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Mr. Gunnell: I am glad that the Minister takes that stance. Does he agree that the so-called settlement freeze underpins the declaration of principles? If the Minister agrees with the Foreign Secretary that the settlement policy poses a great problem to Mr. Rabin, does he also agree that it poses just as great a problem to Mr. Arafat? Will he redouble his efforts to have the entire EC press for a cessation in the expansion of the settlements because, without that, the peace process will not move forward?
Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made our opposition to the settlement policy plain, and we regard it as an obstacle to the middle east peace process. We have taken every opportunity to say so, and we shall continue to do so.
Mr. John Marshall: My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary praise the flexibility of Mr. Rabin. Does he agree that it is most unfortunate that that flexibility is being rewarded both by the failure of the captors of Ron Arad to release him and by the fact that the Hamas-inspired guerillas continue to wage war on the people of Israel?
Mr. Hogg: The Government, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in particular, have paid tribute to Prime Minister Rabin on many occasions. The steps which he has taken in committing the Israelis to the peace process are acts of courage of historic importance. I agree that other forces, to which my hon Friend referred, are working against that. In particular, the acts of violence--to which my hon. Friend also referred-- are also serious obstacles to the peace process. It is vital that we do all that we can to persuade those responsible for those acts of violence to stop them. Furthermore, it is a serious disgrace that Ron Arad should be held--if he is still alive--and he should be released with all possible speed.
Sir David Steel: A few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary made an oblique reference to the disappointing quality of the new administration in Jericho and Gaza. Does he recognise that the delay in holding elections is partly caused by the continued settlement programme? Will he confirm that the number of settlements has increased by nearly 10 per cent. since the Oslo agreement?
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman is echoing the point made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I agree that the creation of additional settlements is an obstacle to peace. It makes it more difficult for the Palestinians to move forward. The principal obstacle to holding elections, however, is not so much the settlements but the Israelis' failure to redeploy their forces away from residential areas within the occupied territories. I would focus on that point. The right hon. Gentleman's broad point, however, is entirely sound.
Mr. Ross: Has the Minister had a chance to discuss with his European partners the blocking, losing and selling of equipment donated by the European Union to the emerging embryonic Palestinian authority in Gaza and the west bank, which is causing considerable problems there? I am sure that the Minister does not need me to remind him that six sewage trucks from the Paris municipality have been blocked in the port of Ashdod since October 1994; medical material from the European Union was lost in 1993; and two ambulances and two Land Rovers donated to the Nablus chamber of commerce have been blocked for the past six months.
Much more important for this House, computers worth several hundred thousand francs, donated by the European Union but paid for by our Government, were eventually sold at auction by Israeli customs because of bills that had been run up by the deliberate failure to allow them to get out of the port of Ashdod. What will the Minister do about that? Will he get someone from the Tel Aviv embassy to go to the port of Ashdod to clear that backlog?
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of instances. I have not discussed those matters with my European colleagues. Although I have seen a large number of representatives of the Palestinian community in London, they have not raised those points with me. That is not to say that the points are not real and do not need to be dealt with. The hon. Gentleman has raised them and I shall have them looked at. If there is substance in what he said, we shall see what we can do to assist.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last discussed co-operation to control drug trafficking with the Colombians when he met the Ministers of Finance, of Mines and Energy, and of Foreign Trade on 30 January.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes: My hon. Friend will acknowledge the excellent relations that exist between this country and Colombia. Will he join me in giving his whole-hearted support to any ventures to combat the evils of drug trafficking? To that end, when he meets Colombian Ministers later this year, will he strongly support the positive British input into the new police-army units that I have seen in Colombia, in which British expertise in security and technology plays such an important part?
Column 1078Government of Colombia are committed to eradicating coca and opium cultivation throughout Colombia. We should not underestimate the scale of that task. We continue to support the Colombian Government in tackling the drugs trade. We have made available almost £13 million of assistance since 1989 and at present we are supporting a three-year programme of rural anti-narcotics training for the Colombian anti-narcotics police. Customs and Excise has been providing training for drug enforcement agencies. I am pleased to have my hon. Friend's endorsement of the work that we do there.
Mr. Miller: Would it not be more helpful to the Colombians if we gave greater support to communities in this country? Should we not tell the Colombians that we shall strengthen our Customs and Excise and police activities, rather than, as is happening in my constituency, closing Customs and Excise operations, so that there is no longer a single police officer engaged in drugs traffic work?
Mr. Baldry: It is important that we tackle demand as well as production as part of any international drugs strategy. That is why we have a substantial programme of domestic action to tackle drug misuse, which costs more than £500 million each year and includes vigorous law enforcement, education and prevention measures.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Does my hon. Friend agree that drug trafficking is one of the most horrific problems facing the world today? There are growing millions of drug addicts in America, in Europe and in the Commonwealth countries alone. The gross annual turnover from drug trafficking in some countries exceeds the gross domestic product of a country like the United Kingdom and many countries are politically totally in the hands of the drug mafia. We can deal with the problem only through urgent and intensive international co-operation. Will the Minister, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, do everything possible to ensure that such co-operation occurs?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The drugs threat is a many-headed hydra. It is an international problem which requires an international response. All countries must encourage international co-operation to combat the threat, and that is why we take a leading role in the United Nations drug control programme.
I am pleased to inform the House that we are the second largest contributor of funds to the programme. We also provide substantial amounts of development aid to other countries to allow them to play their part, as was illustrated in an earlier answer about Colombia. I agree with everything that my hon. and learned Friend has said and he can rest assured that the United Kingdom is determined to play a leading role in tackling international drug trafficking.
Column 1079to promote reconciliation between the parties, to rehabilitate Rwanda and to prevent a recurrence of the events of 1994 or a destabilisation of the region.
Mrs. Roche: Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely essential that the criminals who were responsible for last April's campaign of genocide are brought to justice swiftly? Will he inform the House what his Department and the Government are doing to support the work of the international tribunal and to help the Government of Rwanda re-establish their own judicial system?
Mr. Baldry: I agree that it is imperative that everyone who is involved in war crimes is brought to trial. That is why an international criminal tribunal for Rwanda was established by a United Nations Security Council resolution last November. The United Kingdom was a co-sponsor of that resolution and we are determined that the tribunal will bring to justice as many as possible of those who were responsible for war crimes.
We shall contribute up to £200,000 to the tribunal in the form of personnel and equipment. It has established a prosecutor's office in Kigali and the question of how many suspects should be tried by the tribunal is a matter for the prosecutor.
In addition to setting up the international criminal tribunal, the UN has drawn up a plan to reconstruct the Rwandan judicial system so as to re- establish a proper judicial mechanism to try any remaining suspects. That move has our support as well.
Mr. Lester: While acknowledging that important work, will my hon. Friend also consider the principal problem of a lack of infrastructure in organising the return to Rwanda of those people who fled the country? Many non-governmental organisations are seeking to work in that country but there is little infrastructure in Kigali to assist them. Will the Minister look at that critical element in the context of our generous aid programme to Rwanda?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Of course, to build up the infrastructure it has been necessary for the international community to commit large amounts of humanitarian aid to Rwanda. Last year, we committed more than £60 million worth of aid to the relief effort. We recently announced a further £2 million for immediate rehabilitation needs in the country--the sort of infrastructure needs to which my hon. Friend referred. I can today inform the House that Britain is contributing another £4 million to Rwanda in response to the United Nations' most recent appeal.
Mr. Worthington: The major problem at the moment is instability in the camps in Zaire. I view with foreboding the fact that the contract to police the militia who are now running the camps there has been allocated to the army of Zaire. When will it dawn on the permanent members of the Security Council, especially Britain and France, that unless they are willing to provide the logistical support necessary to back up UN operations, there will be another Rwandan tragedy in the coming year because we have neglected the situation now?
Column 1080must lie in co-operation between the host Governments and the UN. The Secretary-General has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to make appropriate arrangements to enhance security in the camps. We look forward to studying the proposed arrangements and to considering, with the UNHCR, how best we can assist in implementing them. We shall certainly give our fullest possible support to the High Commissioner and to the Secretary-General in that difficult task.
Mr. Hurd: I have regular discussions on those matters with my European Union counterparts at meetings of the General Affairs Council. The next meeting of the General Affairs Council is scheduled for 6 and 7 February.
Sir David Knox: Is my right hon. Friend aware of a speech made by Ray Seitz last year, shortly before he ceased to be the American ambassador to Britain, in which he stated that British influence in the United States depended on the degree to which we were effectively engaged in the European Union? Has the Foreign Office fully taken that advice into account, coming as it does from a very good friend of this country who has its best interests at heart?
Mr. Hurd: Yes, I remember the speech--it was a good one. We certainly believe, as the Prime Minister said at Leiden, that we need to strengthen the European Union, of which we are a part. Of particular interest to the United States are defence, on which I have already answered one question, and about which the Secretary of State for Defence has also just made a speech, and foreign policy. We believe that we are only at the beginning of effective co-operation between Europeans, under the framework of the treaty of Maastricht intergovernmental co-operation. We believe, as the Prime Minister also said at Leiden, that we should be more ambitious under this heading.
Mr. Hoon: Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the deep divisions in the Conservative party on European questions are a help or a hindrance to him in best representing Britain's interests in negotiations with our European partners?
Mr. Hurd: No, I have made no representations. They would not have been right or necessary. He was elected a vice-president of the European Commission this morning--I gather with a hefty majority. I am sure that the whole House would like to congratulate him.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: We already have close and friendly relations with Lithuania based on our strong support for her independence, democratic and economic development and integration into European structures. There have been several high-level visits in both directions over the last year, and trade is increasing.
Mr. Flynn: Rather than concentrate our technical aid for Lithuania on the Chernobyl-type nuclear reactors at Ignalina, would it not be better to concentrate the aid on a sustainable source of energy? Some 40 per cent. of Lithuania is covered by forests, so should we not encourage coppicing and other non-food farm production which would produce a source of energy but which is sustainable, environmentally friendly, inexhaustible, and Lithuanian?
Mr. Hogg: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has really faced the enormity of the problem. As Ignalina supplies 90 per cent. of Lithuania's energy needs, closing the reactor, or finding different sources of energy, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is not an easy decision. We have focused most of our assistance through the nuclear safety account. I suggest that that is the best way forward.
Mr. Ian Bruce: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we should be responding to what Lithuania wants from us rather than trying to impose upon it what the west believes is good for it? I think that Lithuania probably became fed up with the Soviet Union doing that in the past. Has Lithuania been asking for more advice on how to privatise its industries and to bring free enterprise and an open market into its economy?
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes an important point. When we are trying to decide what projects we wish to support in a particular country, it is extremely important to have regard to that country's list of priorities.
The answer to the specific part of my hon. Friend's question is yes. The Government of Lithuania are extremely anxious to pursue a restructuring and privatisation policy. Lithuania, like most of the other countries of central and eastern Europe in the former Soviet Union, looks to Britain as having special expertise in this policy.
Mr. Denham: Is it true that the United Kingdom will not be one of the 94 countries to be represented at the summit by the Head of Government or head of state? Is it not a sad fact that a few years ago this country would have been regarded as a world leader at conferences dealing with international co-operation and development?
Column 1082We now appear to have no one worth sending and nothing worth saying when talking about poverty, whether at home or abroad.
Mr. Hogg: I cannot help feeling that the hon. Gentleman is trivialising the question. As I have said, it is our intention to determine the level of representation nearer the time. We shall do that against a background, first, of what it is reasonable to expect to come out of the conference and, secondly, of the level of representation that may be determined upon by other participating countries.
Mr. Bellingham: Does my hon. Friend agree that the transition of Zimbabwe to independence has been a huge success and that the country's stability is encouraging investment? Does he agree also that there are great opportunities for British firms in Zimbabwe? To sound a note of caution, however, does my hon. Friend agree that the Zimbabwean Government must adhere to the rule of law at all times, and above all not compulsorily purchase farms without proper compensation?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend is right. Since independence, Zimbabwe has set an example of what can be achieved by promoting reconciliation. Indeed, it has shown what can be achieved in Africa. President Mugabe has abandoned the policy of a one-party state for one of multi-party democracy, thereby liberalising the economy. That has led to greater investment in Zimbabwe. There are more than 400 companies with British connections and a book value of British investment of about £400 million. I am glad to say that Zimbabwe is well on the way to economic recovery and sustainable growth.
18. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to offer his services as an intermediary in the conflict in Grozny; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Hurd: The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is already trying to help Russia find a solution to the tragic conflict in Chechnya. We have made clear our full support for its efforts, and encouraged the Russian authorities to offer their full co-operation. A senior British official is a member of the OSCE team which has just visited Moscow and Chechnya.
Column 1083the rest of the world, not to mention the hideous suffering there? If it is possible for the United Kingdom to play a stronger role, will he seek to ensure that it does?
Mr. Hurd: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already conveyed our anxieties very clearly to President Yeltsin, as we have through the Foreign Affairs Council, but we shall certainly do our best, through the European Union and direct, and now through the OSCE, which has managed to get admission into Chechnya, on the humanitarian, human rights and the political side.
Mr. Gapes: Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the people behind weak President Yeltsin that, if there is any move towards an authoritarian or quasi-military regime in Russia, it will have serious political and economic consequences, and that we do not believe that we can keep good relations with a country that moves towards dictatorship?
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