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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK

UK Politics

The shadow foreign secretary answers your questions

John Maples, the shadow foreign secretary, answers questions put to him by users of BBC News Online.

Q: Given that most of our trade is with the EU and that we have a common history and many cultural, social and economic links with our European neighbours why do most Conservative spokespeople seem so anti-Europe?
Robert Bound

A: We are very positive on many aspects of Europe. We led the way on establishing the single market and we are leading the way on EU enlargement.

And we are very positive about the European Union having a more outward looking stance regarding global free trade. What we are against is the unnecessary regulation of things from Brussels on issues we can decide for ourselves in the UK.

There is a tendency of a lot of people within the European Union to try and make it into a United States of Europe. It is one that we are whole-heartedly against. But we are very positive about an outward looking free trade Europe.

Q: Does the shadow foreign secretary's vision of the future of Europe include British participation in a substantive European Defence Force?
Alan Smith

A: Well, there is a substantive European defence force in Nato. We are all for developing that and we are all for developing the European identity within that.

What it really means is European countries spending more on defence and having greater defence capability - at the moment they might want to do things on their own but they can't. What we are wholly against is duplicating military capability and military planning outside Nato and the EU.

Then you would have two alliances in Europe and they would inevitably get in each other's way, they would duplicate expenditure and it would discriminate against countries that are in Nato but not in the European Union like Turkey and Norway and I think it would really worry the United States.

So we are wholly in favour of a European defence capability but strictly within the Nato alliance and not as a part of the EU.

Would Mr Maples accede to foreign command of British soldiers in combat?
Alan Smith

A: We have acceded to foreign command in the past usually under a Nato structure where of course the general in charge is always an American general, and in the Gulf War we put our troops under the charge of the Americans again.

This has got to take place at a high level, above the divisional level, I think the commanders at divisional level should be commanding troops the same nationality as himself.

We are wholly against the idea of a European army, I think when people are prepared to fight they are prepared to fight for their national interest - if it was part of a multi-national army I don't think that would be efficient or effective.

I certainly don't think we would be in favour, or I don't think we would ever put British troops under the control of, a European army.

That is of course what the president of the European Commission Mr Prodi wants. He has talked very clearly of the formation of a European army

Q: What is the party's stand in the peace process in the Middle East and why do we hardly know your views regarding other issues far from the ones dealing with the EU or Kosovo?

A: Well I think that the Middle East peace process has been held up for the last few years, but it took huge strides forward with the agreement in Oslo between the Palestinians and the Israelis seven years ago and it looks as if that process is now going to pick up again.

We have friends all over the region, we are friends with both sides I am happy to say, and we are committed to security and integrity of Israel but at the same time we hope for peace in the region and that means satisfying some Palestinian ambitions.

And we very much hope that the peace process will lead to that and if there is any constructive part we can play in it to make that happen we are obviously prepared to do it.

But primarily this is an agreement that has to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians and Syria.

Regarding my views on other issues - well I have only been in the job for about five weeks and that has been dominated so far by a few issues and events which includes mainly the aftermath of the European elections and Kosovo the Balkans and the future of Nato.

But you can't, two or three years out from an election, have detailed policies on everything - as things may well change over the next few years

But I think our policies on the fundamentals of British diplomacy are settled and are clear.

Q: Does the Conservative Party believe in having an ethical foreign policy?
R West

A: Well, of course we believe in having an ethical foreign policy. During the cold war the Conservatives consistently took the view that freedom and democracy were the solutions to the world's problems and we were proved to be right.

Incidentally this was at a time when Mr Cook and many others members of the Labour Cabinet were busy campaigning for CND and undermining that effort.

Ethics must play a part in foreign policy but a very strong part must also be played by what are Britain's interests.

It is primarily the role of British foreign policy to promote and defend British interests throughout the world and her security at home. And in that context one should always behave ethically.

I think where Labour and Mr Cook have come unstuck is that they sought to make a lot of the concept of an ethical foreign policy but actually what it is has turned into is a politically correct foreign policy and this has led them into all sorts of difficulties.

Recently, for the first time in a long time, the British government failed to sponsor a motion at the United Nations paying attention to China 's bad record on human rights.

And on the other side of the coin you have their euphoria about being able to arrest General Pinochet, which has made a lot of them feel very good but has actually done an enormous amount of damage to our relations with Chile in particular but also with other countries in South America as well - and of course the Falkland Islands' interest in good relations with Argentina and Chile

Ethics is one of the elements of foreign policy but it is no good pursuing something that is ethical in that it makes you feel good if it is actually damaging to Britain's interests.

I'm not sure there is a conflict between ethics and Britain's interests but what I am saying is that a very substantial amount of the decisions that are made should be made on the basis of what are Britain's interests.

Now very often they are the promotion of democracy, of the rule of law and free trade those are things that are good in and of themselves, but there are going to be occasions from time to time when these things are going to clash, for example with China.

We have a developing relationship of trade with China but we still take a very poor view of China's record on human rights - I think we should be prepared to criticise that.

Q: If William Hague's low opinion ratings continue through till close to the next general election, how long will you keep him on as leader? People won't vote for a party that is so in the doldrums?

A: William Hague's latest opinion rating was in the local government elections and the European elections in May and June in both of which we did extremely well.

So if you take the important thing for politicians which his winning elections, we won those local elections and the European elections resoundingly so I think we will be sticking with William Hague for a long time.

Q: Blair has proven he is a tested world leader and will do all in his power to win a second term. What are your plans to deny it to him.?
Menachem Fruchter

A: I think there are several things that might deny Labour a second term. Firstly, I think they are not succeeding in delivering on their policies on health and education - waiting lists are getting longer and class sizes are getting bigger.

They have also extracted a massive tax rise from people by stealth so that they haven't noticed it happening but they will - there has been a big raid on their pension funds and on their savings.

Also it is not clear to me what Blair actually stands for. I think he is a very good operator - he is a very smooth and sophisticated performer but I'm not quire clear on what he really believes in.

His policies seem to have bits of Conservative polices, and bits of old Labour policies and bits that are tagged on to deal with what ever the media problem of the day is - and I think there is too much of a sense of them making it up as they go along.

And that will work very well as long as everything is going right, but as soon as soon as things start to go wrong, if the economy faces a serious down turn, if unemployment starts to rise, if we face a foreign policy crisis which is not amenable to that kind of solution, then I think the weakness of Labour's position will be exposed

Our job is to make sure our vision is articulated. And I've already set out some of what I think that means in terms of foreign policy.

Q: Do you recognise the claim of the Taiwanese president to treatment for his nation as an independent state from China?
Toby Proctor

A: Taiwan is a serious source of potential conflict in south east Asia, particularly between China and the United States. And the management of the West's relationship with China, I think is very crucial to our future security over the next ten or 20 years.

Clearly we want to see China develop as a mainstream country with free trade and a liberal democracy, but we have a long way to go before we get to that.

We can see them as a growing military power, and as a growing economic power but there is no democratic accountability within China.

So the management of this relationship is very important for our security, and perhaps no more so than for the Japanese.

On Taiwan we have always taken the view, as have China, that there is one government of China and that is in Beijing and that Taiwan forms part of China.

We do not recognise the Taiwanese government but on the other hand we deal with them on a practical level with trade and many other ways and very profitably

And I think we must do all we can to avoid mainland China trying to find a military solution to this question. They found a solution to their problem in Hong Kong and we think that is a model solution.

But at the same time the people in Taiwan have a way of life and an economic system and an amount of democracy which they don't have in China, which the people of Taiwan obviously appreciate and enjoy and as a result have a higher standard of living.

So I think trying to balance all those things is very hard but I think you have to try and manage the relationship with China so it becomes a mainstream nation.

Q: Do you think there is some strength in the Turkish argument that partition has brought about peace in Cyprus?

Having visited the island recently I know that feeling runs strong among the Greeks about partition. I think there is a case for 'Real Politique' and perhaps we should find a way of living with the situation as it exists today, in the hope that the families which have been split up could be re-united.
Frank Corr

A: Well Cyprus is a great source of instability in the region and one of the principal causes of disagreements between Greece and Turkey.

I think it is in everybody's interests to try to resolve it and I do not think the Turkish armed forces occupation in such large numbers of Northern Cyprus will help us to do that.

The United Nations has proposed a framework solution and we are one of the guarantor powers and I think we ought to help in anyway we can to finding a solution that will help bring the two powers to get a decent working relationship - even if we set the question of sovereignty aside for the time being.

We do not recognise the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus but it is a fact on the ground. And the way this is going to be resolved is by both within Cyprus by the two communities and between the Turkish and Greek governments.

I hope a degree of good will develop that which will allow that to happen

The people in the occupation have suffered, the standards of living in the Greek parts of Cyprus are higher than the in the north and if Cyprus succeeds in joining the European Union and if northern Cyprus either practically of politically decides to stay outside then I think they will continue to pay that price.

Maybe membership of the EU would aid the process of bringing the two of them together. It is perhaps easier to be a separate region in Europe than it is to be a separate region in the same island. They might find the European Union umbrella helps them find a solution.

Q: Do you think that the international community has been selective in the battles it has chosen to fight in defence of national minorities within states and their territories? What should be the criteria on which any such decisions are made?

What role would you like to see the United Kingdom play in alleviating the suffering of such minorities?
Dan Rogerson

A: The world community's role has been selective and I think the reason for that is because there are some cases when you can do something about it and some cases when you can't.

And I think if we could sort out the world's human rights problems by very low level diplomacy and military action then I think we would all be in favour of doing it.

We did it in Kosovo and I believe rightly, because firstly it threatened the stability of Europe and secondly we could do something about it.

But when the Russians were sorting out the rebels in Chechnya where probably just as bad and perhaps far worse things happened to the civilian population there was nothing you could to about it.

But I think the moral cause was probably pretty strong but there wasn't the interest there, there wasn't the threat to Europe's stability.

So I think you have to balance three things - how strong is the moral case, how crucial are your interests in the outcome, how practical is it to do something about it.

I think this has to be judged on a case by case basis.

Does Mr Maples believe that a larger membership would destabilise the EU, or alternately, improve the organisation by reducing the current relative concentrations of power in French and German hands?
Katherine Porter

A: We are in favour of the enlargement of the European Union. We believe that it is an organisation that should extend to most if not the whole of Europe, and we are certainly in the forefront of trying to press for the accession of new members.

It will have to be more flexible I am not sure it will be able to expect all its members to accept the same rules - it may be that people are not prepared to accept all of the current obligations that come with EU membership and perhaps we should allow that.

If Europe is going to be broader it can't be deeper - I think if we have a broader Europe it is more difficult for those who are in favour of it to promote this agenda of a single European state - which I am against.

But I do think enlargement is a good thing for its own sake. I think we need to extend the benefits of free trade too as many countries in Europe as we can and that will promote both prosperity and stability.

Q: Does the shadow secretary believe that there is a legitimate rational for the continued existence of Nato, given the near autonomous decisions made by President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair during the Kosovo war?

A: It isn't true about Kosovo, nearly every decision required unanimity from the Atlantic Council and it got and I think it is a great tribute to the alliance that it held together like that.

Clearly the original purpose of the alliance - to guard against the threat of the Soviet Union is no longer there - and such an external threat if it were to re-emerge is several years away but there are other purposes for Nato.

The alliance can protect against terrorists and rogue states - who are both using chemical and biological weapons with increasingly sophisticated delivery systems.

I think if Nato was not there I don't think we would invent it for this purpose but it is there and it seems right to try to adapt it to face these new threats.

Q: Does the shadow secretary believe that human rights are guaranteed by international law, and that state-sponsored mass violations of human rights is 'in and of itself' justification for war? Is this what happened in Kosovo?

A: Human rights are certainly not guaranteed by international law in any practical sense. I think that is a great pity. But I think that one of the conditions of stability in the world is that nation states grant human rights to their own subjects.

It is therefore in the interests of countries like ourselves and our allies to promote human rights in other countries and this is certainly what happened in Kosovo.

So yes I think that state sponsored violation of human rights on a mass scale are a justification for military action. But you still have to face the question of whether taking military action in a particular circumstance that you can actually make human rights better.

Q: Can Mr. Maples explain what the advantages of not forgiving the third-world debt are? To the United Kingdom? To the World Bank? To the global economy, and investor confidence?

A: When we were in government we were in the forefront of debt forgiveness. We forgive all our bi-national debt to the poorest countries in the world - the only kind of debt that was exempted from this was debt from the World Bank and the IMF.

They have always adopted a policy of never forgiving debt. They feel it would put in question the terms on which they lend money to countries but there is no point in pretending that a country can pay money that it clearly can't and if you have a bad debt you might as well recognise it and right it off.

However I think you have to consider another circumstance, suppose they were 10 countries and eight of them had run their affairs very well and were successfully paying back their debts and have uncorrupted governments and let's say the leaders of the other countries are part of some junta and take their countries' money and leave their people in terrible trouble and you forgive their debt you are rewarding the country that behaves badly and not those that have run their affairs well.

So that is what bankers call moral hazard - what happens the next time round? Does everyone think that they don't have to repay their debts and once a country has had its debts written off will anyone be willing to lend to it again?

We must draw a distinction between those countries who have behaved properly and who have repaid their debt properly and those who through the irresponsibility of their own governments can't do that.

So I think it is more complicated than just the charitable emotion that we all have.

That said we are, in general, in favour of debt forgiveness - but we would like that money to be spent on health and education and not on arms.

Q: Does the shadow secretary have an explanation for his party's role in influencing the government of Belize to make changes in its tax code that both personally enriched Mr. Ashcroft (and not coincidentally, the Conservative Party)? Could this ever happen if he were the Foreign Secretary?
Isaac Taylor

A: As far as the action of the Foreign Office in helping Mr Ashcroft with the Belize government is concerned, Tony Lloyd, the Foreign Office minister in the Labour government has said, had they been in power they would have done exactly the same.

I think that what you have to realise what happened here is that Belize, like a lot of governments, offers tax concessions to foreign business men - tax holidays for 10, 20 or 30 years.

Mr Ashcroft obtained one of them under their law - which was specific to him - there was then a change of government and the new government attempted to revoke the agreement. He sought the backing of the British government in seeking to argue that it would be wrong to change their understanding - I think that is something the Foreign Office would do for any British businessman when dealing with a foreign government.

As far as changes to party funding goes we are wholly in favour of the government acting on the recommendations of the Neill Committee. One of those was to stop foreign donations, and the test they suggest is that if someone is on the UK voters' register.

It is something William Hague is keen on. He has said we do not and we will not accept foreign donations, we also disclose donations over 5,000 which is another thing Neill called for.

But what I hope is that the government won't rig it's response to the Neill committee to disadvantage the Conservative Party and advantage Labour.

We need properly funded political parties in Britain, of whatever persuasion, and I think we should be very careful about shutting off perfectly legitimate sources of finance.

Q: Following devolution, do you feel that Wales and Scotland should come under the remit of a "foreign" secretary?
Harry Hayfield, Ceredigion

A: No I don't! Wales and Scotland are part of the UK and it is the job of the Foreign Office on behalf of other parts of the UK to deal with over sovereign states. We should clearly do things on that basis, they are both parts of the UK, I hope for a long time to come, if not forever.

Q: Do you think it is a lot harder for opposition politicians to create a more positive image about themselves and their roles in the public's mind?
Malcolm McCandless, Dundee Scotland

A: Governments have the advantage of being able to make the news, but they have the disadvantage that they get blamed for everything that goes wrong.

But it is up to oppositions to make sure they get their case across and have interesting things to say and that they are responding to the concerns of the public and the failings of the government.

Q: Your appointment was welcomed with some surprise by the media and it was suggested that you were a 'safe pair of hands' as opposed to someone who might bring people's votes to the Conservative Party. How do you intend to raise your profile and justify your position in one of the three big shadow cabinet jobs?
Phillip Cable

A: Well we come back to policy. We have to make sure what we have to say about foreign policy is right, different and interesting from what Labour has to say.

It is my job to articulate that policy and to articulate it so that people can understand it. If that raises my profile then all well and good but what I think is fundamental is to get the policies right.

So you won't see a lot of gimmicks from me but what I do hope you'll see is a clear expression of what Britain's foreign policy should be.

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