HC Deb 12 February 1997 vol 290 cc333-4
13. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the European Union initiative against racism and xenophobia. [13966]

Mr. David Davis

There are two main areas of the initiative: the designation of 1997 as the European Year Against Racism and the EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia.

Mr. Gapes

Does the Minister agree that racist and neo-Nazi groups operate internationally, often publishing their material in one country and disseminating it in others? Does he agree that it would be better to have a co-ordinated, legally based, European-wide joint initiative for minimum standards of racial equality? Is it not deplorable that our Government are in a minority of 14 to one in blocking the initiative to establish a European Union centre to monitor racism, and are opposing EU-wide action against holocaust denial?

Mr. Davis

I believe that, some time ago, the Home Secretary said something about dealing with the issue of material being published in one country and printed in another. Europe has a role in dealing with racism: that of exchanging and disseminating information on how to deal with racism and xenophobia. However, the United Kingdom's domestic race relations legislation is among the most sophisticated in Europe.

If the hon. Gentleman wants effective race relations legislation, the best locus for that is within the nation state, not in a supranational body. That is how the misunderstanding from which he clearly suffers has arisen. We are not blocking progress on the establishment of the observatory; but we are saying that it is appropriate as an intergovernmental measure, not as a measure for the Commission and the European Court in the European Community.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Union might make more progress in the fight against xenophobia and racism within the European Union if, instead of setting up institutions to enforce codes of Euro-political correctness, it looked at the competitiveness of the European economy and did something about the rampant unemployment on the continent—the sort of unemployment that would be caused by the policies of the Labour party and lead to the very racism and xenophobia— Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing my recognition of him on this question, which relates not to the economy but to a specific issue. Would the Minister like to make some response?

Mr. Davis

My simple response is that when unemployment is maximised it creates an obvious problem by encouraging racism and extremism of all sorts. Britain and other European countries would seek to avoid that.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister condemn the incidents of racism and xenophobia that have been witnessed by NATO peacekeepers in the city of Mostar in recent days? Will he tell the Croatian authorities that there can be no question of progress towards—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is not in Europe".] There can be no question of progress towards Croatian membership of European or other institutions as long as—

Madam Speaker

Order. I call Sir David Knox—let us have a sensible question.