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Mrs. Kennedy: Does the Minister agree that British-Israeli relations, good though they are, will be improved on every occasion that the British Government can do something concrete to assist the peace process? As I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree about that, will he give urgent and sympathetic consideration to the request from the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan for a 50 per cent. reduction in its debts to the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hogg: On the question of our bilateral relations, upon which the hon. Lady concentrated, when Prime Minister Rabin met my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last year, he commented that Anglo-Israeli relations had never been better. As to the question of making concrete contributions, we have made many such, for example, we are spending around £75 million over three years in support of the peace process and Palestinians.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend: When the British Prime Minister goes to Israel, will he take the opportunity to build on those cordial relations with that country and totally condemn the 10 per cent. increase in settlements on the west bank and close to Jerusalem, which endanger the peace process and which give great support to Hamas and all it is trying to do to undermine Chairman Arafat and the peace process?
intergovernmental conference; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. David Davis: We do not exclude the use of referendums for decisions of major constitutional significance, but we do not expect the outcome of next year's intergovernmental conference to involve such decisions.
Mr. Kennedy: That is very interesting. Can the Minister clarify that a little more, because the Prime Minister was somewhat more explicit in his famous Frost interview at the beginning of the year, when he said quite
Column 1038clearly that if issues of constitutional import arose, he would not hesitate to use the British veto? Is that the Government's position in the run-up to the IGC? If so, why are so many people in the Tory party suggesting, not least via the airwaves today, that we will have a referendum?
Mr. Davis: A post-legislative referendum would be called only in the event of major constitutional change. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that such an occurrence would not arise after the IGC.
Ms Quin: Did the Minister agree with the Prime Minister when he said that he was not in favour of a referendum in a parliamentary democracy and did not propose to put one before the people; or did he agree with the same Prime Minister when he said that, if the circumstances were appropriate, he would hold a referendum? With which of the Prime Minister's two opposing views does the Minister agree?
Mr. Davis: The hon. Lady makes a semantic point. It is extraordinary because, last Friday, during the debate on a referendum, she said that she thought the opt-outs were foolish. One of the options open to the Government arises solely because of those opt-outs, so she cannot give anyone lessons in semantics.
Mr. Baldry: The British Council, with its worldwide presence and high reputation, has greatly enhanced our international standing and influence; done much to promote the worldwide acceptance abroad of British standards, services and goods in culture, education and science; helped to promote sustainable development in poor countries; worked with much success to improve the spread and standard of English taught overseas; and added greatly to the perception of Britain as a vibrant, cultured, innovative and liberal society.
Mr. Fishburn: Is not one of the great assets that we have as a country the English language, and is not the British Council to be congratulated on the way in which it teaches it around the world efficiently and, more to the point, profitably?
"The British Council can claim . . . to be probably the most effective pump -priming cultural organisation in the world . . . it has both boosted the demand for English language teaching and satisfied it. That industry is now worth some £500 million a year to Britain".
Column 1039In fact, the British Council has 75 teaching centres in 39 countries and teaches 100,000 students a year at no cost to the taxpayer. That is a very significant achievement.
Mr. Janner: Sharing as I do the Minister's view, will he tell the House what he is proposing to do to enable the British Council to continue its work and improve its functions because the council is very worried that the Government will cut its money further and prevent it from doing the job that the Minister praises?
Mr. Baldry: The council has no basis for such a belief. Funding to the British Council has risen by about 30 per cent. in real terms since 1978-79. In addition to the substantial increase in Government funding to the British Council, I am glad to say that the council is no longer dependent only on the grant in aid, which now amounts to just half its income. The British Council is much to be congratulated on the increased range of its activities which serve our national interests without additional cost to the taxpayer. I am thinking of things such as English language teaching, the organisation of examinations and the management of aid projects and scholarship schemes. The British Council is an excellent example to many other bodies in the United Kingdom of what can be achieved in this regard.
Mr. Couchman: Will my hon. Friend impress on the high commissioner for Pakistan when next they meet, the grave concern felt by hon. Members of all parties at the persecution of Christians in Pakistan? Will he tell the high commissioner that to contemplate putting to death a child on a trumped -up charge of blasphemy is the sign of an uncivilised country? Finally, will he contrast the treatment of Christians in Pakistan with the treatment in this country of Christians from Pakistan such as the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who was recently welcomed to north Kent as our diocesan bishop of Rochester?
Mr. Baldry: The whole House shares my hon. Friend's concerns and will have welcomed the judgment by the High Court of Pakistan which overturned the verdict to which he referred. We have regularly urged the Government of Pakistan to protect minorities against discrimination and intimidation. The rights of minorities are legally protected under Pakistan's constitution but there is real concern about the significant increases in sectarian violence and extremism in the past year, not only against non-Muslims, such as Christian groups, but between different Islamic sects, as we have witnessed recently. These are matters of concern that we continue to raise, although it is fair to observe that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has publicly reaffirmed Pakistan's commitment to improve the situation.
Mr. Watson: When the Minister next meets the high commissioner in Pakistan, will he raise the question of Kashmir, not only the part occupied by India, Jammu Kashmir, but Azad Kashmir? Will he remind the high
Column 1040commissioner of the various United Nations resolutions, which call for a referendum to allow the people of Kashmir to have a say in their future? Will he insist that that referendum includes a third option for an independent Kashmir?
Mr. Baldry: Our position on Kashmir is well known and well established. We believe that the best way forward in Kashmir should involve simultaneous progress on discussions between India and Pakistan, as provided for under the Simla agreement of 1972. There must be improvement in human rights in Kashmir, a genuine political process and a clear cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir.
Mr. Waller: While stressing the need to stand up against the persecution of minorities in Pakistan, will my hon. Friend emphasise his support for the stance of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in resisting those among the Islamic extreme minorities, who have persecuted Christians very much in contrast with the essential message of Islam, which is perhaps more conciliatory in reality towards other religions than any other faith?
Mr. Baldry: It is right to remind ourselves that any persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is the work of individuals; it is not the work of the Government. We continue to provide a substantial aid programme in support of Pakistan because poverty is a contributory factor in the rise of sectarianism and religious extremism. We believe that if we can help Pakistan continue to promote literacy and its economy, those factors will help combat the problems of sectarianism and intolerance in the longer term. Certainly this is not the time to turn our backs on Pakistan.
16. Mr. Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will next meet the President or the Prime Minister of France to discuss the policy of that Administration to the partial travel arrangements now in place and their effect on members of those EC states which are members of the Council of Europe.
Mr. Hardy: Is the Minister aware that, in October, the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe agreed to investigate travel arrangements and that, since then, it has been established that the travel concessions for Members of the European Parliament are in place as a result of an instruction from the French Government? That hardly represents an acceptable situation since the taxpayers of member states have to pay twice as much as Members of the European Parliament when travelling to Strasbourg on official business.
Mr. Davis: I am well aware of the problem raised by the hon. Gentleman. I understand that my noble Friend Lord Finsberg raised it at the February plenary session. The chairman of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers has undertaken to pursue the matter with the French authorities and I am perfectly willing and happy to take the matter up with my opposite number when I see him.
17. Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action his Department is taking to create new posts overseas and to reinforce United Kingdom commercial efforts abroad.
Mr. Hurd: With the help of efficiency savings and reductions in work of lower priority, I am planning a significant strengthening of the FCO's support for British overseas interests. This will involve more than 100 new commercial staff abroad and the creation of 14 new posts in the former Soviet Union and in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. These comprise four new embassies, three new consulates and seven new trade offices with locally engaged staff. The reductions that I mentioned include the replacement of three consuls in Italy by honorary consuls and completion of the programme begun in 1994 to abolish more than 500 support staff over three years. Full details of these changes are being placed in the Library of the House.
Mrs. Lait: I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement, most of which will be of great interest to our exporters. Will he confirm that the staff who will be in place to help our exporters will be highly trained and experienced in commercial work and that there will be close co-ordination between our export promotion in this country and that in other countries?
Mr. Hurd: That is exactly the point. The announcement that I have made means an increase of more than 9 per cent. in front-line commercial staff to match the increased activity of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and all those under his command, to stimulate exports from home. We are in an export-led recovery. Our embassies, consulates and trade offices can help to stimulate and sustain that recovery. What I have announced today is a redirection of our overseas effort to enable them to do that.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend accept that his answer is very welcome indeed? Does he accept also that an increase in commercial representation abroad can be justified in its own right and that it does not have to be funded out of efficiency savings, as he put it, because staff can earn very much more than the cost of their salaries and overheads overseas? Will he take on board the fact that it is important that posts be extended, rather than staff being moved away, when staff are in the middle of a successful commercial posting?
Mr. Hurd: I agree with both my hon. Friend's points. On his second point, I am against moving people around too fast. There has been rather too much of that in recent years. My hon. Friend's first point is an argument that I have used with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not always successfully; perhaps my hon. Friend will help me.
Sir David Madel: In all the diplomatic and other contacts that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has with the German Government, has my right hon. Friend noticed that they have any less enthusiasm for and optimism about the possibility of a single currency this century?
Mr. Hurd: In recent weeks, German Ministers have emphasised that their support, which is undoubted, for a single bank and a single currency must not be taken to imply any support for a weakening of anti-inflation policy in Germany or any weakening of the criteria on convergence in the treaty. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has already pointed out, they are powerfully supported in that view by the president of the Bundesbank, who said that, regardless of timing, the strict application of the criteria is essential. That has many implications for the timetable laid out in the treaty.
Mr. Pike: When the Foreign Secretary meets the German Foreign Minister, will he discuss with him how Germany sees the reform of the common agricultural policy to allow widening of the European Union to admit countries such as Romania in the years ahead?
Mr. Hurd: I tried to stimulate a little German discussion on that matter when I spoke on it in Berlin yesterday. I made the point that--I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree--it is not possible to imagine extending the common agricultural policy in its present form to cover the farmers of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others. We in the existing 15 have to work to reform and change the policy substantially before we can consider enlargement.
Mr. Key: When my right hon. Friend meets the Chinese ambassador later today, will he tell him that there is growing interest in this country in trade relations with China, and that we should move as quickly as possible to reduce and remove cultural, industrial and economic barriers to such trade?
Mr. Goodlad: Yes, I shall say that. As my hon. Friend will know, we have experienced an enormous increase in our trade with China. We are the largest European investor in China; we have more than 600 joint ventures there. The trade delegation in September was the largest ever. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will go to China in May.
Column 1043relationships but will extend them to Britannic-Chinese relationships? Many people who have great interest in the burgeoning economy and culture of China regard themselves not as English but as Irish, Scottish or, on this day of all others, Welsh.
Mr. Goodlad: I am delighted that the Scottish economy, the Northern Irish economy and indeed the Welsh economy have benefited from the great increase in British-Chinese trade. As someone who is not English either, I rejoice at those benefits and hope that they will continue.
Mr. Goodlad: I very much hope that the mission to China by His Grace will increase tolerance for Christians in China and will have an overall beneficial effect on relations. [Interruption.] His Grace has indeed been there, and I hope that his visit will have had a beneficial effect on the lives of Christians in China.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: We gather information from a wide variety of sources in monitoring human rights in other countries. Our missions report on human rights and we share information and assessments with other Governments, in particular our European Union partners. Committees and experts from the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe produce many reports on human rights. We regularly receive reports and representations from non- governmental organisations.
Mr. Denham: But is the Minister aware that when right hon. and hon. Members write to raise human rights issues in the context of arms exports and other concerns, we frequently receive bland and uninformative responses, simply saying that the human rights situation is improving, or is acceptable, or is giving rise to concern? Those assurances are often at variance with what the non-governmental organisations in the countries concerned and organisations such as Amnesty International say. Is it not now time to bring proper openness and transparency into our assessment of human rights in other countries--for example, by formally inviting submissions from human rights organisations and others to the British Government, and making a formal response to the concerns raised therein?
Sir Cranley Onslow: When the Government monitor human rights in Burma, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that nothing would do as much to restore democracy in that country as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi?
Column 1044Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend is entirely right.
Mr. David Davis: Not everybody is allowed a second bite of the cherry, Madam Speaker. Further enlargement of the European Union is an essential element in the extension of security and prosperity to our east. We have also agreed that Malta and Cyprus will be involved in the next phase. That will all require institutional adjustments and policy reform both in the applicant countries and in the EU.
Mr. Winterton: I welcome my hon. Friend's response, but does he not accept that the accession of the Baltic states--Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia--to the European Union would be a most desirable step? Are we positively moving in that direction, and giving those three important countries the encouragement that they need?
Mr. Davis: The straight answer to my hon. Friend is yes. I believe that we shall discuss European association agreements with those countries in the near future, and that is the first step towards their eventually joining the European Union.
Mr. Cox: In view of what the Minister said about Cyprus, can he give the House any idea of the time span within which Cyprus, with its close association with this country, will be able to think that it will really be admitted to the Union?
Mr. Davis: As with all potential applicants to the Union, it is important first to meet the conditions for joining, both within the applicant country and within the Union. The latter will involve modifications to the constitution of the Union itself. The hon. Gentleman will know that under the current French presidency there is a major initiative to attempt to clear the way for Cyprus to join the Union. We are all watching that initiative for signs of success.
Mr. Bill Walker: When my hon. Friend meets with those nation states that wish to become a part of the European Union, will he take the opportunity to remind them of the experience of Germany and the United Kingdom of operating a single currency, which involved moving large sums of money from the wealthy areas to the poor areas while moving large numbers of people from the poor areas to the wealthy areas?
Mr. Trimble: Will the Minister confirm that--as things stand at the moment--it would be contrary to the independence treaty between Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom which established the Republic of Cyprus for Cyprus to accede to the European Community?
Column 1045Greeks and Cypriots to achieve Cyprus's entry to the European Union, and the initiative will deal with the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
25. Sir Dudley Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made in developing the NATO "Partnership for Peace" proposal; and what practical military co-operation has flowed from it so far.
Mr. David Davis: "Partnership for Peace" is developing very well. Twenty-five countries have become partners, many of which have already negotiated individual programmes of activities with NATO. Three PFP military exercises have taken place so far, with UK forces participating each time. An extensive range of practical co-operative activities, including 20 exercises, are scheduled for 1995. The United Kingdom hopes to participate in many of these.
Sir Dudley Smith: Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the central European countries are carrying on apace where the "Partnership for Peace" is concerned, and that they are becoming closely involved in peacekeeping efforts? Will he and the Foreign Office continue to do everything that they can to encourage such activities?
We are doing all we can to make "Partnership for Peace" productive, and to ensure that it gives a useful outcome to the countries involved.
Mr. Wareing: Does the Minister agree that it would be much more appropriate to develop the "Partnership for Peace" among eastern and central European countries than to develop NATO further in that direction, as the enlargement of NATO would undoubtedly cause much more unease inside Russia? Would not it be better to have Russia and the eastern European countries together in a European security pact?
Mr. Davis: While the hon. Gentleman has a point in saying that the matter must be treated with care, the "Partnership for Peace" process should enable the accession to NATO of those countries that wish to--that is the key point--at an appropriate point in the future.
Mr. Jenkin: Given our declared policy of giving primacy to NATO in the formulation of a European defence policy, why have we just agreed with France to joint command of air services outside the NATO command and control system? Does not that send the wrong signals to the Americans, who are already thinking about disengagement?
27. Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the amounts raised from the private sector by his Department for jointly funded scholarships.
Mr. Baldry: The private sector has generously contributed some £14 million towards the FCO's jointly funded scholarship programme since it began in 1986. Thanks to these joint ventures we can now offer nearly 800 co-sponsored scholarships a year to overseas students on top of those fully funded by the FCO.
Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that the importance to British industry of the scholarships is shown by the fact that it is prepared to contribute so substantially to them? Will he give the House his assessment of what effect the scholarships have had on the huge expansion of British exports during the past two or three years?
Mr. Baldry: The scholarships will have made a lot of friends for Britain because, in addition to the jointly funded scholarships, the Department for Education, the Department of Trade and Industry and the British Council are between them funding about 21,000 scholarships and training awards each year, at a cost of about £150 million. That provides large numbers of overseas students with invaluable training and education opportunities here, but it also provides Britain with friends for life and will often lead to commercial and business opportunities in years to come.
29. Mr. Riddick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if border controls will be one of the issues on the agenda of the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, which he will attend.
Mr. Davis: I can confirm that. My hon. Friend is virtually quoting the words of the Prime Minister. I take this opportunity to remind the House of something that was effectively said in public on 19 July 1994 by the House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities, in paragraph 109 of its report on visas and the control of external borders of member states. The Committee was chaired by Lord Slynn, who was a member of the European Court. He said:
"We have not however changed our opinion that the Single European Act does not impose a legal obligation on member states to abolish controls on people at internal Community borders."
That is an independent and highly authoritative view of the real position.