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Kashmir

6. Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of India on the future of Kashmir. [64590]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): We regularly discuss Kashmir with representatives of India and Pakistan.

Mr. Heppell: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will have welcomed the talks that took place at the end of last year between the Pakistan and Indian Governments and the confidence-building measures that resulted. Will he assure me that the British Government will be prepared to accept a solution in Jammu and Kashmir only if it has actually been put to the people of Jammu and Kashmir?

Mr. Fatchett: My hon. Friend is right to say that we welcomed the talks that took place last year, and we look forward to the next round of talks in February. We hope that those talks will deal with the crucial issues between India and Pakistan and there is no more important issue between those two countries than the future of Kashmir. I agree with my hon. Friend that any future agreement reached between India and Pakistan will stand only if it has popular support.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that problems over Kashmir have arisen only because Britain pulled out of India six months earlier than agreed, under a previous Labour Administration. Does he agree that we therefore have an important responsibility in respect of the future of Kashmir, because the people of Kashmir have always been denied an opportunity to decide their own destiny? The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the existence of the Simla agreement and, when he last answered questions in the House on Kashmir, he said that Pakistan would be happy for Britain to take part--perhaps as chairman--in discussions under the provisions of the Simla agreement. However, we still await a view from India on the matter. Has the right hon. Gentleman raised the subject in his discussions with the Indians, and is there any hope that

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Britain could act as an independent chairman to bring the two sides closer together and to get agreement over Kashmir, as provided under the Simla agreement?

Mr. Fatchett: Both the Indian and Pakistan Governments feel that the best way to make immediate progress on all their bilateral relations is for them to engage in talks. If, at any stage, the two countries told the United Kingdom that we could play a responsible and constructive role, we should be happy to do so. Both Governments know that.

Entry Clearance Interviews

7. Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): When he plans to introduce tape recording of interviews by entry clearance offices at overseas posts. [64591]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): In accordance with the recommendation of the recent Foreign Affairs Committee's fourth report on entry clearance operations, the Department is planning a pilot project. Preparations are under way for the pilot system to be installed as soon as practicable in the financial year 1999-2000.

Mr. Gerrard: I welcome that news, as some hon. Members have pressed for such a project for a long time. Can the Minister confirm that the pilot will cover the full range of interviews, including interviews for settlement and visits? Will he confirm also that the pilot's time scale will be as short as possible so that we can evaluate the findings and look at extending it to other posts? Can the Minister give us any idea of which posts will be considered for pilot projects? Will he take into consideration the number of problems and complaints that have been brought to the attention of his Department by hon. Members whose constituents have experienced difficulties in particular posts?

Mr. Fatchett: We have not yet decided on a post, but I welcome my hon. Friend's broad comments. We aim to keep the pilot as short as possible, but we must have an opportunity to make an effective evaluation of the way in which the pilot system works. When it comes to that assessment, we must be open to any possibilities that may flow from the pilot system. I assure my hon. Friend and any other hon. Members who have an interest in these matters that we will be open with them and will look to engage them in discussion about possible developments.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): The Minister may know that I founded the Immigration Advisory Service, which plays a large part in such matters. I welcome the Minister's comments today. He knows that we introduced tape-recorded interviews into our criminal justice system to ensure fairness and protection for the defendant. Many Conservative Members believe that fairness and protection for those seeking entry to this country would also be greatly enhanced by the rapid introduction of tape-recorded interviews. I hope that they will be introduced very widely very soon.

Mr. Fatchett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his work with the Immigration Advisory Service. We must learn from the pilot before we

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move towards using extensive tape recording as a means of reaching decisions. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that may be an effective means of ensuring fairness.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I welcome the Minister's decision to start the pilot project and suggest that he chooses the Bombay post as the subject of the study. Does the Minister agree that, even with recorded interviews, unless we examine the way in which the migration and visa correspondence unit operates when taking statements, there is a risk that, because of MVCU inefficiency, those statements will never reach the applicants in this country?

Mr. Fatchett: My hon. Friend raised several concerns about the migration and visa correspondence unit in an Adjournment debate last week. I said at the time that we would examine those points and do all that we could to improve the unit's efficiency. My hon. Friend kindly made some complimentary comments about the work of the entry clearance staff, the burdens that they carry and the way in which they discharge them. I hear what my hon. Friend has said about Bombay and I understand his reasons for suggesting that post. However, we shall also consider other posts before taking a decision.

Iraq

8. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What assessment he has made of Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions. [64592]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I regret to say that Iraq persists in failing to comply with many of the requirements of Security Council resolutions. It has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction and it continues with gross violations of human rights, including torture, extra-judicial killing and suppression of ethnic minorities. It has also failed to release or to provide any account of the fate of the 600 detainees removed from Kuwait.

The recent threat by the Iraqi Assembly to withdraw recognition of the Kuwaiti border is the latest example of Iraq's wilful failure to accept its obligations to either its neighbours or the international community.

Mr. Winterton: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that full and rational reply. He clearly agrees that Saddam Hussein is flagrantly ignoring his international obligations under United Nations resolutions. Does he agree also that many Arab nations are urging Saddam Hussein to work closely with the United Nations and to obey the United Nations resolutions? Even the distinguished leader of Egypt, President Mubarak, blames Saddam Hussein for the suffering of the Iraqi people.

What further steps can be taken to bring Saddam Hussein to account for the danger that he poses to the world?

On a more minor matter, is not Saddam Hussein continuing frequently to violate the no-fly zone, hampering the west in what it is seeking to do?

Mr. Cook: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, Saddam Hussein has on one occasion attempted to fly planes in

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the no-fly zone, which produced an immediate response from us. He has repeatedly threatened the allied aircraft that are enforcing the no-fly zone. We shall continue to enforce that zone and to take necessary measures in self-defence. The House should remember that the no-fly zone is not in any way a threat to the Iraqi people; it is there to defend them against being bombed by Saddam Hussein.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he says about the Arab nations. Saddam Hussein's recent speech in which he characterised all other Arab Governments as dwarves and cowards has done much to restore solidarity among Arab nations. They know perfectly well that they are the ones against whom the weapons of mass destruction will be targeted.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I visited northern Iraq--Kurdistan--just before Christmas? I was deeply moved by the Kurds' view that Saddam Hussein, in violating United Nations Security Council resolutions 986 and 688, was mainly responsible for the suffering in Iraq. Will my right hon. Friend therefore assure me and the Kurds that the Government will take every step, particularly in the United Nations, to ensure that Saddam is not given opportunities to punish his own people further?

Mr. Cook: I can assure my right hon. Friend that I was aware of his visit to northern Iraq because it was brought to my attention at the very interesting time at which he was in the Kurdish area. I assure him and the people of that area that Britain will remain committed to making sure that Saddam cannot infringe the no-fly zone. We recognise that Saddam is sustained in power not by public opinion but by the savage, brutal repression of all those who would otherwise challenge him.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): With Saddam clearly not back in his cage, as the Secretary of State promised, the need for a new approach to the Iraqi regime is now very urgent. The French and the Russians are calling for a relaxation of sanctions, which is alarming the people in northern Iraq, who fear that they may lose the oil revenues that they receive for humanitarian purposes directly from the UN escrow account and be forced, once again, to rely directly on Saddam and Baghdad.

Will the Secretary of State assure us that on this occasion the new approach will be properly thought through and that he will ensure not only that Saddam's capacity to produce weapons is monitored, but that any new approach will give full weight to making sure that food and medical supplies reach the children and people of Iraq who are suffering at the hands of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Cook: I can repeat to the hon. Lady and the House the assurances that I have given several times--there are no sanctions against imports of food and medicines by Saddam Hussein and, in a period when he persists in saying that his people go hungry, his harvest in Iraq has increased by 15 per cent. We are certainly exploring how we can build a diplomatic consensus to isolate Saddam Hussein and we are in dialogue with France and Russia on those points.

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I am unclear as to whether the hon. Lady was seeking the relaxation of sanctions, but if Saddam Hussein wants sanctions to be relaxed, he should comply with the Security Council resolutions and abandon his expensive programme of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Will the Foreign Secretary explain why the Government treat Iraq and Israel differently when they are both in breach of UN resolutions? Does he accept that the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of both those countries are outlawed by the United Nations? We know the Government's position on Iraq; will he now explain their position on Israel?

Mr. Cook: I have already this afternoon explained our position in relation to the Government of Israel and made it perfectly plain that we greatly regret their unilateral actions which undermine the peace process. If my hon. Friend is attempting to put both Governments in the same box, he should reflect on the fact that Saddam Hussein is the leader of a country in which he has himself used chemical and biological weapons. He used them extensively against his neighbour in the Iran-Iraq war and used them mercilessly against his own people in the Kurdish area where he killed 5,000 villagers when he attacked Halabja. We cannot walk away and leave a man with such a track record in possession of those weapons.


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