work should continue.

European Free Trade Association

4. Mr. Bates : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made in respect of the EFTA states joining the European Community.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : The European Council last week reaffirmed the 1 January 1995 target date for accession by the four applicants. Good progress is being made towards the object of completing the negotiations by 1 March next year.

Mr. Bates : Does my hon. Friend agree that the inclusion of the EFTA states will be welcome, because not only will they be much-needed and welcome net contributors to the EC budget, but they will be a powerful force for free trade, which will benefit and strengthen the entire Community?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Yes, we welcome the prospect of the four states acceding to the Community. They will be net contributors to the budget, so they will share our interest in enforcing budgetary discipline and controlling expenditure. Their instincts, too, are towards free trade and openness to the rest of the world. Therefore, they share our vision of the Community as one that is open and diverse.

Mr. Radice : What are the institutional implications of the accession of the EFTA countries to the EC?


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Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : There will have to be some institutional adjustments to accept those four countries into the Community. That will be part of the discussions taking place between existing member states. But we wish to confine the debate to what is required by the prospect of enlargement and do not wish to reopen those institutional issues, which were essentially settled by the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Channon : Will my hon. Friend tell us what Her Majesty's Government propose about the voting system to be used in the Community once the welcome accession of those countries takes place?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : One of the matters to be decided is how many votes to accord to each of the countries coming in and what will constitute a qualified majority vote. A number of ideas are being discussed, but no final resolution of that is yet in prospect.

Middle East

5. Mr. Parry : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to meet Chairman Arafat to discuss the middle east peace process ; and if he will make a statement.

11. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will arrange to meet representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to discuss the middle east peace plan.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : As my right hon. Friend has just said, Chairman Arafat has been invited to visit Britain. The visit will take place in December. Precise dates will be announced nearer the time. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to meet him in Brussels with other EC Foreign Ministers on 8 November.

Mr. Parry : I understand that when Mr. Arafat comes to London, he is expecting to meet both the Labour party and Conservative party on middle east councils. The Prime Minister has replied to me that he expects to meet Mr. Arafat. This historic visit can only mean peace, both in Israel and Palestine.

Mr. Hogg : Mr. Arafat will be a welcome visitor to London. It is certainly true that the Prime Minister hopes to see him. I was not aware of the two other meetings that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but it sounds like a jolly good idea to me.

Mr. Canavan : In view of yesterday's suspension of talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, due apparently to the Israelis' insistence on a mere redeployment of their troops rather than a complete withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, will the British Government use their influence within the international community to try to ensure that the Israeli Government stand by their commitment for complete withdrawal, as contained in the 13 September agreement?

Mr. Hogg : Both parties are, of course, negotiating at the moment. I am not unduly depressed by what has happened ; I regard it as a suspension rather than anything else. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in the sense that both parties must stand by their commitments, must show


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flexibility and must ensure that the momentum is maintained if public opinion in the occupied territories and in Israel itself is to continue to support the peace process.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : When my right hon. and learned Friend meets Mr. Arafat or any other Arab leaders, will he point out that if the Arab nations are genuine in their pursuit of the peace process, the immediate release of Ron Arad and the immediate ending of the iniquitous Arab boycott will do more than anything to build confidence in the process? Will he urge those conclusions on them?

Mr. Douglas Hogg : I think that it is important that everyone who is now party to the negotiations recognises the need to carry the opinion in the opposite camp. That means that the Arabs and the Palestinians must stop the violence, relax the boycott and show that there are positive benefits to Israel from the courageous steps that it has taken.

It also means that the state of Israel must release detainees, allow travel to, through and from Jerusalem, stop settlement and allow people from the territories to work in Israel. There must be a clear benefit to everyone in Israel and the territories as a consequence of what has been agreed ; otherwise, there is a real risk that the agreement will not be underpinned by public support.

Mr. Batiste : I agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said. He is aware that the Israeli Government places a high premium on the ending of the secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel as part of the peace process. What evidence has he seen that the PLO, under the leadership of Mr. Yasser Arafat, is prepared to encourage its Arab friends to withdraw from that boycott?

Mr. Douglas Hogg : There is already encouraging evidence of a move away from the boycott, especially with regard to the secondary and tertiary boycott. But I want to be even-handed about this. It is important that there is movement from both sides in the negotiations. That means movement from the Palestinians and movement from the Arab states. It also means movement from the Israeli side. In answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), I indicated the sort of movement that we are looking for.

Angola

6. Mr. Robert Ainsworth : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what initiatives he plans regarding the situation in Angola ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) : On 1 November, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed its support for UN efforts to achieve a settlement in Angola through negotiations and its willingness, as necessary, to impose further sanctions against UNITA.

Mr. Ainsworth : Is there any justification for the continued delay in the implementation of full sanctions against the UNITA forces? We have now delayed so many times that we are in danger of losing all credibility. First, there was a delay until 1 July, then September, then another 10 days and then 1 November, and now it seems that there will be an indefinite delay. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the


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House what progress has been made in spending the £5 million of emergency aid that the Government promised to the Angolan people, and whether he is prepared to give a commitment of further support in the light of the appalling conditions faced by the 70 per cent. of the population who live in the Government-controlled parts of the country?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : The hon. Member is aware that there have been discussions in Lusaka last week between the MPLA and UNITA. It is my belief that UNITA attended those talks as a result of the United Nations sanctions that have been imposed so far. It has been made clear by all the parties to those sanctions and by the United Nations that if further sanctions are necessary to bring pressure to bear on UNITA, that will be done. The fact is that some progress has been achieved so far in bringing UNITA to the table. That is the right position to be in.

As to the further aid of some £7 million announced recently, we are concentrating on the most effective use of that aid. However, it is too early to give a definite explanation of what we shall be doing.

Mr. Colvin : Will my hon. Friend confirm that under United Nations Security Council, resolution 864, phase 2 of the sanctions against UNITA will be imposed only if there are no further talks? Will he confirm that UNITA has now said that, notwithstanding some reportedirregularities, it accepts the outcome of the elections two years ago and is prepared to sit dog on at present?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is right : UNITA has said what he described in similar terms, but its words must be followed by actions. That is the important point to recognise. As I have said, there were discussions last week. Clearly, it would be inappropriate to take any further action at this stage. We hope that those discussions will continue in Lusaka and that there will be a fruitful outcome.

Mr. Worthington : The whole House will have been appalled at the pictures shown of the situation in Angola, which Mr. John Simpson described as the worst he had ever seen. What are we doing with our partners in the European Community to reopen this window of opportunity for humanitarian aid, not just in the stricken town of Kuito, but elsewhere? What are we doing with our partners to redouble diplomatic initiatives to bring the war to an end? I am asking not about the words that we are uttering but about the action that we are taking in the United Nations and the European Community.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I thought that I had described some action. We were active in getting United Nations Security Council resolution 864, which brought pressure to bear and led to last week's discussions, as I described in my two previous answers. That is what is continuing on the diplomatic side. We have been praised by everyone for the help that we have given on the humanitarian aid side. We have been quick to respond with relief flights to the opening up of besieged cities. We have been praised by the United Nations, the media and, I believe, John Simpson for our rapid response.

Mr. Wilshire : As one of four Members of this House who were election observers in Angola, I got to know


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ordinary people as well as politicians. Does my hon. Friend agree that what is happening in Angola now is a total obscenity which demands more than negotiations and more than sanctions? Compared with the obscenity of 1,000 people a day being slaughtered and others maimed, and the level of starvation of youngsters there, Bosnia-- dare I say it--seems but a tragic sideshow. Will my hon. Friend therefore use his best endeavours to persuade our colleagues in the EC and the United Nations to put this obscenity behind the world and do something effective about it?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to describe the situation as he has. I think that, on a fair analysis, he will agree with me that Britain has played a leading part in bringing about last week's negotiations. The problem will have to be addressed by the parties to the problem in Angola. We have brought pressure to bear in the United Nations through resolutions which we have sponsored actively to bring UNITA to the table. There have been discussions. We have made it clear that we shall be happy to support further, more demanding resolutions than sanctions if that is necessary. Meanwhile, we have responded enormously swiftly and successfully on the humanitarian front.

Belize

7. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further consideration has been given to United Kingdom relations with Belize.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We continue to develop our already good relations with Belize. In October, the Belizean Prime Minister, Mr. Esquivel, met my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Limassol and met other Ministers in London.

Mr. Gunnell : Given the August statement of the Guatemalan Vice President, in which he said that recognition of Belize was premature, and given that the new Belizean Prime Minister himself represents a rather nationalistic trend in the electorate, is the Minister confident about the stability of the relationship between Guatemala and Belize? Can he comment on what role this country can play in ensuring that stability? I am aware that the Queen is due to visit Belize early next year. Is that in part compensation for the withdrawal of British troops which is likely to have a bad effect on the economy and which many may see as a threat to their security?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Relations between Guatemala and Belize are not wholly satisfactory, but President de Leon Carpio of Guatemala has reaffirmed that his country recognises the sovereignty and independence of Belize. We have made it clear that if the situation deteriorates after the British garrison withdraws next year we stand ready to be consulted about an appropriate response.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor : My hon. Friend will be aware that I asked our hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces what specific assurances we could give the Belizean Government about their security following the withdrawal of our troops. My hon. Friend must be well aware of the concern of the Belizean Government about their security. Will he consider carefully the positive steps


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that the United Kingdom Government can take to ensure that Guatemala is deterred from any intent that it might have in the future of invading Belize?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I and other Ministers discussed the matter with Prime Minister Esquivel last month. We still have the garrison in Belize, and even when that is withdrawn there will still be a training base in Belize. In May, we issued a joint statement making it clear that if the situation deteriorates we shall stand ready to co-operate and co-ordinate our activities and draw up a likely response. At present, however, we do not judge the situation to be quite so serious as my hon. Friend fears.


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