Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Rifkind We certainly believe that, on all the evidence that is available, more responsibility must be borne by the Bosnian Serbs for the atrocities that have taken place. I would be reluctant to ascribe particular percentages or to seek to be more detailed than that because atrocities have taken place to the detriment of each of the communities concerned, but certainly the Bosnian Serb leadership must bear the heavy burden that it has seemed to have been both the initiator of this behaviour and responsible for most of the incidents that are known about.

Mr. Robert Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind: No, I am sorry. I must make progress.

Recently, the United Nations celebrated its 50th anniversary. that was an historic occasion, and the UN has unfairly been subject to much criticism because it has not achieved everything to which its founders might have aspired. That is a wrong test. A more appropriate and relevant test is to compare what the UN has achieved with any previous attempts, the failure of the League of

16 Nov 1995 : Column 135

Nations, and the fact that, before the league, there was no attempt at international action to deal with matters of a comparagble sort.

Over the past 50 years, great progress has been made and we have seen, expecially since the end of the cold war, how the Security Council has been able to act with a single voice and that the UN's level of peacekeeping has been of a high and unprecedented order.

Mr. Flynn rose--

Mr. Rifkind: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to continue.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that, in its 50th year, the United Nations also faces an unprecedented crisis because of the weak and crumbling financial base on which all its operations depend. We have seen two developments: first there is a bloated bureaucracy--a bureaucracy that can be, and needs to be, reformed. It needs to be reduced so that the United Nations concentrates on that which is essential and does not see itself guilty of some of the extravagances that, sadly, can be identified. It is also important that all members of the United Nations pay their debts and contributions because that is the single most important reason why there are large deficits now.

The United Kingdom, which I am happy to say is not among those who can be criticised in that respect, has been working with like-minded countries to bring forward ideas for reforms which would help to ensure that the United Nations is on a much sounder basis. I believe that the solution lies in both short-term and longer-term reform. For example, it is absurd that the United Nations has to pay interest on any money that it borrows when those who owe money are not charged interest. That is a situation which each one of us would be happy to enjoy in our personal life but, since it is not seen to be relevant to our personal circumstances, it is a little unreasonable to expect the UN to have to accept it.

We also have the foolishness of the present policy of cross-subsidising the regular budget with the peacekeeping budget. That means that when a crisis breaks suddenly, the UN may not be able to respond simply because of a lack of relevant funds. The United Kingdom, together with Sweden, has put forward proposals for a major fundamental reform which would link more closely and in a more flexible way the contributions that each country could make to UN finances to its GNP. That would mean that, as a country became richer or poorer, its contributions could alter in a fair and acceptable way. We hope that the proposals will be accepted.

Mr. Flynn: Is it not a matter of national ignominy that, while we are celebrating unanimity among nations and seeking the coming together of international opinion, we stand virtually isolated in supporting the French nuclear tests? Not one of the other 51 Commonwealth nations supports our view. The Government's policy is not supported by 98 per cent. of British public opinion. The Foreign Secretary has argued that the Prime Minister is battling for Britain. On the French tests, his craven behaviour is not battling for Britain but surrendering to the far-right extremists on the Government Back Benches.

Mr. Rifkind: The Labour party spends most of its time trying to hide its past links with the Campaign for Nuclear

16 Nov 1995 : Column 136

Disarmament and to convince the public that it is now a strong defender of our defence requirements and our nuclear deterrent. The hon. Gentleman has disclosed the true face of the Labour party.

The reality is that it is no coincidence that the United Kingdom, as a west European nuclear power, should perhaps have greater understanding of why the French have found it necessary to carry out certain final tests before they, too, become a signatory of a comprehensive test ban treaty. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do not understand that, it is because they remain as unreconstructed as ever with regard to those crucial matters.

Mr. Corbyn rose--

Mr. Rifkind: I am happyt to give way to an hon. Member who is not ashamed of his party, of its past or of its previous commitments.

Mr. Corbyn: I should declare that I have been a member of CND since the age of 15 and will continue to be so. I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary would give a serious response to my question. When the Prime Minister had lunch with President Chirac, they had a number of discussions about future nuclear co-operation. Strangely, there was no statement from the Prime Minister in the House on the following day or on the days after that about what agreement had been reached. I think that we need to know what the discussions were about and what future co-operation there is likely to be on nuclear matters. Is there some sharing of information from the French tests? Is that why there is this sort of sotto voce support for the French testing programme, or is it a desire on the part of the Government to do exactly what the French have done, the problem being that they have nowhere to undertake the tests?

Mr. Rifkind: I shall give the hon. Gentleman an unequivocal reply. There is no access to information from the French nuclear tests. We have not been offered such access and we do not wish to have such access. As far as we can tell, the information would not be relevant to our nuclear deterrent, so the hon. Gentleman can put his splendid conspiracy theory back into the box from which it came.

There is good co-operation between Britain and France on nuclear matters. A year or so ago, we set up, openly and publicly, a joint nuclear commission. It has done very good work in discussing attitudes towards nuclear weapons, their role and relevance in the post-cold war age and other matters. Those are important issues, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to refer to them in response to his question.

Much of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is of course concerned with matters of diplomacy, but I should like on this occasion to stress the crucial contribution that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its staff makes to the commercial, industrial and export interests of the country. It is not often appreciated that fully one third--or more than one third--of our diplomatic staff overseas have responsiblilties for assisting industry and exports, attracting investment and undertaking a series of duties that are highly relevant to the immediate economic needs of this country. I believe that they can share some of the credit for the fact that the United Kingdom has, for examples, become a great haven

16 Nov 1995 : Column 137

for inward investment, most notably in the form of the recent announcement by Chun Hwa, which will mean more than 3,000 jobs going to Lanarkshire.

We also need further improvements in our export market. In two of the most crucial areas--Asia and Latin America--important progress is being made. In south-east Asia alone, our exports have gone up 90 per cent. in the past three years. That is something of which we an be very proud.

I said that one of our major objectives for the future is the development of moves towards transatlantic free trade between Europe and North America. We have made that one of our top priorities for economic as well as political reasons--for economic reasons because, as a Govermment, we are committed to global liberalisation and moves towards global free trade, and we support strongly the work of the World Trade Organisation. We know that it cannot all be realised in the short term. Therefore, it is important to concentrate in the short and medium term on those aspects of the liberalisation of markets that could have important implications for our own economic future.

We have seen the great historic achievement of the single market in Europe and the development of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Government want to work with our western European allies and our allies in North America to bring together those trading groups, not as an end in itself but as a further step towards the global liberalisation that should be our objective.

It is sometimes suggested that the united Kingdom has to make a choice between its Atlantic identity and its European identity and that moves towards transatlantic institutions or activities are somehow a means of escaping from our European identity. I do not recognise that choice as appropriate or relevant. The reality is that these islands, because of their geography and history, have an Atlantic and a European identity. To require us to chose is rather like asking the United states to chose between its Atlantic and Pacific dimensions. Both are important and both should be advanced. That is not an escape from reality but a recognition of the real interests of Europe as a whole and of the United Kingdom in particluar.

Because of our language, history and culture, the United Kingdom can provide a particular initiative in bringing together the countries of Europe and North America, and I believe that sufficient commopn interests would be advance by doing so to justify our making that an important priority.


Next Section

IndexHome Page