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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Soviet Union (Human Rights)

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further details have emerged about Soviet human rights violations over the last 12 months.

We are monitoring Soviet human rights performance closely and are aware that substantial abuses continue. I discussed these issues with Mr. Shevardnadze at Brize Norton on 7 December. While welcoming recent steps forward in Soviet performance, I stressed the need for further major progress in this area and handed over lists of individual cases about which we have received representations.

Bearing in mind that 51,000 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate in 1979, and that only 7,000 have been so allowed this year, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether his talks on 7 December gave reasonable hope that the Soviet Union might relax its stringent policy in this regard and perhaps pay more respect to the human rights that we should all like to see develop in that country?

The case that I was making to Mr. Shevardnadze, which we have continued to make to Soviet leaders on many occasions, is precisely that put by my hon. Friend.

Although the figures for Soviet Jewish emigration this year — 7,000 — are encouraging, they are very low compared with those achieved in the 1970s, with a peak of 51,000 in 1979. We shall continue to press the Soviet Union for more progress in that and every other aspect of human rights.

Will the Foreign Secretary explain what entitles us to lecture the Soviet Union on human rights, in the light of the number of innocent people in our own gaols? I refer in particular to the 11 innocent people convicted in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings.

Anyone who poses such a question must be blind to almost every aspect of the facts about both societies. The cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, like any cases of that kind, can be—and are—the subject of massive and extensive public debate in a press that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a Parliament that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a court system; and, beyond that, subject to the surveillance of the European Commission of Human Rights, as is every other aspect of human rights. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go back to his school room and study the most elementary facts of international politics.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make urgent representations to the Israeli Government about the infringement of human rights of the Arabs, whose countries have been invaded—

I was going to continue, Mr. Speaker, to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he would bear true regard to the effect of the influx of population from the Soviet Union to Israel, which resulted in deprivation of human rights among those whose land of birth has been invaded and abused by the military forces of the state of Israel.

I suppose that that question is remotely connected with the one on the Order Paper, and the answer is quite straightforward. In the interests of individual Soviet citizens of Jewish origin who wish to emigrate we shall continue to press the Soviet Union for freedom for those who wish to leave to be allowed to do so. That is an elementary component of the human rights case that we have pressed on the Soviet Union. With equal candour, we shall urge the Israelis to avoid all actions that may exacerbate conditions, create further obstacles to peace, increase the risk of confrontation and disregard the human rights of all the people who live in their territory. Our standards are the same and apply to both places in the same way.

Vienna Conference

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with progress at the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, Vienna conference, and in particular with the response of the Eastern countries to the proposals in respect of the privacy and integrity of mails and communications put forward by the United Kingdom and other delegations.

No, Sir. Some progress has been made in negotiations on a final document, but movement on human rights and contacts remains slow. There have been no significant developments on privacy and integrity of mails and telecommunications since my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) on 18 November, at column 599.

Will the Minister accept my sympathy and understanding of his dissatisfaction that progress has not been made, as many of us are also dissatisfied? Does he accept that the article in The Times on 8 December about the Shapiro family is one that deserves attention? At this time of the year children all over the world are writing to Santa Claus asking for their Christmas wishes to be granted, and a little girl of 10 has written to Mr. Gorbachev asking that she and her family might be allowed to go to Israel to meet her grandparents whom she has never seen. Does the Minister agree that that letter could be answered positively, and will he encourage such an answer to be given?

Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. As part of the contact that we have with the Soviet authorities we take the opportunity to put forward human rights cases in the hope that they can be resolved— a number have been—and to point out to leading figures in the Soviet Union that the growth of trust and confidence between East and West will take place only when human rights are as rigorously observed there as we try to ensure they are observed within our society.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the apparent connivance of the British Post Office in readily accepting the signatures of officials who sign receipts for registered mail in the Soviet Union? It is clear that that mail does not arrive. Should we not take further action in this country to ensure that we accept the signatures only of the people to whom the mail is addressed?

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. He will be glad to know that, as part of the Vienna CSCE process, we have tabled a document calling upon all participants to agree procedures that would mean that only the addressee, or an agent nominated by him—not one put up by the authorities—should be able to give a receipt in those circumstances. We believe that that and a number of other proposals put forward would guarantee much greater freedom for mail than we have any reason to believe exists at present.

The final document from Vienna has now been postponed for at least six months. Would progress there be much quicker if we were to recognise the spirit of Helsinki and realise that that conference consists of 35 nations of Europe and North America and not groups representing Eastern Europe, Western Europe and non-aligned countries? Should we not try to work together as countries of Europe and North America rather than as groups reflecting political philosophies?

Even though quite a lot of work is done through groups, there are already 140 different proposals on the table and no sign yet that anyone is able to knock those proposals together into something that is acceptable to all. Obviously, we hope that, as the climate improves between East and West, it will be possible to make progress on those issues. None of us wants to see the groups outlive their usefulness. However, at the moment the only prospect of making any progress is by trying to build as large a consensus as possible within groups on matters that can be collectively discussed.

South Africa (Front-Line States)

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what economic assistance the Government have given to the front-line Southern African states.

We have long been involved in working to strengthen the economies of the front-line states and to reduce their economic and transport dependence on South Africa. Since 1980 we have given £642 million to the front-line states bilaterally and pledged £35 million to projects of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her full answer and congratulate the Government on the constructive progress that they are making in support of the front-line states. Public attention is naturally focused on the northern end of the continent, Ethiopia, particularly at Christmas with the tragedy that is unfolding there, but what is the refugee position in Mozambique and what are the Government able to do to help?

During my recent visit to Mozambique and Malawi I announced in Malawi our willingness to provide substantial humanitarian aid for Mozambican refugees in Malawi. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is awaiting a detailed breakdown of the food and basic requirements of those refugees from the Malawi Government. Further, we are looking at the needs of Mozambicans who have been forced to flee their homes because of attacks on them.

Does the Minister accept that if the constant attempts at destabilisation that are being carried out day by day — including the recent attack in Botswana — are allowed to continue without Her Majesty's Government imposing adequate sanctions against those who permit apartheid, it does not matter how much economic aid is given to the front-line states?

I have discussed this issue with the President of Mozambique. I should tell the hon. Lady that whatever happens in South Africa—we strongly oppose any form of apartheid, the bandits of RENA RMO, or any other group, who are varied and perpetrating the most awful acts against children and adults across Mozambique— I do not believe that sanctions on South Africa would be of any help whatsoever. President Chissano is seeking to bring about peace between the people of Mozambique. I hope that any country that might be involved in cross-border violations will cease to do so forthwith. There is no reason whatsoever for cross-border violations.

As it has recently been announced that a complete Cuban division has been sent to Angola, and $1 billion has been sent in armament aid by the Soviet Union, will my right hon. Friend assure me that no aid from Great Britain has gone to that country? If it has, surely our ideas are fundamentally wrong.

I assure my hon. Friend that in no way are we assisting Angola, other than in a humanitarian sense. Some £317,000 has gone to Angola for human, civil projects, and not for any other.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that the contribution that the Government have made — on a Government-to-Government basis — to the front-line states since 1980 has declined in real terms, according to 1986 figures, by just under half? Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister has refused to co-operate on sanctions, but has said that she prefers to give help to the front-line states which are being so violated by the apartheid regime, does the Minister not think that more help should be given from now on?

I must tell the hon. Lady that the help that Britain has given to the front-line states has been universally acclaimed as the right way to gain the economic independence of those front-line states, particularly the land-locked countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. That has been helpful to them and will continue to be so, whatever value is given. In the past year alone, civil aid to the front-line states was over £80 million and a further £4·5 million was provided in military assistance for training.

East-West Relations

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on East-West relations.

We welcome the results of the Washington summit and hope that the intermediate nuclear forces agreement will lead to further effective and verifiable arms control measures. The more stable and cooperative East-West relationship that we want also requires full Soviet respect for human rights and cooperation over regional conflicts, including early withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The House will rejoice at the signing of the INF treaty in Washington and the roles that were played by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Prime Minister in the successful conclusion of the talks. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that future progress on East-West talks must clearly be linked to the Russians demonstrating, not only by word but by deed, that they are fit to be treated as the moral equals of the West and that they must get out of Afghanistan?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support of the INF treaty. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing the hope that it will be speedily ratified and brought into force. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The continued presence of over 100,000 Soviet troops there and the continued absence, as refugees, of 5 million Afghan people from their own country are severe obstacles to the proper development of full relations between East and West. Improvement in that respect is one of the several touchstones by which we shall judge the long-term attitude of the Soviet Union.

Is not the Foreign Secretary now trying to undermine the INF treaty, which was signed only a week ago, by entering into negotiations for an Anglo-French air-launched missile, thereby destroying the arrangement that previously existed? Will he not be regarded as committing an even greater crime against humanity than those that have been perpetrated by other members of the Government Front Bench?

The intemperate language that the hon. Gentleman seems to find it so difficult to resist demonstrates the total emptiness of his question. We have negotiated and worked long and hard to secure completion of the INF agreement. We welcome it and want to see it ratified, endorsed, and fully in effect. At the same time, we are perfectly entitled, just as the Soviet Union and its allies are, to maintain the effectiveness of forces that are not covered by the agreement.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while Soviet citizens who apply to emigrate continue to be persecuted, and while religious and political dissidents continue to be subjected to imprisonment, systematic torture and psychiatric abuse, it would not be prudent to regard glasnost as anything more than another exercise in exploring the frontiers of Western gullibility?

Certainly we should keep in mind the extent to which standards in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern European countries fall well short of those enjoined by the Helsinki agreement. At the same time, we must acknowledge that many subjects that were not previously under discussion are now open for discussion. We welcome that as an important step in the right direction. We want to take advantage of that increased openness to achieve the higher standards for which my hon. Friend rightly presses.

Sri Lanka

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Indian Government concerning the refugee situation in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

We have made no representations. We understand that few people left Jaffna during the recent fighting, although there was severe dislocation within the province. The Indian Government have since provided relief supplies. Services are now being restored and life is gradually returning to normal.

Does the Minister realise that there are no independent and reliable reports of what is going on in Jaffna? The International Red Cross is not being allowed in to bring humanitarian and medical aid. There may be thousands of homeless people or refugees. Many people outside Jaffna are asking, "If the Indian Government have nothing to hide, why do they not allow in independent observers and agencies?" Is it not about time that the Government made representations in strong terms to the Indian Government to allow the International Red Cross and other observers to find out exactly what is going on in the province and to try to assist what may still be a severely disruptive and unsatisfactory international situation?

I am not entirely sure where the hon. Gentleman gets his information. Many people appear to have fled their homes during the fighting, but most, if not all, returned later. Food and medical supplies are being provided by the Indian Government. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that on 10 December, in Colombo, Her Majesty's Government were represented at a meeting that was convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Will my hon. Friend make it absolutely clear to the House that the harm that is being done to refugees on the Jaffna peninsula lies clearly at the door of the Tamil Tigers, who have a callous disregard for civilian life, and not at the door of the Indian Government'?

We very much support the agreement reached between the Indian Government and the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that that agreement is the only route to a lasting solution of the ethnic conflict.

Horn Of Africa

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what report he has received from the United Kingdom ambassador to the United Nations concerning United Nations policy towards the Horn of Africa.

We are continuously in touch with developments through Her Majesty's ambassadors to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia and our permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. The United Nations development programme resident representative in Addis Ababa, Mr. Michael Priestley, is co-ordinating work to alleviate the current famine in Ethiopia and he has our fullest support.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is tragic that three quarters of Ethiopia's national wealth is now spent on arms, that Ethiopia has just secured a $4 billion credit from the Russian Government for further arms procurement, and that no fewer than 300,000 young Ethiopians have now been press-ganged into the armed forces? Is it not time that the Ethiopian Government started to discover ways of resolving internal strife in Ethiopia and spent less on arms and more on food? Will my right hon. Friend urge our ambassador at the United Nations, for whom we have the greatest respect, to try to bring pressure to bear on the Ethiopian Government, through the international community in the shape of the United Nations, to start peacefully to resolve Ethiopia's internal difficulties so that that country can begin to produce food to keep itself once more?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a tragic situation, and we very much regret the continued fighting. It is causing great hardship and threatening the international relief effort. On 13 November we and our European partners deplored the attack on and destruction of a United Nations relief aid convoy. As I have said before in the House, a ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations would relieve much suffering and assist relief efforts. We, together with our European partners, will continue to urge progress towards a peaceful solution of the internal conflicts in Ethiopia, and I am sure that our ambassador at the United Nations will do all that he can to bring home to the Ethiopian Government what is going on.

In the long term, Ethiopia will improve its ability to feed itself only if the Ethiopian Government's agricultural policies stop discouraging farmers in the more fertile regions from growing food. They can produce a surplus to feed the growing population and provide reserves against natural disasters.

I welcome the Minister's comments about the efforts of the Government and of the international community in working for peace in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, will the right hon. Lady make it clear that the fact that a tragic war is taking place will not be made an excuse to listen to the voices that are sometimes heard in the House as a reason not to give aid to the civilian population of Ethiopia?

The Government and all hon. Members wish to see humanitarian aid given to the Ethiopian people, but there is no way in which we will help the Ethiopian Government, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said, are spending tremendous amounts of money on armaments rather than feeding their own people. Therefore, all our efforts will be towards humanitarian aid and persuading the Ethiopian Government that their policies of villagisation and forced resettlement are wrong, counter-productive and not in the interests of their people or of anyone else in that region.

Is it not clear that a major element in the serious and worrying famine setting in once again in Ethiopia is the continuing warfare? Will Her Majesty's Government press, through the United Nations and our allies, for the early removal of foreign military forces from Ethiopia — specifically the large contingents of Soviet military bloc advisers and Cuban forces, which have been aiding the puppet Mengistu regime?

As my hon. Friend probably knows, we have already pressed for that, and we shall continue to do so. Our frustration — like that of the rest of the free world wishing to see Ethiopia able to cope with its ghastly famine problem—is that we are not listened to as we would be listened to by most other sensible nations. In that respect, there is a marked contrast between the way in which the Ethiopian Government have responded to the need for food and the way in which the Mozambican Government have responded by handing the land back to the people of Mozambique and increasing the production of food for their own people.

European Community

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the European Commissioner, Lord Cockfield; and what matters were discussed.

I last met Lord Cockfield on 18 November, when we discussed matters of current interest in the Community, notably the negotiations on the Community's financial situation.

Has the Secretary of State raised with Lord Cockfield the concern that many of us feel about the regional and social effects of his proposals concerning the internal market; in particular, proposals to open up public supply contracts and harmonise VAT rates? Will he give us an undertaking that he will not proceed further along this road of the internal market until a full assessment of the social and regional effects on the least well-off is published?

I should not be disposed to accept the hon. Lady's advice in that respect. The fulfilment of the internal market, which is one of the central objectives of the Community and has been so from the outset, is rightly recognised as an important objective. We have been making significant progress in that direction recently, for example, with the fulfilment of the internal air transport agreement. Of course, it is necessary for the Community's structural funds to continue to be operated in a fashion best designed to help those areas most entitled to support, but that is no reason for not securing early progress with the internal market.

Will not the single European market proposed for 1992 be enormously beneficial to this country, provided that British business is sufficiently alert to seize the opportunity that it will provide? Yesterday the president of the CBI made remarks about the low level of awareness of British business, which is about 5 per cent. compared with that of other countries, for example, France, where the figure is 80 per cent. Bearing that in mind, what consultations is my right hon. and learned Friend having with his colleagues about the means of improving British business awareness.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The single market does not just involve the establishment of common rules and the elimination of trade barriers. It involves persuading the leadership of British commerce and industry of the importance of that market and of the challenges and opportunities that it offers. It is for that reason that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is launching a campaign precisely of the sort that my right hon. Friend has in mind to help British industry increase and make the most of opportunities that will be offered by completion of the market by 1992.

Will the Foreign Secretary consider the fact that, since the Community was created, regional imbalances have increased and that, although the completion of the internal market may generate new economic activity within the Community, it will not benefit the regions unless the Government and other Community Governments take specific measures to ensure that? Why will he not make such a study? Is it because it would embarrass the Government?

No. The hon. Gentleman knows that, since before world war two, and throughout the decades which have governed our politics, regional policy has been the subject of almost continuous study and adjustment. It is still something which the Government study very closely as part of the wider components of Community regional policy embodied in the structural funds. Any such devices should be effective for the purpose for which they are advocated.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that not only British business, but the British Government, stand to gain from the early achievement of the common market? Will he ensure that other Departments in Whitehall, besides the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, are made aware that it concerns all of them?

My hon. Friend is right. It is one of the reasons why we have always adopted a structure of government in relation to the Community that is designed to enlist the interest and support of all Departments of State. It is right, for example, that the establishment of sufficient openness in the awarding of public sector contracts should be regarded as an obligation by all Government Departments. I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend.

Given that a number of MEPs have already raised the issue of the imprisonment of environmentalists and the suppression of their organisations in Malaysia, and that British and other European tourists have come under threat of similar treatment, to such an extent that some have been forced to leave Malaysia very precipitately—

What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the EEC Commissioners, or what representations does he intend to make, on these issues?

So far as any representations are appropriate in respect of such matters, they will have been made direct to the Malaysian Government.

Afghanistan

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest initiatives to remove Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

The European Council recently called on the Soviet Union to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by 1988. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reinforced this message when she met Mr. Gorbachev last week.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although it is encouraging that the Soviet Union has given several signs recently of wishing to adopt a. less menacing posture in the world, it is in direct contradiction to that that it should pursue the subjugation by brutal military force of a neighbouring country? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that if the representations that he and the Prime Minister are making yield no result he will, in due time, consider with out allies what further support and aid we can give to the Afghan resistance?

The best support that we can give to the case for Afghan self-determination is that represented by the pressure that we and our partners in the European Community and the overwhelming majority of the United Nations have given year after year, pressing for the withdrawal of all Soviet troops, the return of the 5 million refugees with honour and safety, and the restoration of Afghanistan's non-alignment and independence. The Afghan people must be given the right to self-determination. We shall continue to take whatever action seems most appropriate to secure that end.

As someone who attacked the Soviet Union for going into Afghanistan at the time and who has always taken the view since that the sooner Soviet troops left the sooner the people of Afghanistan could have their own freedom, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider my view that there should be initiatives to ask the United States of America to remove itself from various parts of the world and not to bolster up reactionary dictatorships, as it does at present?

I must confess that I find it difficult to understand how an hon. Member of the hon. Gentleman's distinction and experience could fall into the trap of equating any other situation with that existing in Afghanistan, which is the source of the world's greatest refugee problem. About 5 million people have been turned out of their homes and 50,000 people have been killed or injured during the past year. That is the most blatant violation of national independence. Afghanistan has seen some of the greatest abuses of human rights that we have ever known. It is not possible to equate any of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred with that continuing monstrosity.

Middle East

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on progress towards a middle east peace settlement.

We welcome the Amman summit's endorsement of a peace conference under United Nations auspices and have called on all concerned to agree arrangements for the conference to be held as soon as possible. I shall be discussing these and other matters with senior Israeli Ministers when I visit Israel next month.

In the context of non-progress towards a peace settlement, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the past few weeks Israeli repression on the West Bank and in Gaza has been responsible for the killing of more than 20 Palestinians, including several schoolchildren? Bearing in mind that we are a permanent member of the Security Council, even if we cannot compel Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with United Nation's resolution, could we not at least do something to curb the brutality of its army of occupation?

We are seriously concerned by the current upsurge in violent incidents, especially in Gaza, and have registered that concern with the Israeli authorities. Certainly, we hope that the Israeli occupation forces will respond in a humane and de-escalatory manner to the incidents that are taking place, because it is important not to intensify the cycle of violence. Of course, we deplore violence from whatever quarter it comes. However, it illustrates the dangers that are inherent in unresolved conflicts and the urgency of the search for a long-term, peaceful settlement in that area.

In the context of the persistent initiatives of Israel's Foreign Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, for a peace conference, in the setting of the most welcome visit of Israel's President, Chaim Herzog, which ends today, and in recognition of 40 years of Israel's vibrant democracy, which it is now celebrating, will the Minister take this opportunity to express the Government's salute to that democracy and to the joint efforts of Her Majesty's Government and the Israeli Government to achieve that peace settlement and the resolution of those unhappy disputes which lead to such misery for all concerned?

It is a key element of the British Government's policy to recognise the right of Israel to secure existence, and of course we welcome Israel's celebrating its 40th anniversary. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others are engaged regularly in discussions, notably with Mr. Peres, on the need for an international conference to try to resolve the long-standing problems, particularly of the occupied territories, without which one suspects the future of Israel will be difficult. I very much regret that the position put forward by some in favour of an international conference is not the position of all the Israeli Government.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) that the vibrancy of Israeli democracy is most strongly felt by the beat of Israeli truncheons on the necks of Palestinian children? Will he tell the Israeli President, who is currently in this country, that the murderous activities of his arrogant stormtroopers in territories in which they have no right to be is totally unacceptable to the House? Will he tell him further, most strongly, that if no action is taken to resolve this issue the Government will take action to help to resolve it?

We must be careful not to appear like competing football fans cheering on our teams in the dispute. Our view is quite clear—I believe the feeling is shared by many people within the state of Israel—that there can be no long-term security for the state of Israel if now almost 50 per cent., and in the future more than 50 per cent., of its citizens are not Israelis but Arabs, many of whom do not feel that they ought to be in Israel. Until that position is resolved, there will be instability. That is why we are doing our best in a non-propagandist way to call for an international conference, in the hope that the moderate leadership of the Arab world will be able to come to terms with the Government of Israel and make some progress under the auspices of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

I join, perhaps rarely, the Minister in the moderate words that he used and say that Labour Members are strongly repelled by the killings in recent days in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Is he aware that we share the widespread repugnance in the world, even among the friends of the state of Israel, at the use of live ammunition to suppress dissidents in the occupied territories, when their continued existence threatens the permanent peace of the region? Will he take steps to pursue more vigorously the idea of an international conference and to persuade the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Shamir—as distinct from his Foreign Minister Peres — of the reckless and almost suicidal nature of his opposition to an international conference?

Very real vigour is being brought to bear on this. If the hon. Gentleman had read the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend to the Conservative Friends of Israel in October he would have seen very great vigour there. We should continue to try to bring to bear all the sensible pressure that we can to make those concerned with the resolution of the dispute realise the reality of the position. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who asked about this earlier, when asking me to commend Israeli democracy, as I am prepared to do, that that democracy is not extended to the occupied territories. Until it is, or until the position is resolved otherwise, there will never be the harmony that we want to see.

El Salvador

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he intends to seek to make an official visit to El Salvador in the next year.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no present plans to visit El Salvador.

Will the Minister comment on the likely effect on the civil crisis of statements such as that made by General Bustillo, the Chief of the Armed Forces in El Salvador last Friday, in which he criticised the Left-wing opposition in El Salvador, criticised Amnesty International and made ominous warnings to the Government of El Salvador? Will he make it quite clear that the making of such a statement is utterly incompatible with the training of El Salvadorian military personnel in Britain?

May I say, first, that no military personnel from El Salvador are being trained in Britain at the present time. The whole question of the compliance of all countries in the region with the peace agreement will be considered on 15 January by the five Presidents, as agreed under the Arias plan. It is best to suspend judgment until then.

Does my hon. Friend recall that the Inter-Parliamentary Union will meet in Guatemala in the spring? Will he take this opportunity to express his satisfaction with the restoration of diplomatic relations between this country and Guatemala and perhaps reflect on the part played by the British group in the IPU in furthering that process?

Of course we look forward to the IPU meeting in Guatemala. We are delighted that we have been able to restore diplomatic relations with Guatemala and it may he possible to discuss that further in the next question.

Is the Minister aware that while public attention has been concentrating understandably on the spectacular progress made in implementing the Central American peace plan by the Government of Nicaragua, there has been a regression in the situation in El Salvador? Death squads are back in the streets of San Salvador, two human rights activists have been murdered and the Far Right is flexing its muscles again. Will Her Majesty's Government urge President Duarte to start a dialogue with the opposition and end the murderous attacks on the civilian population?

I do not think that the use of emotive language is very helpful in relation to what is happening in the region. May I state gently to the hon. Gentleman that full civil liberties have still not been restored within Nicaragua. Only recently President Ortega said publicly that the Sandinistas would not hand over power if they lost elections—if elections are held—but would use the army to undermine any elected Government.

Guatemala

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek to pay an official visit to Guatemala.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no present plans to visit Guatemala.

If the Minister has no plans to visit Guatemala, will he at least recognise that, because of the position in Belize, we have some leverage over events in that area, which we can use for the good of the peace accord? Will he assure the House that it will be impressed upon the Guatemalan Government on every possible occasion that any failure on their part to comply with the peace accord and the general movement towards peace in the area will have extremely adverse effects on the normalisation of our relations with them over Belize?

We welcome the constructive initiatives that have been taken by the Guatemalan Government in accordance with the Guatemalan accord, which that Government played a major part in initiating and following through. Again, I must state that the Presidents from the five countries concerned will be meeting on 15 January to evaluate the progress that has been made.

Should my hon. Friend or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State reassess the imminence of a visit to Guatemala, will they make a point of calling in on the drug liaison officers posted in the area in Central and South America and ascertain whether they have sufficient support to continue the extremely good work that they have been doing for some years?

I know very well my hon. Friend's great interest in matters relating to drugs in South and Central America. I assure him that I keep a very close watch on that.

If such a meeting takes place, will the hon. Gentleman urge Guatemala to ease the pressure on Belize, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) suggested, if only because that may help to co-ordinate efforts against the misuse of drugs in both countries?

That is a matter of concern to us. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Belize Government have made extensive efforts to eradicate marijuana and have expressed concern about the dangers to that country and others of the traditional marijuana routes being used by cocaine smugglers.

With regard to the state of negotiation between Belize and Guatemala, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that both countries have expressed a willingness to talk. But, sadly, the meeting that took place between the relevant Foreign Ministers in April this year was somewhat disappointing. We hope that both sides will meet again to discuss a way towards settlement.

Aids

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to raise the issue of the global implications of AIDS at ministerial level at the United Nations.

On 20 October my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services addressed a special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on AIDS. To promote ministerial discussion of AIDS we are also organising a world summit of Health Ministers in London from 26 to 28 January 1988.

The World Health Organisation estimates that within five years there will be 100 million cases of AIDS; in the subsequent five years, most of those people will develop AIDS and die. Does my hon. Friend believe that Ministers are adequately seized of the gravity of the problem?

My hon. Friend rightly stresses the enormous scale of the problem. The threat from AIDS is no respecter of territorial integrity. The WHO should play a central role in the battle against AIDS, and we have given it our full support. We have already contributed £3·25 million to its programme, in addition to the £14 million which has been voted for domestic research into a cure for AIDS. It was precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave that we decided, with the WHO, to host the important summit that will take place in London next year. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that so far we have received 94 firm acceptances from Governments, all of whom—with the exception of only seven countries —will be represented at ministerial level.

Mr Charles Powell

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects Mr. Charles Powell, currently in post at Number 10 Downing street, to return to a post in his Department or as one of Her Majesty's ambassadors.

Does the Foreign Secretary recollect that in paragraph 187 of its report the Select Committee on Defence on Westland, an all-party Committee, confirmed that from 7 January 1986 Mr. Charles Powell was in a position to keep the Prime Minister fully informed about the role of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter? If Mr. Charles Powell was really so incompetent as not to have told the Prime Minister, whom he sees three or four times a day, about the role of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, why is it that he was promoted in post and why did he keep his job—if, if, if?

I have nothing to add to the numerous statements and answers to questions from the hon. Gentleman given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, especially — in relation to Mr. Powell's promotion — the written answer on 5 November this year, at column 121. Mr. Powell has a justified reputation as a very able official.

Has it not been the mark of the moral bully down the ages that he publicly and gratuitously attacks a man knowing full well that his victim cannot answer back?

Will the Foreign Secretary consider appointing Mr. Charles Powell to a job in the Falkland Islands, where he could begin the process of developing a dialogue between Falkland islanders and the Argentine Government? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the biggest impediment to that dialogue is the activities of Mr. Patrick Watts, a local journalist, whose manipulation—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Foreign Secretary's economality with the truth on this, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Commonwealth Conference

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the implementation by the United Kingdom of decisions reached at the recent Commonwealth conference.

Many of the Vancouver decisions will take time to implement. We have already provided another 20 training places for black South Africans, we will contribute to greater Commonwealth efforts to assist the front-line states, including Mozambique, and play our part in the Commonwealth Secretariat's working group on distance learning.

In addition to welcoming the trade policy and the training programme which my right hon. Friend mentioned, does she agree with the importance of increasing our trade with and investment in the less developed countries of the Commonwealth, so as to help them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the first, important things is to make progress in the Uruguay round. The exploratory phase during the first year is on schedule, and detailed negotiations begin next year. In addition, it is important that we continue to make progress on the African debt issue. Two elements of the Chancellor's initiative on sub-Saharan debt — more regional technical assistance and longer rescheduling and grace periods in the Paris club — are already being implemented. We are still trying to persuade other countries to agree lower interest rates. We have offered a contribution to support Mr. Camdessus's initiative to enlarge the IMF structural adjustment facility. We still hope for conclusions to negotiations this year. In future there will be extra finance from the international finance institutions for Caribbean countries, and we hope to have a substantial early increase in the general capital increase in world trade.

Are we not in a unique situation at the Vancouver summit, in that we are isolated from the 47 other members of the Commonwealth on the key issue of sanctions? We are isolated, standing out against the call for a genuine effort to secure the universal adoption of limited sanctions, and we are isolated in refusing to join our Commonwealth colleagues in monitoring the implementation of sanctions. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign Secretary has vetoed the proposal for a meeting between the European Community countries and the ACP countries on South Africa and has, therefore, true to form, again defended South Africa?

We have done nothing to stand in the way of appropriate dialogue with ACP countries, frontline states and other countries involved in those conflicts. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to describe the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as negative. There was widespread recognition that there is no quick solution and that the momentum for change must come from within South Africa. There was full endorsement of the United Kingdom policy of practical help for the front-line states and for black South Africans.[Interruption.] No, we were not on our own. We had full endorsement. I must say that there was agreement that we will coninue to differ over sanctions, but our common commitment in the Commonwealth to a peaceful and fundamental change through negotiations was agreed on, as well as the importance of dialogue and the enhanced programme of Commonwealth assistance to South Africa's neighbours.

East-West Relations

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what improvements in East-West relations he estimates will follow from the visit of Mr. Gorbachev to Britain.

Mr. Gorbachev's visit to Britain permitted a review of the main issues in East-West relations, arms control, regional conflicts and human rights. It demonstrated both the considerable improvement in our own relations with the Soviet Union and the possibilities for wider co-operation if both sides are ready to discuss our problems openly and constructively.

May I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the positive and constructive role of the British Government, which was illustrated by Mr. Gorbachev's decision to visit Britain on his way to Washington last week? May I ask him to emphasise to Mr. Gorbachev the importance that the West attaches to the internal liberalisation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the substantial contribution that that would make to our relations?

The human dimension is vital to East-West relations and certainly will not be neglected in our discussions.

We all agree that, last week, East-West relations took a step forward with the signing of the INF treaty. However, today we shall take a step back, with the United States, after 18 years, again producing chemical weapons. It is to the credit of the Government that, over a number of recent years, they have made efforts to obtain a global treaty to end the production of such weapons. Are any new initiatives being proposed by the Government with regard to chemical weapons and, in particular, verification?

I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the British Government have played a leading role in Geneva by tabling a series of papers dealing with verification and the way in which an international organisation might approach the task of removing chemical weapons over a 10-year period. I can assure him that we intend to keep up the momentum in those discussions and use every effort to ensure that the difficult verification issues are properly tackled.

Does my hon. and learned Friend recollect that Mr. Gorbachev first visited the United Kingdom in December 1984 as the guest, not of the Government, but of this House and of the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Does my hon. and learned Friend see a continuing parliamentary contribution to the increasingly—thank goodness—good relations between our two countries and to a constant, continuing dialogue between this House and the Supreme Soviet?

I recall some fetching photographs of my hon. Friend with Mr. Gorbachev at that time. I am sure that Mr. Gorbachev and other senior Soviets would welcome the opportunity to come and be photographed again with my hon. Friend.