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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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Iran-Iraq War

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the current situation at the United Nations concerning his efforts to secure action to help bring the Iran-Iraq war to an end; and what representations have been received on this subject by (a) the Secretary-General of the United Nations and (b) Her Majesty's Government from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The recent deplorable escalation in the Iran-Iraq conflict, involving missile and chemical weapon attacks on civilians, has made the immediate implementation of Security Council resolution 598 all the more essential. We keep in touch with both parties in New York and elsewhere, and welcome the Secretary-General's latest efforts to bring them together. Meanwhile, it is vital that work should continue on possible enforcement measures.

I applaud any efforts by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government to bring this deplorable war to an end, but is he aware that Western policy, whatever its intentions, is not seen to be evenhanded? One result is that it has given Iraq the chance to escalate the war, sometimes in the most ghastly circumstances. The Iranian Government, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows, have made responses to the Secretary-General on Security Council resolution 598. What consideration has been given to those responses, what test has been put upon them, and, if necessary, has any opportunity been given to call the bluff, if there be a bluff?

I assure my hon. Friend that British policy in this matter is unchanged and strictly impartial. We want the earliest possible negotiated settlement of the conflict. Iraq has said that it accepts and will implement Security Council resolution 598 if the Iranians do so. Iraq wants a sequence to be followed. Iran has neither accepted nor rejected the resolution, but has engaged in delaying tactics. Since then both sides have taken actions that have contributed to an escalation of the conflict. In those circumstances, the Secretary-General has been seeking contact with representatives of both sides in New York. The only way of trying to bring the matter to a conclusion is by pressing ahead with an even hand to secure enforcement of the resolution as it stands.

In view of the most appalling atrocity committed against the civilian population in the Kurdish regions, is it not time for the Government to initiate further action, at European Community level, too, to ensure that no material that could be used in chemical warfare is supplied directly or indirectly from Europe for either side in this appalling conflict?

I am sure that the whole House will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point. We have read with the greatest concern reports of Iraqi use of chemical weapons against villages in Kurdistan If confirmed — I have no reason to suppose that they will not be — they represent a significant increase in the use of these abhorrent and inhuman weapons. We have repeatedly made clear our condemnation of them and made representations specifically to the Iraqis by my hon. and learned Friend, the Minister of State, on his visit to Baghdad at the end of February, by myself in a conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on 15 March and to the Iraqi ambassador in the Foreign Office only yesterday. Beyond that, we have worked within the European Community — we initiated this — to impose strict export controls on chemical weapons and on civil chemicals that might be used to produce them. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that matter. I think that the whole House will share my sense of abhorrence at the use of these weapons in any circumstances in this or any other conflict.

What are British interests in relation to this war, and how do they differ from the American interests in that area?

This conflict is almost the only issue in international affairs which I discuss with representatives of almost every nation and find an instant response to the proposition that this bloody conflict must be brought to an end. That is Britain's interest and it is the interest of every nation.

If the Foreign Office or any Government with whom we are in association learns or knows of the origin of chemical material, does the Foreign Secretary accept that that information should be made public?

I am sure that that matter should certainly be given the most serious consideration, because we have worked tenaciously to secure a comprehensive, verifiable worldwide ban on chemical weapons, specifically in this context, and have energetically taken up any cases that have been reported.

Central America

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

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

We believe that the Guatemala peace agreement remains the best framework in which to seek progress towards a peaceful settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Nicaraguan Government on the commendable steps that they have taken towards the implementation of the Central American peace plan? In the light of that progress, will the Government now make representations to President Reagan that it is high time that full and direct talks were opened between the Government of the United States and the Nicaraguan Government on matters of mutual security? Would it not be a wonderful Easter message to the Nicaraguan people if, after seven years of war and 50,000 deaths, they could at least know that steps were being taken towards implementing direct talks to bring an end to that conflict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our policy has long been that we welcome peaceful, not military, solutions to the problems of Central America. We have warmly welcomed the peace agreement and we urge everybody to implement it fully. A 60-day truce was recently agreed at talks on 21–23 March. Together with our European partners, we issued a statement in support of that on 28 March and we hope that the second round, planned for 6 April, will bring a substantive ceasefire and progress towards democracy. We shall he looking to the Nicaraguan Government to fulfil their pledges on the democratic front.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the release of 1,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua and the reopening of the opposition press there? Does he share my fear that this is only window dressing and that what we really wish to see in Nicaragua is a proper, pluralist democracy?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and add that it is deplorable that political prisoners were held by the Nicaraguan regime.

Before the Minister loses his voice completely, can he not bring himself, for once, to congratulate the Government of Nicaragua on the excellent progress that they have made towards implementing the peace plan? Does he recognise that the Esquipulas peace plan applies not just to Nicaragua, but to Honduras, Guatemala and, above all, to El Salvador? What are the Government doing to ensure that President Duarte restarts talks with the FLMN/FDR and to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in that country?

Despite the hon. Gentleman's attempt at winning ways and imploring hands, I would respect his balance in this matter rather more if he condemned the invasion of Honduran territory by Nicaraguan troops. Of course we welcome further moves towards peace in Central America. We have been doing that for a considerable time, and will continue to do so.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to make certain that the Nicaraguan Government improve still further on the efforts that they have made in respect of their negotiations with the Contras and begin to establish the pluralist democracy of which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) spoke?

It is clear that the Nicaraguan Government, for their part, need to establish a real pluralist democracy and to end their support of subversion in neighbouring states. One of the results of the San Jose IV meeting in Hamburg was that the European Community undertook to give support to the Central American Parliament, which is part of the overall progress in the region towards democracy.

Austria

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the present state of relations between the United Kingdom and Austria.

Relations between the United Kingdom and Austria are good, reflecting the common interests of our Governments and peoples.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House when he expects to conclude the inquiry into the alleged involvement of President Kurt Waldheim in the deaths of British commandos taken prisoners of war? Is the inquiry taking evidence from Captain Bill Blythe, who survived torture by Waldheim's own interrogation unit? Meanwhile, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there will be no contact between representatives of Her Majesty's Government in Austria and this mendacious and wicked man?

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not make a reflection of that kind about the Head of a friendly state. Will he please withdraw his last remark?

I withdraw my last remark, but if the commission of inquiry comes to the expected conclusion, I shall reserve the right to make it again.

I think that the last exchange between you, Mr. Speaker, and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) indicates that it certainly would not be appropriate for me today to comment on or prejudge in any way the outcome of the review that is under way. It is being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence. The commission is carrying forward its work as expeditiously as possible and the matter will be reported to the House as soon as the review is complete.

The matter will be reported when the review is finished. The hon. and learned Gentleman wants the review to be thorough, and it will have to be thorough. The people conducting the review will take account of any evidence that may become available to them, including the observation made in the earlier part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. It is for them to decide the matter. The Ministry of Defence will report the outcome to the House as soon as the review is complete.

So far as the latter part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is concerned, representatives of Her Majesty's Government will behave appropriately, as they should.

What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the recent statement in Vienna by the French Prime Minister, Mr. Chirac, that Austria would be a welcome member of the European Community?

I listen with interest to the observations of Prime Ministers of member states of the European Community, just as the hon. Gentleman no doubt does.

Although relations between this country and Austria may be good, they will be much better when the results of the inquiry are known. Therefore, may I press upon my right hon. and learned Friend that the inquiry be expeditious? It is unfortunate that the amnesia of the President of Austria is the cause of the inquiry in the first place.

I shall not add my own observations to those at the end of my hon. Friend's question, but I entirely share his view, as I said in my original answer, that it is in everyone's interest for the review to be completed as expeditiously as possible. The review is being undertaken with that in mind.

Kampuchea

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has on recent developments in Kampuchea.

We shall continue to urge the withdrawal of all Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and to work for a settlement which allows the Cambodian people to determine their own future through free and fair elections and without outside interference.

Why do the Government continue to support the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot through the coalition of the United Nations? When will they withdraw their support for that murderous regime? Why will they not reconvene the 1954 Geneva conference, which they co-chaired with the Soviet Union when discussing the future of Indo-China, if they are serious about ending the diplomatic isolation of Cambodia over the past nine years?

Not for the first time, the hon. Lady is misinformed. The United Kingdom withdrew all recognition of the Pol Pot regime in December 1979. We have no intention of contributing to its re-establishment. We believe that free and fair elections based on United Nations precedents offer the best guarantee that the Khmer Rouge does not dominate after a political settlement has been found.

With regard to the chance of a United Kingdom initiative on Cambodia, we have long supported the efforts of Cambodia's friends in the Association of the South East Asian Nations to bring about a satisfactory solution to the Cambodian problem, but there is no new British initiative.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the withdrawal of foreign — that is, Vietnamese — troops from Cambodia is the touchstone, not only for security, peace and progress in the region, but for improvement in East-West relations? Is there any sign yet of the Soviet Union putting pressure on its Vietnamese allies to withdraw their forces from Cambodia?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The key ingredient is the withdrawal of occupying Vietnamese forces. With regard to the latter part of his question, the Soviet Union has told us that it endorses the regime's proposals for a solution, including an international conference. However, it has not yet gone further than that.

Do I understand from my hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) that until 1979 the Pol Pot regime was recognised by the Labour Government, notwithstanding the massacres perpetrated on the Cambodian people? If that is right, is that not another example of the hypocrisy of the Labour party?

As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is right. I thought it best to be charitable on this occasion and not remind the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) of the rather unfortunate fact of the recognition of the Pol Pot regime by the Labour Government in 1976.

Chemical Weapons

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made towards the conclusion of a treaty dealing with the manufacture, deployment and use of chemical weapons; and if he will make a statement.

Encouraging progress has been made at the chemical weapons negotiations in Geneva. However, complex issues remain to be dealt with, particularly on verification and arrangements for an international inspectorate, if we are to achieve an effective convention. I met Mr. Karpov, chief Soviet arms negotiator, on Monday and discussed this issue.

After the impetus to try to secure a treaty in the past two years, is it not regrettable that there has now been a slow-down? Given the reports of the atrocities in the Iran-Iraq war, is it not more important to stem the dangers of proliferation than to pursue perfection in verification? What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the verification proposals in the draft United States treaty?

Verification between East and West is important because of the complexities involved in the interrelationship between military complexes and the civil chemical industry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been taking a lead in Geneva in tabling proposals on verification. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is a matter not just between East and West, but one that concerns a number of other countries,; and the lamentable use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war makes it clear to all of us that we should try to achieve a global ban. That is what we are working for. I cannot pretend that there are not difficulties that will be overcome only after a long time.

Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that, in the councils of the world, when we discuss chemical warfare we make it clear that we disapprove of the transfer of technology, materials and weapons to grossly irresponsible nations, such as those involved in the Iran-Iraq war, and that we shall do our best to ensure that neither side—East nor West—supplies those sorts of countries with such weapons?

Everyone would welcome any progress that can be made towards a ban on chemical and biological weapons. Does the Minister agree, however, that although he is right to condemn the use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people in Iraq, one problem has been that the British Government have maintained diplomatic relationships with both Iran and Iraq, and not very long ago extended a £200 million credit to the Government of Iraq, enabling them to prop up their economy and continue the prosecution of the war? Would it not be better if we withdrew all trade, aid and credits to both Iran and Iraq as a way of bringing to an end the war and the use of chemical weapons in the region?

I think that that would be an entirely self-defeating exercise. The fact that we have diplomatic relations with Iraq, for example, has made possible a wide range of contacts, to the mutual benefit of both countries, and enabled us to play a constructive part in the efforts of the United Nations to try to bring the Gulf war to an end. As recently as yesterday it enabled a deputy undersecretary at the Foreign Office to see the Iraqi ambassador, to protest in strong terms about the use of chemical weapons, and to ask that his protest be reported back at the highest level in Baghdad. Without diplomatic relations, such exchanges would not be possible. The best way to stop the use of chemical weapons is to continue to protest through the channels available to us, as well as maintaining the present embargo to try to prevent any materials from Britain getting through that could be used in making such weapons.

The Government have done exceptional work in the chemical weapons talks in Geneva. Nevertheless, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be a great mistake to allow the chemical weapons talks to be sidetracked by other, seemingly more important, talks? Bearing in mind the importance of dealing with these appalling weapons, it is essential that we get a meaningful treaty as soon as possible.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The NATO priorities embrace four sets of talks, and the chemical weapons talks are among them. We would all agree — especially as chemical weapons represent a worldwide problem and not one confined to East-West relations—that the sooner we make progress, the better.

Does not the foot-dragging of the super-powers on talks aimed at a chemical weapons treaty lead inexorably towards further proliferation of these obscene weapons? Last week we saw evidence of mass deaths caused by cyanide gas in Iraqi Kurdistan—away from all the television cameras and lights that we are so used to in other parts of the world. That is an outrage, not only against humanity, but one that reflects the complacent inactivity of the great powers of the world. Why are we not so moved by the atrocities — as we are by so many others that appear on our television screens — that we take the great leap of political will which alone will free the world from these atrocious and horrifying weapons?

I certainly agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I have some comments to make to him. It now seems clear that chemical weapons were used by Iraq against its own Kurdish population and the Iranian invaders. That use was contrary to international obligations entered into by Iraq, so we must not be too simplistic about the matter. Much as I would welcome a convention, the mere fact of its existence would not necessarily mean that countries such as Iraq would sign it; and, even if they signed it, they would not necessarily adhere to it.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about the super-powers, I assure the House that we do not wish there to be foot-dragging and we do not believe that there is any. Every year we table a number of papers designed in a non-propagandist way to make progress. We must not underestimate the number of genuine issues that need to be resolved, such as the number of chemical weapons, the possibility of inspection, and the need to contain the prospect of a breakout, which could come through concealed work in the civil chemical industry. All these are genuine and substantive matters that cannot be wished away and will, I am afraid, take time to sort out.

East Germany

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met representatives of the East German Government; and what subjects were discussed.

I visited the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin from 12 to 16 March and met several Ministers and other officials, principally Deputy Foreign Minister Nier. We discussed a wide range of topics.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Can he tell the House, following the recent Leipzig affair, what prospects there are for this country to increase its export opportunities in East Germany? Is it true that there are opportunities for British manufacturers of machine tools and food and chemical processing equipment? What steps would he advise manufacturers to take to bring about those exports?

There are good prospects for British trade. I was glad to see that there were more than 140 British exhibitors at the Leipzig fair. That is more than ever before, and 66 British companies have the gold medal for regular attendance at the fair. As Mr. Wilson used to say, exporting is fun. The East German authorities have announced a substantial boost to their investment in all the areas that my hon. Friend identified. I believe that there are great opportunities for British companies which try to build up our trade. At the moment there is a heavy deficit in East Germany's favour, which we want to redress soon.

Did the Minister discuss the GDR's proposal, which arises out of an initiative made by the late Olaf Palmé, for a nuclear weapons-free corridor in Europe, including the whole of the GDR, part of the Federal Republic and designed eventually to link up with the Scandinavian nuclear-free area and the Balkan nuclear-free area, which, sadly has been closed, leading eventually to a nuclear weapons-free Europe?

I took the opportunity of a friendly and pleasant visit to say that I considered that proposal emptily propagandist. It sounded emptily propagandist when it fell from the lips of my East German colleagues, and it sounds even more emptily propagandist when it falls from the hon. Gentleman's lips.

The futility of nuclear-free zones is well known to most hon. Members. There is nothing to stop weapons outside such zones being targeted on places inside it, and there is nothing to stop mobile weapons, which the Warsaw pact has in abundance, from being brought into a so-called nuclear-free zone when the need arises. If we are to make progress in East-West relations, we should have less propaganda and more substantial and sensible proposals to discuss.

Palestine

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the current United States initiative to restore peace in Palestine.

We welcome the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and support its efforts to help the parties reach agreement on a way forward.

In view of the four wars that have taken place in its 40 years of existence and the continuing threats to Israel's security, does my right hon. and learned Friend have sympathy with and support for Israel's insistence on the maintenance of a defence line along the River Jordan as part of any solution? if Israel says no to the Shultz peace proposals, must it not come forward with its own proposals, which respect the right of self-determination of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, to bring the present intolerable situation there to a halt as soon as possible?

What my hon. Friend says underlines what is very clear — that the status quo is in nobody's interests and that the continuation of deadlock only encourages extremists on both sides. That is why I have already welcomed the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and why I am sure that the whole House will wish Secretary of State Shultz success on his next visit to the region. A way forward has to be found on the basis of the two principles which have been enunciated so often. They are the right of Israel and other states in the area to secure existence within recognised boundaries — I make no comment on my hon. Friend's point — and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

While he does not condone the policy of settlement and all that has followed from it, will the Secretary of State recognise the obvious fact that Israel has a strategic problem because of the narrowness of the country? Will he press at least for a demilitarised zone on the West Bank?

Israel clearly has a security problem. That is why every approach to the solution of the problem emphasises the need for recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries. It is equally important for the other side of the matter to be emphasised, namely, that unless Israel is prepared quite explicitly to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to proceed on the footing of the vital principle of territory for peace, there is no prospect of a way forward being found.

Bearing in mind that over the years every American peace initiative in the middle east has collapsed in the face of Isreali rejection, what hope does my right hon. and learned Friend hold out for the Shultz initiative? Bearing in mind the continuing and appalling acts of repression by Israel on the West Bank, will Her Majesty's Government and the EEC this time intervene to tr) to give some muscle to bolster the American initiative?

The position of the European Community and its member countries, including the United Kingdom, has been clearly and powerfully expressed in support of the principles that I have enunciated. It would be wrong to dismiss in advance the chances of success of the latest initiative being taken by the American Secretary of State. Of course, we should not underestimate the difficulties, but it remains vital to continue every effort to bring the parties together and we welcome it on that basis.

It is quite right that the conduct of Israel in relation to the occupied territories is an important feature that has to be put right as part of the process of finding a way forward.

Is not the useful initiative by Mr. Shultz seriously undermined by the comfort that President Reagan foolishly gave to Mr. Shamir when Mr. Shamir visited Washington recently? Is it not a fact that the escalating repression in the occupied territories has demonstrated, by what is happening today, including the shooting of a woman on the West Bank and the closing down of the Palestine press service, that the problem will not be solved by repression or force but only by a conference, and that the obstacle to that conference is Mr. Shamir?

Is it not essential that we put pressure on Mr. Shamir, and recommend the Americans to do so too, because we will not get an end to the conflict without a conference, and we will not get a conference until Mr. Shamir is budged?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's analysis is very close to the truth. The House must regret that the opportunity was not taken during Mr. Shamir's recent visit to Washington to confirm Israel's commitment to the current peace efforts being undertaken by Secretary of State Shultz. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the continuing escalation of violence is a measure of the urgency of making headway in that direction, above all in the cause of Israel. The policies being pursued by Prime Minister Shamir cannot assure Israel of a secure future. Israel needs peace as much as anyone, and that peace can come about only through real negotiations.

It is entirely right for the House to urge Israel to join the almost universal consensus in support of negotiations on the basis of land for peace through the framework of an international conference. It is equally important for the Arab side to recognise that it cannot afford to miss another chance as it has an equally urgent need for peace. I urge it to work with the plan put forward by the United States.

Gibraltar

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plans to meet the First Minister of Gibraltar.

My right hon. and learned Friend has invited the new Chief Minister to visit London for talks as soon as he is able to do so.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she not think that the new Chief Minister's stated opposition to the Brussels agreement might blight progress on the future of Gibraltar and discussions with the Spaniards?

I sincerely hope that that will not happen. Her Majesty's Government are committed to respect the wishes of the Gibraltarians on the question of sovereignity. They have shown their wishes in the recent democratic elections there. I believe that the Brussels agreement, to which Her Majesty's Government remain committed, is the only way forward to rebuild confidence between Gibraltar and Spain. Practical co-operation is to the benefit of both sides. I am sure that the new Chief Minister will take account of that.

Will the Minister assure the new Chief Minister of Gibraltar that any conduct by members of our police or armed forces on that island will conform to normal standards of conduct in relation to suspected criminals who are under surveillance? Will he confirm that they will not be subject to the sort of brutality that we saw in Gibraltar recently?

The hon. Gentleman does not know his geography, does he? In addition, he cannot even recognise the facts when they are put before him. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said on 7 March. The hon. Gentleman should re-read columns 21 and 22.

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a different perception of the Brussels agreement, as seen through British, Spanish or Gibraltarian eyes? Whereas a meeting with the new Chief Minister in London will be very useful, will my right hon. Friend consider an early trip to Gibraltar to see at first hand the anxieties of the Gibraltar people and to reassure them that the Brussels agreement is in their best interests, that it will in no way undermine the sovereignty that is enshrined in their constitution and that that cannot be altered without the wholehearted consent of the Gibraltar people?

There is no danger of any damage to the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Both my right hon. and learned Friend and I would certainly consider a visit to Gibraltar if the new Chief Minister invited one of us to go there. We must get round the table with the Gibraltarians to ensure that there is no return to the sort of confrontations that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the meeting with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar takes place, will every effort be made to convey the very real concerns of my constituents who have invested substantial sums of money in International Investments Ltd. of Gibraltar so as to ensure that those who absconded with, or misappropriated, those funds are brought to justice and that at least some of those funds are returned to those who invested their life savings, in good faith, in Gibraltar?

I shall certainly look into what the hon. Gentleman has said and bring it to the attention of the law enforcement agencies in Gibraltar.

Could my right hon. Friend confirm the dates of the visit to Gibraltar of His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester? When she meets Mr. Bassano, will she encourage him to continue the policy of supporting the efforts of the friends of Gibraltar in this country and of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust on the Rock to refurbish the monuments and artefacts of Gibraltar and thereby encourage the tourist trade?

I am sure that his royal highness will go to Gilbraltar, as he has been invited to do. I welcome the setting up of the trust. We believe that it is very important to protect Gibraltar's historic monuments and I hope that the new Chief Minister will encourage everybody to do what they can in that direction.

South Africa

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the use on 7 March of the British veto on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa.

We vetoed the draft resolution because it included a call for mandatory economic sanctions.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the recent laws passed in South Africa will now prevent funds going to South Africa from organisations such as Oxfam that collect in this country? Has he any advice to give to those charities that are providing funds for that country? Is this not the time to consider effective sanctions against South Africa?

We have made it plain that we condemn many of the restrictions recently imposed by the South African Government. We believe that they suppress legitimate political activity and that they will promote conflict and a move in exactly the wrong direction. It is too early to conclude that they will necessarily interfere with all forms of humanitarian relief. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, our position remains the same. We totally condemn apartheid, but we do not think that its ending will be brought about by any step in the direction of mandatory economic sanctions.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Government were absolutely right to use the veto on this occasion? Is he also aware that such people as the late Percy Qoboza, the late Steve Biko, Alan Paton and Helen Suzman, while being vigorously opposed to apartheid, have also been strongly opposed to economic sanctions being imposed on South Africa?

My right hon. Friend makes a very telling point, drawing on arguments that have appealed to people with deep experience of South Africa. I entirely agree with him. The whole of our experience since the imposition by other countries of punitive sanctions demonstrates that they do not make the situation better. They make a bad situation worse.

Has it not been the case in recent weeks that, far from accommodating the point of view of the Western democracies and the United Nations, the South African Government have been much more concerned with those to the right of themselves, and the electoral successes in by-elections of the Conservative party?

Will the Foreign Secretary consult as quickly as possible with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that ANC representatives in this country are given adequate police protection, in view of the assassination yesterday of an ANC representative in France and the clear fact that the South African authorities are operating murder squads to ensure that their opponents are put to death?

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman's substantive question first. Obviously, the whole House will condemn the murder in Paris of Miss September, because we are implacably opposed to violence and terrorism from any quarter. It is far too soon, however, to offer any view on who was responsible for her death.

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering representations on the safety of ANC personnel in London. I understand that members of the office were on an earlier occasion given advice by the police about their personal security.

My right hon. and learned Friend enjoys considerable support on these Benches and throughout the country for his robust opposition to economic sanctions. Will he now consider following the same policy in regard to sporting links with South Africa? Will he give the House an undertaking that no extreme political pressure will be put on any British rugby players who may consider touring that country in the future?

Our position on that is as stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House yesterday, when she clearly reaffirmed our support for the Gleneagles agreement, under which we try to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa. My hon. Friend will know that the English Rugby Football Union has already stated that it will try to dissuade England players from going to South Africa. We do not yet know whether the other rugby unions will follow suit.

Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that, despite the Government's oft-stated opposition to apartheid, the blacks in South Africa still have the feeling that the Government are soft on the issue? Will the Foreign Secretary at least give an undertaking that the Government will look positively at making existing sanctions work? Is it not possible for them to go one stage further and at least stop direct flights, which will have no effect on the black population of South Africa?

I shall not accept the hon. Gentleman's advice on any extension of measures against South Africa of the kind that he has described. However, I would welcome his help if he would join me — and many others — in making plain to the people of South Africa that the Government have formed their opinion on the wisdom or unwisdom of sanctions on the basis of a conclusion on the best way of bringing apartheid to an end. There should be no doubt in his mind, or in anyone else's, about the vigour and firmness with which the Government condemn apartheid.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is no such thing as effective economic sanctions and that, in particular, the disinvestment by overseas companies has achieved nothing but the transfer of businesses, at knock-down prices, into South African ownership, which has made them more insular than they would otherwise have been?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Punitive sanctions would merely make a bad situation worse. We continue to follow a realistic policy of pressure, persuasion, advocacy and firmness. There is no justification for any belief that sanctions in the more extreme form would have any effect.

Is it not a fact that the Government use words to condemn apartheid, but, when action is required, do nothing whatever? Their actions therefore belie their words and make them sound empty. That applies both in the Security Council and to sport.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity not to echo the empty formula that the Prime Minister carefully devised yesterday, but to say clearly and without equivocation that the Government are totally opposed to British rugby players taking part in the "rest of the world" tour in South Africa?

I repeat what I have already said and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. We remain committed to the Gleneagles agreement and we shall continue to seek to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa.

On the earlier question, the hon. Gentleman must understand our view, which is upheld by many of the witnesses cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), that comprehensive mandatory sanctions would be an ineffective means of ending apartheid. They would hurt those whom we seek to help and they would prolong conflict. Punitive sanctions of that kind imposed by other countries have already failed to speed up reform, reduced external influence and strengthened Right-wing politicians in South Africa. The experiment has been seen to fail, and it is for that reason that we adhere to our view.

Ussr (Postal Deliveries)

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the response he has received from the Soviet authorities concerning abrogations by their postal authorities of international regulations over the delivery of mail from Britain to Soviet citizens, and on the practice of providing signatures other than those of the addressees on advice of receipt cards.

No clear Soviet response has yet been received.

We have repeatedly drawn attention to the need for closer observation of the spirit of international agreements at the CSCE review meeting in Vienna.

Does the Minister accept that there is a sense of disappointment that nothing positive has been done? Will he acknowledge that so long as a Government or postal authority give tacit recognition to signatures of people other than those to whom the mail is addressed they will be conniving at misappropriation of property and even downright robbery?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am glad that he has returned to this important point. I remind the House that on 18 February we tabled a proposal calling upon all nations to agree that only the addressee or agent appointed by the addressee should be able to bear witness that a package had been delivered. At the moment, anyone appointed by the Government can do that. We look to the Eastern bloc countries to agree to that proposal as a practical way of showing that they are prepared to improve their practices on matters which should not be fundamental to their security but which are basic human rights in terms of the exchange of correspondence across national boundaries.

Will my hon. and learned Friend note that the continued breach of human rights and of the Helsinki agreement by the Soviet Union makes it extremely difficult for us to continue to negotiate on other matters? Will he urge General Secretary Gorbachev to change that policy and ensure that we can forward relations on a better basis?

There is no doubt that the fundamental problem in East-West relations is the lack of trust and confidence, which more often than not is based on judgments of the nature of Eastern society and breaches of human rights, which lead people to distrust the basic and fundamental impulses of Eastern bloc Governments. Until those things are changed, the level of progress that we want will be difficult to achieve.

Middle East

11.

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

We support current efforts to promote the convening of an international conference as a framework for negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. We hope that all the parties concerned will avoid action which could stifle progress towards a settlement.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that his phrase about the avoidance of action should apply to the current repression carried out by the Israelis against the Palestinians, which is reminiscent of the tactics used by their South African allies against the non-white population there?

Following the question by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), does my hon. and learned Friend think that it would be sensible to discuss with our EEC allies some form of action relating Israel's willingness to move towards peace with a willingness on the part of the EEC to grant concessions to Israeli exports?

There is no doubt that there has been a sharp and regrettable deterioration in conditions within the occupied territories in recent days. Seven people were killed over the weekend, a 50-year-old woman was shot dead today and in the past 10 days several hundred and perhaps more than a thousand people have been detained in circumstances which fall short of proper judicial standards. I should have thought that it would be self-evident to the Government of Israel by now that the Palestinian problem will have to be met by some means other than repression. The opportunity exists, within the framework of the American initiative, for proper talks to take place on the principle of territory for peace. Unless the Israelis are prepared to do that I fear that their 40th anniversary year will be a grave disappointment both to them and to the rest of the world.

Does my hon. Friend recall that this year there must be a general election in Israel, when the basic issue must be the peace process? Does he realise that many friends of Israel outside that country are hoping that the electors of Israel will listen to Mr. Peres and others who are putting forward peace proposals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that typically constructive comment. It is crucial that, whatever else people disagree about, they agree that the status quo is no longer an option. If it were maintained there would be more bloodshed and more calling into question of the fundamental principles on which the state of Israel was rightly founded. The sooner that people come to grips with that and begin serious discussion, the sooner we can, I hope, make further progress.

Sharpeville Six

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of South Africa concerning the case of the Sharpeville Six.

Along with many other Western Governments, we have repeatedly urged the South African Government to exercise clemency in the case of the Sharpeville Six.

The Minister's answer does not completely clarify matters. What representations have been made since the postponement of sentence on the Sharpeville Six? Will she confirm that there has been no change in the South African Government's murderous intention towards them and that this Government will seek, through every avenue available in the remaining time, to ensure that they are saved from the South African Government's rope?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made our position absolutely clear. We and other Western Governments have repeatedly urged the South African Government to exercise clemency. Those appeals for clemency remain. On both 16 and 17 March, when I answered private notice questions from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I made it absolutely clear that as the Pretoria Supreme Court had agreed a stay of execution, we would not only continue to follow proceedings closely and with concern, but would do whatever must be done when news is received. No further news has been received at this point.

Has my hon. Friend made a list of all the judicial systems throughout the world of which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office approves or disapproves? Does she monitor the extent to which different countries adhere to their judicial processes? Does she agree that the South Africans have adhered strictly to their judicial processes in the trial of the Sharpeville Six? Why, therefore, is it any of our business?

In no way is it a responsibility of the Government to monitor all the judicial systems of the world. However, when human rights issues come to the fore, such as with the Sharpeville Six — and as I clearly explained on 16 and 17 March — I believe that the Government's stance on appealing for clemency is fully justified, and we shall maintain that.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) asked, in effect, "Why pick on South Africa?" Is not the answer that the British Government should exercise their influence in South Africa because the British actually underpin the South African economy? When will the Government stop being miserable apologists for apartheid South Africa and start doing something? If the Sharpville Six are judicially murdered there will be no reason to prevent the Government from imposing full sanctions against South Africa. The only thing that that country understands is force. The Government have not delivered the goods on ending apartheid, and it is about time that they stopped being apologists and took effective sanctions against South Africa.

Not for the first time, and no doubt not for the last, the hon. Gentleman has misrepresented the Government's stance. The Government are wholly and totally opposed to apartheid. We find it repugnant and we want it ended as soon as possible. However, we shall not achieve that by measures that can only make worse an already disastrous state for many black people in South Africa. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, there is no way that we can speed the end of apartheid by repressive economic measures.

Ec Internal Market

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further contribution his Department is making to increase awareness by business of the opportunities offered by the completion of the EC internal market by 1992.

We have launched a major campaign to bring to the attention of industry, business and the public the opportunities and challenges of the single European market. All Departments are involved in this campaign, which will include a major conference in London on 18 April, followed by regional briefings throughout the country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that 1992 is a year of massive opportunities for British industry, and that the tragedy at the moment is that while French and German industry are well aware of the opportunities facing them, British industry is not? Does she also agree that if we do not get a move on, there is a real risk of British industry once again being taken to the cleaners by the French?

That is the very reason why the Government have just launched this major awareness campaign. We need to tell businesses of all sizes, throughout the country, exactly what opportunities lie ahead for them in the single market. That is why Ministers and, I hope, all hon. Members, will explain, as I am doing, from St. Ives to Manchester and to the far north of Scotland, just what the opportunities are. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join that important campaign for the future of British industry and for increased exports from this country.