Mr. Milburn: Is not it clear from recent interventions by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and Lord Howe that Ministers are simply caving in to the anti-European agenda of some Conservative Back Benchers and people in the Cabinet? Is it not obvious that Britain's interests in Europe are secondary in the Foreign Secretary's mind to the appeasement of competing factions inside the Conservative party? Why does not the Foreign Secretary stand up for what we all know he believes in rather than play footsie with those who clearly want him out of his current job?
Mr. Hurd: I am grateful, Madam Speaker. I thought it was becoming rather stale stuff. On the basis of the general principles which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established in his speech at Leiden and which he has since elaborated, we are constructing specific and positive proposals which Britain will be able to put forward at the intergovernmental conference next year. That is the immediate task before us and I am sure that that is the right way to set about it.
Mr. Dykes: Will my right hon. Friend endorse and follow the wise advice of Alain Lamassoure, the French European Affairs Minister, who yesterday suggested that central bank governors should keep quiet on EMU, or at least say less, and leave the decisions to the politicians in the member states, particularly as the enthusiasm for EMU is growing everywhere, with the constitutional exception of Denmark?
Mr. Hurd: I do not agree. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister obtained freedom for this country to choose, yes or no, if and when the choice of a single bank and a single currency comes before us, which in our view will not be before 1999. For the moment, we have had enough purely political discussion of these points. What is now needed is a slightly more substantial account, perhaps not led by politicians, of the effect of the change--yes or no--on the freedom and prosperity of our constituents. The Governor's speech yesterday, which was analysed by some newspapers as being for and by others as being against the proposition, set out the pros and cons with admirable clarity.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: Which does the Foreign Secretary regard as the more accurate commentary on the Government's policy on Europe: that of the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe, who said that the policy is being dragged into a ghetto of sentimentality and
Column 1066self-delusion, or that of the former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the right hon. Member for Mid- Sussex (Mr. Renton), who said that certain Cabinet Ministers are behaving as if they were members of the Flat Earth Society?
Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there is no question of any policies relating to Northern Ireland being constructed under the aegis or framework of a constitutional arrangement that gives effect to the proposals for an all-Ireland policy which would be consistent with any regional policy developed by the European Union?
Mr. Robin Cook: Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to repeat his description of the manifesto of the nine rebel Members of Parliament as containing ideas that were unreal? Did he read yesterday's statement by the rebels that the concessions by the Cabinet to those unreal ideas were encouraging, but that it must make more? How many more unreal ideas is he prepared to accept, or is it time for the British Government to base their policy towards Europe on the interests of the 60 million people of Britain, not on the careers of the nine Tory Members of Parliament?
Mr. Hurd: I am delighted if any of my hon. Friends, or former hon. Friends, are delighted with Government policy, which is not constructed on the basis of any document that they have issued. It is constructed on what the Prime Minister said at Leiden last November. In his basic statement on what the intergovernmental conference should be about, he said:
"The IGC must be the anvil on which we forge a stronger union." That is our view.
Mr. John D. Taylor: I pose this question specifically to the Foreign Secretary. Does he agree that the European Union is a club of sovereign states? If so, is it possible for one all-Ireland body to represent the views of two sovereign states?
Mr. Hurd: I do not think that that is envisaged even in the thoughts that are being discussed by the British and Irish Governments, but I advise the right hon. Member, as I advised my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), to put that specific point to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Yeo: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vision that he and the Prime Minister have set out of a Europe of nation states, freely co- operating to mutual advantage on a wide range of issues, not only commands the support of the vast majority of the British people, but is entirely consistent with everything that the Conservative party has said on the subject for the past 30 years? Does he further agree that that consistency contrasts starkly with the chopping and changing of the Labour party, whose leader and present Front-Bench
Column 1067spokesman are espousing positions on Europe which are totally the reverse of those that they adopted just a few years ago?
Mr. Hurd: I may send my hon. Friend a wearisome sheaf of my speeches on the subject--he may have had a hand in some of them, for all I know. They bear out what he said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have, for several years, been emphasising the point that my hon. Friend summarised about the working together of nation states.
I share my hon. Friend's worries about the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has been billing and cooing all over Brussels. The other day, yesterday perhaps, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made a speech that he could have borrowed from one of my archives. It is a bit worrying to Conservative Members that the main Opposition party should be so sadly divided on the subject.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg): Promoting the political and economic stability of the formerYugoslav Republic of Macedonia remains a key element in our preventive diplomacy in the southern Balkans. It is important that she should enjoy full international recognition and gain full access to the benefits of co-operation with international institutions.
Ms Eagle: Does the Minister agree that destabilisation in Macedonia would cause a major problem and pose a major threat to peace and stability in Europe, especially as the threat could then spread to Greece and possibly further? Does he think the position there is getting better or worse?
Mr. Hogg: I agree with the main thrust of the hon. Lady's intervention. Clearly, destabilisation in Macedonia could have serious repercussions in the southern Balkans. I am reasonably optimistic as to the stability of the country. That stability depends on the ability and willingness of the Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia to work together. We shall do all that we can to impress on both communities the importance of co-operation, and to impress on President Gligorov, in particular, the importance of addressing seriously the concerns of the Albanian minority in the country. He is doing so, but he needs continual encouragement.
Lady Olga Maitland: Does my right hon. and learned Friend have any plans for action within the European Union to bridge the stalemate over the blockade of Macedonia by the Greeks, bearing in mind the fact that it is bringing severe economic hardship?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes a serious point. The European Court of Justice is today considering the case which has been brought before it by the Commission with the strong support of the British Government. The other way forward is through the mediation of Cyrus Vance.
Column 1068We hope that the Governments of both Macedonia and Greece will respond positively to the suggestions made by Cyrus Vance.
Mr. O'Hara: Will the Minister recognise that, just as President Gligorov should be urged to resolve his differences with the Albanians, he should also be urged to address positively the serious concerns of the Greeks? He must recognise that the Greeks could be the key to the future security and prosperity of Macedonia.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of good relations between Greece and Macedonia. He is right to imply that the blockade by Greece of Macedonia is having a serious impact on the economy of Macedonia. The hon. Gentleman's point reinforces the answer that I gave previously about the need for both Governments to address positively the proposals of Cyrus Vance.
Mr. Hurd: We welcome the substantial progress that is being made, but we are concerned at the strains on the peace process in the wake of the dreadful bombing near Tel Aviv. The forthcoming visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Israel, the occupied territories and Jordan on 12 and 13 March will underline our continuing support for the peace process.
Mr. Carrington: Although the responsibility for the problems in the peace process is complex, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the principal reasons for that is the new proposed settlements on the west bank? Will my right hon. Friend put maximum pressure on the Israeli Government to stop those proposed settlements and will he put maximum pressure on the American Government to exert what influence they have in Tel Aviv to ensure that the settlements do not carry on?
Mr. Hurd: I agree with my hon. Friend about that. We persuaded our European partners on 5 January to set this out again. We expressed our concern and called for a total cessation of new settlements. We believe that all settlements in occupied territories--that includes east Jerusalem- -are illegal and an obstacle to peace. We point that out consistently. I hope that my hon. Friend will not ignore the sense of shock over the terrorist bombing in Israel which makes Prime Minister Rabin's task much more difficult.
Mr. Norman Hogg: Will the Foreign Secretary review his decision to lift the arms embargo on the state of Syria in view of its reluctance to join in the peace process? Will he ensure that that Government are aware of the British Government's condemnation of the murderous activities of Islamic Jihad--it is based in Damascus--in Netayna on 22 January?
Mr. Hurd: We would not be justified in urging our European partners- -it was a European decision--to reimpose that arms embargo. I have already made clear my views about the terrorist act in Israel which killed 21 people.
Column 1069On the Syrian track of the peace process, movement is needed from both sides. They will both have to show flexibility. I believe that they will achieve a settlement down that track, but the process of getting there is proving very slow.
Sir Timothy Sainsbury: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the peace process is to continue to advance, as I know we all hope that it will, it is necessary not only for Syria and all Israel's neighbours to join in, but for states that participate in the process to not only condemn terrorism but take active steps to remove international terrorism from their territory?
Mr. Hurd: Yes, I agree. I do not think that one should underestimate the difficulties that Mr. Arafat has in Jericho and Gaza; we all know that they are real and formidable. We hope that the meeting in Cairo tomorrow between the leaders of the countries of the region and the PLO will serve to give fresh impetus to the peace process and in particular to the Palestinian track.
Mr. Morgan: On the position of Iraq in the middle eastern peace process, what further action can the Government take against the Iraqi Government following the attempted assassination in Iraq of the defector from the Iraqi army, Major Safa al Battat, who is currently being treated for his attempted poisoning at Llandough hospital in Cardiff which serves my constituency? What is the Government's policy on defectors from the Iraqi army who are helping Shi'ite rebels against the Iraqi Government? Is there any Government assistance to the hospital to help it provide 24-hour security for Major al Battat?
Mr. Hurd: That does not arise from the question and I do not think that it is within my responsibilities. However, it is clearly a serious matter so I shall look into it and ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a letter.
Mr. Batiste: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Dr. Shaqaqi, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the bombing from Damascus on 22 January and that no action has been taken against him by the Syrian authorities? How does that square with Syria's profession that it is no longer a terrorist state and wishes to participate in the peace process?
Mr. Hurd: That is a fair question. I cannot confirm the facts as stated by my hon. Friend, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Sir T. Sainsbury) said, it is clearly the responsibility of all the states that border Israel or which have any concern in the matter to ensure that terrorist activities are not planned from their territory.
Mr. Cousins: The whole House supports the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of terrorist incidents and will welcome the Prime Minister's visit to Israel, Palestine and, especially, Gaza. But can the Foreign Secretary throw any light on what the Prime Minister will be taking with him by way of definite programmes of economic help which will assist the Palestinian authorities and the brave and beleaguered Israeli Government and bring hope in the immediate future to all the unemployed young men of Gaza whose lives and opportunities are a central element in resolving the crisis?
Column 1070and multilateral assistance. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, we have concentrated especially on what Mr. Arafat asked me to do, which was to provide help for the police force-- £3 million for salaries, training courses for senior officers and 200 sets of equipment--and we are now seeking to finalise a further package of technical assistance worth £250,000.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Alastair Goodlad): Our relations with the great majority of countries in the far east are excellent and we are working to enhance them further across a wide range of fields including trade, investment, education and culture. The strength of these relations is reflected in British exports to the Asia Pacific region, which rose by nearly 20 per cent. in the first 11 months of 1994 compared with the same period in 1993.
Mr. Shaw: Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the Foreign Office will next year give a high priority to improving our relationship where possible with the countries known as the tiger nations in the far east? Those countries are economically very successful; they offer a great many opportunities to this country and believe in the free market and the enterprise philosophy. Will he therefore give every possible support to those countries and our relationship with them?
Mr. Goodlad: Yes. The Government have already reallocated resources to strengthen the commercial sections in the 11 posts in the region. New trade offices have been opened in Nagoya and Pusan and others are under consideration. Seventy-three trade-related ministerial visits to the Asian Pacific countries have been undertaken or are planned in the current financial year, many accompanied by business delegations. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the immense importance of those countries to us.
Mr. Elletson: Will my right hon. Friend comment on the state of our relations with Malaysia and, in particular, the prospects for further orders of defence equipment upon which many British Aerospace jobs in Lancashire depend?
Mr. Goodlad: Our relations with Malaysia are good. The Malaysian Government made it clear that they regard last year's problems as a thing of the past. Our exports to Malaysia continue to grow strongly and in 1994 seem likely to have increased by some 40 per cent. over the previous year. I anticipate that the forthcoming year will be good as well.
Column 1071people and as a nation, into the democratic community and into the United Nations, in which it can at least contribute in comparison to other member countries that do not pay their way?
5. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment has been made of potential instability within the republics and other constituent units which currently comprise the Russian Federation.
Mr. Hurd: The conflict in Chechnya could destabilise the north Caucasus, but has not yet done so. Despite calls for a regional uprising by General Dudayev, fighting has so far been confined to Chechnya. There is no evidence that the conflict has so far stirred up secessionist tendencies elsewhere in the federation.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: In the wake of the Chechnya disaster, does my right hon. Friend believe that the Russian Federation will be able to resist the significant number of secessionist movements elsewhere in the federation? Does he believe that the international community could make available further technical assistance to provide further stability in the former Soviet Union, which must be of paramount interest to this country?
Mr. Hurd: It is not in our interests that the Russian Federation should degenerate into chaos, but my hon. Friend is right in calling what is happening in Chechnya a disaster. The Prime Minister has written to President Yeltsin on the matter and I have been in touch with Mr. Kozyrev. Some humanitarian help is getting through. The Overseas Development Administration, our organisation, has committed £1 million. Half of that will be channelled through the British Red Cross to the international appeal of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The latest tranche of European aid, amounting to a total of £8 million, was announced this morning.
Mr. Robin Cook: May I press on the Foreign Secretary the grave concern across the nation at the scale of military violence in Chechnya? Does he agree that bombing hospitals and village markets serves no legitimate military role and that the west must support those in Russia who, with great personal courage, have condemned such attacks? May I specifically press the Foreign Secretary on the joint military exercise with Russia due to take place later this year? Will he assure the House that it would not be appropriate for British forces to be engaged in a joint exercise with the Russian army, unless the war in Chechnya is first brought to an end and the people of Chechnya are able to live in peace?
Mr. Hurd: The hon. Gentleman has the accent of this right. The point that he made about the disproportionate brutal use of force has already been made by the Prime Minister to President Yeltsin. It is also reflected in the declaration that my European colleagues and I issued at the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January. There are a number of points coming up, on which we would have
Column 1072been very glad to co-operate with the Russians on specific matters over the coming year. We will still be glad if the Chechen situation can be quickly resolved along the lines set out by the Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned one area. There is also the signature of the interim agreement, which may be ready by March. At the Foreign Affairs Council we said that we would need to watch what is happening very carefully and judge what further steps might be needed.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my right hon. Friend agree that while no individual country or international organisation has the right to encourage rebellion, it is very important that there is unequivocal condemnation of the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and the destruction of their homes? Will he confirm that that violates the spirit and probably the letter of the Helsinki agreements? Will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthright in his condemnation of what has happened?
Mr. Hurd: We have been very firm, as I was personally in a speech that I made last week. What the Europeans have said, and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told President Yeltsin, has left Russia in no doubt about the cloud that Chechnya casts over the reform process and, therefore, over our support for the reform process. We are not supporting personalities in Russia; we are supporting the process of reform.
6. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what issues the United Kingdom has raised at this week's United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: The UN Commission on Human Rights runs from 30 January to 10 March. The commission will pass over 100 resolutions on a wide range of human rights themes and the human rights situation in various countries. The United Kingdom will participate in the drafting of some and in the negotiating of all of them. I will deliver the United Kingdom national statement on 8 February.
Mr. Mullin: What position will we take over the illegal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia? Does the Minister think that our desire to sell Indonesia large quantities of weapons will in any way confuse the Indonesians about the seriousness with which we take the issue?
Mr. Hogg: I do not think that the Indonesians are the least bit confused. We have made it very plain that we do not recognise Indonesian annexation of East Timor. Furthermore, we strongly support the intervention of the United Nations Secretary-General to resolve that point. We urge the parties to play an active and positive role in coming to terms under his auspices.
Mr. Anthony Coombs: While recognising local customs, traditions and values, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to agree that the cause of universal human rights is set back by the selective attitude of certain countries to them? In particular, I mention the attitude of Muslim countries to those who proselytise or evangelicise
Column 1073for Christianity in their countries, especially in Iran, Egypt recently, and Pakistan. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make that an issue for discussions at the talks?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right to focus on the universality of human rights. There is a worrying disposition on the part of some countries to argue that the achievement of human rights can be postponed in relation to the achievement of other objectives, for example, economic progress. I believe that that is wrong. We are right to emphasise on every possible occasion that all countries have, as a paramount duty, the obligation to ensure a proper respect for human rights within their frontiers.
Mrs. Clwyd: On the question of torture, will the Minister defend the export of electronic shock batons from the United Kingdom to overseas countries where torture is widespread? Why, when I asked the Government to list the companies to which export licences were granted for that purpose, was I told that the question could be answered only at disproportionate cost? Is not that just dodging the question once again? Does not it give the game away? Does not the Minister understand that nothing destroys the Government's credibility more than turning a blind eye to such a disgusting trade?
Mr. Hogg: We do not turn a blind eye to those issues. Our position on those matters is crystal clear. During the speech that I will give, I will draw attention to the importance that we attach to combating torture wherever it is found. For that reason, we will also be supporting the re- adoption of the mandate for the rapporteur on that subject.
Mr. Hurd: One of our most important objectives in the rest of this century is the expansion of the European Union to the east. That will require the countries of central and eastern Europe to adapt their economies to the demands of the single market, but it will also involve fundamental reform of existing European Union policies, in particular the common agricultural policy and the structural funds. We shall be pressing for that.
Mr. Colvin: Does my right hon. Friend share my view that no Conservative Member is against enlargement and that the more we enlarge the more remote becomes the possibility of a single currency? Conservative Members also share some scepticism about the European Union, although none of us wants to leave it. Is there not a united party strategy on Europe which is very much in accord with the views of the British people? Is that not in sharp contrast with the Opposition, who are not only inconsistent about Europe but split three ways?
Mr. Hurd: I have already made a puzzled comment on the position of the Opposition. My hon. Friend is perfectly right. There is much more common ground on such matters than commentators would like to believe. That will emerge as the immediately past tumult dies down and the serious policy work goes forward.
Column 1074We need to remember that the European Union is greatly attractive to those who live in the centre and east of Europe, as their strong interest in joining it makes clear. As my hon. Friend has said, we have always believed that the European Union's door should be open to those who wish to join the rest of Europe and are able to do so.
Mr. Skinner: Why does the Foreign Secretary not understand that, out there in Britain, the centre of gravity in relation to attitudes to the Common Market has shifted dramatically in the past few years? From Brightlingsea to Shoreham, the Cornish fishermen and all the rest around Britain, it is significant that, after 21 years of the Common Market and 16 years of the Tory Government, people are fed up to the back teeth.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, within the expanded European Union, there will be great scope for much better co- ordination of defence policy? Is it not absurd that industries are co- ordinated but that defence industries are specifically excluded? Does that not play into the hands of the United States, where competition is intense?
Mr. Hurd: My hon. Friend may have read the admirable speech on defence policies in Europe made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in Brussels the day before yesterday. It was a painstaking and thorough analysis with some very interesting thoughts in it, to which should certainly be added the consideration that my hon. Friend has brought forward.
Ms Quin: The 1996 conferences will, presumably, prepare the way for enlargement. In that connection, the Secretary of State for Employment is recorded as saying that there are three matters on which members of the Cabinet have already agreed to use their veto. Will the Secretary of State confirm those three matters? In particular, in respect of powers to the European Parliament, does that mean that the Government will even veto any measures to allow the Parliament greater control over the European Commission?
Mr. Hurd: No, nor has anybody said anything to that effect. On the contrary, we believe that if the new European Parliament, which was elected last year, really wants to establish a reputation with the citizens, it should concentrate precisely on dealing with those matters which national Parliaments cannot reach. In particular, it should use to the full the powers given to it to deal with fraud.
Mr. Hendry: Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will continue to argue for Britain to opt out of the social chapter within an enlarged European Union? In particular, will he draw attention to the report from the European chambers of commerce, which was published yesterday, on 120,000 firms in Europe? It showed that British firms expect to create more new jobs than firms in any other country in Europe, and that German firms expect to create fewer because of the horrendous social costs that they face.
Column 1075yesterday. It is perfectly true that employers, particularly on the continent, have been rather slow to raise their voices against the distortions and uncompetitiveness that have been imposed on Europe by some legislation. It is important that we should be clear that the arrival of a Labour Government, with the one policy on which Opposition Members are all agreed--the imposition of the social chapter-- would be pretty disastrous for jobs in this country.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: We are very concerned about the exploitation of child labour abroad. We support measures to protect the rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation.
Mrs. Jackson: Should not the Government be deeply ashamed of the UN report on this country's record on children's rights, which was published last week? That report criticised Britain on nearly every aspect included in the convention on children's rights drawn up by the UN. Will the Government make a start in complying with the UN convention by at least agreeing to change their stance on child labour within the European Union and by complying with the child labour directive in 1996, like everyone else, instead of securing an opt-out to put that decision off for four years?
Mr. Hogg: The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child examined the report last week, but we have not yet received its conclusions. If the hon. Lady has given a correct account of what is in the report, I am bound to say that it does not seem to make a great deal of sense. We shall respond in due course. What we do within the United Kingdom is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
Miss Emma Nicholson: Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the House that the declaration of the rights of the child was initiated by the United Kingdom? Would he like to mark that by paying tribute to James Grant--who has just died--who, as executive head of UNICEF, was responsible for the signing of 170 countries to the declaration of the rights of the child, and who was fully supported by the UK?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes a number of points with considerable force. Lying behind what she says is the fact that there are serious problems in the world relating to the exploitation of children. For a committee to criticise the United Kingdom in the way in which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) states is, frankly, trivialising that issue.
Column 1076he has made to the Israeli Government regarding the present and possible expansion of Jewish settlements in the west bank.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: We and our EU partners regularly raise with the Israeli Government our concerns about settlement building in the occupied territories, reaffirming that it is illegal and should be stopped.