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Ec Foreign Affairs Ministers

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 11 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers.

My right hon. Friend will meet EC Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Given the interest of European Foreign Ministers in easing the transition of eastern European countries from communist dictatorships to nascent democracies, does the Minister envisage that similar interest might be shown in easing the transition of Scotland from a province governed by the diktat of the House to a country that democratically elects its own representatives to the European Councils?

I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman sought to draw the analogy that Scotland might be transformed from a socialist economy into a free enterprise one, but I do not think that he had that in mind. East European countries are rediscovering that freedom and the ability to have a democracy and a free enterprise system is the way to go. They are keen to draw many of their lessons from the experience of the United Kingdom.

Will the Minister discuss with his European colleagues joint action to defend and protect the continent of Antarctica? What steps has he taken to ensure that Antarctica remains free from military exploitation and disturbance and from economic exploitation and pollution? What steps will he take to ensure the future of that continent as a truly international asset that belongs to the world?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know that the Antarctica treaty system rules out any military intervention of the sort about which he appears to be anxious.

When my hon. Friend meets other EC Foreign Ministers will he check how many of them have removed visa requirements for visitors from east European countries? I suspect that he will find that a number of them have removed, or plan to remove, those requirements. In view of that will he undertake to speed up the process undertaken by the British Government to review and remove the long visa delays imposed on many business visitors, as well as tourists and others, from eastern Europe?

This is a matter in which my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest and we are looking at it carefully. It is desirable, wherever possible, that the European Community should move forward together for such purposes and it is certainly something that has been and is being discussed among the Twelve.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a growing threat to regional stability and a potential threat to Europe from the determination of military dictatorships such as Iraq and Libya to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapon capabilities, allied to a long-range delivery capability? Bearing in mind the fact that some European Governments have, in the past decade, supplied military-grade uranium to Iraq, and given the recent saga of the long gun, for which parts were provided from this country and Germany, will my hon. Friend ensure that that matter is raised at the next meeting of EC Foreign Ministers so that we do not aid and abet the future acquisition of such capabilities?

These matters are discussed regularly among the Twelve. Of course, it is important that the non-proliferation obligations to which we all sign up are observed.

When the Minister next meets his EC colleagues will he raise with them the trade in Hong Kong ivory? Does he recall that the Government gave an assurance in the House that the reservation entered into on behalf of Hong Kong would end at midnight on 17 July? Is he aware that a major loophole has emerged? It is clear that that trade will continue under the guise of personal effects moving out of Hong Kong. I know that the Government would not wish to have misled the House, but they have been misled by the Hong Kong authorities. Will he take urgent steps to close that loophole? If not, the only sufferer will be the African elephant.

There is no question of the House being misled. I am aware of the concern that has been expressed and it is being considered.

If the discussions with other European Foreign Ministers touch on aid to eastern. Europe, will my hon. Friend impress on them that it is better to create the conditions for genuine investment in eastern Europe than to throw money at any of those countries? Would not it be even better to remove the restraints on trade imposed by the common agricultural policy and other European Commission policies?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important that the programme of aid to eastern Europe should proceed on the basis of conditions. It should not go ahead unless the process of economic reform goes ahead, too. We believe, and others agree, that that principle should be applied to the Soviet Union. One important measure that we can take for reforming countries is to open our markets to their products, and agriculture is one such important sector.

When the Minister next meets European Community Foreign Ministers, many of whom were at the NATO summit last week, will he explain why last Thursday the Prime Minister said that she opposed a second round of conventional forces in Europe negotiations and on Friday she signed the communiqué agreeing to a second round of CFE negotiations? Did he agree with the Prime Minister before or after she was forced to change her mind?

As so often, the right hon. Gentleman is off beam. There has never been any difference and the same mandate continues.