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House of Commons

Friday 1 November 1991

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]



Mr. Secretary Baker, supported by Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. Secretary Newton, Mr. Secretary Brooke, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lang and Mr. Peter Lloyd, presented a Bill to make provision about persons who claim asylum in the United Kingdom and to extend the provisions of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 to transit passengers : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time and to be printed [Bill 1.]


Mr. Secretary Wakeham, supported by Mr. Secretary Howard, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lilley, Mr. Secretary Lang, Mr. David Mellor, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory and Mr. Colin Moynihan, presented a Bill to make provision for extending the duration of, and increasing the limit on, grants under section 3 of the Coal Industry Act 1987 and to repeal the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time and to be printed [Bill 2.]


Mr. Secretary Heseltine, supported by The Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Newton, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lang, Mr. Michael Portillo and Mr. Robert Key, presented a Bill to provide for certain local authorities to levy and collect a new tax, to be called council tax ; to abolish community charges ; to make further provision with respect to local government finance (including provision with respect to certain grants by local authorities) ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time and to be printed [Bill 3.]


Mr. Secretary Hunt, supported by Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. Secretary Lilley, Mr. David Mellor, Sir Wyn Roberts and Mr. Nicholas Bennett, presented under Standing Order No. 48 (Procedure upon Bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue) a Bill to increase the financial limit in section 18(3) of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time and to be printed [Bill 4.]

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Mr. Peter Walker.]

Question again proposed

Foreign Affairs and Defence

9.36 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Douglas Hurd) : In his speech yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with our approach to the two intergovernmental conferences in Maastricht and also announced a two-day debate in the House later this month to examine both negotiations in greater detail. I shall say something this morning about the negotiation on political union, in which I am most closely involved, but I do not want to concentrate on those themes today, because the world has not obligingly stood still as we prepare the approach to Maastricht. Rarely can there have been so many upheavals in the landscape in so short a time. Therefore, I want to deal mainly with some other aspects of foreign policy.

Some formidable and even frightening features of the familiar landscape have disappeared, and obviously that is to our great content, but elsewhere there are new commotions and new uncertainties, and I should also like to deal with some of those.

As a general message, one can say that ideology is no longer the main cause of the divisions in the world or of potential conflict. That is because communism and its paler imitations have been decisively rejected and because there is a trend to more liberal and democratic values. Certainly it is patchy and there are setbacks, but that trend is clearly visible in continent after continent. What we see now are the more traditional threats to peace arising from divisions between and within nations. Nationalism has revived and it has lost none of its old force. Against that background--I shall give illustrations in a minute--those in charge of British foreign policy should concentrate on three main points. First, we must help resolve conflicts and direct the force of nationalism into containable channels that do not flood the whole landscape. Secondly, we have to help countries emerging from dictatorship towards democracy and better government, all the time keeping in mind the background that our main task is the protection and promotion of British interests. Thirdly, we need to improve, update and strengthen the international institutions to which we belong and which are crucial in those first two tasks.

The oldest and perhaps most bitter conflict that this House has discussed year in, year out--certainly ever since I have been a Member and long before that--is that in the middle east between Arab and Israel. Many efforts have been made by many people in the past to bring the parties round a table together. It has been clear to me, and I think

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to most people, for some time that the only way to achieve that is through a strong and sustained effort by the United States, fully backed by us in Europe.

From time to time, we have had, as is perfectly right, our own ideas, proposals and procedures. I am thinking of the Venice declaration in 1980 and efforts made by many other people, including Lord Carrington. I thought it right, and other European Foreign Ministers thought it right, to put aside any differences of emphasis and to shove hard on the same wheel as the Americans to try and get the dispute out of the ditch and into some sort of negotiation. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition rightly praised the effort that Secretary Baker has made. It has been a formidable effort, considering what else is on the plate of the American Secretary of State at any time. The way in which he has shoved at the wheel, persevered and found a way through many disappointments and difficulties is notable, whatever happens hereafter.

Two days ago, the peace conference opened in Madrid, and we shall do everything we can to help it forward. We have an official from the Foreign Office there, and we are discussing through the presidency, Hans van den Broek, the Netherlands Foreign Minister, what kind of support and impetus we can give to the peacemakers.

It is a huge opportunity. It may be a bit of a long march, as I heard one commentator say on the radio this morning, but the opportunity must not and cannot be neglected by people who are interested in matching their rhetoric of many years with deeds. There is a possibility for Israel to find a way to dwell in peace within secure borders and for the Arabs to correct and see corrected the injustices from which they have suffered. I am thinking particularly of the Palestinians. All of us must make an effort to do what we can to bring about the success of the conference.

Another conflict, which again has exercised the House for as long as I can remember and long before, and which often seemed desperate and unyielding, is the conflict within South Africa. That is yielding to treatment essentially by leaders in South Africa--President de Klerk, Mr. Mandela, Chief Buthelezi and others. The legal pillars of apartheid have been abolished and those concerned are on the edge of crucial constitutional talks which we hope will lead to a democratic constitution.

The scene is painfully marked by violence in the townships. It is crucial that the agreement that has been reached on the means of preventing and dealing with such violence should be fully and quickly carried through. Part of the solution to the violence is effective and professional policing. Everyone agrees that the way in which the South African police traditionally dealt with these matters under the apartheid system is changing and must be changed. If we can help with that, we shall do so, and I have made that clear. We have invited representatives of the South African Government and opposition groups to visit Britain to look at community policing here and see whether our experiences can be of some help in their townships.

The change in South Africa was mirrored strikingly at the Commonwealth summit in Harare. No longer did wrangles over South Africa dominate that meeting. There was some discussion of sanctions, but it was measured and good tempered because it was not about the principle of sanctions. It was about the pace at which sanctions should be dismantled. There was no dissent about the principle of

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dismantling sanctions ; there was some discussion, and indeed disagreement, about the pace. Not everyone agreed with us that the time had come to move faster than the committee that met in New Delhi shortly before the conference, recommended.

There was substantial respect for the argument which the Prime Minister put with great force. It was accepted to a considerable extent even by people who perhaps came to the conference expecting to disagree. His argument was that there was a big time lag between the decision to invest and the fruits of investment. There is a time lag between when people in a boardroom say that they will invest in South Africa and when there are jobs, skills and opportunities for blacks as a result. The economic background in South Africa is formidable, with nil economic growth and 3 per cent. population growth. The need for foreign investment decisions is now, not later.

If we wait, to authorise those foreign investment decisions or to encourage people to take them, until a perfect constitution is in operation, we are condemning ourselves to a great gap between the time when those decisions are taken and the time when they bring benefit. Now is the time to sow if the harvest is to be there when it is needed.

That argument made a considerable impact. Anyone who follows the discussions within the African National Congress on this subject knows that it is wrestling with exactly that point and trying to find ways through it. I think that considerable progress will be made on that score.

Before I deal with the dispute in Yugoslavia, perhaps I can make a general point--I should be interested if it coincides with the views that right hon. and hon. Members have formed--about disputes in the world after the end of the cold war. It is increasingly clear that the United States is not willing, and the Soviet Union is not able, to act as policemen or magistrates of the world. At the end of the cold war, some people thought that there would be one super-power and some form of American domination. That does not seem to be the instinct or the will in Washington or the United States as a whole. Increasingly, the US will look to regional or international organisations to settle regional disputes.

That has great bearing on what is happening and what might happen in Yugoslavia. It has meant clearly and specifically that the European Community has been expected to take the lead in international efforts to help find an answer to the problems in Yugoslavia. That is right. The House would reject the idea that we or other countries in Europe should sit by calmly while a European country disintegrates in violence and suffering such as we are now seeing. Partly because of the strong feelings that have naturally been aroused by that suffering, I have tried to be realistic in what I have said on this matter in this House and during the recess. We cannot impose peace on the peoples and republics of Yugoslavia--nobody can. For example, few hon. Members would argue that we should launch British soldiers into operations to which it would be hard to see a limit or an end. I have been strongly against pretending that there is an ability and willingness to do that, because that would be unreal. If we started to do that, we would encourage hopes which we would not be willing or able to realise. It would not be sensible to go down that path.

However, we can and have sought to offer from outside other ways to peace.

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Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : Before the Minister leaves the question whether we can intervene directly, as he and the other members of the Community are considering an oil embargo to reduce the possibility of the Yugoslavs using their air force, would it be possible in practice to close Croatian air space and thus prevent the bombings and killings without undue involvement or danger?

Mr. Hurd : I shall come to that point as I cover the various possibilities.

We have already offered ways to peace. We have monitors from the European Twelve in Yugoslavia and when, as has often happened, a ceasefire has been arranged, they have done their best to help it to stick. They have not had great success, because too many agreements have been signed and then not honoured. However, it is worth while continuing the monitor's efforts. Indeed, as one of the worries is that the southern republics might explode in the same way as Croatia, there is a point in having--as we now have--EC monitors in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We have also provided a framework in which the parties can talk. Europe owes a debt to Lord Carrington for undertaking, under no obligation, to chair that conference. He intends to persevere in that task, which makes a substantial contribution, for which the House should be grateful.

We are anxious to help on the humanitarian side, which is increasingly necessary. We are contributing £250,000 for relief to the International Committee of the Red Cross and we are ready to step up co- operation with Yugoslavia and the republics on the economic side, once they become interested in economics. I am afraid that the passions of politics prevail over consideration of their standard of living.

Thus, we have opened those doors and offered those facilities, and we now need to build up pressure on the parties to pass through those doors and use those facilities, to stop fighting and to come to realistic and effective negotiations. Last month in New York, the Security Council approved a mandatory arms embargo. This week, the Secretary-General's report shows that that has been breached and needs to be tightened. Significant meetings of the European Foreign Affairs Council and perhaps also of the Security Council of the United Nations will take place this week to consider how we can build up the pressures.

I believe that the time has come to suspend the Community's trade and co- operation agreement with Yugoslavia and, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said, it is well worth while examining how an oil embargo would work. It would have to be mandatory and imposed by the United Nations--that is already clear--but its impact might differentiate to some extent between those who are willing to work for peace and those who are, so far, somewhat obdurate.

We must increasingly differentiate between those who have heeded all the calls and efforts that have been made and those who, to put it mildly, have had difficulty in doing so, especially the Yugoslavia national army, which seems increasingly to be struggling for its own existence as an army, regardless of any constituted authority. The siege of and attacks on Dubrovnik can be justified by no political argument, and that has swayed many people into believing, as I do, that we must increasingly differentiate

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between those who are working, however imperfectly, for the need for discussion and negotiation and those who are not.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : On the important point of differentiation, does my right hon. Friend agree that, so long as the United Kingdom and its Community partners refuse to recognise the democratically expressed wish of Slovenia and, more importantly, Croatia for independence, the Yugoslav Government and army and the Serbians will maintain their aggression against Croatia because they will see that, by force of arms, they will have a virtual carte blanche to do as they like?

Mr. Hurd : No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend about that. Although countries that assert their independence and are unwilling to re- enter any kind of union will not be denied that, I have two thoughts about the timing and style of recognition. First, to recognise without effectively being able to guarantee protection is somewhat misleading and I have already dealt with that. My second thought concerns the southern republics. If one recognises at the wrong time and in the wrong way, there is a real danger that the other republics of Yugoslavia will be left in a state in which they will almost certainly explode. That dilemma has weighed heavily with those of us who have thought about that problem. I do not reject my hon. Friend's argument entirely, but those of us who have met collectively within the Twelve have not felt that the time has come to take that step.

I am not sure whether the practical suggestion of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber about interdicting air space is meaningful. Obviously it has crossed our minds, and I have read about such a suggestion. It would probably involve activity by the United States and others which could be authorised only by the United Nations, and I doubt whether the United Nations would authorise it. That proposal would not be viable, but I have made two others this morning which we shall pursue.

It is very important to keep the peace conference going. There are signs that those concerned wish to discuss the underlying problems. However patchily and imperfectly they do so, the opportunity offered by the Hague conference must be kept alive.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : Is it conceivable that we can sit back and watch Croatia being defeated by the Yugoslavian or Serbian army--whichever name one chooses to use--and do nothing about it? Would not our recognition of Croatia automatically give that country a status that would allow the United Nations to become involved? Because we have not done that, the issue is treated as domestic and the United Nations therefore stands apart.

Mr. Hurd : No, the United Nations is quite rightly involved--I went to the Security Council debate on that--and it will be involved again. The international community does not view the matter as an internal issue. Moreover, recognition of Croatia would not add to or subtract from that. It will be and should be treated increasingly as an international matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is it not fair to say that, in respect of the quest for independence of Croatia from Yugoslavia, some people in this country and perhaps in

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Yugoslavia may ask why Britain and Britain's Foreign Secretary talk about an oil embargo against Yugoslavia, which is trying to keep its country intact, when that same Foreign Secretary has similar troubles in Northern Ireland but would not thank Common Market countries for intervening there? What is the real difference?

Mr. Hurd : The real difference is that we maintain our position in Northern Ireland because that is the wish of the majority there, constantly and repeatedly expressed by democratic means. Our position in Northern Ireland is solidly and democratically based, which is why this House--at least all but a few of its Members--agrees that Britain should sustain its effort in that part of this country. The position in Yugoslavia is entirely different.

Mr. Skinner : That is what you say.

Mr. Hurd : It certainly is. I rather suspect that most people agree with me, too.

Of course there is a worry that there will be a read-across from what is happening in Yugoslavia to what may happen in the Soviet Union. I spent a morning two days ago in Leipzig at an Anglo-German meeting attended by our ambassadors to Moscow--German and British--and our experts on the Soviet Union. We tried to reach a solid and agreed analysis of the situation and also tried to agree on certain practical means of co-operation on the ground. We did reach a common analysis : there is no doubt that the old system is smashed beyond recall. There is no doubt that its total failure has left the Soviet Union and the peoples of the republics in a disastrous state. The economy is disintegrating, the institutions are discredited--a very bad combination for any country or group of countries.

The House must face the possibility that the centre in Moscow will wither away, not at all in the way that Marx envisaged--[ Hon. Members :-- "Engels, actually."] Opposition Members are more expert in these matters than I. So the centre will wither away, not as Engels imagined it would, but because of the fierce assertion of sovereignty in different forms by one republic after another.

The consequence is that we in Britain increasingly have to deal with republics. That is already in hand. Most of the House will agree with the distinction that we have drawn between the three Baltic republics and the other republics, because of the history and because we never accepted legally their assimilation into the Soviet Union in 1940. We have recognised them, and we have three ambassadors in those countries.

The other republics are in a different category. While they are still groping to decide what use to make of their power, they must accept that certain responsibilities are also involved. The republics will not be easily accepted into the international community if they repudiate the responsibilities of the Soviet Union in the same way as the Bolsheviks repudiated the responsibilities and obligations of the Czar.

There are several aspects to this ; one of them is debt. There was an educative meeting between Group of Seven officials and representatives of the republics in Moscow last week at which this point was thrashed out. Even more important are the Soviet signatures on disarmament and arms control agreements. It is crucial that those

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agreements should not unravel--a point that we continually make to the republics as well as to the centre. This country is concerned with the control of strategic weapons, but there is also the ratification of the conventional forces in Europe agreement. It is important that it should be honoured ; otherwise, the world will take not a step forward but a big step backward in the crucial area of arms control.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as chairman of the Group of Seven, has a particular responsibility in co-ordinating the response of the west to the needs of the Soviet Union. We are mobilising that response within the Community, and with the Japanese, Canadians and Americans, first of all to deal with hunger. There is a great deal of conflicting evidence about the extent of the probable hunger in the Soviet Union and the republics this winter. Each visitor I receive leaves me with a different impression, but it is likely that there will be hungry and suffering people in the cold, and it is therefore important that the western world use food and food credits to relieve their suffering.

In addition to food, there is technical assistance. It is already flowing and it is needed to remedy the disastrous gaps and defects in certain operations in the Soviet Union--especially the gap between growing food and getting it to the shops, between producing oil and getting it onto world markets. These areas of Soviet life, always inadequate, have now virtually collapsed. It will require new ideas and new people whom we can help to train and equip to put matters right.

The House has debated eastern Europe in general terms several times, and I will not go over old ground. The urgent need is to conclude the association agreements being negotiated between the Community and Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There was a hiccup during the recess, but the Commission now has a reasonably liberal mandate, which should enable it, I hope, to conclude these agreements in time for the beginning of next year.

I want to discuss the strengthening of international institutions. I do not want to talk about the content of the Maastricht negotiations, except to mention one point. As the House knows, the co-operation between Foreign Ministers has grown very quickly in recent years. We believe that we should build on that success and we therefore support the idea of a common foreign and security policy, although not on all matters. That would not be possible or desirable, but it is possible to identify certain issues on which it is sensible for the Twelve to act together. I have already dealt with some of them. I know from my short experience of the past couple of years that this co-operation works best and is strongest if it is the result of agreement--of sitting around a table and thrashing out a problem, and then reaching agreement on what needs to be done. If we moved, as is proposed, to qualified majority voting on matters of substance in foreign policy, far from strengthening co-operation that would weaken it. People would think in terms of a vote. My clear instinct is that a weakening of co -operation would result from qualified majority voting on substantive foreign policy decisions, however qualified the voting may be.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems of qualified majority voting in any sphere is that votes are

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rarely taken? A view emerges around the table. Does not that make it even more difficult, meaning as it does that some people would be dragged by arithmetical chance into policies of which their Governments, Parliaments or people did not approve?

Mr. Hurd : That is certainly part of the point. I am talking about substantive decisions. It would be difficult for me to come here or for the Irish Foreign Minister to go to the Dail and say, "Look, I argued against this major foreign policy decision, but I was outvoted, so we shall have to spend money, or apply sanctions, or send troops." Actually, sending troops does not come into it, because defence does not come into this ; I am talking about foreign policy measures such as sanctions, recognition and so on. Substantial decisions are best taken by unanimity, not least for the reason given by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : My right hon. Friend has clearly distinguished between foreign policy and defence issues. I am sure that he agrees that foreign policy decisions may often lead in due course to the necessity to commit forces, so the two issues are closely linked--and I support my right hon. Friend's position.

Mr. Hurd : They are certainly closely linked, but we do not believe that, as a result of the Maastricht discussions, the Community should resolve itself into a defence Community. Our proposals, particularly in the Anglo-Italian paper on strengthening the Western European Union, are designed to deal with that point.

I wish to draw attention to the notable agreement reached between the Community and the European Free Trade Association countries, to form the new European economic area. Twelve Community countries and seven EFTA countries are involved ; several of the latter will join the Community as full members before long, but at this stage they are joining together under the agreement negotiated the other day in the world's largest single market, covering 40 per cent. of world trade. In world trade, one must look more widely. It is important that the long-running argument about the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade should be brought, at last, into the final straight. It is important that we take every opportunity to remind all concerned of what is at stake. Failure would bring serious dangers of impoverishment to all of us in Europe, in the United States, in New Zealand and in Australia, and especially to the developing world. Success will renew confidence in a world trading system that, on the whole, has functioned pretty well since the end of the second world war and would bring trade in services and agriculture fully into GATT. Among other more dramatic events, we must not lose sight of the importance of once again bringing the negotiations to the boil and to a successful conclusion.

Next week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will go to the NATO summit in Rome. NATO is completing the present phase of its transformation, which was launched at the summit in London in July last year. It is absolutely right that Europe should take a proportionately greater share of the effort in its own defences. That is the thinking behind the Anglo- Italian proposals which I mentioned. However, we are clear that it is neither wise nor safe to make or suggest arrangements within the European 12 which duplicate or undermine NATO. The

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existence of NATO and the presence of United States and Canadian forces in Europe--albeit at a reduced level--which comes with it is not a luxury. History tells us that it is crucial for the security and safety of Europe.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will the Foreign Secretary concede that NATO was the creation of the cold war politics of the immediate post-1945 period? As the cold war has obviously ended--and many of us did not believe in it in the first place--will he explain why there is any need for retaining NATO with its nuclear capability when there is no external threat, real or imaginary, to western Europe?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman may genuinely believe that we live in a peaceful, comfortable world in which history has been more or less abolished. If he has never believed in the cold war, he may believe in such a fairy story. Clearly, it is not so. Europe is vulnerable to all kinds of uncertainties and instabilities. We have talked about eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. No one can be sure about what will come out of that. Looking at the middle east or at north Africa, no one can be sure what threats that have not yet been clearly identified may emerge. To say that we should dismantle our security organisation and say goodbye to the Americans and Canadians is simply to fly in the face of history. The same mistake was made in the early 1920s, when people like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) put exactly the same argument. It was a great mistake ; one must try to make some effort to learn from history.

The threat has, of course, changed. The Warsaw pact has dissolved and we no longer face massed tanks and aircraft arranged in the centre of Europe. That is why Britain and its allies have undertaken a cautious and prudent reassessment of what is needed, from which comes "Options for Change" and the reorganisations involved in that. To go beyond that and to say that we do not need an army of 116,000, that we do not need to continue to have forces in NATO and that the Americans and Canadians do not need to either is to trifle with our safety, and we will not have anything to do with that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : The caravan moves on. Although I can accept what the Foreign Secretary says about the need for our own defences and for European defences in an uncertain world, why should America have to play a significant role in Europe in that respect? We are mature countries. Surely we are now capable of looking after our own defences in terms of priorities and everything else.

Mr. Hurd : History clearly teaches that the instinct of the United States is right and that it should continue to be involved in its own interests--albeit at a lower force level--in the defence of Europe. To discourage that is foolishness. In view of the interventions by the hon. Members for Islington, North and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)--and I am trying to make a remarkably uncontroversial speech--I must say that it is a disagreeable feature of the present political scene that both the main Opposition parties--and the Scottish National party--are exploiting the difficulties created by the amalgamation of regiments while proposing far harsher cuts, which would lead to far greater difficulties than any proposals from the Government could.

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It is one of those occasions on which people are saying and doing things, and creating scares, that bear no relation to the policies of the parties that are making such points. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will lose no opportunity to score that point.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : My right hon. Friend is right. Far from dismantling NATO, we should be building on its vast success over the past decade. In the light of what he has said, will he now accept that there may be a case for being more positive towards the wishes of Czechoslovakia and Hungary to be associated with or to come under the unbrella of NATO? Before he leaves the subject of NATO, will my right hon. Friend share with the House his thoughts on the Anglo-Italian agreement which he has recently reported as having been discussed and approved? The House would like to give its approval and to hear about the details.

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my right hon. Friend's first point, which will be one of the main subjects for discussion in Rome this week. Going beyond what was said at the previous NATO summit in Copenhagen, we need to find ways in which to show the countries of central and eastern Europe that NATO is their friend. We are not talking now about the formal extension of security guarantees, which is a different matter and not expected, but we need to find ways in which to work more closely with those countries.

The principles behind the Anglo-Italian paper, which I have mentioned and into which I do not want to go in great detail, are that any reference to a European defence identity or a European defence policy needs to be married absolutely to the Atlantic alliance, that the security of western Europe rests on that alliance and that we should not regard it as something temporary or superfluous with which we can dispense. I have argued that the Western European Union can be strengthened in two main ways--to act more coherently within the alliance as a European voice and to plan and prepare in any cases in which the countries of western Europe feel that they wish to make a military intervention outside the NATO area. Those are the two main thoughts in the Anglo-Italian paper. We warn strongly against any developments or plans in Europe which duplicate or undermine the principles of NATO.

Again, there is clearly an opportunity for strengthening the United Nations, which is capable of helping to resolve conflict. We have taken two initiatives in the General Assembly. First, there is the arrangement for a co-ordinator for disaster relief, which explains itself, and, secondly, there is the Prime Minister's initiative in proposing an international register of arms transfers. That is now going through the General Assembly, and when I was there in September it seemed to me that the prospects for getting that were reasonably good. Those would be two ways in which to strengthen the United Nations as a result of British initiatives.

The House has often shown concern about Cambodia, because the events in Cambodia during the past 20 years have been appalling. We have always sought a comprehensive political settlement in which the Cambodian people could determine their own future through free and fair elections. The agreements reached in Paris on 23 October, which were signed by my right hon.

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and noble Friend Lord Caithness, show that we are part of the progress that has been made and that Britain will play a full part in carrying out the agreements now being reached with that country. Cyprus from time to time arouses controversy in the House among hon. Members who study the matter. Whatever angle people bring to the dispute, they all believe that we in Britain have to be fully committed to searching for a settlement. I discussed this recently with the Secretary- General of the United Nations, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed it with the President of Cyprus. I have also discussed it in Ankara with the Turks. The old resolution, 649, and the new resolution, 716, map the way forward, and I hope that it will be possible for the Secretary-General to convene an international meeting leading to a framework agreement by the end of next year.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : The right hon. Gentleman is speaking about Cyprus, but may I bring his mind to a similar conflict closer to home? His speech to the Tory party conference caused deep concern throughout Ireland and seemed to be in contradiction to the initiative by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Foreign Secretary said in that speech that issues such as partition and sovereignty were not for discussion any more.

However, the initiative undertaken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which we understood was with the full and unequivocal support of the Government, included the proposal that all sets of relationships that go to the heart of the Irish problem--within Ireland, within Northern Ireland and between Britain and Ireland--were on the table for discussion. We understood that any party was free to put on the table any proposal aimed at resolving those relationships. The right hon. Gentleman's statement gave the impression that the Government were talking with two voices, and when one is trying to resolve a conflict, one does not do that.

Mr. Hurd : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes my speech that way. I have read press reports of it. I have kept a vow of silence since I left the Province precisely, because whatever one says is seized upon and can be interpreted in a way that enables someone to disagree strongly with it. I shall send the hon. Gentleman a text of what I said, where he will find a strong endorsement of what my right hon. Friend is trying to do and of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I was trying to tell people in this part of the nation that, as a public, we were not exerting ourselves to understand clearly what was happening in Northern Ireland and that, on the whole, the changes were hopeful. I have heard the hon. Gentleman give that message. I think that, if the hon. Gentleman reads the full text of my speech, he will change his interpretation of what I said.

Hong Kong is a matter of particular responsibility for Her Majesty's Government, in a way that most of the disputes that I have mentioned are not. During the recess, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reached a satisfactory agreement on the airport, which will enable that project to go ahead, to the great benefit of Hong Kong, while maintaining the principles to which we have stuck throughout the negotiations, and which led to the difficulties earlier in the spring when I went to Peking. That illustrates our intention to co-operate increasingly with the

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Chinese, as the joint declaration lays down, but to do so in a way that enables us to continue to administer Hong Kong and to stand up robustly for its interests.

The House will have noticed that we have reached an agreement with the Vietnamese Government about repatriation of those of the 65,000 people who are now in camps in Hong Kong who are screened out--that is, found not to be refugees. No one can have anything but great sympathy for people who take great risks to seek better lives overseas, but this is a problem not just in Hong Kong but, increasingly, nearer to home. We must distinguish between refugees as defined by the United Nations and those who are simply seeking a better life elsewhere.

Many of those in the camps in Hong Kong have been cruelly deceived into believing that, if they get to Hong Kong, they will be resettled in America or Australia. It cannot be right that this process should continue. Hong Kong has acted honourably in being a country of first asylum, but its burden cannot continue at this level. I hope that the agreement that has been signed and the steps that have been taken will send a clear message to those who might think of setting sail that there is no future for them in Hong Kong unless they are genuine refugees.

The Commonwealth has not featured much in foreign affairs debates in recent years because of the extent to which it has been immersed in rather futile arguments about South Africa. I believe that the Commonwealth is emerging from that stage. It is easy to be sceptical about declarations such as that which emerged from the Harare conference, but it is a crisply phrased endorsement of the principles of democracy and good government to which one would not have thought that the Commonwealth would agree. It is more than a set of words ; more than a repetition of the Singapore declaration of 1971. It is overwhelmingly in the interests of the countries concerned in the Commonwealth that they should go down the path sketched in the Harare declaration. The other model is discredited both intellectually and practically. It is not in communist Moscow or communist east Berlin that the future technicians and engineers of Africa and other places will be trained. The policies that came from those capitals, universities and colleges will no longer guide the future of, for example, Africa.

I went to one African airport last month and found the fringe of it littered with MIGs in various stages of decay. That is an illustration--a parable--of what is happening in Africa and other states to these morals, principles and philosophies, which are now being abandoned.

The Commonwealth can help with what is sometimes a difficult task. Britain has to get the note right. We are entitled to talk about good government, the importance of dealing with corruption and getting better administration, but we must find ways to do so that are not patronising and do not suggest either that we have got everything right ourselves or that there is a Westminister model that can be imposed willy-nilly on people with different backgrounds and cultures. It is helpful if the Commonwealth can take up that cause with the present Secretary-General and the present set-up. For example, it is helpful that there is a Commonwealth team monitoring the multi-party elections being held in Zambia yesterday and today. The Commonwealth can do that in a way that individual members could not.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : The Foreign Secretary is talking about good government.

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Should we not have a statement on Government policy in relation to the changes that have been taking place in Cambodia and on the still frightening situation in south-east Asia caused by the presence of the corrupt dictatorship in Indonesia, which has been practising genocide on the people of East Timor? That is particularly important because we still trade with that government, which is not a good Government.

Mr. Hurd : I have dealt with Cambodia. The hon. Gentleman's attention may have strayed, and I apologise if I did not hold it. I do not want to give an extensive account of our relations with Indonesia, but the principles that I have mentioned apply. I was talking about the Commonwealth. There is a possible relaunch--I do not want to be certain--of an institution that is finding a new role for itself.

It may be that I have dealt particularly with points of conflict, but I believe that the trend in world events is, on the whole, in the right direction and that governments are coming to realise what ordinary people know--for example, that market systems create more wealth and personal liberty than socialist systems.

The search by governments in Africa and eastern Europe is not for a halfway house. The applications for our know-how fund are not for schemes that Professor Tawney, the Webbs or the Fabian Society would have approved. They are going the whole way. Governments want help in privatisation schemes, in establishing competition, free trade and private ownership. They have an appetite for that now and Labour Members are being dragged rather unwillingly in the wake of the way that the world is going.

Sometimes since the war--quite often, in fact--those in charge of British foreign policy have felt, perhaps, that they were working against the grain of history, against the way in which the world was going. Sometimes the pressures on us to dismantle the British empire were felt to be forcing us to move more quickly than seemed at the time to be safe or sensible. Sometimes it seemed that the pressures of communism were prevailing, that our friends were going under, that more and more parts of the world were succumbing to the temptation and that our security was increasingly at risk. There is no such feeling now.

Those of us who try to work for British interests in these areas feel that we are going now with the grain of history. We are at the centre of events. No other country belongs to NATO, the Community, the Commonwealth, the Group of Seven and the United Nations Security Council. We are uniquely central in the developments and discussions that I have been talking about. It means that the merry-go-round of meetings is pretty formidable. It means also that our foreign policy has to be strenuous and energetic. However, I believe, that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and with the support and understanding of the House, we are well placed to persevere and to succeed.

10.30 am

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : In an extraordinary year this week has seen history being made. For the first time ever, Israelis and Arabs and Palestinians and Jews have sat round the same table. This could be the beginning of a process that we all pray will at last bring peace to the region, self-determination for the Palestinians, and security for the state of Israel. The conference has for

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