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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I tried to make clear, it has been reassuring to hear the words currently spoken by the Austrian Government. We have to wait to see whether those words are capable of being relied upon. Implicit in the noble Lord's comments is the fact that we have to wait to see whether they will come good. That is what we are doing; we are waiting and seeing. There is a hope that their words can be relied upon, but there is at the moment no confidence that that will be so.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, in view of the preceding question, does not the noble Baroness agree that, rather than waiting to see whether the Austrian Government do everything right, it might be better to wait to see whether they do anything wrong, which so far they have not done? Furthermore, in response to a question on proportional representation, the noble Baroness said that it is up to each country to make its choice. Is it not true that in this case the Austrian people have made their choice? What business have we to interfere in the democratic process of another country?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's final point, we are most certainly not interfering in the democratic process of another country. It is for each country to decide how it wishes to vote and by whom it wishes to be governed. By the same token, it is for each country to decide whether it wishes to associate itself with any such government once it has been formed. We must not forget that Austria, as it is currently constituted, is one of the countries at the heart of the EU and therefore occupies a special place in terms of importance. We wish to give a clear signal on this matter. The 14 nations have done that in the stance that they have adopted.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that over the years Austria has made an enormous contribution to the Council of Europe and to the cause of human rights in Europe. Will my noble friend inquire whether the particular party in question will be accepted in any party grouping within the
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the anxiety of the noble Lord in that regard. I do not think that I can give a specific answer in relation to it. If the situation were to change, I would be most happy to write to the noble Lord.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, how will the policy that Her Majesty's Government are adopting apply to the new entrants from eastern Europe? The governments of those new entrants contain people who presided over tyrannies in eastern Europe. Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to apply the same standard to Hungary, Poland and to countries whose governments contain people who have carried out a doctrine of tyranny?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, at this point none of the countries that the noble Lord has mentioned is a member of the EU. I refer to the first Starred Question today. Of course we all know that there is much to be done in order to bring countries into alignment as regards the issues which we hold dear, such as human rights, democracy and transparency. All those challenges still exist. However, I remind noble Lords that Austria has already joined our family. It is important for us to look at the mote in our own eye before we try to remove the splinters from other people's.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I am quite old enough to remember what the days of Hitler were like and I understand the fear and the anger. But could I suggest that, in paying so much attention to this small, unpleasant creature, Mr Haider, who does not represent his country and is not a member of the government, we are giving him stature, and that is a terrible thing to do; it is a great responsibility? I suggest most strongly that the presence of the Austrian Foreign Minister in the Council should have provided the opportunity for people to speak to her and make it clear that we believe in the good parts of Austria and that we do not believe that Mr Haider--as I say, an insignificant, horrible little creature--represents anything serious at all.
It was important to give a signal. The Government's response has been one of balance. We have given that signal, which has been responded to and taken very seriously by Austria. It is important to continue to reassess the situation and your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that that is what we intend to do. No precipitous act has been taken in relation to Austria; it has merely had a very clear shot across its bows.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the British subsidiary of an Austrian company. Does the Minister recall that last month the Foreign Secretary propounded a policy of building bridges not barriers and of critical engagement with regimes with which we may disagree? Since he is following such a policy in relation to China, Cuba and Libya--which are dictatorships--why is he not following it in relation to Austria, which is a democracy?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are certainly following a policy. There is no restraint at all in terms of trade links, and ambassadors are still present in Austria. Ministerial communication has obviously not continued and is in abeyance at the moment, but functioning communication between Austria and ourselves is continuing.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, perhaps I may press the points made by my noble friends Lord Hurd and Lord Dahrendorf. Will sanctions be lifted when the Austrian Government have proved their good faith? If so, what guidelines have been laid down for them to do so? Surely such guidelines are known to the Minister. Or is the Government's policy that, as long as the Freedom Party remains in the Austrian Government coalition, it can never be business as usual with Austria as far as Britain is concerned?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is far too wise to expect me to lay down in stone the Government's response. We want to make a proportionate and appropriate response to the situation as it has unfolded. We have made a clear decision not to continue relations with Austria on the same basis. We have communicated that to Austria and we have set the parameters. Those parameters, at the moment, will not change until there are factors which cause us to reconsider our position.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton will, with the leave of the House, repeat a statement which is being made in another place on the North Wales child abuse report.
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