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House of Commons

Tuesday 15 February 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock



Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 22 February.



Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

World Peace Council

1. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on (a) the status of, (b) the recent evolution and changes in the role of and (c) the identity of those funding the World Peace Council. [108519]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): This Government have had no direct contact with the World Peace Council. It is an international non-governmental organisation, which has apparently been based in Paris since 1996. It has no member organisation in this country.

Dr. Lewis: Is not that a rather thin account of the World Peace Council, which for more than 20 years was on the Labour party's list of proscribed organisations as the principal Soviet propaganda front? Given that that was its role and that it followed every twist and turn of Soviet foreign policy, will the Minister explain why the Foreign Secretary saw fit to appoint as the chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is intended to inculcate democratic values in ex-communist countries, someone who was a former active member of the World Peace Council at the height of the cold war?

Mr. Vaz: I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, on Sunday afternoon between "EastEnders" and "Songs of

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Praise", I spent a happy time reading his speeches on the World Peace Council. Nobody in the House has given the organisation more coverage than he has. I assure him that it is an out-of-date organisation. It is almost as out of date as the hon. Gentleman's views on the cold war.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): Does my hon. Friend agree that world peace can be advanced only by Governments who look to the future? Does he share my fear that, looking back over the past 10 years since the ending of the cold war, little progress has been made on nuclear disarmament? Will he assure the House that he will press the Russians to ratify START 2 and the Americans to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we use every international forum and every opportunity to encourage countries to be fully involved in these processes. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Russia next Monday and Tuesday and he will use that opportunity, as he has always done, to encourage the process. Our views on the comprehensive test ban treaty are also very clear: we would like the United States to sign it. We were very disappointed that it did not, and we shall continue to urge all countries to be involved in this important process.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): Will the Minister acknowledge that other organisations came into being during the cold war and that some are now outdated? A good example is the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is now the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It succeeded in bringing down the Soviet bloc--that is why it was created--but it is now taking on other responsibilities and usurping the already well-established responsibilities of the Council of Europe. Have the Government thought seriously about reorganising the political structures of Europe following the collapse of the iron curtain? In that respect--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is hardly relevant to the World Peace Council. [Interruption.] Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the question was entirely about the identity and the funding of the World Peace Council and it has been answered.

Russia (Arms Exports)

2. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): What representations he has made to the Government of Russia about the supply of weapons to countries in the middle east. [108531]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the dangers of arms exports and assistance to countries of concern with Foreign Minister Ivanov when he visited Russia in March last year. He expects to do so again when he visits Russia on 21 and 22 February, next Monday and Tuesday.

Mr. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer. He will no doubt be aware that Russia, perhaps because of its financial plight, continues to supply missiles and missile-related technology to countries such

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as Iran, which is not very supportive of the middle east peace process. He will also be aware of my interest in nuclear power. I am deeply concerned about such technology transfer because of the weakness of the technology and its potential application in enhancing Iran's nuclear weapons capability. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visits Russia, will he use all his diplomatic skills to address these very serious problems?

Mr. Vaz: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. He has a great interest in those issues, and I can assure him that at every opportunity Foreign Office officials have raised them with the Russians. The Russians have assured us that their assistance to Iran is for civil nuclear application only and is in line with International Atomic Energy Agency standards. My hon. Friend has urged the Foreign Secretary to raise the matter again with the Russians, and I categorically assure him that my right hon. Friend has just told me that he will do so. I shall be happy to tell the House and my hon. Friend what happens as a result of those discussions.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is it not the case that client regimes in the middle east and elsewhere that are in the marketplace for weapons like those armaments to be well tried and tested? Could not Her Majesty's Government therefore argue to the Russians that it is iniquitous and wrong for them to use their genocidal conflict in Chechnya as a proving ground for the weapons systems that they sell in the middle east? It is high time that those weapons were no longer used on the Chechens within the Russian Federation and no longer sold to rogue regimes outside it.

Mr. Vaz: Our position on Chechnya and the Russian action there is absolutely clear: we do not believe that the use of disproportionate activities by the Russians was right. I expressed that view to the Russian ambassador. The hon. Gentleman's other points are, of course, matters that will be raised. It is absolutely essential that the major arms export countries adhere to the Wassenaar arrangement so that there is full transparency and disclosure. That is one way in which we can ensure that the export of arms is controlled.

EU Enlargement

3. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What recent discussions he has had with EU counterparts regarding enlargement. [108532]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I shall make a statement on the Government's policy on enlargement later this afternoon.

As I speak, the European Union is launching accession negotiations with six more applicant countries to join the six already in negotiation. Along with my EU colleagues, I discussed the prospects for enlargement with the Foreign Ministers of those six countries last night. I was impressed by their commitment to making a success of their application. Their enthusiasm for the European Union

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demonstrates a shrewder understanding of the benefits of membership than we often hear in the House from those on the Opposition Benches.

Helen Jackson: Did my right hon. Friend read the comments of the former shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), in The Daily Telegraph last week, when he argued that Britain should hold up European Union enlargement until it accepted his pick-and-choose interpretation? [Interruption.] I am aware that that will not have been the reason that he was sacked, because he never discusses foreign policy with his leader. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a view of enlargement is a betrayal of Britain's interests and something that no responsible politician should advocate?

Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government's policy is to do everything that we can to enable enlargement to proceed as quickly as possible. It is important for Britain's interests that, when those countries enter the European Union, they should remember Britain as a friend and an advocate of their membership.

I have long been puzzled by the Conservatives' policy of vetoing enlargement treaties if they do not get their way, but I understood how they got themselves into that position when I read the former shadow Foreign Secretary's remark today that he never had a serious discussion on foreign policy with his leader, despite several attempts to do so. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) should now tell us whether he will advise his leader to ditch that embarrassing policy out of the back of his white van, or whether he has not yet had a chance to discuss the matter with him.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): Everyone should be totally committed, as we are, to the European Union at last embracing the whole of Europe. It is a scandal that, 10 years after the Berlin wall came down, not one of the great European countries that regained their freedom and nationhood at that time has yet been admitted to the club. Will the Foreign Secretary commit himself today to arguing in the intergovernmental conference for a new framework of flexibility so that at least the new entrants to the European Union can be spared the stifling grip of the "one size fits all" straitjacket that is currently promised?

Mr. Cook: We have no intention of using the intergovernmental conference to try to turn the treaty into a charter for opt-outs. We shall not do so, because we do not for one minute believe that it would be in Britain's interests for France to have the right to opt out of food safety regulations, Spain to opt out of animal welfare regulations, or applicant countries to opt out of environmental rules, such as the condition accepted by many of them to close nuclear reactors that do not meet safety standards faster. I repeat my question to the right hon. Gentleman: if he does not get his way, will he veto enlargement and so make the Tory party as unpopular among the 12 new members as it is among the existing 14?

Mr. Maude: Is not the simple truth that, faced with a choice between the modern, flexible Europe of the sort that is increasingly advocated, in which nations can

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co-operate in friendship and harmony, and the steady drift towards a single European superstate, the Government have unhesitatingly chosen the latter? They have done so step by step.

The Foreign Secretary talks about a charter for opt-outs, but he is getting rid of opt-outs. He gave up the opt-out on the social chapter, with the result that social legislation can now be imposed on this country from outside without Parliament or the House of Commons having any right to discuss it. The Government have signed away our veto in 16 areas as they proceed step by step down the road to the superstate. They are taking forward the defence identity outside NATO, and thereby risk undermining NATO. What have they got in return for all those concessions? Nothing.

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman must have picked up his response to my statement this afternoon by mistake. No one advocates a centralised European state and that will not be the outcome of the intergovernmental conference. However, he must recognise that not a single Government in Europe will accept his proposal for a pick-and-mix Europe--not even a sister party of the Tory party would accept such a proposal. The leader of one, John Bruton, has said that the Tory proposal is disastrous--that is what the right hon. Gentleman's own allies say. I repeat my question: even if no other Government agreed to the Tories' demands, would they really veto the treaty and stop enlargement of the European Union?

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