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Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): If the Government's policy on Europe was not as positive as it is, surely this country would cease to attract some 40 per cent. of the inward investment in the European Union from the United States and Japan. Our economic climate, the fact that we speak English and the fact that we have such a good industrial relations record, which investors would not want to see reversed under Labour, are all good reasons why that investment has come here. In that context, it makes no difference whether we are in the exchange rate mechanism.

Mr. Howell: My hon. Friend has put my case far more eloquently than I have. We have done extremely well. We attract 40 per cent. of the total investment in Europe, much of it from the new Asian countries, incidentally. We have a gigantic global reach, and we are certainly the biggest European exporter of capital to places such as China. We do not want that upset by further attempts to corral us in an over-centralised European system.

Unlike some hon. Members, I like the Europe that we have had in the past. The single market was a great achievement, but it is threatened by the imminent explosion of the European Union's budget. If there is to be enlargement, which we have said that we favour, although I notice that Brussels is cooling over the idea-- for very good reasons, from its point of view--and if we keep the existing common agricultural policy or anything like it and remain committed to the structural, cohesion and social funds and all the other things that Labour loves, one can confidently predict that we shall at least double the cost of Europe. By doubling it, we shall undermine it. We shall literally sink the European venture under the weight of excessive budget demands. That is one other thing that I hope that we can stop in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference; we should not just stand by and hope that it will not happen.

I would like to see--it is meant to be outside the remit of the IGC, but will come into it--more realism about the single currency. I cannot understand why people do not

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realise what a Europe-splitting, Europe-destroying project it is. Every day that goes by brings new evidence that even if the introduction of a single currency is attempted, even if the scheme gets a core of countries to go all the way, and even if the poor French are dragged to the edge of this European project for reasons deep in their own psychology--with which I half sympathise, but do not agree--it will do the most frightful damage to European unity. Indeed, it has already.

Already the feelings in Italy and Spain are much more hostile to the elements in Germany--which seem to be a small minority--and in France that want to push ahead. Already the arguments are for new barriers to be put up against those who have the impudence not to be part of the core hard currency. Already the dangers are visible on every side. There is the prospect of Mr. Waigel's stability pact imposing even tougher conditions--fines for countries' failures to conform with the fiscal requirements of this uniformity; this standardisation.

Such things are immensely dangerous and anti-European. They are destroying the kind of Europe that I favour. I cannot understand why the Labour party does not unravel the situation a little and look more carefully at the elements, instead of being gung-ho for Europe on every front. Such a point of view is dangerous. I do not think that the Labour party will become the party of government because we Conservatives will get in again. But supposing it did, for heaven's sake will it please prepare itself and look at such issues a little more sensibly and less generally than the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday?

The leader of the Labour party is getting very casual with his facts. He said that there was no mention of jobs in the Queen's Speech--there is. He said to the Confederation of British Industry that the social chapter would not impose on the Labour Government any measures that they did not want. It is bound to do so, by definition. The right hon. Gentleman must watch his facts more carefully and those who advise him must be more precise about what the Labour party's commitment to Europe really means. We should be checking the powers of the Commission and putting forward proposals to facilitate doing so. We should be working very hard to create democratic procedures rooted in the ancient, democratic nation states that we have always had.

In stepping--if I may--right out of line with regard to my right hon. and hon. Friends, I think that after the next IGC, whatever the outcome, we should have a referendum and settle for another 25 years the matter of what sort of Europe we want to be part of. Let us fight for the sort of Europe that I and many of us want--a single market-- and let us have a referendum and see whether everyone else wants it as well. I suspect--others may disagree-- that a very large majority of people would want a sensible, confederate Europe, with a confederate agenda, enlargement and a powerful single market stretching from the Russian border to the Atlantic and from Calabria to the Orkneys. I think that there would be very strong, sensible support for that in our sensible British nation.

But these are the tactics. The heart of the matter is strategic. Economic and political powers in the world are shifting, as the hon. Member for Livingston recognised, from the Rhine and the Ruhr to the capitals and rivers of Asia. The strategic central consideration is that, as I said,

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80 per cent. of Britain's global assets, and about the same percentage of the nation's colossal earnings from those assets, arise outside Europe.

The new reality is that Britain's total earnings from outside the EU--all our overseas earnings in this huge trading nation--are some 50 per cent. higher than those from within the Union. Although we should not be anti-European, we should not go overboard in uncritical commitment to something that represents only a minority of our interests.

It so happens--this is perhaps the most important consideration of all for the future--that Britain is ideally positioned in the great new markets of Asia because of our past, and because of the way in which we succeeded, despite being an empire and a colonial power, in remaining very close friends with and attracting the continued admiration of all the countries concerned. Quite unlike--dare I say--other empires and metropolitan powers, we remain befriended and admired by those people. We have colossal advantages that we can exploit, because we are extremely well equipped to meet the new kinds of demand for services and skills, and for categories of product and sales that do not yet seem to come into the thinking of Opposition Members. I hope that they do so soon.

The sooner that those basic realities about our interests of today and tomorrow are embedded in the minds of, yes, the Labour party and, yes--possibly--Whitehall as well, the more prosperous, competitive and influential for the good we shall be in the modern world.

4.54 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood): I shall speak on the issue of Nigeria, but before doing so I should like to raise the associated matter of asylum, which found its way into the Queen's Speech. To some extent, the Government's concern about asylum is a consequence of events in Nigeria, which have led many Nigerians to seek asylum in this country and which show that no country is immune from conditions in another country.

Political asylum should not be a party political issue. Indeed, it cannot be because we are all subject to an international convention on asylum, which applies equally irrespective of what party we belong to. We have been a party to the United Nations convention on refugees for almost 50 years. The only issue is how we deal fairly and effectively with applications: not allowing so much time for applicants to take advantage of the system, and not allowing so little time that justice is not done.

Asylum should be considered on its merits, not according to politics. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will accept the offer of the Leader of the Opposition to try to reach a sensible consensus. There can be no difference of opinion on our obligations under the international convention.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth): I know that the hon. Gentleman is well versed in these matters--indeed, we had exchanges on the subject in a Committee that considered a related Bill. Surely one of the important aims is to deter bogus applications. Last year, 38,000 applications were submitted, of which only 1,700 were not bogus. How would he deter bogus applications?

Mr. Fraser: I do not like using the phrase "bogus applications". As a legal practitioner I have some

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experience of dealing with immigration and I know that bogus is not the right word to use. People are often under immense pressures--pressures of family, pressures of poverty and so on. I am not saying that many of the applications meet the terms of the international convention, but it is not the right approach to talk of deterring applications and of bogus applications. The right approach is to deal with applications relatively quickly, but not so quickly as to do an injustice. That is the answer.

If there is a lesson to be learned, we should look to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, as was the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva). The Act has not worked. If it is to be revisited, we should try to reach a consensus on how we honour our international obligations instead of making it a purely political matter.

I shall devote the rest of my speech to Nigeria. I commend the Prime Minister's outspoken comments and condemnation of events in Nigeria at the Commonwealth conference and the outspoken way in which the Foreign Secretary has talked in the House today. It is very pleasant when the Government speak for the nation instead of for their party. I like that and it happens from time to time. Indeed, we should speak as a nation on many issues and not try to politicise them all.

If rainbow South Africa is the triumph of Africa, Nigeria is one of its tragedies. It became independent in 1960 and now has a population of more than 100 million. It has been blessed and cursed by its ethnic diversity, but following the civil war in Biafra a few people believed that its destiny lay other than in a multi-tribal, multi-lingual, multi-religious state. Despite all its problems and setbacks, Nigeria has evolved into a state where people pride themselves on its size, potential and generally tolerant diversity.

Nigeria's unity in diversity has been illustrated by the reaction of so many Nigerians from different tribes and regions to the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots from Ogoniland.

Nigeria's assets are legion: oil, gas, fertile land, strong family, cultural and artistic traditions, a thirst for education and achievement. So what has gone wrong with the country?

The symptoms are many. There was the civil war of secession over Biafra; the repression of the Ogoni people in River state in the cause of oil and profit, culminating in the brutal and sickening executions that shocked the world last week; and long years of military dictatorship in the 35 years since independence. In the short periods in which there has been democracy in Nigeria, democracy has not come out of it well. It has been besmirched by corruption, nepotism and tribalism, and it has provided an excuse for the military to take over and indulge in similar practices. The result is that Nigeria now has a per capita income equal to that of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world; abuse of human rights is growing; Nigeria's elected and past President is in prison; and there is growing hardship and isolation. Thus, a country that should have been a leader of Africa has become the laggard of Africa.

Those problems are our concern, too, because Britain has strong links with Nigeria. Many Nigerians have been educated here, mainly in further education, and many thousands of Nigerians live here temporarily or

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permanently, especially in south London. I am happy to be the sponsor of an organisation called the Nigerian Organisation for Democracy with Integrity, and I was happy to join in the vigil of outrage and protest outside the Nigerian high commission this weekend.

To help Nigeria, we must set ourselves two objectives. In the long run, the first objective depends on the second. First, we must use every practical means to bring democracy and human rights back to Nigeria. Secondly, we must help Nigeria to rid itself of corruption, whereby public office equals private enrichment. It is for Britain, the United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union to help Nigeria in that way. We must help Nigeria to bring integrity back into public administration and public life. Those two objectives add up to what we call good government.

On the first objective of bringing back democracy and respect for human rights, I commend the Government for joining in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth. I do not want to see Nigeria expelled because that would have severe citizenship effects both on people who live in this country and on people who want to come to this country. To bring back democracy and respect for human rights, the United Kingdom and all countries that manufacture and export arms must apply an absolute prohibition. All kinds of military assistance must be banned. Such little aid as we give to Nigeria should be directed not to the Nigerian Government but to non-governmental organisations, and directed at the poorest in the community there.

We must hit Nigeria's corrupt dictators where it hurts most: by freezing their bank accounts and the huge amounts of money that have leaked out of that country. I hope that Britain will do so and urge other countries to follow. Much of the oil revenue goes directly into the pockets of the military. We must put pressure on oil companies such as Shell, although it is not the only oil company concerned, which have ravaged the environment and then provided the revenue to allow the military to ravage the country as a whole. Multinationals cannot be neutral in those matters. We must impose oil sanctions because they are the most effective way to bring home our disapproval of what has been happening in Nigeria and to try to bring about a change in the regime.

Other sanctions must be applied, including sanctions on sport. I know that it is unpleasant, but they would bring home to the Nigerians, as they did to the South Africans, the revulsion of the rest of the world. That is not an exhaustive list of what we should do but the most important measures are oil sanctions and the freezing of bank accounts.

On the second issue--corruption and integrity-- nobody in the western world is entitled to be smug and complacent about corruption. Italy has been riddled with corruption, and is currently dealing with that. In the past couple of weeks, Britain has had to deal with the issue because of the interaction between corruption and the integrity of public life. However, in Nigeria, the corruption and plundering of state assets and revenues has reached monumental proportions and millions of ordinary Nigerians pay the price. I seek not to stigmatise Nigerians but to condemn the practice that impoverishes the country and so many ordinary people who live there. Corruption devalues democratic institutions. From time to time it

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provided an excuse for the military to step in. The military then plundered the revenues even more than the democratic institutions plundered them. Naturally, that provides a massive incentive not to return to democratic rule and accountability, which is why Babangida's regime never allowed the handing over of power to Abiola. That is one reason why the present announcement of a three-year progression to democracy is a farce, which is underlined further by the brutal executions that took place last week.

So extensive has been the scale of corruption in Nigeria that a whole scam industry has been built up on the expectation that corruption in some public offices is the order of the day. People receive letters almost every day of the week about off-quota oil cargoes, currency arrangements in which one must give bribes to obtain currency coming out of the country, and the procurement of arms.

The budgets of individual states have been filched and used for outrageous luxury expenditure by those involved outside Nigeria by salting the money out of the country. Rating and tax assessments have been distorted to gain political advantage. Public procurement has been grossly abused. Federal or individual states do not procure themselves; they procure through intermediaries, which take a cut. That cut in the price of the product is then left in other countries, in bank accounts in the names of private intermediaries. Enormous amounts of money have been siphoned off from federal revenue into private accounts.

Ordinary people pay for all that corruption, and democracy and justice are in danger of being snuffed out. People's lives are even being snuffed out. The fact that corruption has been widespread does not mean that everyone is corrupt--far from it. Most Nigerians want to free themselves from the yoke of corruption, which has corroded their judicial system and forms of government.

It is not for us to attempt to prescribe the detail of how Nigerian institutions should work or the detail of Nigerian law, but we must do whatever we can to help the restoration of democracy and give advice from our experience of those matters. We have great experience of public procurement and how to have public procurement that is free of graft and corruption. Although it does not always work, we must offer our experience in the context of a restoration of democracy. We have developed high standards of accountability for public funds and of audit, both nationally and locally. Let us offer all the help that we can on those matters. We reformed corruption in the civil service and the armed forces in the last century with the Trevelyan-Northcote reforms, by having a wholly independent appointment of civil servants. Let us offer advice and assistance on those matters as well as on remedies for administrative abuse. To their credit, the Government have developed those remedies not too badly through the citizens charter over the past few years. Let us try to ensure that power equals responsibility and accountability, and that power in Nigeria no longer means private enrichment. Some people say that we should not interfere with the affairs of other countries. In truth, we are all tied together, and we have common obligations under the convention on human rights and the conventions on refugees.

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Nigeria's problems are our problems; our opportunities will be its opportunities. I hope that the Government will continue to be as outspoken as they have been, and to develop every detailed practical step to rid that country of corruption and to restore democracy and human rights.

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