HL Deb 29 March 2000 vol 611 cc799-802

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

For how long they intend to refuse to meet Austrian Ministers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the measures implemented by us and our 13 other partners in the European Union are aimed at limiting our bilateral relationship with Austria as a signal of our concern at the inclusion of a far right party in Government. British and Austrian Ministers continue to work together on EU and other multilateral business. We have made clear to the Austrian Government that we will judge them on their actions and hew those match the commitments expressed in the Schuessel/Haider Declaration of 3rd February.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I wonder whether she noticed the remarks on this subject by the Belgian Foreign Minister, who is rather talkative on the matter. He said that this boycott must continue until the Austrian Government break up. Is that rather extraordinary interference the aim of Her Majesty's Government or is it, as the Minister indicated today, intended more as a signal of concern while the Government wait and see? How long do the Government intend to wait and see before they feel that they can judge whether the Chancellor of Austria and his colleagues are telling the truth about the intentions of policies of their government?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, in relation to the comments made by the Belgian Minister, perhaps I may say straight away that of course he must be free to express his views. One knows that such views are not necessarily wholly representative of the Belgian position. However, as regards "how long" is, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that the Austrian Government have been in office only since February. We are now in March. Less than two months has passed. That period of time is insufficient for us to be able to judge with any degree of accuracy whether the comments made by the Austrians can be relied upon. We shall continue to keep the matter under review in a productive and appropriate way.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the European Union needs to be a union based on values? Does she further agree that those values are seriously undermined by the entry into government by a party which either espouses, or is led by an individual who espouses racist or fascist views and that, therefore, we must continue to defend the fundamental values of the European Union?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords. I respectfully agree with that view. I believe I hear noble Lords opposite say "rubbish". That disappoints me greatly.

Noble Lords

Hear hear!

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it is incredibly important that those values are shared and honoured and that we have confidence that our European partners share our aspirations in relation to security and equality.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House exactly what the Austrian Government have to do to satisfy the British Government? Do they have to submit their government or their election to scrutiny?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Certainly not, my Lords. The Austrian Government must demonstrate—I emphasise the word "demonstrate"—that their commitment to the European values is true. They can only do that with the passage of time.

Noble Lords

How long?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear noble Lords opposite ask, "how long". My answer to that is: as long as it takes to satisfy us that they are bona fide.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does interest in values, which is an important aspect in this matter, alter the attitude of the Government to the charter of fundamental human rights? If these democratic values were written into the treaty at the end of the IGC, would it not be easier to call to account governments in terms of how they stood up to such values?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. That is a view which has been canvassed before. I know that that matter is under constant debate. The values are clear at present. They are agreed upon by member states which are members of the European Union. We believe that there is sufficient clarity at present to deal with the situation as it appears to us.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does the Minister agree that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones? Is she aware that her Government admitted into government in this United Kingdom the representatives of armed terrorists who give no sign whatever of resiling from their terrorism?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say without any degree of repentance that this Government have behaved honourably in that regard. The noble Lord knows how difficult the situation is in relation to Northern Ireland. I remind the House that agreements were entered into voluntarily by all sides in an attempt to arrive at peace. Perhaps I may respectfully say that that situation cannot be compared with the situation with which we are presented by Austria.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that fascism is a creeping cancer? Had we been a bit firmer in the 1930s rather than allowing someone to come back carrying a piece of white paper, we may well have avoided the following six years.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that these are difficult times. We feel strongly that a proper message needs to be given to the Austrian Government voicing our concerns. Many noble Lords have said in the past that they have a choice. We are not trying to impinge on that choice. But neither can they impinge on ours. We have a choice as to with whom we associate and on what basis. We have chosen to indicate to the Austrians our disapproval of the position they have taken to date.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, in answer to earlier questions the Minister stated that the Austrian Government must demonstrate that their commitment to European values is true. Can the noble Baroness tell the House which values and what specific steps they have to take to satisfy the Government?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have answered this question again and again. The Austrian Government made a number of commitments. We will test them on each and every one of those commitments to ensure that they are addressing the issues in an appropriate way. That is my answer.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Austrian people, who voted recently for a change out of frustration with the previous long-serving coalition, have an outstanding record of helping foreign refugees? I witnessed that help when I was a First Secretary in the British Embassy in Vienna during the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Should not the Austrian Government, as the noble Baroness said, be judged on their actions instead of being subjected to what are childish snubs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord should choose to describe the actions of 14 European states as "childish snubs"; we do not concur with that view. This is a matter we take extremely seriously. We know that the Austrian Government expressed clear indications and commitment that they will ensure that they adhere to values. We will give them the opportunity and advantage of demonstrating that by their actions.

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Carter

My Lords, we are in the ninth minute and should move on.

Back to