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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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South Africa

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the South African ambassador; and what subjects he expects to discuss with him.

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent communications he has had with the South African Government about the situation in that country.

I have no present plans for an early meeting with the South African ambassador. But we maintain regular contact with the South African authorities, both here and via Her Majesty's ambassador, on a wide range of issues.

Will the Secretary of State accept that it is time that further representations were made about the Sharpeville Six? The court has now stated that the Sharpeville Six were convicted on the basis, not that they had any direct connection with the deceased, but that they were in the vicinity when the crime was committed. The implications of that are pretty appalling. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that it is time to ask the Prime Minister, given the special relationship that she says she has with President Botha, to make representations on the Sharpeville Six as a matter of urgency?

The House will realise that there is a specific question on this topic on the Order Paper a little later. It is right that we have followed the case closely and with concern. Through the German presidency of the Community, on behalf of the 12 members, we appealed for clemency for the Sharpeville Six on humanitarian grounds on 4 December. On 18 December we gave our support to a statement issued on behalf of the United Nations Security Council urging the South African Government to commute the death sentences on the Six. Since then, we have directly reiterated our concern to the South African Government.

Given the appeals for clemency submitted by the United Nations Security Council and the EEC, which have been supported by hon. Members, Church organisations and anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, will the Secretary of State please urge the Prime Minister to intervene directly with President Botha to save the lives of these six young people, who seem to have been wrongly convicted?

I have seen the early-day motion relating to the subject that the hon. Gentleman raises. The representations that we have made direct to the South African Government, which the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, through the United Nations and in concert with the European Community are what we judge to be most likely to have the desired effect.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the South African ambassador, will he remind him that his Government are committed to the independence of Namibia, and that some of us are becoming impatient and angry at their refusal to honour that commitment?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are also committed to the independence of Namibia, by United Nations resolution 435. We consider that it is a matter that should be put in hand urgently, and we have supported the negotiations currently being undertaken by the United States on an intermediary basis to bring it about. We shall continue to press in that direction.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend received representations from the South African Government about the so-called Birmingham Six? If he has not, does he think that we should all learn the lesson that it is high time we stayed out of each other's internal judicial affairs? If we did, the world would he a better place for it.

My hon. Friend must understand that there is a difference between the structure of countries such as ours, which are wholly democratic and subject to a universally available rule of law, and the position that prevails not just in South Africa but in other countries, where there is not complete democracy and a large part of a community is excluded from institutions on the ground of skin colour, which gives rise to a situation that has potentially wider implications. The two structures are in no way comparable.

Have there been any discussions with any other Governments, specifically the South African Government, on setting up a regional conference on security in southern Africa?

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the high commissioner, will he raise the question of the apparently slow progress towards the consolidation of Bophuthatswana? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that until further progress is made it will be difficult for other countries to recognise Bophuthatswana's independence?

Bophuthatswana's fragmentary nature is only one reason why no country thought it right to recognise its independence. That country is financially dependent on South Africa. The very existence of Bophuthatswana is a consequence of apartheid, and I think that that is the principal reason why recognition has not been forthcoming.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and his colleagues frequently boast about our increased aid commitment to Mozambique, yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that much of the value of our investment there — especially in infrastructure projects—is destroyed by South African-backed terrorist organisations—Renamo, or MNR as it is known in Mozambique. What representations has the right hon. and learned Gentleman made to the South African ambassador here or to the South African Government about the effect on our aid efforts in Mozambique of the South African destabilisation policies? Will he give a commitment that the Government, directly or indirectly, will not meet the MNR representative, Mr. Alfonso Dhlakama, who is due to come to this country this month, having been invited by an organisation that includes many Conservative Members, and that the Government will in no way give any form of recognition to the MNR or to Savimbi's Unita?

Our policy toward Unita remains unchanged. There is no question of our recognising such an organisation, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There is no reason to believe that Mr. Dhlakama intends to visit Britain. On the more substantial point underlying the hon. Gentleman's question, of course we condemn cross-border violations in either direction. We have in particular urged the South Africans to exercise restraint. Time and again we have warned and urged the South Africans not to indulge in destabilising activity of the kind that concerns the hon. Gentleman.

Gaza Strip

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will consider taking a joint diplomatic initiative with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Israel to try to reduce tension in Gaza; and if he will make a statement.

The Arab-Israel conflict and the situation in Gaza have figured prominently in our recent discussions with Egyptian and Israeli leaders. We also remain in close touch with other Governments concerned. We are ready to play a full part in efforts to reduce tension and to achieve a lasting settlement.

As America is now preoccupied with the presidential election campaign, and as the position in Gaza should not just drift along, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Egypt and Israel should meet at the highest level to try to make the Camp David accords work in relation to Gaza and, if successful, move on to negotiations on the West Bank?

I am certain that the search for progress in the peace process should not be set to one side on the ground of elections of one kind or another anywhere. We attach importance to the possibility of cooperation with the Government of Egypt. I had long talks with the President and Foreign Minister during my visit in the autumn. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State had useful discussions with the President and Foreign Minister at the end of last month. The best basis on which to carry the peace process forward remains on the footing of two principles—the right of Israel and other states in the area to a secure existence, and the Palestinian right to self-determination. We think that the best way of carrying that forward is by means of the international conference, which is now supported by many people, including President Mubarak.

I agree with what the Secretary of State has just said about the future in general, but does he not agree that the situation in Gaza is immediate? Has he given any thought to the proposal that Gaza might in some way be administered by the United Nations in the short term? If so, has he discussed that with the Israelis or the Egyptians?

I agree that what has understandably intensified world concern about the Arab-Israel dispute is the position not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the occupied territories. There can be no doubt that Israel should withdraw, as part of a comprehensive peace settlement, from the territories occupied in 1967, and that, meanwhile, she should administer the occupation of those territories in compliance with international law and human rights standards.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend stress in any initiative the enormous damage that this is doing to the state of Israel, not least by increasing awareness in the United States of the fact that Israel is an occupying power in other people's territory? Will he seek to involve the United States in any initiative in which he is able to assist?

I very much appreciate the points made by my hon. Friend. We deplore violence from any quarter in this situation, which is so fraught with conflict. We are seriously concerned about the current unrest, which has been particularly evident in Gaza. It illustrates the dangers of leaving the conflict unresolved, the urgency of the search for a peaceful settlement—and the urgency of those objectives from Israel's point of view, too. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the longer the situation continues, and the longer one finds Israeli occupation forces failing to handle disturbances in a fashion compatible with her obligations, the sharper will be the attention that is focused on the situation. We want Israel to be established within secure boundaries as a state which is not itself threatened by violence. The people of Israel want to achieve that, too. So, in their own interests, they need to address themselves to the situation of which my hon. Friend has complained.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, in the meantime, there is a need for something to be done to ensure that Israel complies with the Geneva conventions that relate to an occupying power's role in such a situation? How did our representative vote when those resolutions came before the United Nations?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the need for effective action, so far as that is possible, in relation to non-compliance with international obligations in these territories. That is why we supported United Nations resolutions Nos. 605, 607, and 608, and the most recent one, introduced this week, by voting in support of them. Indeed, we played a prominent part in drafting this week's resolution. However, that is not all that needs to be done, but it is a mark of international concern. It is important also to do what can be done to help conditions in the territories by aid and access for trade. We have actively supported all those things.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the conditions in the camps in Gaza are no worse than those in the camps in the Lebanon and Jordan? Does he also agree that it is high time that the Arab world, which encouraged the creation of those camps 40 years ago, used some of its oil-based wealth to solve the problem that it encouraged in the first place?

I understand why my hon. Friend is anxious to be sure that the other side of the matter is represented and taken into account in the House. As I said in my original answer, it is important to recognise that we should take account not only of the right of the Palestinians to self-determination but of the right of Israel to a secure existence within secure borders. It is right also to accept that there have been some improvements since Israeli administration in some areas. However, the point does not stop there. There is a stark contrast between the conditions of those who live in refugee camps and, for example, the Israeli settlers, who live in illegal occupation of the land alongside them. The presence of Israel in such territories is contrary to international law, as resolution after resolution of the United Nations has recognised. It is on that basis that I repeat the objectives that have been common ground to all searches for peace. Above all, it is in Israel's interest to hasten forward the process of looking for a peaceful settlement along those lines.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what the Prime Minister meant by her statement yesterday? She said that the Government favour

"an international conference as a framework conference within which bilateral negotiations should take place between King Hussein of Jordan and Israel."—[Official Report, 2 February 1988; Vol. 126, c. 852.]
Although Jordan's participation is essential and indispensable, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that no conference can possibly succeed—nor will any such conference be acceptable to other parties —without the participation of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and, above all, the Palestinians, whose plight and rights will be the central core of any such conference? Therefore, will the Foreign Secretary repudiate what the Prime Minister said? If Britain is so unclear about her policy, overcoming the obstructiveness of Mr. Shamir and of the United States Government will be impossible.

The right hon. Gentleman should not draw such dramatic conclusions from the point that he has made. The United Kingdom, together with the Twelve and most of the international community, have come out firmly in favour of an international conference. We believe that that is the right framework within which negotiations can take place. The precise method of setting that scene, of course, remains for discussion, but it is quite plain that the Palestinians and several other people will have to be participants in the discussion. I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman should not conclude that that is a prescription for some narrower definition of the conference that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has vigorously and energetically supported in forum after forum around the world.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned settlements. Does he agree that the Israeli Government have plans for further settlements and that to build settlements in such densely populated areas as Gaza is a great affront to Palestinian refugees? What action will the Government take to try to prevent the creation of further settlements at present?

My hon. Friend is right. If the existing settlements are an infringement of international law, by the same token the extension of such settlements is a still further infringement. More than that, they cannot help to advance or consolidate the cause of peace. They seek to entrench the occupation of illegally occupied territory. They act as a challenge to violence in the opposite direction, which itself poses a threat to the state and people of Israel. It is because of my passionate belief in the right of Israel and its people to exist as a state within secure borders that I urge the people of Israel and their leaders to recognise the need to turn from the path of the entrenchment of illegality and to embark upon the process of negotiation that is so important.

Hana Siniora

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Israeli Government about the harassment of the Palestinian journalist Hana Siniora by the Israeli security forces; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Siniora has not asked for our intervention, and thus we have no reason to take up his specific case, but we shall continue to follow it closely.

Although I am grateful for the wise and courageous stance that Her Majesty's Government are taking on the issue and for many statements on the subject that have been made today and of late, does the Minister agree that, more than anything else, the Israelis and Palestinians now need less war, war, and more jaw, jaw? Dialogue is impossible unless there is local leadership that has the confidence of the political leadership — the Palestine Liberation Organisation — and the local population, and is accceptable in the broader international community. Dialogue will be impossible if leaders are systematically harassed, arrested, sometimes tortured and, as increasingly of late, deported.

I was glad, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was glad, that Mr. Siniora and his colleague were able to go to the United States and talk direct to Mr. Shultz. When I was in the United States on Monday and Tuesday, I was also glad to note that the United States is re-engaged in the peace process and that further action may be anticipated from that quarter. Plainly, as the hon. Gentleman says, this is a time for serious talking to draw in the Palestinian people. Where that leaves the PLO is in the hands of the PLO members themselves. They have the opportunity to legitimate themselves if they are prepared to accept unequivocally resolutions 242 and 338 to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist. If they were to do that, they could be full participants in a process in future. However, I am afraid that the contrary is also the case.

In the case of Hana Siniora and thousands of other Palestinians, what explanation can my hon. and learned Friend offer to the House of the unspeakable inhumanities inflicted by the Israeli Government on the Palestinians? Does he agree that the Israelis, of all people, should really understand about the suffering of minorities?

I said my piece about conditions in the occupied territories when I was there. I believe that a reevaluation is necessary, because it was clear to me from my recent visit to the United States that the shock waves of what is happening in the occupied territories are resounding around the civilised world. Some change in tactics in the occupied territories will have to come about. The status quo in the eyes of an increasing number of sensible, mainstream people is not an option. Maintaining security in the territories at the point of a gun is not realistic and has become an increasingly inhumane process.

South Africa

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards ending apartheid in South Africa.

Our policies are those most likely to be effective in bringing an end to apartheid. We recognise that fundamental change is very slow, but acknowledge that it must be stimulated from within South Africa.

The Minister will understand that that was no answer to the question. When will she also understand that the Government's self-proclaimed policy of hoping to end apartheid in South Africa is a fraud and a sham? When will she begin to understand that since the declaration of the state of emergency 30,000 people have been detained in South Africa, that the use of torture is widespread and that children receive the most appalling treatment? Should not the Government accept that the horrors of apartheid are increasing daily and that their abject failure to oppose it brings shame to our country throughout the world?

First, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said. Secondly, our repeated objection to the state of detention and the way people and particularly children are treated in South Africa is in no doubt so far as the South African Government are concerned. They are in absolutely no doubt about that. As we take positive measures in southern Africa in general, at the same time we will take up all the representations that he and many other hon. Members wish us to take up. However, the point of the hon. Gentleman's question was how we can speedily bring an end to apartheid. The only way in which we can do that is to encourage dialogue within South Africa among all the groups in South Africa and by voicing our total objection to detention without trial and the other inhumane methods that the South African Government are using against their black people.

Will my right hon. Friend note that many hon. Members welcome the Government's resistance to the introduction of economic sanctions against South Africa? Will she note in particular that those sanctions are unproductive? For example, Barclays National bank did more than any other company in South Africa to bring on black management, which is the way to the future for a multiracial South Africa.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The point is that, as my hon. Friend said, sanctions are beginning to deny black people in work in South Africa the opportunities that were afforded prior to disinvestment. There is growing recognition within South Africa, and within the black community there, that they are being deprived of opportunities by the detachment of some companies — and indeed, some politicians across the world—from that active and concerned interest in the future of black people in South Africa. Anything that we can do to provide positive help to the black population in South Africa should be encouraged, and I hope that it will be.

In view of the communiqué from the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa—I have a copy and I am sure that the Minister will also have a copy—will the Minister assure the House that the British Government will do nothing to sabotage the efforts of that committee?

There is no way in which the British Government will attempt to undermine positive work to bring an end to apartheid. I repeat that I do not believe that a study of the impact of existing sanctions and proposals for tightening those sanctions will help one iota. The restrictive measures that we implement scrupulously are a political signal, but there is widespread recognition within the Commonwealth of the value of a positive contribution. There is growing awareness and concern at the negativism of the sanctions policy that some advocate.

In making any assessment on behalf of the Government, will my right hon. Friend make quite certain that she has private discussions with black trade union leaders in South Africa, who will tell her that they are in favour of sanctions only if their own trade unions are excluded from the effect of such sanctions?

My right hon. and learned Friend and I seek to have as many discussions as we can with black South Africans, when they are here or when we meet them in other places, to bring about the dialogue that is so urgently needed. I understand exactly what my hon. Friend said, but whoever we meet we have to balance the pressures that those people may face within South Africa and ask why they make those comments. It is understandable that in calling for sanctions some people wish to be excluded. Such a policy simply would not work, any more than punitive and negative sanctions will help to bring about the end of apartheid that we seek.

Why did the Government boycott the meeting in Lusaka of the Commonwealth committee on southern Africa? This is the first time that Britain has declined to participate in an important Commonwealth committee. Could they not have sent the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), so that he could have spoken out against the way in which South Africa is oppressing its black population, in the way that he spoke out in Gaza last month? Will the Government at any rate agree to participate in the intensified arms embargo decided upon in Lusaka, or does the Government's opposition to South African apartheid amount to hypocritical words rather than positive action?

There is no question of a boycott of the meeting of eight Commonwealth Foreign Ministers. At the Vancouver summit the British Government agreed with the vast majority of policies. However, we did say that we saw no point in joining that particular committee, which is a further sub-group, but we shall continue to work with all Commonwealth countries in the constructive ways that we identified in Vancouver— in particular with aid to black South Africans and to the neighbouring countries. There is no precise information about what has been proposed by those eight Ministers who met in Lusaka. We shall, of course, consider carefully any ideas that are put forward. We continue to follow carefully the proceedings of the committee in Lusaka. We have enforced the arms embargo, and we shall continue rigorously to do so. As to sending my hon. and learned Friend there, it is easier for those who have to concentrate on one area of the world so to do. The hon. Gentleman need have no doubt that I shall be just as forthright and equally as tough on the South African Government as I was in December when I made quite clear to the Deputy Foreign Minister in Pretoria exactly what we thought of South African Government policies.

Middle East

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of recent events on the West Bank and in Gaza, he will indicate what steps Her Majesty's Government propose in order to speed up the middle east peace process.

We shall continue to work for an international conference under United Nations auspices as the framework for negotiations between the parties directly concerned.

My right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. and learned Friend have both rightly condemned Israeli repression on the West Bank and in Gaza. They have also condemned Mr. Rabin's repellent speech advocating beatings, power and might as the guidelines of Israeli policy in the area. What next? Surely this must be the time to put greater steam behind a peace initiative and to make it clear that the Palestinians must be entitled to choose their own representatives at any talks that follow.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is crucial that the concern be translated into effective action. We believe that action should proceed in two ways. First, immediate palliative action should consist, as the Secretary-General's report to the United Nations following Mr. Goulding's visit made clear, of enhancing the work of the United Nations relief organisation and continuing the pressure on the Israeli Government to mitigate the aspects of occupation that cause the gravest hardship. Those palliatives will not be enough. The second strand has to be to work for a resumption of the peace process. That should come from all who acknowledge that the status quo cannot stand. That is why I welcome very much, as my right hon. and learned Friend does, the resumption of interest in the United States in a peace process. My hon. Friend will have seen that the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, is to visit the region following the visit earlier of the special United States emissary to Jordan. We obviously hope that that initiative will bear fruit, because clearly the United States has the prime influence on the Israelis.

Has the Minister seen the admission made this morning by Racal-Tacticom, and reported in the Daily Telegraph, that it has been supplying goods to the PLO? Does he agree with the Downing street statement this week that sections of the PLO have engaged in "appalling acts of terrorism"? In those circumstances, how can it be right that no licence is required, apparently, for sending to the PLO telecommunications equipment which presumably will not be used to convey affectionate greetings?

I cannot add to the answer that the hon. and learned Gentleman received to a similar question that he addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who answered the private notice question yesterday. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows our position on the PLO. He knows that part of our call for a sensible settlement in the middle east is that the PLO should legitimate itself in the ways that I have already set out in answer to an earlier question.

Will my hon. and learned Friend and the Foreign Secretary bear in mind that if Europe does nothing, the American Administration invariably end up doing what the Israeli Government and the Zionist pressure group tell them to do? Will he therefore assure the House that the so-called peace process will not be left to the American Government, but that Europe will play its proper part to bring it about?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. Plainly there is a role for others. That role is taken seriously within Europe. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend will on Monday attend a meeting of European Foreign Ministers who will be meeting King Hussein. I dare say that European interests and the European initiative will be made clear then.

As one who strenuously defended the Israelis' position in 1967—I believe that I was right to do so, unlike the right hon. Member for Chesham arid Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) — I am appalled arid horrified at the response of Israeli authorities in the occupied territories, for which there can be absolutely no justification. Would it not be right for Israelis to recognise that the Palestinians also have a right to their homeland? In 40 years they have not forgotten Palestine, any more than the Jewish people, during 2,000 years of exile and persecution, forgot for one moment their historic homeland.

That is a very brave statement, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for it. Many of us who took one view in 1967 have perhaps come to look at matters in a slightly different light today. It is plainly dangerous that the present situation should continue. The scenes that vie see nightly on our television screens are damaging to the reputation of Israel. Whatever might be the problems of the past—there have been great faults on the Arab side in relation to sustained aggression against Israel—if the people of these territories are to have any future, and if there is to be a sustained peace in the region, it can come about only because neighbours learn to co-exist rather than rely on the point of a gun to achieve lasting security. That is why we must continue to assert that middle east peace can be based only on all states in the region agreeing that each state has a right to exist behind secure boundaries and that the Palestinians have a right to self-determination. That is the only basis on which a lasting peace will be achieved.

Chinese Foreign Minister

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to meet the Chinese Foreign Minister.

As I said in the House on 20 January, I look forward to welcoming Mr. Wu Xuegian on an official visit to Britain in the spring.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people will warmly welcome the scholarship programme, which will bring some 2,000 Chinese students to Britain, because they will presumably play their part in the modernisation of China when they return and possibly improve contacts and ties between British business and China, which would be extremely beneficial to both countries?

Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. It is encouraging that there are 2,000 Chinese students in Britain today compared with 1,600 last year. Some 800 of the 2,000 receive funding from the Government. That itself is almost a doubling of what applied last year. It will help us to sustain the growth in exports to China, which have increased from £180 million in 1983 to £536 million in 1986. It will be part of an expanding trade relationship which will be fruitful in other ways as well.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the vile trade in endangered species between China and Hong Kong? The centres in China appear to be the Dongmen market in Canton and Shenzhen, which forms a border between China and Hong Kong. The animals are used for food—they are eaten in restaurants in Hong Kong. Will the Foreign Secretary make the strongest representations to the Chinese Foreign Minister when they meet so that such trade can be stamped out once and for all?

I am well aware of the hon. Member's interest in this important subject. It is a matter on which Hong Kong and China have strict laws presently in force. We have drawn to the attention of the Chinese authorities concerns such as those expressed by the hon. Gentleman. We have asked Hong Kong to review its efforts to see whether enforcement can be made more effective. It is already considering proposals to strengthen its arrangements.

I welcome the close relationship that has been established between the two Governments and between my right hon. and learned Friend and Mr. Wu. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best interests of the people of Hong Kong are undoubtedly sustained by the closest possible relationship being maintained between the two Governments? Regarding the clamour from some quarters in Hong Kong for early direct elections, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is his understanding of the Chinese Government's view that it makes sense to put the Basic Law in place before embarking on constitutional adventures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reminder of the importance of good relations between the United Kingdom and China for the future of Hong Kong. That goes without saying. It is also right to acknowledge that the People's Republic of China has taken a more cautious view of the prospect of direct elections than has been taken in other places. Elections will be part of the constitution of the special administrative region in due course. It is on that basis that the topic was discussed in the House a week or two ago. On most issues, there was a large measure of agreement on the importance of moving to direct elections. The timing of the introduction of direct elections was the topic on which opinions still seemed to be divided.

When the Foreign Secretary meets his Chinese counterpart, will he raise the question of the continuation of the then existing legislative bodies in Hong Kong through the period of the handover? In particular, will he seek clarification of a statement made last week by Li Hou, the deputy director of the Hong Kong Office and secretary general of the Basic Law drafting committee, to the effect that the Chinese Government would not just be making a symbolic gesture in exercising its sovereignty after the handover? Many people in Hong Kong fear that this means that a new Legislative Council will be appointed on 1 July 1997. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this would not be in accordance with the smooth transition called for in the joint declaration? Does he intend to make a statement to the House after the publication of the White Paper on democracy in Hong Kong next week?

On the last point, I must point out that the House has only recently had an opportunity to debate this subject quite fully. The White Paper will be published shortly, and we shall have to see whether there is a case for a separate statement. I would have thought that it would be more likely for the House to want to have an opportunity to study the White Paper closely first. As to the statement attributed to Mr. Li Hou, I do not think that I should be required to answer for each interpretation that the hon. Gentleman chooses to put on every observation made by Chinese spokesmen. The commitment of both states in the joint declaration is to the establishment of democratic arrangements in the terms set out. The commitment is also to the highest degree of continuity through this period of changeover in 1997. That is the centrally important feature.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity of his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister to explore China's relations with other countries in the sensitive area around it, and in particular the question whether Chinese relations with South Korea can be put on a more positive footing, given the evidence which appears to show that North Korea has been practising institutionalised terrorism?

I take the importance of the point referred to in the last part of my hon. Friend's question. We have condemned the part played by the North Korean Government in the recent destruction of a South Korean aircraft. I have no doubt that, in the course of my discussion of international relations with the Chinese Foreign Minister, relations within the peninsular of Korea will be one of the topics on which we shall touch.

Un Under-Secretary General

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken in the United Nations to protest at the treatment of the United Nations Under-Secretary General by the Israeli Government during his visit to the occupied territories in January; and if he will make a statement.

None, Sir. This is a matter for the United Nations Secretary General. We called on all parties to facilitate Mr. Goulding's visit, which was mandated by United Nations Security Council resolution 605.

Was not the Under Secretary General of the United Nations treated very badly by the Israeli authorities during his visit to Israel, and did not the army go into the camps and disrupt them during his visit? Does the Minister agree with Mr. Goulding, who said that the Palestinians have every right to be angry about the conditions in which they are forced to live and that a political solution is needed? Will the Government work towards that solution under the auspices of the United Nations and start that by opening up a dialogue with the PLO?

I certainly agree with that comment of Mr. Goulding's, and I was able to tell him that personally when I saw him in New York on Friday. The key point about Mr. Goulding's visit is to try to make progress on the report that the Secretary General has issued following on it. The report makes two points clear. First, there is a need for immediate alleviation of the problems in Gaza by way of the palliative measures set out in the report — enhancing the relief organisation's work and mitigating the more oppressive aspects of the occupation. Secondly, as I have already said, there is a need to get the peace process moving again.

Would it not help our credibility with Israel in these matters, and help to solve the humanitarian problems in Gaza, if the Government stopped signing annually the United Nations resolution that calls specifically upon the state of Israel not to rehouse the refugees in Gaza in decent accommodation?

My hon. and learned Friend, for whom I have great respect, knows that it is not as simple as that. He knows that we vote as we do because of the manner in which it is sought to enforce rehousing—an element of compulsion is involved — and because afterwards adequate dwellings that are better than other dwellings in which people who cannot afford to move out of the camps live are then bulldozed down by the occupying forces. Therefore, I am afraid I cannot help but regard the argument sometimes used by the Israeli authorities to justify their position as rather flimsy.

In view of the Israeli Government's arrogant disregard of international conventions and of the appalling conduct of Israeli troops, will the hon. and learned Gentleman suggest to his right hon. and learned Friend — and my right hon. and learned Friend — the Foreign Secretary, that he should raise with his EEC colleagues the need to consider the suspension, or indeed, abrogation, of EEC trade and financial agreements with Israel?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the issue is to be considered again by the European Foreign Ministers at their meeting with King Hussein next week and we must await the outcome of that.

On the European Community arrangements, it is obviously desirable, so far as possible, to keep political considerations out of purely trading issues. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. and learned Friend took the lead in proposing that there should be direct access to the European Community for goods from the occupied territories, because that is a practical way of expressing our desire to see conditions in the occupied territories improve. It wilt also be known that the Commission, while negotiating the mandate for Israeli access to the Common Market, required from the Israeli authorities some undertakings on the manner in which they would carry out those access arrangements. Therefore, although we have not gone anything like all the way with the hon. Gentleman, I hope he is satisfied that there is an element of what he asks in what we are doing.

Japan

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about his recent visit to Japan.

I believe that my visit helped to strengthen the increasingly active and productive relationship between Britain and Japan. Foreign Minister Uno and I discussed a wide range of international issues, many of which we shall need to tackle together. I urged him and other Japanese Ministers to reinforce their efforts to reduce Japan's surplus. I also pressed our case on outstanding bilateral issues.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's comments and the speech in which he pressed the Japanese to open their country to inward investment. Can he now tell us the position on the application made by Cable and Wireless for membership of a consortium to compete with KDD?

On the Cable and Wireless question, I understand that the arrangements now in prospect meet the requirements that we have been pressing with that company and on its behalf for some time. When I was in Japan I emphasised that the United Kingdom will continue to press vigorously for the redress of any grievances in trading conditions. It is right to say that the Japanese gave me much assurance of their determination to respond effectively to such representations.

Was the Foreign Secretary able to raise with the Japanese the wholesale killing of whales in the Antarctic in breach of international agreements? Were the assurances that they gave him any more convincing than those given about the balance of trade?

Our interest in the effectiveness of the international whaling convention is a matter about which representations have been made to the Japanese Government.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be happy to know that the Scotch Whisky Bill completed its Committee stage this morning. Can he tell the House what has happened about the GATT council's decision that Japan should have a common tariff for spirits—for both imports and local manufacture—and how that will help Scotch? Have we made any progress?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of the Bill to which he referred. I know of his intense interest in this subject over many years. It is right to say that I do not share his general interest in the topic to quite the same extent.

I have been concerned about Japan in that context. Access for Scotch whisky was at the top of my agenda when I first went there as Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs in 1973. It has taken a long time. With the support of the European Community we had to take the matter to the GATT panel, which reported in favour of our case. In December the Japanese accepted those findings and announced that they intended to reform their liquor tax in the right direction to give effect to those findings. I impressed upon them that we expect the recommendation to be implemented in full and emphasised that we shall look carefully at the detailed proposals and at the changes that should come into effect without further delay.

Gibraltar

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress in the implementation of the agreement with Spain over Gibraltar.

The agreement was an important step' forward and it is now for the people of Gibraltar to decide when the agreement on Gibraltar airport can enter into force. Meanwhile, we are considering with the Spanish Government the practical implementation of the parallel arrangements at the land frontier and the Gibraltar-Algeciras ferry service.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the agreement represents a good deal for the people of Gibraltar, not only as a boost to their economy, but for tourism and financial services? So far as the airport is concerned, will my right hon. and learned Friend use his good offices to ensure that the people of Gibraltar see the advantage of the agreement and see it implemented as soon as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the agreement. It offers the prospect of air links with the rest of Europe, the prospect of attracting more visitors and of an expansion in the tourist and financial services there, and can be a major boost to the economy. It will also bring advantages to the United Kingdom and to other European countries. I emphasise that the next steps depend on the willingness of the people of Gibraltar to make their democratic choice on the airport agreement. We have made it clear that we do not intend to impose it on them against their wishes. However, I very much hope that they will see the advantages to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.

I reinforce the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern). Is it not evident that it is in the interest of the development of Gibraltar's economy that the agreement, so far as it relates to the airport, should be brought into effect as soon as possible?

That is absolutely clear. It is a matter on which I have no doubt that the democratic processes of Gibraltar will reflect carefully in the light of the observations made by my hon. Friends.

Bermuda

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with Bermuda.

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

Her Majesty's Government exercise constitutional responsibility for the dependent territory of Bermuda, and relations between the United Kingdom and Bermuda continue to be excellent.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will know that Bermuda is a community with good race relations, no litter, no unemployment, no illiteracy and no income tax. Does he think that we could learn something from Bermuda?

I am glad that my hon. Friend enjoyed his brief visit to Bermuda so much and that he came back with such a favourable impression of that territory. Indeed, Bermuda has a lot to be proud of, but my hon. Friend will no doubt have noted, as he has told the House, that Bermuda's prosperity is not based only on its ample sunshine but on a thriving private sector and low taxation.

Is the Minister aware that Bermuda plays a major part in Caribbean regional matters — [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not in the Caribbean."] I know where Bermuda is. I have visited there, and not on a free trip.

As Bermuda plays an important part in regional activities and has, along with many other countries, consistently expressed concern about the United States' policy in the region and towards Central America, will the Minister take this opportunity of likewise expressing his concern at the murderous policies of the Reagan Administration towards Central America and the Caribbean?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's frustration at not getting in his normal propaganda on behalf of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. However, I am afraid that I cannot follow him along the lines that he has described.

Haiti

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has about the current political unrest in Haiti; and what risks it poses to British citizens in that country.

After a prolonged period of civil unrest M. Leslie Manigat was elected President of Haiti on 17 January. The country is now calm. There is no threat at present to the United Kingdom community. We continue to keep the situation under review.

Although my hon. Friend may say that the country is calm, there has been something of a breakdown of law and order there. Is he aware that people in this country are extremely concerned that our citizens in Haiti should be protected, because the present circumstances in that country are not of their own making?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Our overriding priority in all consular matters is that we provide an efficient service for British citizens who are in genuine distress or danger through no fault of their own. I assure my hon. Friend that we are aware of the potential risks to the some 50 British citizens in Haiti.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, on a new question of parliamentary procedure.

Order. I will deal with the matter afterwards. It is not a new procedure.