HL Deb 05 July 1991 vol 530 cc1186-8

11.24 a.m.

The Marquess of Tweeddale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will reconsider their decision not to recognise Slovenia and Croatia as sovereign states.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we acknowledge the aspirations of Yugoslavia's peoples but any settlement must take account of the interests of all Yugoslavs. Time will be needed to establish whether any basis exists for a democratic and peaceful form of association among Yugoslavia's people. For our part, we shall avoid any step or statement which may prejudice such negotiations.

The Marquess of Tweeddale

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does he agree that the reluctance of the Government, who are so exercised about the sovereignty of their country, to recognise the quite clearly expressed desires of the peoples of Slovenia and Croatia to establish their own independent states is very difficult for many people to understand?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we have a strong view that the federation must not be held together by violence. There is no excuse for the federal troops' use of force against democratic governments. The two republics mentioned by the noble Marquess are democratic. We maintain contacts with both governments. There is a clear need to remain in touch with all sides during the present crisis. Moreover, we do not wish to snub a democratically elected government by ignoring them. However, in all our dealings we must make it clear that at present we do not and cannot regard the republics as independent states, for the reasons I have given.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was the Minister who negotiated the Anglo-Yugoslav trade agreement which is still in being? I was authorised to sign that by Ernest Bevin. Does the Minister agree that, if that agreement was in any way weakened, as would be the case if Croatia and Slovenia were given independence, that would be bad for both Yugoslavia and this country?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, as I say, I do not wish to say anything which may jeopardise the negotiations in a very delicate situation. I recognise that the noble Lord is right about the immensely important trade links that we have with that part of the world and with Yugoslavia in particular.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the delicacy of the situation and the risk of very serious consequences, are not Her Majesty's Government absolutely right to be very cautious about rushing into decisions one way or the other on the issue raised in this Question?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, there are great tensions in that part of the world and the situation is fraught with danger. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has, during the past 72 hours, spoken to most of Yugoslavia's senior politicians, including those from Slovenia and Croatia. I wish to make that absolutely clear.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, whether or not it is finally successful, the intervention of the European Community has been helpful and praiseworthy?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for that because there have been criticisms. I believe the efforts were praiseworthy, energetic and wholly worthy of the Community.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is it not the case that the EC Foreign Ministers will be discussing this matter today in Holland? Will the noble Lord give us an indication of how the European Community will fit in with the efforts of CSCE to resolve the problem?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, individually countries outside Yugoslavia have very little influence but the European Community does have influence. I was not aware of the meeting to take place today.

As regards fitting in with the CSCE, two mechanisms have been activated: the first is that of unusual military activities invoked by Austria and Italy whereby Yugoslavia must explain its unusual troop movements; more importantly, leading from there, is the emergency mechanism. The committee's senior officials met in Prague on 3rd July and agreed that a good offices mission and observers may be sent to Yugoslavia to monitor a ceasefire. The details are to be worked out.

It would not be appropriate for any British military people to go there until there is a secure ceasefire because we should not justify risking the lives of British servicemen.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, one realises that it is Friday and that noble Lords on the Government Front Bench have a number of tasks to perform. However, would it not be helpful if, in their briefings, they were made aware of where the Foreign Secretary was at any given time?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, yes. It is entirely my fault. I saw the diary of the Foreign Secretary, but his exact location today has just escaped my mind.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is right to urge caution in these matters? In the break-up of the communist empire there are bound to be a large number of minorities which will hope to gain an advantage, as in the dispute in regard to Azerbaijanis and Armenians, and as in the situation in Yugoslavia. We should remember that 120 years ago, although Parliament was very much on the side of the southern states in the civil war in America, the government of the day very wisely did not take sides. In the end they were able to emerge with some honour from what might have been an awkward situation.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the House is grateful for the wisdom and contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I thank the House for the tone and nature of the Question which is helpful to Her Majesty's Government.