Mr. Secretary Lang presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Church of Scotland (Properties and Investments) ; and the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be considered on Tuesday 10 May and to be printed. [Bill 72.]
The Singapore Prime Minister, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, paid a very successful visit to this country two weeks ago, during which he had wide-ranging discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other colleagues. The two Prime Ministers agreed that every effort should be made to maintain and strengthen our ties. Singapore is our largest export market in south-east Asia. British exports last year grew by 24 per cent., and are now worth £1.4 billion. My right hon. Friend and Mr. Goh agreed to the establishment of a Singapore-British business council further to enhance co -operation between the private sectors of our countries, including in third countries such as China and Vietnam.
Mr. Gallie : I thank my right hon. Friend and particularly welcome his comments on the trading links. Did my right hon. Friend discuss with Ministers in the Singapore Government the issue of law and order and the means by which they had controlled vandalism and crimes of violence--in particular, the use of corporal punishment ? If so, has my right hon. Friend discussed those issues with our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary ?
Is not the Minister really as disturbed as I am that the President of the European Union and also a member of NATO should unilaterally impose a blockade on Macedonia ; should undermine sanctions as much as it can ; should have withdrawn airborne warning and communication systems crews from activities ; and should be involved in or suspected of terrorist activity on the Albanian border ? Is not the Minister really as concerned as I am that no obstacle will be put in the way of Serbia's pursuit of a greater Serbia by the Greek Government ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We regret that Greece has imposed a trade embargo against the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. That issue is now to go to the European Court of Justice. I hope that Greece, particularly as it has the presidency during these six months, will reconsider its policies before the matter has to be resolved legally.
Mr. Lidington : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is quite outrageous for Greece to be in receipt of large sums, effectively from British taxpayers, through EC cohesion funds, while the Greek Government are making an already dangerous situation in the Balkans still more unstable through this illegal and unwarranted embargo against Macedonia ?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We recognise that the situation in Macedonia is potentially unstable and threatens to get worse if the trade embargo persists. For those reasons, we support the action of the European Commission in taking the matter to court.
Mr. Trimble : Surely the action of the European Commission on this matter is inadequate. It is foolish to hang around waiting for the European Court of Justice, whenever it might come to consider the matter. Is not there a consistent pattern of action on the part of the Greek Government, who are clearly trying to destabilise their northern neighbour ? Surely it is contrary to membership of the European Union for a member state to be trying to foment a war on its border, contrary to the policy of the Union-- because that is the goal towards which Greek policy is clearly driving.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We have made our concerns known to the Greek Government in the clearest possible terms. We recognise the dangers inherent in the policy, but Cyrus Vance is pursuing mediation between the Macedonian and the Greek Governments, so it is possible that the matter under dispute may be resolved amicably before the court case becomes necessary.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I am in regular touch with colleagues in the SecuritCouncil and NATO, and with those from other troop-contributing countries, about the UN operation in Bosnia, now and in the future. We are also working with close allies and with the Russians to step up the search for a permanent and negotiated settlement.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the British Government reacted in an exemplary way to General Rose's request for more troops in Bosnia, the same could hardly be said for other countries ? Given that strong moral position, are not the Government well placed to urge for a more positive way forward for the United Nations in future, possibly including a redefinition of the UN mandate ?
Mr. Hurd : There has been some progress since we took the initiative in New York by supporting the Secretary-General's appeal for more troops ; he wanted 10,600 more troops to police the Sarajevo and central Bosnian ceasefires. Early responses amounted to undertakings to provide 8,500 troops, and 2,500 new troops are already in theatre including, as my hon. Friend said, 905 from the United Kingdom. Others have come from France, Spain, Russia and the Ukraine, so there is progress. We should certainly like it to be faster, and now that the United States has permitted the Security Council to lift the financial barrier, I hope that those who have promised troops will bring them forward quickly, and that those who have not promised troops will consider doing so.
Mr. Wareing : Has the Secretary of State had time to consider General Rose's remarks about the way in which we were all misled about the amount of destruction in Gorazde, and about the casualty list ? We are told that some of the so-called casualties used the lift to Sarajevo simply to gain their freedom. Is not it time that the right hon. Gentleman spoke to the media experts, who for the most part reside in Sarajevo and keep telling us everything that comes through the propaganda machine of Sarajevo's Muslim-controlled radio ?
Mr. Hurd : General Rose has objected to the way in which some off- the-record remarks were picked up by a certain newspaper. I would not advise the hon. Gentleman to give too much credence to the report in question.
Mr. Oppenheim : Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that although we all deplore the actions of the Serbs, many of those who now urge us take tougher action would be the first to turn against the Government as soon as a British soldier was killed, the aid effort was impeded or a Serbian school was accidentally bombed ? If the policies of many of those Johnny-come-lately,
get-tough-from-afar proponents of action had been implemented in the past we should have been left without the troops to carry out our present policy. Does my right hon. Friend accept that most of my hon. Friends and I feel that, in immensely difficult circumstances, his has been the best possible policy ?
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was a rare tribute on this subject, and I am the more grateful for it because of that. We have certainly been prudent and have asked practical questions about any proposal for the deployment of troops. When we have been satisfied on the basis of professional advice that a measure is justified on the ground, we have been among the first to contribute. As my hon. Friend says, that is in contrast to the attitude of some people, especially some commentators, who have been anxious to urge everybody forward but who bear no responsibility for the consequences.
Dr. Howells : Given the reports of a considerable build-up of Bosnian Serb forces in the Posavina corridor in north-east Bosnia, will the Secretary of State press for an immediate preventive deployment of UNPROFOR troops in that area, backed up by adequate air cover, to act as a deterrent to what in the context of Macedonia he has described as adventurism, by the Serbs or by anyone else in the Sava valley ?
Mr. Hurd : I am worried about the Posavina corridor, as are our allies. Brcko is occupied by the Serbs, but Muslim troops surround it and the corridor is very narrow. We are doing our best, both in New York and on the ground, to prevent a further flare-up in that corridor.
I warmly welcome the conclusion of the agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza strip and Jericho area and the related economic agreement. This is an historic step which has our full support. I hope that it will be followed by further progress along the other tracks of the peace process.
Mr. Clappison : I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the historic progress being made today by the Israelis and the Palestinians, but does he agree that the future peace and stability of the region would be greatly assisted by economic growth and that trade has a role to play in promoting that ? Will he keep under review measures that would assist the flow of trade between this country and that region ?
Mr. Hurd : Indeed--and on the whole our exports have held up well. There has been a substantial increase of about 50 per cent. in our exports to Israel year on year. At the beginning of last week we held a conference in London which concentrated on trade and the financial sector. It was designed to bring together the Israelis, the Palestinians and others from that area and precisely to focus attention on the economic opportunities opening up as a result of the peace process.
Mr. Kaufman : Should not this House offer its congratulations to and express its admiration for Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat on their courage and foresight in going through with an agreement that was not easy to frame and will not be easy to implement but which it is essential to implement ? Is not that a vindication of all those who said, when it was not fashionable, that there
Column 707could be no peace in the middle east without negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation ? Will the right hon. Gentleman do all that he can to speed the negotiations with Syria and Jordan, which can bring about a comprehensive peace with open frontiers and form diplomatic relations in the middle east ?
Mr. Budgen : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the most important issue today is our involvement in Bosnia, he should demonstrate that, now that we have abandoned the principle of getting involved only when the British national interest is affected, we are prepared to at least double the size of our forces so that we can intervene wherever there is a humanitarian cause ?
Mr. Ernie Ross : I am sure that the whole House concurs with what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier about the historic nature of the agreement signed today in Cairo. He is aware that three other elements are very important if the agreement is to be the first stage in bringing peace not only to Israel but to the whole of the middle east. There needs to be a comprehensive peace settlement with all the Arab countries, including Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. There also needs to be not only economic progress for the Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza but security for the Palestinians in the interim. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that, as a result of Security Council resolution 904, of which we are co-sponsors, either this week or next there will be a temporary international presence in Hebron as part of the confidence-building measures. Resolution 904 also calls for an extension of the international presence to the rest of the west bank. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any discussions with our European partners with a view to offering that protection throughout the west bank ?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is right about the need for security ; I welcome the arrangements for Hebron. The British Government are giving substantial help to the Palestinians for the police, with training courses for senior officers and 200 sets of riot control equipment to minimise the use of guns. We have persuaded the European Union to contribute up to 10 million ecu to the police. The policing of the west bank--Gaza and Jericho first, then the rest of the west bank--is crucial.
Sir Ivan Lawrence : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the great courage and determination shown by both sides are only the beginning of the peace process, and that the more difficult part of implementation still has to be addressed and will need the support of all Governments ? Is it not, therefore, an appropriate time for the Government to take a larger step towards the obliteration of the iniquitous Arab trade boycott, which is in contempt of the principle of free trade which the Government hold so dear ?
Column 708Arabs, the moment for it has passed. We welcome some steps, notably in the Gulf, to lift the boycott and we hope that they will be continued.
Dr. John Cunningham : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Labour party expresses emphatic support for the courageous and historic agreement between the Labour Government of Israel and Mr. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation ? Is not it clear that those political leaders have earned widespread respect, and that they deserve continuing support and encouragement in their endeavours to secure a comprehensive settlement ?
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what practical financial support is being made available to buttress the agreement ? What is Britain's contribution, for example, to the package being assembled by the World bank for investment and reconstruction in the west bank and Gaza ? As we both agree that British trade with Israel, the west bank and Gaza will be of mutual importance and benefit, can the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position on export credit guarantees for such trade with the Palestinian communities ?
Mr. Hurd : I need notice of the right hon. Gentleman's last point ; I will write to him. I agree with him about the need for progress on the other tracks and about the need for help for the Palestinians. The World bank has its own resources, of course, but the Government intend to provide £70 million in assistance to the Palestinians in the years 1994-96 both through multilateral, mainly European, and through bilateral channels. I have already given the House details of our specific help to the police. We are providing expert legal help for the drafting of Palestinian laws, Bank of England advice on banking matters and help in preparing for the Palestinian elections.
Mr. Goodlad : The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working very closely with the inward investment bureau of the Department of Trade and Industry, attaches a high priority to securing inward investment in the United Kingdom. We have dedicated inward investment teams at our posts in the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea. In all our other markets, there are knowledgeable staff in our posts who can develop and respond to inward investment opportunities. In 1992-93, there were at least 303 inward investment decisions by foreign companies, creating or safeguarding more than 56,000 jobs.
Mr. Bruce : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how successful Britain has been compared with other nations in attracting inward investment ? Will he have a conversation with his colleagues who are on the Front Bench this afternoon and so learn of their experiences when visiting south Dorset ? Information about what a wonderful place south Dorset is for inward investment can then be passed on to diplomats throughout the world, to ensure that the success in the rest of the country is duplicated in my area.
Mr. Goodlad : The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is : very successful. One third of all inward investment in the European Union by the end of 1992 was in the United Kingdom. By March 1993, we had attracted 41 per cent. of all Japanese investment in the European Union and by the end of 1992, we had attracted almost 39 per cent. of all United States inward investment in the EU. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his dedication to the cause of inward investment in south Dorset and will ensure that that message is transmitted throughout the world.
Mr. Enright : Would not it be a great disincentive to inward investment if, in the future, when monetary union came about in Europe, Britain rigidly refused to go in ? Will the Minister condemn those buffoons who are going around at the moment proclaiming it as a great principle that we should not join a monetary union ?
Mr. Goodlad : I am entirely convinced that the conditions that have attracted so many foreign businesses to invest in the country will prevail in future as they have in the past under a Conservative Government.
Sir Anthony Grant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole history of events since the last war has demonstrated that the one great disincentive to invest in Britain is the fear of a Labour Government ?
Ms Quin : As there seems to be a peculiar belief on the Conservative Benches that low wages and poor working conditions attract inward investment, will the Minister explain why Nissan, in its evidence to the Select Committee on Employment, said, first, that the social chapter would be no problem for it because it already exceeded its provisions and, secondly, that it thought that the low-wage, low-skill approach to the economy was the road to economic disaster ?
Mr. Goodlad : The evidence given by Nissan is obviously a matter for it, but it is an extremely enthusiastic investor in the United Kingdom and is very welcome. The reason why we are so successful is that we have low inflation, low taxes and good industrial relations. The Labour party would make this a high-cost area and would deter foreign investment. People recognise that, but they also recognise that there is no danger of its being allowed to happen.
Mr. Charles Kennedy : Does the Minister agree that one of the keys to inward investment is the ability of the regions and the nations of the United Kingdom to offer a good base in terms of transport, communications, infrastructure and the like ? Is that advantage--or potential advantage--as great as it could be, given that there is misuse of the European Union structural social funding in the sense that it is not being made truly additional to the funds that the Treasury should be making available through the local authorities and other funding bodies ? Will the Minister take steps to correct that deficiency so that we can realise the full potential which would otherwise be available to different parts of the country ?
Column 710judgment. It is one of the objectives of the Invest in Britain Bureau to encourage firms to set up in assisted areas when that is appropriate to the company's needs. Its enormous success in doing so suggests that, for once, the hon. Gentleman is uncharacteristically quite wrong.
Mr. Viggers : My right hon. Friend has already referred to the success of Japanese investment in this country, which accounts for more than 40 per cent. of all Japanese investment in Europe. Does he agree that to underpin, complement and promote still further that Japanese investment, it is entirely appropriate that there should be a much wider educational and cultural inter-relationship between the United Kingdom and Japan ?
Mr. Goodlad : Yes. My hon. Friend is on to quite an important point. He will be aware, because he makes a considerable personal contribution to this process, that the Government are seeking to fulfil the objectives that he sets out.
Mr. Hurd : The situation throughout Bosnia remains tense. The immediate priority is to secure a ceasefire as a prelude to a negotiated settlement. The new contact group, which was formed in London a week ago, brings together the negotiating efforts of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia and it is exploring on the ground prospects for a negotiated settlement with the parties.
Mr. Macdonald : Does the Foreign Secretary accept that every declaration on Bosnia to which either he or the Prime Minister have put their names--from the London conference to the Edinburgh summit and even the Washington agreement--has affirmed, as a matter of principle, the recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina within its internationally recognised borders and also the absolute right of refugees to return to the areas from which they have been cleansed ?
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the Government's attachment to those principles and explain how that squares with the reported comments of the Minister of State in Sarajevo yesterday that there would have to be some land given up by the Bosnian Government and some readjustment of borders ? Does he accept that any attempt made by the Government to go back on those declarations would be a cynical betrayal of their previous words and would fatally undermine their ability to adjudicate in the crisis and in future border disagreements ?
Bosnia-Herzogovina--what the boundaries should be between areas occupied by Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Moslems. There has been some progress on that through the months, but the matter is not yet finalised. It will have to be negotiated--it cannot be imposed.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the attacks against French aircraft and the shooting down of a Royal Navy Sea Harrier are acts of aggression against NATO ? Consequently, there is no excuse now for the Germans, for example, not to send troops, and the United
Column 711States should not be standing on the sidelines. Without the presence of those two nations on the ground, NATO's position is weakened. The bargaining position is weakened, and goodness knows what their absence does to NATO's conventional deterrent capability.
Mr. Hurd : The Germans have a legal problem as a result of their constitution. They have a historical problem because of the history of the second world war. The President of the United States has made it clear that the United States would be willing, if Congress agreed, to put in troops on the ground in Bosnia once there was a general settlement which needed to be implemented. That is what we are working on.
Mr. Soley : As the Government seem to accept that when the threat of force was made clear and credible in both Sarajevo and Gorazde it seemed to work, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why he thinks that it would not have worked 18 months ago ?
Mr. Hurd : I do not believe that 18 months ago the circumstances existed in which it would have worked. We cannot be certain of these things, but that was certainly the advice that we received at the time and the advice on which we and many others acted. The threat and the use of air power can be useful for certain specific objectives--the self-defence of United Nations units and in certain instances the protection of safe areas. That has been shown, but I do not believe--and I do not think that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members believe--that air power can in Bosnia, any more than in Iraq or Vietnam, bring a war to an end.
Mr. Hurd : We continue to make good progress in many fields. For example, in trade, British exports grew by 50 per cent. in 1993, and there are good investment opportunities. We continue to disagree about sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, but we have an agreement on fisheries conservation and we expect to meet the Argentines in July to discuss oil. We also co-operate internationally : for example, British and Argentine troops are working side by side in UN peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and in Cyprus.
Mr. Knapman : Does my right hon. Friend accept that historically Great Britain and Argentina have been firm friends and substantial trading partners ? I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend is doing all that he can to encourage that relationship, but what effect is the continuing claim by the Argentines to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands having on that relationship ?
Mr. Hurd : The relationship would certainly be much more straightforward and the prospects of co-operation between the islands and the mainland much clearer if the Argentines felt able to withdraw their claim.
Mr. Dalyell : When the Foreign Secretary came to the Latin American group yesterday he referred to the fragile fish breeding stocks. Is it likely that some agreement will be reached with Argentina on that important subject ?
Mr. Hurd : There is a temporary agreement, but it has worked reasonably well. It limits the number of licences that both sides--the Argentines and the islands--offer to fishing fleets, mainly from the far east, catching the illex squid. I should like to convert that into a longer -standing agreement so that fisheries authorities in Argentina and the islands will be assured of proper conservation and a reasonable future for the revenue that comes from fish.
Mr. Goodlad : The most important messages are : obtain travel insurance, do not get involved with drugs, and respect and observe local customs. Anyone who needs advice about particular destinations should contact the Foreign Office travel advice unit on 071-270 4129.
Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. Friend take steps to publicise that useful helpline service more widely so that travellers know in advance of the help available to them if they run into any of those problems ?
Mr. Goodlad : Travel advice notices are disseminated swiftly through the travel industry--and thus to a large part of the public--by electronic information systems. Notices may be read on the BBC's Ceefax service. Our aim is to give prompt and accurate advice on the safety of British nationals abroad and we respond promptly to inquiries from the public on the number that I have given.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the Minister advise holidaymakers, wherever they are and whoever they are, to tell their hosts that we in Workington have an empty 500,000 sq ft factory and want a tenant or owner from overseas to put in some substantial industrial plant ? We need the business and we are open to offers.
11. Mr. Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures Her Majesty's Government are taking to assist the new Government of South Africa to consolidate democracy in that country.
12. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to make an official visit to South Africa to discuss the outcome of the recent elections there.
Mr. Hurd : I am sure that the House will join me in warmly congratulating the South African people on their remarkable achievement. They have set the world an example of peaceful democratic change. We congratulate Mr. Mandela on his victory and look forward with confidence to working with him and his colleagues in Government.
Column 713Britain expects to provide more than £100 million of help to South Africa over the next three years. That includes £60 million of bilateral aid, plus investments by the Commonwealth Development Corporation and our share of European Community assistance. That is a sizeable amount--almost double the £35 million that we have given in the past three years. The emphasis will be on quality, concentrating our help in crucial areas and focusing on technical assistance. We have also been training about 1,000 South Africans a year. We shall discuss priorities for our aid programme with the new Government, including help to reduce poverty and to improve education and health care, and we stand ready to help with restructuring and training the police and the public service. On the military side, we have already been asked to help with integrating a new national defence force. The Ministry of Defence has had detailed discussions in South Africa and has come back with some worked-up proposals.
Britain is also playing a leading role in working out a package of European Union measures to define the future trading relationship between the Union and South Africa, technical assistance and political dialogue.
Mr. Canavan : I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the African National Congress and, particularly, Nelson Mandela, whom I wish well in his efforts to form a Government of national unity to unite all the people of South Africa, whatever their colour or ethnic origin. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that his statement is an offer of maximum assistance to enable the new South African Government, the new democracy and its economy to flourish and for South Africa to be fully welcomed into the international community, including membership of the Commonwealth if that is its wish ?
Mr. Hurd : I have given the details. It is a strong and very practical British interest that the new South Africa should succeed. I am sure that if South Africa decides to re-enter the Commonwealth it will be welcomed back with warm enthusiasm.
Mr. Bennett : I echo the congratulations that have been expressed, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that too often celebrations turn to tears ? Will he ensure that some of the money in the aid package to which he referred is spent on ensuring that the poorest people in South Africa see a rapid improvement in the appalling conditions in which they have to live so as to make it clear to them that exercising the vote has produced worthwhile improvements to their lives ?
Mr. Hurd : We have to focus our aid, which is limited in its total, on those areas in which we think that British help can be most effective. The problem that the hon. Gentleman raises cannot be solved from outside. It will depend on policies pursued inside South Africa and it is crucially important, as the hon. Gentleman would agree, that the new Government of national unity should follow policies that encourage growth and outside investment.
Sir Michael Neubert : Once the understandable electoral exuberance has faded and economic expectations come more sharply into focus, will it not be increasingly relevant to remember that half South Africa's foreign investment is British and that Britain is one of South Africa's major trading partners ? Does my right hon. Friend
Column 714have any specific plans to strengthen Britain's commercial and industrial role in bringing greater prosperity to the newly enfranchised South African people ?