Home Page

Column 871

House of Commons

Wednesday 2 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Madam Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Josephine Richardson, Member for Barking, and I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss that we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the hon. Member.

Oral Answers to Questions


Middle East

1. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about recent developments in the middle east.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Since I visited the region at the beginning of the year, negotiations between Israel and the PLO have continued and some progress has been made towards an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho. President Clinton and President Assad met on 16 January, and I hope that this will give new impetus to the negotiations on the Syrian and other tracks. It may take some time yet, but I am clear that there is a determination now on all sides to work for, and to achieve, a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

Mr. Clappison : Given the encouraging signs of progress in the latest negotiations and the need to underpin the peace process with growth and prosperity, would not now be a good time to tear down unnecessary barriers to trade in the region, beginning with the wholly unjustified Arab boycott of Israel, the scrapping of which is long overdue?

Mr. Hurd : The Arab boycott of Israel is gradually fading and eroding, as recent actions and words in the Gulf have shown. In terms of our own affairs, the rapidly increasing total of our exports to Israel tell their own story. They were up 50 per cent. in the first 11 months of last year.

Mr. Janner : Does the right hon. Gentleman know that the Arab League is due to meet in March to decide on the removal of a number of companies from the boycott list on the basis that they will be doing business in Gaza and Jericho? Will the right hon. Gentleman please ensure that Britain will do everything that it can to ensure that all British companies are removed from that list forthwith?

Column 872

Mr. Hurd : I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that any justification for the boycott that there ever may have been--we never accepted that there was one--has now gone. The boycott is eroding fast and we shall do our best to help that process.

Mr. Hicks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that over the years the Palestinians have, on occasion, experienced humiliation when crossing into the occupied territories from Jordan and vice versa? Therefore, does he further agree that, under any arrangement, the Palestinians should have the right to control access to the Jericho territory?

Mr. Hurd : That is one of the points, perhaps the most difficult, that is still being thrashed out and it was argued between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Shimon Peres in Davos a few days ago. The Israelis feel--one must have some sympathy for them--that it is a matter of security for them to be able to exercise some control over people coming into Gaza and Jericho, given that once they are in there, they can go freely into Israel. However, the Palestinians are also sensitive about those areas, and they will feel a sense of indignity if they do not have control of the process. It is a matter of working out in detail procedures that are a compromise between those two views. I think that that end is in sight.

Mr. Maginnis : Does the Secretary of State agree that peace in the middle east depends to a large extent on encouragement by western leaders? Has Mr. Clinton not sent the wrong signal across the world from the United States by pandering to a terrorist leader such as Gerry Adams?

Mr. Hurd : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity. Without following him too far, let me say that I had occasion yesterday, both in public and in private, to express my views on that. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt agree that the test is whether the leader of Sinn Fein is now prepared, at last, to bring violence to a permanent end. He is a failed politician ; he is no longer elected as a Member of the House and Sinn Fein has a limited share, as a minority of the minority vote in Northern Ireland. It would be quite wrong if he were given some special treatment simply because he has used the bomb and the bullet to disguise the fact that electorally he has not been successful.

Mr. Dykes : Rather than letting the Arab boycott fade away, is it not time for the United States and the European Union countries to make a major effort to reward Israeli imagination and courage--and Palestinian courage, as trade will also benefit the Palestinians--by dismantling the boycott and suggesting that to the Arab League as soon as possible?

Mr. Hurd : We have done that. However, Israel has some way to go before there is a full and comprehensive peace. Israel still occupies Gaza and Jericho, using methods which certainly do not help forward reconciliation. I agree that the time for the boycott is over and that we must work to bring about its disappearance, but I should not like it to be thought that no effort is required on the other side of the ledger, because it certainly is.

Dr. John Cunningham : Everyone should welcome the meeting between President Clinton and President Assad, and every sensible person wants an end to the Arab boycott, but surely that can come only when the peace

Column 873

process has been fully completed and there is mutual recognition between all the parties to the dispute. As we can proceed with economic reconstruction while the political dialogue is taking place, can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether he has been able to make a positive response to the points that I put to him in December in support of the proposals that he has now received from the Palestinian Council for Economic Reconstruction and Development?

Mr. Hurd : We have given a positive response to the needs of the Palestinians. When I was in Gaza on 5 January, I announced that our aid programme to the occupied territories would amount to £70 million over the next three years. Most of it goes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and I was impressed by what it is doing in Gaza. A good share also goes to health, education and training.

Eastern Europe (Embassies)

2. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in which newly formed states in eastern Europe he proposes to set up embassies ; and what is the budget for this in the next financial year.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : We have no plans at present to open further missions in the region, but this is kept under review. Since the end of the cold war, the Foreign Office has opened 13 new embassies in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe as well as a consultate-general in St. Petersburg. The cost in the next financial year is expected to be about £9.5 million.

Mrs. Gorman : Given the volatile and possibly ephemeral nature of many of the newly emerging states from the former Soviet Union, should not we be using public facilities such as hotels for mounting our diplomatic mission or sharing with our European partners? Is he aware that in Kiev, which I recently visited, we have acquired two large and elaborate buildings, one of which is being equipped to the standards to which I suppose the diplomatic staff are accustomed? When I inquired what the other building was for, I was told that it was to be done up so that, should the Secretary of State pass through, he would have somewhere to stay because he could not possibly use the hotels in Kiev.

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is obviously right to urge on the Foreign Office the need to be as cost effective as possible. On the matter of sharing with our European partners, I had not expected that question from my hon. Friend, but the answer is that we do co-locate, for example both in Minsk and Almaty. Neither had I expected my hon. Friend's suggestion about using hotels, but we do use them, for example in Baku. In Kiev, there are two buildings in Desyatinna street, one is No. 9 and the other is No. 12. We acquired No. 12 because No. 9 is held on a very short lease. We shall certainly make the most cost-effective use of No. 12, including co-location with other European countries, if that is what we want, but we shall give serious attention to as and when, depending upon the needs of other posts in the region.

Mr. Rogers : But, seriously, substantial issues are involved. When the Government are thinking of opening

Column 874

diplomatic missions, will they consider changing their diplomatic missions staffing policy? In the past year they have been getting rid of the specialists in trade, industry and technology who were helping to develop our contacts in those countries and replacing them with public relations staff. Why do the Government not encourage British industry to invest in eastern Europe?

Mr. Hogg : You will not be surprised to hear, Madam Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. We have placed enormous emphasis on the commercial policies of the Foreign Office. One reason for opening diplomatic missions in Almaty, Tashkent and Baku was the commercial opportunities there, and we shall continue to use every method at our disposal to promote British industry in those countries and elsewhere.

European Community (Enlargement)

3. Mrs. Lait : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made towards the enlargement of the European Community.

Mr. Hurd : The accession negotiations with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden are going well. Some difficult issues remain, including agriculture and regional policy, but we are committed to the target of March 1994 for completing negotiations.

Mrs. Lait : Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) about the volatility of the states in the old Soviet empire, does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner the applicants for European Union membership from central Europe join, the better for democracy? Does my right hon. Friend believe that Poland, Hungary and the Czech republics should join before they are economically ready to do so?

Mr. Hurd : It would not be sensible to encourage countries in central and eastern Europe to join before they are economically ready to do so, as that would lead to tears, but there are plenty of things that we can do meanwhile. For example, Britain and Italy have launched a joint initiative to associate those countries with the work of the European Union on the two pillars of security and foreign policy and home affairs. Even more important than that is the need to liberalise trade with them. We are pressing hard and there has been some progress. Imports into the European Union from the Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, the Czechs and Slovaks, rose by 44 per cent. between 1990 and 1992, but there are still too many restrictions and there is scope for more liberalisation of our market towards the east even before those countries achieve full membership.

Mr. Jim Marshall : In the light of the Foreign Secretary's reply to the specific point about eastern Europe, as the Western European Union is the defence component of the European Union and the European pillar of NATO, will he give a guarantee that, specifically in the case of the Visegrad countries, the Soviet Union will not be able to exercise a veto over their entry into the European Union as it appears to be doing over their entry into NATO?

Mr. Hurd : There is no Russsian veto in either case.

Column 875


4. Mr. Thomason : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the Council of Ministers last discussed subsidiarity ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : The Council last discussed subsidiarity on 6 December last year, in preparation for the Brussels summit. The Commission presented a subsidiarity report to the Council which would affect some 25 per cent. of EC legislation. Some laws will be repealed completely, others replaced by simpler measures. The Commission's report also agreed with 17 of the 24 items on the Anglo-French subsidiarity list, including the bathing and drinking water directives and directives regulating professional qualifications. The European Council called for the Commission to bring forward early proposals for the implementation of the report and for swift action. We welcome that.

Mr. Thomason : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policy of subsidiarity must be pursued with utmost vigour, to ensure that all European Governments are committed to devolving decision making to national level wherever appropriate? Is that not in contrast to the policy of the Opposition, who appear to be committed to ensuring that decision making is passed to European institutions?

Mr. Hurd : I agree. We shall hear more on that theme in the coming months from all my right hon. and hon. Friends. There is plenty of work still to be done, but it is interesting that the number of Commission proposals for new legislation has dropped rapidly, from more than 140 in 1991 to about 70 last year--that is, it halved.

Mr. Shore : Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the statements made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor after that Brussels summit, to the effect that subsidiarity was to be applied to the expensive directives on bathing water and water quality? Is he aware that since then, a Member of the European Parliament--Mr. Collins--has corresponded with the Chairman of the Commission, and that Mr. Delors stated emphatically that there is no such agreement about the bathing water and water quality directives. Who is right?

Mr. Hurd : It may be that the right hon. Gentleman and others are confused. After the report, the Commission undertook to bring forward proposals to revise existing directives on drinking water, bathing water, surface water quality, fresh water management and ground water. It did not refer to the urban waste water directive, and I do not believe that anyone has claimed that there are plans to replace that. There may be understandable confusion between those different measures in the correspondence to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Ian Taylor : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, much as we may wish a continuing decrease in the intrusiveness of the Commission's decisions in terms of regulations, on occasions--for example, when it opposes protectionism and favours competition--it acts in this country's interests? Is the key not to attack the Commission but to ensure that its competencies are clearly defined, and to keep it out of the hands, and free of the influence, of socialists in the European Parliament?

Mr. Hurd : Exactly--my hon. Friend puts it well. Much Community legislation is the result of pressure from

Column 876

British firms in respect of the single market and from British groups concerned with the environment. That is why subsidiarity is not entirely a straightforward concept. We must continue to winnow it out and to encourage the Commission to dispense with the unnecessary, but with a will to go further down the road that has been started. That will be an issue in the next few months and in the elections.

Committee of the Regions

5. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if a date has yet been set for the inaugural meeting of the European Committee of the Regions.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : No firm date has been agreed for the inaugural meeting of the European Committee of the Regions.

Mr. Jones : I am sure that the Minister is aware how important it is that the representations chosen to serve on that Committee know at an early date when it is likely to meet. That is important in the context of the whole Maastricht treaty. Does the Minister acknowledge that many representations from other European Union member states will be regarded as regional representatives, while those representing the constituent nations of the United Kingdom will be regarded as local representatives? There is always the danger that local authority representatives will not have the same powers, status or authority as those representing regions and regional bodies in Europe. Can the Minister give an assurance that when the Committee is established, United Kingdom representatives will not be regarded as second-class members?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I believe that a provisional date in early March has been set for the first meeting of the Committee. I assure the hon. Gentleman that United Kingdom representatives will have exactly the same powers, responsibilities and duties as any other members of the Committee, as prescribed in the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Wilkinson : Can my hon. Friend estimate the cost of the Committee's first year of operation, if it ever does start work? Have estimates been made of the potential cost of translating such regional languages as Welsh, Breton and Basque?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : To make the Committee of the Regions as cost effective as possible, we are encouraging it to share various facilities, including translation facilities, with the Economic and Social Committee. The figure that has already been budgeted for the Committee of the Regions in 1994 is 12 million ecu.

Sir Russell Johnston : As the Government operate the United Kingdom in a pretty centralised way and are entirely opposed to any domestic devolution, how will they respond if the Committee of the Regions advocates greater powers for regions within Europe?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The powers within the United Kingdom and their distribution is a matter for the House. It would be a denial of the subsidiarity principle, which we discussed in answer to an earlier question, if the European institutions were to try to interfere in the domestic arrangements of member states in that regard.

Column 877

Ms Quin : I hope that, on reflection, the Government will congratulate the Opposition on our victory in the House during the Maastricht debate, when we ensured that the representatives on the Committee would be elected local councillors. However, is not it regrettable that the Government have failed to follow the advice of the local authority associations on the political balance of representation to the Committee of the Regions from this country, and that the balance does not reflect the strength of the opposition at local level in Scotland, Wales or England? Will the Government now renounce their shabby deals with the nationalist parties and allow the Committee of the Regions to reflect accurately the political balance at local level?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I am sorry that the hon. Lady is still squabbling with other members of the Opposition about the composition of the Committee. I can assure the House that the party balance on the Committee is entirely fair and represents the party balance at local authority level. After the next local government elections, no doubt the balance will change back in our favour. I look forward to the next Committee of the Regions having more Conservatives on it.

Growth, Competitiveness and Employment

6. Mr. Miller : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further discussions he has had with his European counterparts about implementation of the proposals in the Delors White Paper on growth, competitiveness and employment.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : A progamme of action was agreed at the European Council on 11 December of last year. A discussion on progress is on the agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council on 7 and 8 February, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will attend.

Mr. Miller : I am grateful for that reply, but will the Minister explain why, against the background of the Conservative party's views on the Delors proposals, a company within a country where those proposals are well advanced can raise enough money to bid for the Rover Group? Does his Department agree with the President of the Board of Trade, who said in 1987 that if the Government did not keep some control over those matters, the British motor industry would be up a cul-de-sac?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The White Paper on growth, competitiveness and employment has nothing to say about the bid for Rover. That we are a magnet for overseas investment demonstrates the competitiveness of the United Kingdom economy. I look forward to BMW making an even greater success of the Rover Group.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that Mr. Delors' package, far from creating more employment would create more unemployment, far from creating faster economic growth would restrain the rate of economic growth and far from improving the Community's competitiveness would make us less competitive? Does he further agree that one has only to look at Spain, where the policies espoused by Mr. Delors have been pursued, to see the disastrous consequences that they would have?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The White Paper, which is being pursued and turned into an action plan, has been

Column 878

agreed by all member states of the European Council. It turns its attention to the European economy and excessive cost and regulation. One of the agreements coming out of the plan is that, where Community legislation inhibits employment through over-regulation or excessive cost, it will now be dealt with.

Mr. Salmond : Will not the Delors proposals on growth and employment be completely frustrated if European markets are not open? Has the Minister any information about today's action in Roscoff against fish products from Scotland, and is he aware of the threat of a total blockade against such products in the French market after this Friday? Given the vital importance of fish products to many small businesses around the coast, has he made any approaches to the French authorities to ensure that access to the French markets is allowed?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We believe in a single market ; we also agree that trade barriers inhibit general wealth creation. If the hon. Gentleman will give me details of the incidents that he has mentioned, I will ensure that they are taken up by the appropriate Department.

Mr. Bellingham : When the Minister next meets Mr. Jacques Delors, will he ask why Britain is securing the overwhelming bulk of inward investment in the European Community? Will he also ask why Black and Decker is closing its plant in Germany and relocating all its operations in Durham? Will he tell Mr. Delors that what Europe needs are the Government's policies, not those of Mr. Delors?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I shall not ask Mr. Delors those questions, because I think that I know the answers--and I think that my hon. Friend does as well. Having lowered inflation and interest rates and controlled public expenditure, we are now a magnet for overseas investment ; that is why we are one of the few European Union countries firmly on the road to economic recovery.


7. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's current policy towards the conflict in Bosnia.

12. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest developments in Bosnia.

Mr. Hurd : With our European Union partners, we continue to support the co-chairmen's efforts to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement. The Bosnian parties met in Geneva on 18 and 19 January and are due to meet again on 10 February. With other UNPROFOR contributors, we are continuing the humanitarian relief effort. On my visit to Bosnia recently, I saw the first-rate contribution that our troops and civilians are making despite the obstacles and dangers that they face. We are committed to maintaining that effort through the winter. We are considering the future of UNPROFOR with others concerned, and I carried that further in New York and Washington yesterday and the day before ; but no decisions have been taken.

Mr. Winnick : Is the Foreign Secretary aware that in view of the continuing tragedy in Bosnia there can be no justification for allowing the British troops to leave?

Column 879

Indeed, what the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms that. Any troops who left would leave Bosnia's civilian population entirely at the mercy of the local warlords.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the fact that the international community has so far failed to end the aggression perpetrated by the Serbs and Croats may, unfortunately, encourage others in various unsettled parts of Europe to carry out similar acts of aggression and ethnic cleansing? The tragedy does not affect Bosnia alone.

Mr. Hurd : I think that I am right in believing that the hon. Gentleman has consistently--or at any rate, for a long time--advocated military intervention, or at least air strikes. How does he reconcile that stance with urging us to continue our current military and humanitarian efforts? We must ensure that we have the right balance between the effectiveness of our troops and the effectiveness of the aid effort and find ways of improving both ; we need to make a calm judgment on the basis of the latest evidence.

I have encouraged the Secretary-General of the United Nations to report on the new thinking of the new staff whom he has on the ground. On the basis of that report, and in consultation with allies and partners, we shall be able to reach a considered conclusion on the right balance--probably next month.

Lady Olga Maitland : Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending condolences to the family of Paul Goodall, the aid worker who was so brutally murdered last week, together with our sympathy to the families of the two men who were shot? Is my right hon. Friend aware that those aid workers were sent out to Bosnia through the Crown Agents in Sutton in my constituency? Does he recognise that aid workers are largely unsung heroes in Bosnia? Moreover, the message that has come back to me is that they are determined to continue their work, which they consider to be a moral imperative.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right. I know of her interest in the matter through the Crown Agents in her constituency. It is striking that, despite the tragic murder of Mr. Goodall, his comrades have clearly said that they want to continue. So the Overseas Development Administration has decided, after a temporary suspension of our convoys, to resume its work, which is clearly the wish of the people who drive. I saw for myself that, despite all the obstacles and the dangers that they run, they rightly believe that the aid that they get through contributes substantially to reducing the suffering, the cold and the hunger, of the people whom they help.

Mr. Corbett : While joining in the expression of sympathy to the family of Paul Goodall, may I commend the courage of my constituent, Simon King, who was injured in the same incident and may I thank, through the Foreign Secretary, all those concerned with Mr. King's rescue and care? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Mr. King and his colleagues are expected back in the United Kingdom on Saturday and that all proper arrangements have been made for them? In thinking about the future of our part in the humanitarian effort in Bosnia, will the Foreign Secretary pay special regard to the wish of Mr. King, his colleagues and many others that it should continue?

Mr. Hurd : I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have ensured that the two survivors of that tragedy are

Column 880

properly looked after. We must consider not just whether to continue the humanitarian and military effort but whether it is as well organised as it could be or whether improvements can be made. Three new minds are at work on the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises : Mr. Akashi, whom I saw in Split, acting on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General did a good job in Cambodia and is looking at the civilian side ; General Sir Michael Rose, who everybody knows is an outstanding and thoughtful soldier ; and the new French general, General de la Presle. We must consider not just whether we should continue, but, if we and the other troop contributors continue, how we can improve the present balance of effort so that more help reaches the people who need it.

Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. Friend accept that Bosnia still has a Government in which Croats, Serbs and Muslims serve together? Will he admit that the British Government recognise that as the legitimate Government of Bosnia? In that context, is it not unfair to treat it merely as a warring faction?

Mr. Hurd : We regard the Bosnian Government as one of the parties that need to reach a negotiated settlement. We believe that the Serbs are mainly responsible for the fighting, but the Croats joined in later and are also to blame. All three sides have committed atrocities. But the point that is emerging more and more clearly and on which there is total agreement in Washington is that a negotiated settlement is needed. Yesterday in Washington, I was trying to explore how the United States can be associated more clearly and openly with the negotiations, not in discussing a settlement imposed on the Bosnian Government in Sarajevo but in trying to associate the Americans more completely with the search for an answer that all three parties will freely accept so that it can last and bring the war to an end. It is clear to me that there will be no military victory. If a settlement is to be negotiated, the sooner it is done the better.

Mr. Wareing : We all share the view of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) that it is tragic that an aid worker has been shot and others have been injured. Will the Foreign Secretary inform the House on the progress that has been made in investigating who the murderers were in that case? Is it true that they were probably members of the 7th Muslim Brigade, made up of what are colloquially termed "mujahedin"? If that should prove to be so, will he call for the disbandment of that brigade?

Mr. Hurd : I cannot answer accurately about that matter. We asked the Bosnian authorities at once to investigate the murder, and they did so. It is reported that a number of people have since been shot on Mount Igman. We are asking the Bosnian authorities for particulars of exactly what occurred, and who the people involved were. It has been reported that one of them may have been carrying a United Kingdom passport--a document which may or may not have been genuine. There is much obscurity and murkiness about this episode, but we are trying to have light shed on it. I will let the hon. Gentleman know how we get on with our inquiries.

Sir Michael Marshall : What opportunity has my right hon. Friend had to take stock of the current state of sanctions in Serbia and Croatia? In particular, does he feel

Column 881

that the apparent grinding down of the problems faced in Croatia can play a part in helping to end the tragedy in Bosnia?

Mr. Hurd : I am sure that we must maintain sanctions at full force against Serbia until the authorities there comply with the Security Council resolutions. We have to take very careful account of the way in which Croatia has handled the matter in recent months. There is no doubt that this question will be considered again by the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

Dr. John Cunningham : We all join in the expression of condolence to the family of Mr. Goodall. However, is not the inescapable conclusion of the past few months that all the objectives set by the London conference on Bosnia have failed--with the possible exception of the humanitarian aid effort, which itself is now in some difficulty? Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) right when he says that, regrettably, the failure to confront not just Serbian but also Croatian aggression in Bosnia is a clear signal to like-minded people in other areas of instability in eastern Europe? Does that not pose a grave threat to the security of central and western Europe too?

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that when he vacillates about whether to take the troops out or leave them in, he encourages Serbs and Croats to maintain their aggressive stance in Bosnia? If we are to come out of this terrible tragedy with any credibility at all, should not the international community at the very least maintain, if not improve, the humanitarian aid programme, and is that not impossible without the presence of troops on the ground?

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman's last point may prove to be accurate. This is one of the things that we have to change. There is no vacillation here. I do not think that the Opposition or the country wants us to act suddenly or unilaterally, leaving others in the lurch. We have to consult countries such as Canada, whose Foreign Minister I talked to on Monday. We have to work with those who are in a similar position. The situation has to be weighed up. In today's world, we cannot do everything in secret. I have been completely open with the House and with the public as to the stage that we have reached.

I should have thought that that was a reasoned process. It is quite contrary to the way in which the Opposition--the Labour party recently and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) constantly--have performed. Once again the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has used the word "confront" when talking about how to deal with the Serbs and the Croats. What does he mean? Is he talking of air strikes? There is a case for air support for operations like those to relieve the Canadians in Srebrenica and to open Tuzla airport. However, if the right hon. Gentleman is seriously saying that problems like the siege of Sarajevo and that entire tragedy can be solved permanently by bombing from the air, as he has suggested in the past, he is at odds not only with military opinion here but, as I discovered in Washington yesterday, with a much wider body of opinion. People who advance such arguments in such a vague way need to be pinned down as to what they propose. Otherwise, their advice is less than helpful.

Mr. Elletson : During his recent visit to Bosnia, did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity to calculate the

Column 882

amount of British humanitarian aid that is reaching the people for whom it is intended? Is he aware that many people in this country now believe that humanitarian aid is merely fuelling the warring factions and keeping the war going? Is it not time for us to ask ourselves what on earth Britain is doing in Bosnia?

Mr. Hurd : What we are doing is keeping people alive who would otherwise be dead. What we are doing is providing some assurance of heat and electricity for some hours a day for people in the fearful communist high-rise flats in which many in Bosnia live. What we are doing is providing food that will keep people alive who might otherwise die. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that there are obstructions and that not all of the requirements--indeed, much less than we would wish--get through. What we have to judge is whether we can remove the obstructions, bureaucratic and otherwise, and improve our effort or whether it cannot be improved and whether the risks are so great that we should pull out. However, my hon. Friend should be in no doubt about the consequences in humanitarian terms of an abrupt and unconsidered decision to withdraw.


8. Mr. Cunliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met his French counterpart to discuss the principle of subsidiarity.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : I last formally discussed subsidiarity with my opposite number at the Anglo-French summit on 26 July last year. Since then, the Government have co-operated closely with the French on implementation of the subsidiarity principle. This was instrumental in ensuring that the Commission's subsidiarity report to the Brussels European Council was a substantial document.

Mr. Cunliffe : When will the Minister and the Government be prepared to come clean about the secret hit list of European Community measures that have been agreed by the British and French Governments? The measures deal mainly with environmental and social policy and, if enforced, will adversely affect the vast majority of the British people. In view of the Government's clandestine methods and tactics, does not their consistent preaching of the gospel of open government to the House and the people smell of hypocrisy and cant?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : There is nothing secretive about the process. All member states have let the Commission know their priorities for making a success of the practical implementation of the subsidiarity principle. I well understand that such an exercise may not appeal to the centralising tendencies of Labour Members, who may be prepared to let more issues be decided in Brussels. We not only got it written into the treaty that there should be a subsidiarity test, but we wish to see it carried forward into practical effect. That is why we were pleased that the great majority of our proposals have now been accepted by the Community as a whole.

Mr. Garel-Jones : Does my hon. Friend accept that Conservative Members at any rate are delighted to hear that he makes no apology for the lists submitted by the British and French Governments? Will he give us an update on progress so far in amending or abolishing EC

Column 883

directives and assure us that he and the French Government will take forward the principle in respect of any future unnecessary and intrusive legislation?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The treaty requirement is to apply the subsidiarity test only to future proposals, but, beyond that, it was agreed voluntarily that the Commission and Council should look back at the existing EC statute book. The Commission itself estimates that 25 per cent. of the existing volume of legislation will be amended or repealed in the light of the subsidiarity exercise.

Peru (Death Penalty)

9. Mr. McFall : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Peruvian Government regarding implementation of the death penalty in that country following the national referendum in October 1993.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We have made no representations.

Mr. McFall : The Minister will be aware that a central issue in the report by the parliamentary group for human rights, which I shall present next week, is the death penalty. Is he aware that the death penalty is administered by military judges who have no legal qualifications and who convict more than 95 per cent. of the people who come before them? Will he accept from me that the young people whom I met in the Huallaga valley last September will be the innocent victims of that penalty and that their only crime is to find themselves crushed between Sendero Luminoso and the army? Will he therefore impress on Peru that it is in violation of its international obligations under the American convention and that what is needed is not the death penalty but an independent and untainted judiciary?

Next Section

  Home Page