HC Deb 27 June 1991 vol 193 cc1137-40 3.31 pm
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current situation in Yugoslavia and Her Majesty's Government's policy towards it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

As hon. Members will know, the Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Slovenia issued declarations of independence on the evening of 25 June. The Yugoslav federal authorities responded by declaring those declarations illegal and by mobilising military units in both republics. The extent of those deployments is unclear, but their primary purpose seems to be to maintain federal control of Slovenia's borders. The three airports in Slovenia are closed. A small number of deaths have been reported in Croatia from clashes between the police and the Serbian community. The level of tension is now dangerously high.

The Slovene and Croat leaders deny that they intend to secede and say that they are willing to continue negotiations with the other republics. We welcome their willingness to persevere in the search for new constitutional arrangements.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary expect to discuss the crisis with our European Community colleagues in Luxembourg tomorrow. Our primary purpose will be to use every means at our disposal to urge the Yugoslav republics to avoid bloodshed and to resolve their differences through negotiation. We stand by the declaration that was issued by the 35 countries of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe in Berlin on 19 June, which stressed that the way out of the present difficult impasse should be found through democratic development, without recourse to the use of force and in conformity with Yugoslavia's legal and constitutional procedures.

I believe that the Slovene and Croat leaderships should seek their future in the framework of a single reformed Yugoslav state, based on consent, within the country's existing borders. The form of that state can be decided only by the Yugoslav peoples. With our European Community partners, we stand ready to give any practical assistance that the Yugoslays may need to achieve that aim.

Mr. Fry

I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. Will he join me in expressing concern and sympathy for all the peoples of Yugoslavia? Will he confirm that it is the Government's view that, if widespread civil disturbance is to be avoided and international confidence restored in that country, there must be many more concessions and compromises by all the parties and all the republics in Yugoslavia? That is necessary if legitimate individual liberties and reasonable freedom of choice are to be ensured.

What advice is my hon. Friend giving the many British subjects who are on holiday in Yugoslavia or are contemplating going there over the next few weeks?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am certainly happy to join my hon. Friend in expressing concern and sympathy about the developments in Yugoslavia. As I said, the future of Yugoslavia is a matter for the Yugoslav peoples. Of course, we will do everything we can to help in any way if requested by the Yugoslav peoples.

At present, we do not think that it is necessary to advise those who are on holiday to leave. However, our advice is that all non-essential visits to Yugoslavia should be postponed. We are, of course, reviewing the situation on a day-to-day basis.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Does the Minister recognise that some of us believe that Yugoslavia is a prime example of a failure to apply federal principles and that the imposition of a centralised, autocratic state may give way to better arrangements as the British Government wish?

Will the Minister make it clear at the Council of Ministers meeting that, if the military uses force against or slaughters the people of Yugoslavia, that will lead not only to the cessation of western help but to the country's immediate expulsion from observer status at the Council of Europe?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that it would be particularly helpful if this afternoon we discussed the future of Yugoslavia along the lines which he suggested. However, I can confirm that over the past six months we have repeatedly made it clear to the Yugoslav authorities that we would deplore the use, or the threat, of force to intimidate or coerce the democratically elected Governments of Slovenia and Croatia. I must add, however, that the Yugoslav federal army might have, under the constitution, a role in restoring order if there were widespread civil unrest.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although the fragmentation of Yugoslavia may have its dangers, we should be careful about the kind of unity we back? The unity that is sought has a brutal and reactionary side to it. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should perhaps analyse that carefully and realise that Slovenia and Croatia deserve some sympathy in their desire to escape from that domination? My hon. Friend speaks of a reformed Yugoslavia. That is the right emphasis, rather than just blandly supporting the present attempts at imposing unity on the Croatian and Slovenian people.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We and our western partners have a clear preference for the continuation of a single Yugoslav political entity—those words are carefully chosen and are capable of being developed and further interpreted. I can confirm that we are concerned at persistent human rights abuses in some parts of Yugoslavia, notably in the Albanian province of Kosovo.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

What is being done about our citizens who are on holiday in Yugoslavia? In my experienced, there is much brutality hidden in the various republics. If any of my people were there, I would want to be sure that there were contingency plans to get them out.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have already answered a question about that, but I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, although our advice is that those people on holiday in Yugoslavia need not leave as of this moment, that position is reviewed on a daily basis.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that the principle of self-determination of freely and democratically elected Governments is one which the Foreign Office should not treat lightly, and that if there is to be condemnation of any course of action it should be a condemnation of sabre rattling and the coercive use of force by the central power, in this case the central power of Yugoslavia? If the wishes of the freely elected Governments of Croatia and Slovenia are ignored, that precedent will re-echo around eastern Europe, and it will not do that cause of democracy any good at all.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As I said earlier, it was very much in the minds of the 35 countries of the CSCE meeting in Berlin that the way out of the difficult impasse should be found through democratic development, and we are very mindful of the need to respect that aspiration.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Does the Minister see a parallel between the position of the northern republics of Yugoslavia and that of the Baltic states? In both cases, democratic Governments are trying to break free from former communist states, and the former communist states are using force to prevent that. Is it not sad that in both cases this Government are, in effect, lining up behind the former communist regime to obstruct democracy?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We can all develop our ideas in discussions with our Yugoslav friends and contacts. I said —and I reiterate—that I do not think that it would be wise to debate these matters on the Floor of the House in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the tragic events in Yugoslavia highlight the general threat of mass immigration from the Balkans and the Soviet Union into the European Economic Community? Will he assure the House that the Government will continue to resist the policy of a free flow of immigrants across national borders within the EEC and that they are also taking contingency measures to plan for mass immigration into the EEC, especially as regards the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I hope that you will accept, Mr. Speaker, that although my hon. Friend's point is very important, I do not think that it would be right to pursue it this afternoon.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a private notice question. I shall accept four more questions, and then we must move on.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Does the Minister believe that there is a Yugoslavian people, or does he accept that there are several quite distinct peoples locked together in an artificial nation created by the great power politics of this century, and that it does not work and has not worked? Why do we not accept that the Slovene and Croat peoples have the same right to their own political and cultural identity and freedom as we have demanded for ourselves? Why are the Government propping up a bankrupt concept created by great power politics at the end of the first world war?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It is important to recognise that the future of Yugoslavia must be for the Yugoslav people to decide, and everything that we say in the House must respect that fact. We should be happy to assist the Yugoslav people to develop their country in whatever way the constituent parts see fit.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Does my hon. Friend accept that some people believe that if countries such as Yugoslavia, Ethiopia or the Soviet Union want to break up we should let them get on with it, and that it is none of our business?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The important point made by my hon. Friend is that it is a matter for the people of the countries involved. I accept that, but if we can play a part through whatever institutions are available in helping them peacefully to that end if they so wish, it would be sensible to do so.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Does the Minister agree that any crass analysis of what Yugoslavia is or is not must be balanced by the reality that even this century, great brutality has often occurred between the peoples who make up the state of Yugoslavia, and that the Stalinist regime and the regimes that have followed it have also served to mix up ethnic groups within Yugoslavia? There is no easy answer within each of the states that make up Yugoslavia. We must look very carefully before we come up with any facile recognition of the emerging states to ensure that human rights inside them are far better than they were within the state of Yugoslavia as a whole.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman has reminded us that the situation in that part of the world has been a cause of many troubles in Europe this century. I heartily agree with that and I have no intention of trying to solve the problem on my feet this afternoon.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

May I endorse completely the Government's approach on the matter, which is also, as the Minister has pointed out, the approach of the European Community and of the United States Administration? It is that there is nothing to be gained for Europe, for European security or for the different peoples of Yugoslavia from the break-up of that country or from the instability that would flow from the Balkans to the rest of Europe. It is facile to create an analogy between the Baltic states, which were annexed against their will by the Soviet Union, and the constituent republics of Yugoslavia, which came together voluntarily. If there is to be any change in the structure of Yugoslavia, it must be done by the free agreement of the constituent parts of Yugoslavia under its federal framework.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his words of support and I confirm what he says. Clearly, we shall all have to await developments to see how we can assist all the Yugoslav people in their future.