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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lord, the US embargo on Cuba is a bilateral matter between the states involved. We are, however, deeply concerned about the latest US legislation, which contains extra-territorial powers which seek to impose US law on UK companies. We shall be examining the legislation carefully to determine the appropriate response.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I accept that the decision is entirely bilateral. However, is my noble friend aware that the implementation of the Helms-Burton Act would be extremely damaging not only to British Companies, but to many other international companies, at a time when trade and investment opportunities in Cuba look extremely encouraging? Furthermore, is my noble friend aware that the extra-territorial provisions in that Act are such that they must be entirely contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of GATT which is at present being implemented by the World Trade Organisation? If so, are we making appropriate representations?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we agree with my noble friend that this is a serious matter and may very well be contrary to the principles of free trade. We are studying the legislation carefully with our European partners to determine its compatibility with the United States' international obligations under GATT and other international agreements.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, will the Government arrange to discuss this matter also with our fellow Commonwealth member, Canada, and not just with the European countries? Canada has a different view on this matter and has expressed it. It might be a good idea to have a word with Canada.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, although this action was bilateral, as the noble Baroness explained, it has wider implications, which she also explained. In view of that, did the US Government have contact with other countries such as our own before they took this action?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am afraid that I have no information as to whether the United States was in contact with us before it took the action that it did. We have certainly been in contact with it since, as have many of our other partners.
Baroness Young: My Lords, while I welcome my noble friend's response to the Question, can she say anything about what would be the reaction of Her Majesty's Government if UK companies were taken to court by the Cuban Americans in the next few days? I ask in my capacity as chairman of the Cuba Initiative which seeks to promote trade between Britain and Cuba.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, parts of the US legislation dealing with trafficking in expropriated property do not come into force until 1st August. No action can therefore be taken in the US courts until that date. If the Cuban Americans wish to challenge the constitutionality of that delay, that is a matter for the US courts only.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, perhaps I may take the noble Baroness further into this matter. Since clearly the legislation signed by the President the other day is against international law, and in particular against the provisions generally administered by the WTO at the moment--incidentally, I cannot make out why the noble Baroness calls the legislation bilateral; there was never anything more unilateral in the world--is it necessary to wait until a British company is taken to court next time it sets foot on US soil? In view of the obvious, I am almost inclined to say, delinquency of the legislation, is it not possible to go to the WTO before that happens?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as I think I said, we have already made a series of these bilateral demarches and we have joined in European ones. As regards what we can do in the future, and what the noble Lord asked me, of course the Government will be
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, given that Canada and Mexico--I appreciate that reference to Canada has already been made--as members of the NAFTA, have signalled their intention to bring legal action against the US under the NAFTA, can my noble friend reassure us that the British Government will do all that is possible to support Canada and Mexico in those actions?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we are not a party to the NAFTA, but, as I said, we are equally concerned about the legislation. We have already been in touch about the matter with the Canadians and the Mexicans.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that our trade relations with Cuba are now a matter for the EU? The EU has, quite rightly, strongly condemned this act. What advice are the Government giving UK companies currently trading with Cuba, many of which are likely unknowingly to fall foul of the Bill? In doing so they may risk their trade with the USA which is probably far more important than their trade with Cuba.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are looking carefully at the Helms-Burton legislation to decide what they can and what they cannot do. We shall be advising companies which already trade there because, as noble Lords know, Her Majesty's Government encourage trade with Cuba. We hope that all these matters will be dealt with satisfactorily.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, in making representations to the US on the question of Cuba, will the Government also take into account other extra-territorial legislation sitting before the two Houses of Congress; for instance, that put forward by Senator D'Amato?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, it would be inappropriate for me to answer something about which I am afraid I do not know. I should certainly not like to have some kind of international incident because this Whip got up and said something incorrect.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, government policy on trade with Cuba has not changed. The UK enjoys normal trade relations with Cuba. In 1995 the value of UK exports to Cuba was £19.16 million, and we had a trade surplus of £11 million. The Government's policy is to support the efforts of
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I and many other people will be encouraged by what she said about our trade with Cuba? Is she aware that there is already a growing shortage of good Havana cigar leaf? I would hate to think that anything the American Government or our Government did would result in a further shortage of that fine leaf which makes such wonderful cigars.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, in the light of the unanimity of the remarks made this afternoon from all quarters of the House, will my noble friend ensure that the UK makes the strongest possible representations on this subject in Washington?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in relation to the question just asked, is my noble friend aware that the US claims extra-territorial jurisdiction beyond that claimed by any other state in the world?
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that the fact that Her Majesty's Government support trade with Cuba does not necessarily mean that we support its government?