§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Douglas Hurd)
In his speech yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with our approach to the two intergovernmental conferences in Maastricht and also announced a two-day debate in the House later this month to examine both negotiations in greater detail. I shall say something this morning about the negotiation on political union, in which I am most closely involved, but I do not want to concentrate on those themes today, because the world has not obligingly stood still as we prepare the approach to Maastricht. Rarely can there have been so many upheavals in the landscape in so short a time. Therefore, I want to deal mainly with some other aspects of foreign policy.
Some formidable and even frightening features of the familiar landscape have disappeared, and obviously that is to our great content, but elsewhere there are new commotions and new uncertainties, and I should also like to deal with some of those.
As a general message, one can say that ideology is no longer the main cause of the divisions in the world or of potential conflict. That is because communism and its paler imitations have been decisively rejected and because there is a trend to more liberal and democratic values. Certainly it is patchy and there are setbacks, but that trend is clearly visible in continent after continent.
What we see now are the more traditional threats to peace arising from divisions between and within nations. Nationalism has revived and it has lost none of its old force. Against that background—I shall give illustrations in a minute—those in charge of British foreign policy should concentrate on three main points. First, we must help resolve conflicts and direct the force of nationalism into containable channels that do not flood the whole landscape. Secondly, we have to help countries emerging from dictatorship towards democracy and better government, all the time keeping in mind the background that our main task is the protection and promotion of British interests. Thirdly, we need to improve, update and strengthen the international institutions to which we belong and which are crucial in those first two tasks.
The oldest and perhaps most bitter conflict that this House has discussed year in, year out—certainly ever since I have been a Member and long before that—is that in the middle east between Arab and Israel. Many efforts have been made by many people in the past to bring the parties round a table together. It has been clear to me, and I think 119 to most people, for some time that the only way to achieve that is through a strong and sustained effort by the United States, fully backed by us in Europe.
From time to time, we have had, as is perfectly right, our own ideas, proposals and procedures. I am thinking of the Venice declaration in 1980 and efforts made by many other people, including Lord Carrington. I thought it right, and other European Foreign Ministers thought it right, to put aside any differences of emphasis and to shove hard on the same wheel as the Americans to try and get the dispute out of the ditch and into some sort of negotiation.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition rightly praised the effort that Secretary Baker has made. It has been a formidable effort, considering what else is on the plate of the American Secretary of State at any time. The way in which he has shoved at the wheel, persevered and found a way through many disappointments and difficulties is notable, whatever happens hereafter.
Two days ago, the peace conference opened in Madrid, and we shall do everything we can to help it forward. We have an official from the Foreign Office there, and we are discussing through the presidency, Hans van den Broek, the Netherlands Foreign Minister, what kind of support and impetus we can give to the peacemakers.
It is a huge opportunity. It may be a bit of a long march, as I heard one commentator say on the radio this morning, but the opportunity must not and cannot be neglected by people who are interested in matching their rhetoric of many years with deeds. There is a possibility for Israel to find a way to dwell in peace within secure borders and for the Arabs to correct and see corrected the injustices from which they have suffered. I am thinking particularly of the Palestinians. All of us must make an effort to do what we can to bring about the success of the conference.
Another conflict, which again has exercised the House for as long as I can remember and long before, and which often seemed desperate and unyielding, is the conflict within South Africa. That is yielding to treatment essentially by leaders in South Africa—President de Klerk, Mr. Mandela, Chief Buthelezi and others. The legal pillars of apartheid have been abolished and those concerned are on the edge of crucial constitutional talks which we hope will lead to a democratic constitution.
The scene is painfully marked by violence in the townships. It is crucial that the agreement that has been reached on the means of preventing and dealing with such violence should be fully and quickly carried through. Part of the solution to the violence is effective and professional policing. Everyone agrees that the way in which the South African police traditionally dealt with these matters under the apartheid system is changing and must be changed. If we can help with that, we shall do so, and I have made that clear. We have invited representatives of the South African Government and opposition groups to visit Britain to look at community policing here and see whether our experiences can be of some help in their townships.
The change in South Africa was mirrored strikingly at the Commonwealth summit in Harare. No longer did wrangles over South Africa dominate that meeting. There was some discussion of sanctions, but it was measured and good tempered because it was not about the principle of sanctions. It was about the pace at which sanctions should be dismantled. There was no dissent about the principle of 120 dismantling sanctions; there was some discussion, and indeed disagreement, about the pace. Not everyone agreed with us that the time had come to move faster than the committee that met in New Delhi shortly before the conference, recommended.
There was substantial respect for the argument which the Prime Minister put with great force. It was accepted to a considerable extent even by people who perhaps came to the conference expecting to disagree. His argument was that there was a big time lag between the decision to invest and the fruits of investment. There is a time lag between when people in a boardroom say that they will invest in South Africa and when there are jobs, skills and opportunities for blacks as a result. The economic background in South Africa is formidable, with nil economic growth and 3 per cent. population growth. The need for foreign investment decisions is now, not later.
If we wait, to authorise those foreign investment decisions or to encourage people to take them, until a perfect constitution is in operation, we are condemning ourselves to a great gap between the time when those decisions are taken and the time when they bring benefit. Now is the time to sow if the harvest is to be there when it is needed.
That argument made a considerable impact. Anyone who follows the discussions within the African National Congress on this subject knows that it is wrestling with exactly that point and trying to find ways through it. I think that considerable progress will be made on that score.
Before I deal with the dispute in Yugoslavia, perhaps I can make a general point—I should be interested if it coincides with the views that right hon. and hon. Members have formed—about disputes in the world after the end of the cold war. It is increasingly clear that the United States is not willing, and the Soviet Union is not able, to act as policemen or magistrates of the world. At the end of the cold war, some people thought that there would be one super-power and some form of American domination. That does not seem to be the instinct or the will in Washington or the United States as a whole. Increasingly, the US will look to regional or international organisations to settle regional disputes.
That has great bearing on what is happening and what might happen in Yugoslavia. It has meant clearly and specifically that the European Community has been expected to take the lead in international efforts to help find an answer to the problems in Yugoslavia. That is right. The House would reject the idea that we or other countries in Europe should sit by calmly while a European country disintegrates in violence and suffering such as we are now seeing. Partly because of the strong feelings that have naturally been aroused by that suffering, I have tried to be realistic in what I have said on this matter in this House and during the recess.
We cannot impose peace on the peoples and republics of Yugoslavia—nobody can. For example, few hon. Members would argue that we should launch British soldiers into operations to which it would be hard to see a limit or an end. I have been strongly against pretending that there is an ability and willingness to do that, because that would be unreal. If we started to do that, we would encourage hopes which we would not be willing or able to realise. It would not be sensible to go down that path.
However, we can and have sought to offer from outside other ways to peace.
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
Before the Minister leaves the question whether we can intervene directly, as he and the other members of the Community are considering an oil embargo to reduce the possibility of the Yugoslavs using their air force, would it be possible in practice to close Croatian air space and thus prevent the bombings and killings without undue involvement or danger?
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall come to that point as I cover the various possibilities.
We have already offered ways to peace. We have monitors from the European Twelve in Yugoslavia and when, as has often happened, a ceasefire has been arranged, they have done their best to help it to stick. They have not had great success, because too many agreements have been signed and then not honoured. However, it is worth while continuing the monitor's efforts. Indeed, as one of the worries is that the southern republics might explode in the same way as Croatia, there is a point in having—as we now have—EC monitors in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We have also provided a framework in which the parties can talk. Europe owes a debt to Lord Carrington for undertaking, under no obligation, to chair that conference. He intends to persevere in that task, which makes a substantial contribution, for which the House should be grateful.
We are anxious to help on the humanitarian side. which is increasingly necessary. We are contributing £250,000 for relief to the International Committee of the Red Cross and we are ready to step up co-operation with Yugoslavia and the republics on the economic side, once they become interested in economics. I am afraid that the passions of politics prevail over consideration of their standard of living.
Thus, we have opened those doors and offered those facilities, and we now need to build up pressure on the parties to pass through those doors and use those facilities, to stop fighting and to come to realistic and effective negotiations. Last month in New York, the Security Council approved a mandatory arms embargo. This week, the Secretary-General's report shows that that has been breached and needs to be tightened. Significant meetings of the European Foreign Affairs Council and perhaps also of the Security Council of the United Nations will take place this week to consider how we can build up the pressures.
I believe that the time has come to suspend the Community's trade and co-operation agreement with Yugoslavia and, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said, it is well worth while examining how an oil embargo would work. It would have to be mandatory and imposed by the United Nations—that is already clear—but its impact might differentiate to some extent between those who are willing to work for peace and those who are, so far, somewhat obdurate.
We must increasingly differentiate between those who have heeded all the calls and efforts that have been made and those who, to put it mildly, have had difficulty in doing so, especially the Yugoslavia national army, which seems increasingly to be struggling for its own existence as an army, regardless of any constituted authority. The siege of and attacks on Dubrovnik can be justified by no political argument, and that has swayed many people into believing, as I do, that we must increasingly differentiate 122 between those who are working, however imperfectly, for the need for discussion and negotiation and those who are not.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
On the important point of differentiation, does my right hon. Friend agree that, so long as the United Kingdom and its Community partners refuse to recognise the democratically expressed wish of Slovenia and, more importantly, Croatia for independence, the Yugoslav Government and army and the Serbians will maintain their aggression against Croatia because they will see that, by force of arms, they will have a virtual carte blanche to do as they like?
§ Mr. Hurd
No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend about that. Although countries that assert their independence and are unwilling to re-enter any kind of union will not be denied that, I have two thoughts about the timing and style of recognition. First, to recognise without effectively being able to guarantee protection is somewhat misleading and I have already dealt with that. My second thought concerns the southern republics. If one recognises at the wrong time and in the wrong way, there is a real danger that the other republics of Yugoslavia will be left in a state in which they will almost certainly explode. That dilemma has weighed heavily with those of us who have thought about that problem. I do not reject my hon. Friend's argument entirely, but those of us who have met collectively within the Twelve have not felt that the time has come to take that step.
I am not sure whether the practical suggestion of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber about interdicting air space is meaningful. Obviously it has crossed our minds, and I have read about such a suggestion. It would probably involve activity by the United States and others which could be authorised only by the United Nations, and I doubt whether the United Nations would authorise it. That proposal would not be viable, but I have made two others this morning which we shall pursue.
It is very important to keep the peace conference going. There are signs that those concerned wish to discuss the underlying problems. However patchily and imperfectly they do so, the opportunity offered by the Hague conference must be kept alive.
§ Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is it conceivable that we can sit back and watch Croatia being defeated by the Yugoslavian or Serbian army—whichever name one chooses to use—and do nothing about it? Would not our recognition of Croatia automatically give that country a status that would allow the United Nations to become involved? Because we have not done that, the issue is treated as domestic and the United Nations therefore stands apart.
§ Mr. Hurd
No, the United Nations is quite rightly involved—I went to the Security Council debate on that—and it will be involved again. The international community does not view the matter as an internal issue. Moreover, recognition of Croatia would not add to or subtract from that. It will be and should be treated increasingly as an international matter.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is it not fair to say that, in respect of the quest for independence of Croatia from Yugoslavia, some people in this country and perhaps in 123 Yugoslavia may ask why Britain and Britain's Foreign Secretary talk about an oil embargo against Yugoslavia, which is trying to keep its country intact, when that same Foreign Secretary has similar troubles in Northern Ireland but would not thank Common Market countries for intervening there? What is the real difference?
§ Mr. Hurd
The real difference is that we maintain our position in Northern Ireland because that is the wish of the majority there, constantly and repeatedly expressed by democratic means. Our position in Northern Ireland is solidly and democratically based, which is why this House—at least all but a few of its Members—agrees that Britain should sustain its effort in that part of this country. The position in Yugoslavia is entirely different.
§ Mr. Hurd
It certainly is. I rather suspect that most people agree with me, too.
Of course there is a worry that there will be a read-across from what is happening in Yugoslavia to what may happen in the Soviet Union. I spent a morning two days ago in Leipzig at an Anglo-German meeting attended by our ambassadors to Moscow—German and British—and our experts on the Soviet Union. We tried to reach a solid and agreed analysis of the situation and also tried to agree on certain practical means of co-operation on the ground. We did reach a common analysis: there is no doubt that the old system is smashed beyond recall. There is no doubt that its total failure has left the Soviet Union and the peoples of the republics in a disastrous state. The economy is disintegrating, the institutions are discredited—a very bad combination for any country or group of countries.
The House must face the possibility that the centre in Moscow will wither away, not at all in the way that Marx envisaged—[HON. MEMBERS: "Engels, actually."] Opposition Members are more expert in these matters than I. So the centre will wither away, not as Engels imagined it would, but because of the fierce assertion of sovereignty in different forms by one republic after another.
The consequence is that we in Britain increasingly have to deal with republics. That is already in hand. Most of the House will agree with the distinction that we have drawn between the three Baltic republics and the other republics, because of the history and because we never accepted legally their assimilation into the Soviet Union in 1940. We have recognised them, and we have three ambassadors in those countries.
The other republics are in a different category. While they are still groping to decide what use to make of their power, they must accept that certain responsibilities are also involved. The republics will not be easily accepted into the international community if they repudiate the responsibilities of the Soviet Union in the same way as the Bolsheviks repudiated the responsibilities and obligations of the Czar.
There are several aspects to this; one of them is debt. There was an educative meeting between Group of Seven officials and representatives of the republics in Moscow last week at which this point was thrashed out. Even more important are the Soviet signatures on disarmament and arms control agreements. It is crucial that those 124 agreements should not unravel—a point that we continually make to the republics as well as to the centre. This country is concerned with the control of strategic weapons, but there is also the ratification of the conventional forces in Europe agreement. It is important that it should be honoured; otherwise, the world will take not a step forward but a big step backward in the crucial area of arms control.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as chairman of the Group of Seven, has a particular responsibility in co-ordinating the response of the west to, the needs of the Soviet Union. We are mobilising that response within the Community, and with the Japanese, Canadians and Americans, first of all to deal with hunger. There is a great deal of conflicting evidence about the extent of the probable hunger in the Soviet Union and the republics this winter. Each visitor I receive leaves me with a different impression, but it is likely that there will be hungry and suffering people in the cold, and it is therefore important that the western world use food and food credits to relieve their suffering.
In addition to food, there is technical assistance. It is already flowing and it is needed to remedy the disastrous gaps and defects in certain operations in the Soviet Union—especially the gap between growing food and getting it to the shops, between producing oil and getting it onto world markets. These areas of Soviet life, always inadequate, have now virtually collapsed. It will require new ideas and new people whom we can help to train and equip to put matters right.
The House has debated eastern Europe in general terms several times, and I will not go over old ground. The urgent need is to conclude the association agreements being negotiated between the Community and Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There was a hiccup during the recess, but the Commission now has a reasonably liberal mandate, which should enable it, I hope, to conclude these agreements in time for the beginning of next year.
I want to discuss the strengthening of international institutions. I do not want to talk about the content of the Maastricht negotiations, except to mention one point. As the House knows, the co-operation between Foreign Ministers has grown very quickly in recent years. We believe that we should build on that success and we therefore support the idea of a common foreign and security policy, although not on all matters. That would not be possible or desirable, but it is possible to identify certain issues on which it is sensible for the Twelve to act together. I have already dealt with some of them. I know from my short experience of the past couple of years that this co-operation works best and is strongest if it is the result of agreement—of sitting around a table and thrashing out a problem, and then reaching agreement on what needs to be done.
If we moved, as is proposed, to qualified majority voting on matters of substance in foreign policy, far from strengthening co-operation that would weaken it. People would think in terms of a vote. My clear instinct is that a weakening of co-operation would result from qualified majority voting on substantive foreign policy decisions, however qualified the voting may be.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems of qualified majority voting in any sphere is that votes are 125 rarely taken? A view emerges around the table. Does not that make it even more difficult, meaning as it does that some people would be dragged by arithmetical chance into policies of which their Governments, Parliaments or people did not approve?
§ Mr. Hurd
That is certainly part of the point. I am talking about substantive decisions. It would be difficult for me to come here or for the Irish Foreign Minister to go to the Dail and say, "Look, I argued against this major foreign policy decision, but I was outvoted, so we shall have to spend money, or apply sanctions, or send troops." Actually, sending troops does not come into it, because defence does not come into this; I am talking about foreign policy measures such as sanctions, recognition and so on. Substantial decisions are best taken by unanimity, not least for the reason given by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
My right hon. Friend has clearly distinguished between foreign policy and defence issues. I am sure that he agrees that foreign policy decisions may often lead in due course to the necessity to commit forces, so the two issues are closely linked—and I support my right hon. Friend's position.
§ Mr. Hurd
They are certainly closely linked, but we do not believe that, as a result of the Maastricht discussions, the Community should resolve itself into a defence Community. Our proposals, particularly in the Anglo-Italian paper on strengthening the Western European Union, are designed to deal with that point.
I wish to draw attention to the notable agreement reached between the Community and the European Free Trade Association countries, to form the new European economic area. Twelve Community countries and seven EFTA countries are involved; several of the latter will join the Community as full members before long, but at this stage they are joining together under the agreement negotiated the other day in the world's largest single market, covering 40 per cent. of world trade.
In world trade, one must look more widely. It is important that the long-running argument about the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade should be brought, at last, into the final straight. It is important that we take every opportunity to remind all concerned of what is at stake. Failure would bring serious dangers of impoverishment to all of us in Europe, in the United States, in New Zealand and in Australia, and especially to the developing world. Success will renew confidence in a world trading system that, on the whole, has functioned pretty well since the end of the second world war and would bring trade in services and agriculture fully into GATT. Among other more dramatic events, we must not lose sight of the importance of once again bringing the negotiations to the boil and to a successful conclusion.
Next week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will go to the NATO summit in Rome. NATO is completing the present phase of its transformation, which was launched at the summit in London in July last year. It is absolutely right that Europe should take a proportionately greater share of the effort in its own defences. That is the thinking behind the Anglo-Italian proposals which I mentioned. However, we are clear that it is neither wise nor safe to make or suggest arrangements within the European 12 which duplicate or undermine NATO. The 126 existence of NATO and the presence of United States and Canadian forces in Europe—albeit at a reduced level—which comes with it is not a luxury. History tells us that it is crucial for the security and safety of Europe.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Will the Foreign Secretary concede that NATO was the creation of the cold war politics of the immediate post-1945 period? As the cold war has obviously ended—and many of us did not believe in it in the first place—will he explain why there is any need for retaining NATO with its nuclear capability when there is no external threat, real or imaginary, to western Europe?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman may genuinely believe that we live in a peaceful, comfortable world in which history has been more or less abolished. If he has never believed in the cold war, he may believe in such a fairy story. Clearly, it is not so. Europe is vulnerable to all kinds of uncertainties and instabilities. We have talked about eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. No one can be sure about what will come out of that. Looking at the middle east or at north Africa, no one can be sure what threats that have not yet been clearly identified may emerge. To say that we should dismantle our security organisation and say goodbye to the Americans and Canadians is simply to fly in the face of history. The same mistake was made in the early 1920s, when people like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) put exactly the same argument. It was a great mistake; one must try to make some effort to learn from history.
The threat has, of course, changed. The Warsaw pact has dissolved and we no longer face massed tanks and aircraft arranged in the centre of Europe. That is why Britain and its allies have undertaken a cautious and prudent reassessment of what is needed, from which comes "Options for Change" and the reorganisations involved in that. To go beyond that and to say that we do not need an army of 116,000, that we do not need to continue to have forces in NATO and that the Americans and Canadians do not need to either is to trifle with our safety, and we will not have anything to do with that.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The caravan moves on. Although I can accept what the Foreign Secretary says about the need for our own defences and for European defences in an uncertain world, why should America have to play a significant role in Europe in that respect? We are mature countries. Surely we are now capable of looking after our own defences in terms of priorities and everything else.
§ Mr. Hurd
History clearly teaches that the instinct of the United States is right and that it should continue to be involved in its own interests—albeit at a lower force level—in the defence of Europe. To discourage that is foolishness. In view of the interventions by the hon. Members for Islington, North and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—and I am trying to make a remarkably uncontroversial speech—I must say that it is a disagreeable feature of the present political scene that both the main Opposition parties—and the Scottish National party—are exploiting the difficulties created by the amalgamation of regiments while proposing far harsher cuts, which would lead to far greater difficulties than any proposals from the Government could.
127 It is one of those occasions on which people are saying and doing things, and creating scares, that bear no relation to the policies of the parties that are making such points. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will lose no opportunity to score that point.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
My right hon. Friend is right. Far from dismantling NATO, we should be building on its vast success over the past decade. In the light of what he has said, will he now accept that there may be a case for being more positive towards the wishes of Czechoslovakia and Hungary to be associated with or to come under the unbrella of NATO? Before he leaves the subject of NATO, will my right hon. Friend share with the House his thoughts on the Anglo-Italian agreement which he has recently reported as having been discussed and approved? The House would like to give its approval and to hear about the details.
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with my right hon. Friend's first point, which will be one of the main subjects for discussion in Rome this week. Going beyond what was said at the previous NATO summit in Copenhagen, we need to find ways in which to show the countries of central and eastern Europe that NATO is their friend. We are not talking now about the formal extension of security guarantees, which is a different matter and not expected, but we need to find ways in which to work more closely with those countries.
The principles behind the Anglo-Italian paper, which I have mentioned and into which I do not want to go in great detail, are that any reference to a European defence identity or a European defence policy needs to be married absolutely to the Atlantic alliance, that the security of western Europe rests on that alliance and that we should not regard it as something temporary or superfluous with which we can dispense. I have argued that the Western European Union can be strengthened in two main ways—to act more coherently within the alliance as a European voice and to plan and prepare in any cases in which the countries of western Europe feel that they wish to make a military intervention outside the NATO area. Those are the two main thoughts in the Anglo-Italian paper. We warn strongly against any developments or plans in Europe which duplicate or undermine the principles of NATO.
Again, there is clearly an opportunity for strengthening the United Nations, which is capable of helping to resolve conflict. We have taken two initiatives in the General Assembly. First, there is the arrangement for a co-ordinator for disaster relief, which explains itself, and, secondly, there is the Prime Minister's initiative in proposing an international register of arms transfers. That is now going through the General Assembly, and when I was there in September it seemed to me that the prospects for getting that were reasonably good. Those would be two ways in which to strengthen the United Nations as a result of British initiatives.
The House has often shown concern about Cambodia, because the events in Cambodia during the past 20 years have been appalling. We have always sought a comprehensive political settlement in which the Cambodian people could determine their own future through free and fair elections. The agreements reached in Paris on 23 October, which were signed by my right hon. 128 and noble Friend Lord Caithness, show that we are part of the progress that has been made and that Britain will play a full part in carrying out the agreements now being reached with that country.
Cyprus from time to time arouses controversy in the House among hon. Members who study the matter. Whatever angle people bring to the dispute, they all believe that we in Britain have to be fully committed to searching for a settlement. I discussed this recently with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed it with the President of Cyprus. I have also discussed it in Ankara with the Turks. The old resolution, 649, and the new resolution, 716, map the way forward, and I hope that it will be possible for the Secretary-General to convene an international meeting leading to a framework agreement by the end of next year.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking about Cyprus, but may I bring his mind to a similar conflict closer to home? His speech to the Tory party conference caused deep concern throughout Ireland and seemed to be in contradiction to the initiative by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Foreign Secretary said in that speech that issues such as partition and sovereignty were not for discussion any more.
However, the initiative undertaken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which we understood was with the full and unequivocal support of the Government, included the proposal that all sets of relationships that go to the heart of the Irish problem—within Ireland, within Northern Ireland and between Britain and Ireland—were on the table for discussion. We understood that any party was free to put on the table any proposal aimed at resolving those relationships. The right hon. Gentleman's statement gave the impression that the Government were talking with two voices, and when one is trying to resolve a conflict, one does not do that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes my speech that way. I have read press reports of it. I have kept a vow of silence since I left the Province precisely, because whatever one says is seized upon and can be interpreted in a way that enables someone to disagree strongly with it. I shall send the hon. Gentleman a text of what I said, where he will find a strong endorsement of what my right hon. Friend is trying to do and of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
I was trying to tell people in this part of the nation that, as a public, we were not exerting ourselves to understand clearly what was happening in Northern Ireland and that, on the whole, the changes were hopeful. I have heard the hon. Gentleman give that message. I think that, if the hon. Gentleman reads the full text of my speech, he will change his interpretation of what I said.
Hong Kong is a matter of particular responsibility for Her Majesty's Government, in a way that most of the disputes that I have mentioned are not. During the recess, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reached a satisfactory agreement on the airport, which will enable that project to go ahead, to the great benefit of Hong Kong, while maintaining the principles to which we have stuck throughout the negotiations, and which led to the difficulties earlier in the spring when I went to Peking. That illustrates our intention to co-operate increasingly with the 129 Chinese, as the joint declaration lays down, but to do so in a way that enables us to continue to administer Hong Kong and to stand up robustly for its interests.
The House will have noticed that we have reached an agreement with the Vietnamese Government about repatriation of those of the 65,000 people who are now in camps in Hong Kong who are screened out—that is, found not to be refugees. No one can have anything but great sympathy for people who take great risks to seek better lives overseas, but this is a problem not just in Hong Kong but, increasingly, nearer to home. We must distinguish between refugees as defined by the United Nations and those who are simply seeking a better life elsewhere.
Many of those in the camps in Hong Kong have been cruelly deceived into believing that, if they get to Hong Kong, they will be resettled in America or Australia. It cannot be right that this process should continue. Hong Kong has acted honourably in being a country of first asylum, but its burden cannot continue at this level. I hope that the agreement that has been signed and the steps that have been taken will send a clear message to those who might think of setting sail that there is no future for them in Hong Kong unless they are genuine refugees.
The Commonwealth has not featured much in foreign affairs debates in recent years because of the extent to which it has been immersed in rather futile arguments about South Africa. I believe that the Commonwealth is emerging from that stage. It is easy to be sceptical about declarations such as that which emerged from the Harare conference, but it is a crisply phrased endorsement of the principles of democracy and good government to which one would not have thought that the Commonwealth would agree. It is more than a set of words; more than a repetition of the Singapore declaration of 1971.
It is overwhelmingly in the interests of the countries concerned in the Commonwealth that they should go down the path sketched in the Harare declaration. The other model is discredited both intellectually and practically. It is not in communist Moscow or communist east Berlin that the future technicians and engineers of Africa and other places will be trained. The policies that came from those capitals, universities and colleges will no longer guide the future of, for example, Africa.
I went to one African airport last month and found the fringe of it littered with MIGs in various stages of decay. That is an illustration—a parable—of what is happening in Africa and other states to these morals, principles and philosophies, which are now being abandoned.
The Commonwealth can help with what is sometimes a difficult task. Britain has to get the note right. We are entitled to talk about good government, the importance of dealing with corruption and getting better administration, but we must find ways to do so that are not patronising and do not suggest either that we have got everything right ourselves or that there is a Westminister model that can be imposed willy-nilly on people with different backgrounds and cultures. It is helpful if the Commonwealth can take up that cause with the present Secretary-General and the present set-up. For example, it is helpful that there is a Commonwealth team monitoring the multi-party elections being held in Zambia yesterday and today. The Commonwealth can do that in a way that individual members could not.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
The Foreign Secretary is talking about good government. 130 Should we not have a statement on Government policy in relation to the changes that have been taking place in Cambodia and on the still frightening situation in south-east Asia caused by the presence of the corrupt dictatorship in Indonesia, which has been practising genocide on the people of East Timor? That is particularly important because we still trade with that government, which is not a good Government.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have dealt with Cambodia. The hon Gentleman's attention may have strayed, and I apologise if I did not hold it. I do not want to give an extensive account of our relations with Indonesia, but the principles that I have mentioned apply. I was talking about the Commonwealth. There is a possible relaunch—I do not want to be certain—of an institution that is finding a new role for itself.
It may be that I have dealt particularly with points of conflict, but I believe that the trend in world events is, on the whole, in the right direction and that governments are coming to realise what ordinary people know—for example, that market systems create more wealth and personal liberty than socialist systems.
The search by governments in Africa and eastern Europe is not for a halfway house. The applications for our know-how fund are not for schemes that Professor Tawney, the Webbs or the Fabian Society would have approved. They are going the whole way. Governments want help in privatisation schemes, in establishing competition, free trade and private ownership. They have an appetite for that now and Labour Members are being dragged rather unwillingly in the wake of the way that the world is going.
Sometimes since the war—quite often, in fact—those in charge of British foreign policy have felt, perhaps, that they were working against the grain of history, against the way in which the world was going. Sometimes the pressures on us to dismantle the British empire were felt to be forcing us to move more quickly than seemed at the time to be safe or sensible. Sometimes it seemed that the pressures of communism were prevailing, that our friends were going under, that more and more parts of the world were succumbing to the temptation and that our security was increasingly at risk. There is no such feeling now.
Those of us who try to work for British interests in these areas feel that we are going now with the grain of history. We are at the centre of events. No other country belongs to NATO, the Community, the Commonwealth, the Group of Seven and the United Nations Security Council. We are uniquely central in the developments and discussions that I have been talking about. It means that the merry-go-round of meetings is pretty formidable. It means also that our foreign policy has to be strenuous and energetic. However, I believe, that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and with the support and understanding of the House, we are well placed to persevere and to succeed.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
In art extraordinary year this week has seen history being made. For the first time ever, Israelis and Arabs and Palestinians and Jews have sat round the same table. This could be the beginning of a process that we all pray will at last bring peace to the region, self-determination for the Palestinians, and security for the state of Israel. The conference has for 131 years been dreamed of by many, myself among them. I pay tribute in particular to Shimon Peres, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, who has put his party's interests and his own prospects of premiership second to the convening of such a conference. I pay tribute above all to James Baker, the United States Secretary of State, without whose patience, persistence and determination the conference would never have happened.
Yet it was Mikhail Gorbachev, in his opening address in Madrid, who most accurately assigned the credit for such a marvellous development. I say "marvellous" even though I share the Foreign Secretary's view and the view of President Bush that there are many hazards along the way. However, it was Mikhail Gorbachev, who, more than any other person, has been responsible for the ending of the cold war, who rightly said that the ending of the cold war made the middle east peace talks a reality.
The end of the cold war has, of course, brought difficulties. With the end of communism, problems long buried under the paraphernalia of repression have surfaced. The most obvious is the tragedy of Yugoslavia, to which the Foreign Secretary has referred. The assault on Dubrovnik is not the worst event in the conflict, but the jeopardising of an international treasure such as that beautiful city exemplifies the savage and futile nature of the fighting in Yugoslavia. I am relieved that the flotilla has now got through with supplies, but I repeat my urgent request for the Government to seek the reconvening of the Security Council and to sponsor a resolution proposing comprehensive international sanctions, including an oil embargo, to supplement the United Nations arms ban. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that that ban must be much more resolutely enforced.
In the Soviet Union, instability triggered by the failure of perestroika, but made plain for all to see through the success of glasnost, made possible the August coup, which the instincts for freedom of the Russian people speedily destroyed. The certainties of the iron curtain—the west united in NATO against any potential threat from the east, the Warsaw pact satellites rigidly controlled by a monolithic Soviet Union—have gone. NATO is no longer sure of its function. Six weeks ago, the NATO war game in Germany was handicapped by lack of an identifiable adversary for the NATO forces. Instead of hostile red forces, NATO's troops were required to contend with politically neutral gold coloured forces. The alliance has lost an enemy and not yet found a role.
In Brussels this week the NATO meeting suggested that the alliance is even moving towards political and security co-operation with ex-Warsaw pact countries. That demonstrates the transformation of the scene in only a couple of years.
At home, negotiated disarmament in the conventional forces in Europe process—together with the shambles caused by the Government's defence cuts, with Cabinet Ministers publicly at odds with one another over the end of historic regiments—has meant that since "Options for Change" was published 40,000 jobs in the defence industries have been lost.
The Foreign Secretary referred to what other political parties have been saying about the fate of the Gordon Highlanders. He referred to Opposition parties creating scares. I hope that the Minister of State, when he replies, 132 will be good enough to tell the House what he thinks of the scares that were apparently created by the Secretary of State for Transport when he was in the Kincardine and Deeside constituency yesterday for the by-election campaign. He seemed to suggest, as did the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the decision of the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of the Gordon Highlanders was once again open to review. I hope that the Minister of State will state clearly, so that the House and the voters of Kincardine and Deeside can understand, whether the Government's decision, announced by the Secretary of State for Defence just before the summer recess, will be firmly adhered to or, as the Secretary of State for Transport indicated yesterday, that the matter is now being reopened. I think that the entire country has a right to know.
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman is at it again. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with the matter when he replies. Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many jobs would be lost in the defence industries, how many installations such as Rosyth would be closed and how many regiments would disappear completely if the Labour party's policies on defence were ever implemented?
§ Mr. Kaufman
As it happens, I am coming to that very matter. I shall deal with it fully. I say to the Foreign Secretary that the Government must state clearly where they stand on their defence review. We have had three Cabinet Ministers saying different things in less than three weeks. The people, and especially the people of Kincardine and Deeside before next Thursday, have a right to know with the utmost clarity where the Government stand. Instead of the silly intervention that the Foreign Secretary made, I thought that he would give us the answer that we are wanting. But perhaps he does not know the answer. Perhaps it will have to be worked out before half-past two so that the Minister of State can give it to us.
I am concerned about the loss of jobs in the defence industries that has been brought about by the Government's shambolic defence review, by the results of negotiations in the CFE process, and by technical change in the defence industries. At British Aerospace 10,000 jobs have been lost. Six thousand have been lost at Rolls-Royce. There have been 1,500 lost at GEC, and more at Yarrow, Westland, Thorn EMI, Dowty, the SEL and at Marconi Underwater Systems. At Marconi, workers were told that the closure of the factory at Neston was to beblamed on the reduction in defence spending since the end of the Cold War.We are told that up to 300,000 more jobs are at risk in the defence industries in the first half of the decade. Yet the Government have no policy on this matter, as I shall illustrate. I shall, however, state clearly the Labour party's policy.
The problems that we face are great, but the opportunities that are provided by the end of the cold war are even greater for those with the vision to understand them and the resolution to grasp them. The middle east peace conference is one example. The mood to bring to an end at last the agony of Cambodia, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) referred, is another. The Opposition are wholly opposed to the participation in any Cambodian regime of the blood-stained Khmer Rouge. I take the opportunity of 133 saying that we condemn the Government's covert military assistance, which was revealed by questions by my hon. Friends. Without that questioning, the Government's convert military assistance to co-belligerents of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia would never have been admitted.
The United Nations, with a Security Council that is at least capable in Cambodia and elsewhere of functioning effectively, and with the co-operation that led to the liberation of Kuwait as an example, can play a more constructive role than ever before. It is already seeking to do so in the western Sahara, where the Labour party is adamant that the plebiscite must take place in January, as scheduled. I hope that the Government will make it clear to the Moroccan Government and the United Nations that they will not tolerate any departure from the agreed timetable for the western Sahara plebiscite.
The United Nations can take action, as it has, greatly to the credit of the Secretary-General, in the freeing of hostages held in Lebanon. We rejoice in the freeing, at long last, of John McCarthy and Jackie Mann, and we look forward eagerly to the release of Terry Waite. We should not forget Ian Richter, wrongfully imprisoned in Iraq, from whom I recently received a most moving letter written in the gaol in which he is so wrongfully incarcerated.
The United Nations should act in Cyprus. The Opposition deplore the frustration by Turkey of the admirable initiative lauched by President Bush for talks on Cyprus. We urge the United Nations to renewed efforts to convene talks that can reunite the island in a sovereign structure, providing justice for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. I have been invited to Cyprus, and I shall be having talks with the President at the end of next week. I shall tell him of the clear view of my party that there must be a reunion of that island in the federal structure to which President Vassiliou has committed himself, and that the invading Turkish forces must be withdrawn.
Perhaps the United Nations could help in Kashmir. I am well aware of the concern of the Indian Government, which I understand, about any possibility of outside interference. However, having visited on two occassions this year the incredibly beautiful but ineffably miserable state of Jammu and Kashmir, I am sure that the time has come for a solution to such a grievous problem. The good offices of both the United Nations and the Commonwealth should be explored—not to meddle, to arbitrate, or to mediate, but to provide good offices both to India and to Pakistan, which are both old and close friends of our country. Amid all the charges and counter-charges about Kashmir, it is important to remember that, whoever is to blame for the problem, it is not the people of Jammu and Kashmir—the Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists who are suffering, losing their livelihoods and, all too often, losing their lives in that tragic situation.
There is scope for a new and expanded role not only for the United Nations and the Commonwealth but for the other international organisations to which the Foreign Secretary referred—NATO, CSCE, the Group of Seven and the European Community. Of course, in addition to her role in those organisations, Britain has foreign and Commonwealth policy issues to deal with on her own. Hong Kong can only be dealt with bilaterally between China and ourselves. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom, as on so many of these issues, is too often inactive or isolated. A couple of months ago the Prime Minister made a brief visit to the colony, but while there he spent more 134 time with one ultra-wealthy donor to Tory party funds than with the whole of Hong Kong's democratic movement. He dismissed curtly the clearly expressed aspirations of many citizens of Hong Kong for accelerated and enhanced democracy. In the Foreign Secretary's brief reference to Hong Kong today, he said nothing about democracy.
In the Commonwealth, last month's Heads of Government meeting in Harare showed that, once again, the United Kingdom remained isolated on the issue of South African sanctions. When the Foreign Secretary said that some countries did not agree with the United Kingdom, he actually meant that all countries disagreed with the United Kingdom on that issue.
In NATO, the Government have fought a rearguard action against reality. I am amazed at the effrontery of the Gracious Speech in referring to developments thatpermit changes to NATO's strategy",because the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have fought doggedly against every change in NATO strategy. They advocated modernisation of the Lance missile when everyone else was against it. They championed first use of nuclear missiles and the nuclear flexible response strategy, when every rational observer knew that such stances were obsolete. They said that nuclear disarmament in Europe had gone far enough. The Government, who were against every change, are now participating complaisantly in huge NATO nuclear arms cuts. While they forlornly try to pin on the Labour party the label of unilateral nuclear disarmers, they are indulging in a bout of unilateral nuclear disarmament—as announced by the Secretary of State for Defence.
Yesterday the Prime Minister, in his silly speech. accused the Labour party of changing its policies on defence after eight years. The Government have changed their policies on defence in less than eight months, meekly carrying out policies that they have sworn to oppose. Again and again at the Dispatch Box, in answers to questions that I put repeatedly to him, the Foreign Secretary urbanely explained why it was quite impossible for the Government to abandon policies that the Gracious Speech now claims credit for abandoning and to which the right hon. Gentleman wisely did not refer.
The Government have performed a remarkable somersault on Europe, not in eight months but in less than half that time. It is only three months since the Foreign Secretary, in this House, assured me that the cherished Tory notion of the hard ecu common currency was still on the negotiating table. It was not on the table at Apeldoorn when the Chancellor discussed the issues. It is not on the table for Maastricht. For the Government, it is now a single currency or nothing. The right hon. Members for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) want nothing, and certainly not a single currency. What the Government want, no one knows; they have no policy.
I want to know the Government's position on the extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers. As recently as June, the Foreign Secretary told the House that the Government oppposed extensions of majority voting. Now the position is far less clear. There are reports in the press today that the Government are even ready to accept majority voting on some foreign policy matters. I carefully noted the words that the Foreign Secretary used in his speech. He spoke about not liking majority voting "on matters of substance" and on "substantial decisions". 135 Does that mean that he is opposed to all majority voting on foreign policy matters, or only to some majority voting on some foreign policy matters? A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman intervened with alacrity on another point, and I shall readily give way to him again if he is ready to tell the House clearly whether he is opposed to any majority voting on foreign policy matters, or opposed only to majority voting on matters of substance. If the latter, will he please define "matters of substance"? Well, as Mark Antony said in his funeral oration,I pause for a reply.The Foreign Secretary cannot reply because the Government are shifting their position day by day.
When the issue of federalism was first mooted at Luxembourg in June, the Foreign Secretary was so shocked that he behaved like an aged aunt jumping on a chair at the sight of a mouse. The press reported him as moaning, "We've got real problems with this." He seems far more relaxed now. When I watched him in a recent television interview, he said in that offhand manner of his that federalism was only a word. What is the Government's attitude? Will they accept the word "federalism" because they are not worried about it, or does it mean so much that the Government cannot accept it? Once again, the Foreign Secretary, who a few minutes ago intervened on a point to which he could not give me a response, sits in his place unable to give an answer. He knows that he and the Prime Minister will follow the Thatcher line of loud protests, followed by a cave-in on that issue, as on so many others.
It is time that the Government told us exactly where they stand on majority voting, the powers of Parliament, federalism, a single currency, a single European bank. In July, in one of his many slips of the tongue, the Prime Minister told the House that he believed that a central bank should be accountable to a democratically elected body, but No. 10 Downing street than had to give a briefing to explain why the Prime Minister made that statement, and implied that he had not done so.
When the Foreign Secretary contested the Conservative leadership just under a year ago—and, for its sake, his party would have done well to elect him—one of his campaign promises was that we would be getting a White Paper on Europe. After nearly a year, we still have not seen one.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Did it set out the Government's position on majority voting, federalism, the European Parliament, and a single currency? The right hon. Gentleman could have fooled me. As the Prime Minister has promised the House a two-day debate in less than three weeks, I hope that we shall reach a sensible conclusion about all those substantial issues, and that the White Paper will be published before that debate, setting out the Government's negotiating position at Maastricht. It would be helpful if the House could study positive Government proposals.
During the summer, the Prime Minister kept saying how essential it was for him to be present at Maastricht in December in order to make decisions, but the word from 136 Downing street now is that the Prime Minister's greatest ambition at Maastricht is to fend off making any decisions. The would-be statesman is now an aspirant escapologist.
The Government's position on other issues is only too clear. In the Queen's Speech, they refer to the requirement forfull, unconditional compliance by Iraq with the United Nations Security Council's Resolutions, including the disposal of its missiles and weapons of mass destruction.I entirely agree. As the Foreign Secretary knows, Labour has fully supported every United Nations decision on Iraq and will continue to do so. In fact, we urged the Government to seek resolutions when they were not always willing. I should be a good deal more impressed with the Government's determination to deal with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq if they did not have such questionable record on assisting Iraq to obtain a nuclear capability.
The Government still have not come clean about the information revealed in a Select Committee appendix. I wrote to the Secretary of State, and my right hon. and hon. Friends wrote to the Prime Minister, but we have not received a reply. Nor have the Government responded to reports in Conservative newspapers such as The Times and The Sunday Times which were apparently augmented by evidence brought back from Iraq by United Nations inspectors, and the details of which were plastered all over those newspapers. When will we have an honest statement from the Government about arms supplies of every kind that they undoubtedly licensed for export to Iraq? An extremely long list is available for everyone to see. I wrote to the Secretary of State, but he has not even begun to justify the Government's action.
Perhaps the cheekiest passage in the Gracious Speech is:A substantial aid programme aimed at promoting sustainable economic and social progress and good government in developing countries will be maintained.As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has pointed out, Britain's overseas aid budget last year was not maintained but was the lowest ever as a percentage of this country's gross domestic product. It was only 0.27 per cent.—little more than half the 0.51 per cent. provided in Labour's last year in office. The world's needy have been deprived of £10 billion of aid due to the cuts made by the present Government in Labour's programme. How can the Government conceivably justify the untruth of claiming that they are maintaining an aid programme when, according to their own figures, they have halved that provided by Labour?
We still await any perceptible Tory Government initiative in providing aid to the Soviet Union. At Kennebunkport, the Prime Minister staged a public relations stunt about helping the Soviets. Since then there has been a strange silence. Today, the Foreign Secretary could only say that the Prime Minister is still "mobilising"—though what he is mobilising is not at all clear, because very little appears to be happening.
If the Government ever had any ideas about foreign and defence policy, they have run out of them. Labour has a clear programme for action that has been endorsed at successive party conferences, including that held last month. I was grateful for the Foreign Secretary's friendly reference to me at the Conservative party conference, and his acceptance of my expertise on one subject—even though it was only the cinema. However, although the Foreign Secretary can have fun with inaccurate statements 137 about Labour policies on the European Community, he cannot have fun with his own—because he does not have a single policy to joke about. Today, I have given him many opportunities to intervene and to clarify the Government's position, but he has not taken them.
Professor Roland Smith, the former chairman of British Aerospace, said thatDefence conversion is an important consideration, which is already being pursued vigorously by our European aerospace partners.The United States Congress has also sensibly turned its attention to the essential diversification process. The House of Representatives issued a bulky and authoritative report, but in this year's defence White Paper the Government stated, in respect of diversification:It is not for the Government to seek to influence such decisions.Labour rejects that short-sighted Tory approach. We do not believe that the nation can afford hundreds of thousands of redundancies in high technology industries. That is why—unlike Tory Ministers, who snubbed approaches from heads of the defence industries, and the press reported that the Prime Minister himself ignored an approach from the defence consortium—Labour will work with industry, trade unions, academic experts and others to help the defence industries to make a positive contribution to national output and employment.
Labour will establish a defence diversification agency to save skills and talents that the nation cannot afford to lose.—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can chortle if they like, but at the general election the three quarters of a million people who work in the defence industries will be able to compare Labour's positive policies with the Conservative's total absence of policies.
§ Mr. Hurd
I pay the right hon. Gentleman a compliment in seeking to answer his question. Let us get it straight. I am not sure—because of the differences in Labour and Conservative policies—how many extra jobs in the defence industries will be abolished under Labour's plans. I understand that Labour intends to establish an agency. I am sure that that will make a very deep impact on those concerned. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that all the jobs lost will be replaced as a result of the magic work of that agency? Can he give the House any figures?
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is clear that none of them will be replaced if the Conservative Government remain in office, because not only have they no policies to deal with the matter but they said in the defence White Paper:It is not for the Government to seek to influence such decisions.The Government are creating the redundancies from which all our constituents are suffering and they are not lifting a finger not only to save jobs but to save the skills of highly trained workers for the nation. In Preston, one meets former British Aerospace workers in whose training the nation invested a great deal of money; they are now driving taxis. Is that what the Foreign Secretary wants to happen to British high technology?
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)
When the right hon. Gentleman talks in those 138 terms, he must have some idea about the extra jobs that will go as a result of Labour policies. Will he tell the House how much this will cost?
§ Mr. Kaufman
No extra jobs will be lost as a result of Labour policies. Unlike the Government, which havers even on the single issue of the Gordon Highlanders, not knowing what they will do, the Labour Government will ensure that the necessary funds are available for the proper defence of the country. That is our clear position on the matter. I am grateful that the Minister intervened, because I am pleased to be able to state clearly and absolutely on the record that the Labour party will provide whatever funds are necessary for the proper defence of our country.
On Hong Kong, we shall take the earliest possible opportunity of consulting representative groups and individuals in the colony, especially the directly elected members of the Legislative Council, about what can practically and sensibly be done to enhance the attenuated and retarded democratic process there. We shall consider direct elections to the Legislative Council and see what can be done to enhance democracy in its functional and nominated sections. I have discussed during my recent visit to Hong Kong the many opportunities for enhancing democracy in both those sections as well as those that will arise as a result of direct elections.
As a Government, we shall wish to consider the relationship of directly elected Legislative Council members to the Executive Council, and whether there are sensible ways of making senior officials as well as the Executive Council more accountable to the Legislative Council. I make that statement fully conscious of the way in which it will be received in the colony, as I have discussed the subject there within the past few weeks.
In the Commonwealth, we shall work with the consensus on South Africa instead of isolating ourselves from it, as the Tories have done. We shall abide by the Commonwealth policy on sanctions and seek to join the. Foreign Ministers committee on sanctions, which the Tory Government have boycotted.
§ Mr. Kaufman
We have made it clear that we shall abide by the Commonwealth consensus on sanctions. At the end of the Foreign Secretary's speech he made a great song and dance about the Government's commitment to the Commonwealth. That was a breath of fresh air after the way in which the former Prime Minister behaved towards the Commonwealth over the past 11 years. We take our Commonwealth responsibilities seriously, just as we take our European Community responsibilities seriously.
In the European Community, we shall have to take into account the circumstances existing when we come into office. When we are in office, we shall put forward positive proposals on economic and monetary union, aiming to make a central bank answerable to the economic and financial Ministers' council. We shall put forward positive proposals to achieve economic convergence by agreement on common positive regional and structural policies and other matters.
139 We shall put forward positive proposals for greater political progress, including majority voting in the Council of Ministers on social and environmental issues, and an expansion of the powers of the European Parliament.
We shall advocate the widening of the Community, first by urging immediate acceptance of the Austrian and Swedish applications for membership—I cannot understand why there is any delay in accepting them—and then by seeking the adhesion of the other EFTA countries, and, as they become ready for membership, the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe.
We shall oppose a defence role for the Community which would involve the deployment of British troops against the wishes of the British Government and Parliament, or which would create a new nuclear power with 10 new fingers on the nuclear trigger.
In the Group of Seven, we shall seek agreement on a new Marshall plan to help the reconstruction of the Soviet Union and other former communist countries—not so much by financial aid, although some will be necessary, as by assisting with investments and credits, and helping with the attainment of stable and convertible currencies and with advice more expert and reliable than that available from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Over our first Parliament, we shall increase the United Kingdom aid budget to the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product. We shall seek international action to solve the debt problem. We regard it as unacceptable that last year the World bank collected more in interest and capital repayments from the developing countries than it disbursed in new loans and assistance.
In the United Nations we shall seek agreement on an international convention controlling and limiting arms exports. It is obscene that, as international peace talks on the middle east have at last begun, armaments are once more pouring into the middle east and that China is helping Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability. We shall seek international controls to prevent arms exports to countries with poor human rights records and those with policies of internal repression and records of external aggression.
We shall seek to build on the remarkable September and October initiatives taken by President Bush and President Gorbachev for reducing stocks of long-range nuclear weapons. I was astounded that in a speech lasting more than 50 minutes the Foreign Secretary did not mention the historic moves of President Bush and Gorbachev that have helped to transform the international situation and to make possible deep cuts in armaments through sensible international negotiations.
We believe that Britain should participate in the next round of the START nuclear disarmament negotiations as a partner with the United States. The aim should be to bring about further reductions in world stocks of nuclear weapons. We hope that at an appropriate stage France will join in such talks—President Mitterrand has suggested that, in certain conditions, France would do so—and we would seek to persuade China, too, to take part.
Meanwhile, we shall seek to achieve a comprehensive international nuclear test ban treaty. The United Kingdom may not be a super-power, but, as the Foreign Secretary said, we have a unique role in the world. We are the only 140 country that is a member of NATO, the European Community, the Group of Seven, and the Commonwealth, and also a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. That role gives the United Kingdom a great potential which has not been properly exploited by the Tory Government. A Labour Government will seek to realise Britain's true potential.
The Labour party has a clear agenda for action. In eight from now, at the most, the people of Britain will give us the mandate to implement that agenda.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. It will be evident to the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate. I hope that they will help each other by making brief speeches.
§ 11.9 am
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)
I propose to refer to five matters dealt with in the Gracious Speech, the first of which concerns the matters of foreign policy to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary alluded. I must say that, having listened to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I have the impression that the Labour party is on every side but suicide in its assessment of every situation throughout the world.
I know that we are to have a two-day debate before the summit at Maastricht, but I want briefly now to explain my position on Europe—a subject on which genuine differences exist between hon. Members irrespective of their political colour. I voted in 1975 for the continuance of our membership of the common economic market, as we described it at the time. I also welcome the fact that we now have the agreement with EFTA, and I should like to see the free market expanded into eastern Europe and, eventually, a link forged across the Atlantic with America.
I am suspicious of the notion of having one bank and one currency. I say that as a Hayekian, as I should like every bank in the country to be allowed to issue its own currency; it is not just a question of Europe. The good currencies—the ones that did not inflate—would be the currencies that remained. I remind the House that, 100 years ago, about 48 banks in Britain still issued their own currencies. Just think what that would do for collectors of currency[Interruption.] I thank the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for reminding the House of the existence of a separate Scottish currency.
One of the things that fuelled inflation in Britain was the move to decimalisation: after decimalisation people did not realise what the value of money was. If we now move to a European currency, we shall experience another period in which people cannot work out its value and that will also mar our domestic harmony.
I am not in favour of having one army, one foreign policy and complete political union in Europe. I shall be interested to see what happens over the next months, but if we are to move in that direction, we should hold a referendum beforehand.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall limit my remarks, but I wish briefly to refer to Kashmir, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Gorton. I have a large number of people of Indian origin in my constituency. I have also visited 141 Kashmir and, many years ago, I was in the services in India. I believe that the only solution to the problem is a return to the Simla agreement calling for a peaceful solution and an end to terrorism. We should place greater emphasis on that agreement, which was signed by both Pakistan and India. Such situations can escalate. In the past, problems between India and Pakistan have led to war and I am sure that no hon. Member would want that to happen again.
Reference was made in the Gracious Speech, to local government, and it may not surprise hon. Members to hear that I wish to refer to that question. There has been too much tension between national and local government. Local government is part of the balance of power. We do not want all power vested in central government—or anywhere else, for that matter. The tension that has existed between national and local government under the present Government has been bad for the country. It seems that local and national government are always now of different colours. When the Labour party was in power, all local authorities became Conservative controlled. During 11 years of Conservative Government, more and more local authorities have become Labour controlled, and that has created a clash. In local government, it is important to work towards smaller units wherever possible, because smaller units involve more people and bring the whole process nearer to the people.
I warmly welcome the document, "The Structure of Local Government in England", produced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in April this year. It says:There is still a feeling in some areas that history and tradition were perhaps disregarded in the search for administrativew uniformity.I am sure that many hon. Members will agree with that. Paragraph 27 says:The aim would be to achieve the structure which best matches the particular circumstances of each area.That, too, is excellent. Unfortunately, however, London and the metropolitan areas are to be denied all the advantages that would flow from that. Paragraph 28 states:The Government have no plans to change the general structure of local government in London and the metropolitan counties.So the rest of the country is to be allowed to reorganise itself on the basis of its historic boundaries, destroyed 20 years ago, but London and the metropolitan counties, whose boundaries were destroyed 30 years ago, are to be deprived of that right. As a Lancastrian who now represents a London constituency, I find that totally unfair. We in London should have the same opportunity to reorganise on a historical basis. A recent draft report on Brent's boundaries totally ignores what is happening in the rest of the country and merely suggests chipping bits off here, there and everywhere. Some 98 per cent. of my constituents would vote for the return of Wembley tomorrow, if asked. No doubt the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) would say the same of Willesden. My constituents and I intensely resent that discrimination against London. One should never take any area for granted.
My third point concerns the council tax. First, let me emphasise that there is no enthusiasm anywhere in the country for the Labour party's so-called fair rates policy—in essence, a return to the rating system that was, and would remain, so unpopular. As the election approaches, 142 I shall use my ammunition against the Labour party on its fair rates policy. For the moment, however, I want us to get our policy right, because that will make it easier for us to destroy the Labour party.
In 1988, I warned that the community charge would not work because it discriminated against the north and those living in low-rated properties. After three years and a whole series of concessions—as well as the Ribble Valley business—we eventually got it right. The problem now is that, although the council tax is right in theory, in practice it will discriminate against London and the south-east—the high-priced areas. I should prefer the Government to make concessions now rather than battling it out for three years and then sorting matters out. It would be nice to know that the listening Government were listening and that changes would be made, immediately. It is accepted that property is differently priced throughout the country. After all, we have separate sets of bands for Scotland, England and Wales. But the largest differences are not between Scotland, England and Wales but between the north and south of England, where the disparities in property prices are tremendous. Only 1 per cent. of houses in Greater London are in the bottom band, whereas in the north 47 per cent. of houses are in the bottom band. In greater London, 31 per cent. of houses are in the top three bands, whereas in the north only 4 per cent. are in the top three bands. Those are not anomalies—they are great chasms. In Barnet, 46 per cent. of houses are in the top two bands.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
My hon. Friend says that the same is true of his constituency. When people in London realise that they are going to have to pay so much more than people in the Ribble Valley area on a similar three or four-bedroomed house, a reverse Ribble Valley factor will apply. People will say, "This is unfair." On this occasion, the recession has hit London and the south much harder than it has the north or the midlands and such discrimination is totally unjust. What we need is a separate set of bands for London and the south-east and possibly for certain other areas of the country. Now that we have accepted the principle of different sets of bands for the council tax, it is merely a question of getting it right.
I have a solution for the Secretary of State. There is no point in his sitting up all night in his Department working it out. The London Boroughs Association—a healthy institution and Conservative controlled—has produced a separate set of bands for Greater London. All that is needed is a cyclist from the Department of the Environment—I could suggest one Minister who is very good on a bicycle—to go to the London Boroughs Association and bring back the document setting out those bands and hand it to the Secretary of State, who could announce their adoption some time during the debate. If that happened, a cheer would go up throughout London and the south-east. If it does not happen, the Government will create problems in the south similar to those that occurred with the community charge throughout the north. Concessions should be made now and the matter cleared up.
The 25 per cent. rebate for the single household is not enough. Millions of pensioners, widowers and widows and one-parent families will be much worse off with the 25 per cent. rebate than they were when they paid the community 143 charge. They will not like it. They will not rejoice. The fact that they will be worse off sometimes affects voting habits. As a general election is coming, the Government should seek to make sure that we have more people on our side than there are on the other. That is how we win elections—as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your long experience.
During the last year of collection of the community charge in 1992–92, all those on income support and students should be exempt. They will be exempt when the council tax is introduced. They will therefore resent having to pay the community charge for 1992–93. That will result in a huge debt which could sink the council tax in its first year.
Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to education. I commend the Government's efforts. The present Secretary of State for Education and Science is the first person who has really tried to knock the education system into shape. I commend him for that. The results of the tests for seven-year-olds were published last week. We saw how bad they are, compared with other countries. Our economy will never revive until we get our education system right. Primary school children should be taught by means of phonics—not by means of real books and all this other nonsense. They should be provided with their multiplication tables. There should be a return to old-fashioned teaching, which usually works. Again I commend what the Government are doing. It was the trendies on the Left who followed the policies advocated by Rousseau and Dewey, who said that children should be allowed to run wild and even fall off cliffs, after which they could say, "At least I've discovered something by doing that." They did not believe in sitting children down in classrooms and teaching them.
I should welcome the return of a Conservative Government because the Labour party is wedded to the concept of the egalitarian comprehensive school. All our competitors, whether they are socialist, mixed economy or free market countries, have some form of selection—by ability or interest—at either 11, 12 or 14. That is true in Sweden, Russia and Germany. Only the Labour party is trapped in that egalitarian comprehensive concept. I pray every night for the Labour party that it will be released from such a destructive view.
During the last 12 years Britain has been an example to other countries as it moved towards the free market. Even the Labour party cheers the Government for that. We have reduced taxation, introduced privatisation and lessened the control of the trade union barons. Our efforts have been watched by the rest of the world. We have created a new industry, with people going around the world lecturing on the benefits of privatisation. Most of them are bankers from the City rather than Members of Parliament. I trust that in its election manifesto the Conservative party will pledge itself to continue in that direction. Tax reductions should go further. The standard rate of tax should be 20 per cent., while the top rate should be set at 30 per cent. This country has provided an international language, through computers and English. Our most skilled business people and our top scientists and hospital consultants can easily move to Australia, Canada and 144 America if the rate of taxation here is too high. Nearly all people in continental Europe now understand English. Our most skilled people could move there, too.
I am also pleased that the Gracious Speech refers to the eventual privatisation of rail and coal. During the last 12 years the Conservative party has acted as a signpost for the future. I hope that after the next election it will continue, under the leadership of the present Prime Minister, to be an example to the rest of the world and to the Labour party by moving towards lower taxation, privatisation and a free economy, all of which help to raise living standards and increase human rights.
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
I hope that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the foreign fields, for me, of London or the esoteric pastures of education. I suspect that we should for ever argue about the best way of doing things.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary's introductory remarks. Many of us, understandably, have been preoccupied with the developments in the European Community, leading up to the intergovernmental conference in Maastricht in December, but many other events have been taking place at incredible speed. I intend to comment briefly on some of those events.
I happily associate myself with the remarks made by the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), when they paid tribute to the work done by James Baker. He has done a fantastic job. When one considers how hard he has worked recently in other areas, he deserves our praise.
It is about a decade since I went to the middle east with a Liberal party delegation. Then, as now, the issue was peace for land, or land for peace. Mr. Shamir will have to recognise that fact. I regret the fact that he left the conference this morning. He would have heard others tell him that. To be fair, however—though it is difficult to be fair when referring to the middle east—the Arab side must recognise that the land that was lost was lost after the wars that it conducted against Israel, and that peace means security to Israel. The Israelis will not give up land unless they have security. It will be the task of the bigger powers—the United States, in co-operation with the European Community—to find a means whereby peace can be achieved.
As for the development of the Soviet Union, the threats to peace presented by the instability there and the position of the central European countries, I agree entirely with those who have said that we have a responsibility to help to the greatest possible extent. In parenthesis, may I echo what the right hon. Member for Gorton said about President Gorbachev? We could also pick out his name and say that he is a remarkable man, who by himself has made a positive contribution to world peace.
Last weekend, I went to Poland to observe the elections on behalf of the Council of Europe. The economic position is parlous. Many people in Poland thought vaguely that with freedom would come prosperity—and pretty damn quick at that. In fact, the opposite has happened. Things have got dramatically worse and will get worse still. As hon. Members will be aware, the election produced a 40 per cent. turnout only, and an extremely fragmented 145 outcome. I see no reason why the course of events in the republics of the Soviet Union will be much different when they approach such matters in due course.
What is different about the Soviet Union is the presence of nuclear weapons in Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. That sends a shiver up one's spine. It is very much in our interests to press for an acceleration of the disarmament talks and at the same time to play the fullest part in economic and, where necessary, food aid assistance.
As a country we are not over-generous in providing aid. I observed the other day that the most recent OECD report records that our contribution to overseas aid is now down to 0.27 per cent. of the gross domestic product. That is a new all-time record low and something of which we should not be terribly proud.
On Hong Kong, I stress the essential importance of giving support to the lamentably late but very necessary move to democracy. The former leader of the Liberal party, my right hon. Friend—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)—there are so many of us now that for a moment I could not remember the name of my right hon. Friend's constituency—saw Mr. Martin Lee yesterday. I pay tribute to what Mr. Lee has contributed to the revitalisation, or perhaps one should say vitalisation, given that it did not exist before, of democracy in Hong Kong.
Many of us considered the agreement made by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) as a considerable achievement. However, since the events of Tiananmen square, many of us have asked whether we did the right thing in supporting that agreement. Probably at the time we could do nothing else. The right hon. Member for Gorton said that the issue of Hong Kong is a bilateral question between Britain and China. However, one of these days it might become a United Nations question. If circumstances exist in 1997 similar to those that existed at the time of the events in Tiananmen square, I would find it difficult to see a British Government voluntarily handing over 5.25 million people into such a situation. We must look ahead.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the UN. My party has long argued that the UN should be more interventionist. At some stage in the future, the UN will be able to stop conflicts and to intervene in internal matters to protect human rights, but that is still a long way off. However, that is the objective. The idea that existing boundaries are sacrosanct and must remain so for all time is a nonsense. If international agencies have certain standards, they have an interest to see that those standards are maintained wherever in the world. That will mean that the UN will become more interventionist.
The Foreign Secretary referred, not for the first time, to what he described as the Prime Minister's initiative on an arms register at the UN. I entirely support such a move, but I should like to point out that it was first suggested by the German Foreign Minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, 10 years ago. At that time, it was not supported by the United Kingdom. We should be a little more modest in this matter. Plagiarism is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, but I do not believe that one should then go on to claim authorship.
The Foreign Secretary made a lengthy reference to Yugoslavia, but, rather surprisingly, he did not refer to the remarks made yesterday by the Italian Foreign Minister, 146 who said that, by mid-December, the Community would recognise the independence of all republics that requested it. Is that the case? I had expected the Foreign Secretary to say something about that. The right hon. Gentleman generously gave way to me, so I did not seek to intervene again on that matter, but I should like to know.
The latest figures on the Serbian-Croat war are 5,000 Croats dead. My noble Friend Lord Mark Bonham-Carter was in Yugoslavia last weekend, and we know that there are some 400,000 refugees on both sides. The Serbian army is about 100,000 strong and it is supported by tanks, heavy guns, aircraft and warships. It stands against the lightly armed Croatian force of about 50,000. However, there is a great lack of morale in the Serbian army, that is why it has not swept through as, on paper, it should be able to do. We can no longer try to pretend to be even-handed in this matter. It is an aggressive war led by Serbia under an old-fashioned communist leadership that still flies the red star from its tanks.
I was appalled to read inThe European this morning as I crunched my muesli—a social democratic habit I got into—that Saatchi and Saatchi have been called in by Serbia. It reports:International public relations agency Saatchi and Saatchi may be able to take on the toughest job in advertising. A spokesman … confirmed that it was continuing negotiations … They are worried that Croatia is winning the propaganda war and Western sympathy".I sincerely hope that Saatchi and Saatchi has a bit more morality than to take on that cause. I do not believe that any amount of PR washing will make it any better.
In July, I set out my party's position on the negotiations that are about to take place in Maastricht. However, yesterday the leader of the Labour party referred to my party and said:As far as I know"—that is a proper qualification for him to make—the only party in the European Community, in any of its parliaments and assemblies, that is not interested in securing the necessary safeguards for progress is the British Liberal party.Various of my hon. Friends, including myself, tried to intervene, but the right hon. Gentleman would not allow any interventions. I found his remark extraordinary, and it is extremely difficult to answer because it is so foolish. The right hon. Gentleman may disagree with our stand, but the views that we advocate on political, economic and monetary union are those that we believe to be in the best interests of our citizens. We regard them as the safeguard for the future of our citizens.
The right hon. Gentleman made a strange reference toany of its parliaments and assemblies"—[Official Report, 31 October 1991; Vol. 198, c. 22.]But we are in complete accord with our fellow Liberal and Democratic parties with whom we work in the European Liberal and Democratic and Reform Federation. My party is in regular contact, for example, with the FDP—the Free Democratic party, which is in the German Government. We have regular meetings with those German Ministers and we are in regular contact with the Dutch, the Belgians and all the others. I know very well that, within the European Community, there are similar contacts between the Conservative and Labour parties, and rightly so.
I should be obliged if the Leader of the Opposition would not say such silly things any more. He may attack 147 us—that is perfectly all right—but considering the record of the Labour party in such matters, I take the right hon. Gentleman's comments rather ill.
We believe that a common currency is essential in a single market. That will not be done at once. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that such a move would be terribly dangerous if there was not sufficient economic convergence. However, that is already laid down in the agreement that was achieved in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. That is the object in hand. We will have convergence, and a proper timetable was set out to achieve that. It is of the greatest importance that we make a commitment to that.
We support a central bank, on the Bundesbank model, we support full decision-making between the Parliament and the Council and we support the proposed committee of the regions. Indeed, we want a general study of ways in which areas such as Catalonia, Bavaria, Scotland and Wales, which have real cultural, historical and national identities, can play a more effective role in the Community.
Although I listened carefully, I could not understand the Foreign Secretary's statement that, in some vague way, the validity and effectiveness of foreign policy decisions would be weakened by majority voting. I think that he said that he had "a feel" that that would be the case. I do not know, but I do not see any qualitative difference between decisions reached by the majority in institutions that we have agreed will operate Europewide and decisions reached by the majority within this House, which controls the United Kingdom. We believe that that will inevitably lead to taking over defence responsibilities in the Community, probably with the Western European Union acting as the bridge. Although that may not happen until the end of the century, it will happen.
I was concerned to read one of the headlines inThe Guardian this morning—all the newspapers gave me indigestion today—in which British Airways is accused ofconspiring to breach European Community … ruleswith Boeing in the United States to "freeze" out Airbus. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to say anything about that in his reply—probably not—but I hope that he will take the opportunity to say that, if there is any truth in the allegations, such action is wholly reprehensible.
The Foreign Secretary oft times says that the main thrust of British policy must be to promote British interests. It is not only a question of promoting British interests in an advantageous way. It is in the interests of Britain, France and Germany that there is fair trade within the Community and throughout the world, that human rights are respected and that democracy flourishes. I hope that our foreign policy will be directed to achieving those fundamental aims.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. Before reaching the substance of my speech, I must briefly refer to a procedural matter. I hope that the Leader of the House will take into account the fact that it is increasingly unrealistic that the programme of debates under broad headings which follow the Queen's Speech should not be in the public arena before the day of the Speech. Considering the interest that the public now take in Parliament, we 148 could well remove that tradition. We need to avoid any possibility of the majority of Back Benchers being managed on the mushroom principle. I shall not discuss what that means, because it is a little crude, but I hope that those hon. Members who appreciate it will take note.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). The name of his constituency is a veritable route to the isles. I associate myself with his comments on the Hong Kong treaty and the concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House about how rapidly we can move towards a democratic position for Hong Kong. I urge the Government to take every action within their purview to encourage the development of the democratic process in Hong Kong as an ultimate safeguard against the sort of problem demonstrated by the Tiananmen square massacre.
I also associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber about human rights and the democratic process. That is a clear point in our foreign policy—I have no reason to suppose otherwise—and it is important that that should continue.
A year ago in the debate on the Queen's Speech, I spoke of the Baltic states and referred to a visit that I had made there with other hon. Members during the previous summer. I highlighted the absolute determination of each of the Baltic Governments, who were indeed speaking for their peoples, to achieve full independence from the Soviet Union. Few, including myself, expected independence to occur so completely and so soon.
I especially welcome the reference to the Government's full commitment to help Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to establish themselves in the international community or better, as stated in the Queen's Speech, "to re-establish" themselves, because they had an excellent record for economics and for improvements in the lot of their people when they were independent between 1920 and 1938. There are great skills in those countries: a dedication to good quality workmanship and a wish to ensure that they have a better standard of living as rapidly as possible.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is directly involved in discussions with the Baltic Governments about the gold deposits that were placed in London when they were invaded. I understand that it is the Government's desire to achieve a result that will be a positive help to those countries. If that is correct, I strongly support that intention and I hope that the matter will be settled rapidly.
Practical financial assistance in the early days of independence is vital to the Baltic countries. The chance of success in moving quickly to a market-based economy is good because they are small countries, but we must be aware that the development of democratic systems in the long term may well depend on that economic success there as well as elsewhere. There are worrying signs in parts of eastern Europe that the democratic process may not hold unless people realise the benefits in terms of goods to buy and an improved standard of living.
It is exciting and encouraging that Britain now has three ambassadors in post in the Baltic countries and that that piece of unfinished business from the second world war is at last settled.
More than once, the Foreign Secretary emphasised the potential for future instability in Europe and elsewhere in the world. We still live in uncertain times. The suggestion that, as a result of changes in the Soviet Union, we are now 149 inhabiting a safe world where the outstanding strengths of the United States involvement in Europe through NATO is no longer necessary, beggars belief. I assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence of the continuing support of the vast majority of British people for his present policy and approach to European defence.
As has been said during the debate, we must pay increasingly close attention to how the world as a whole can control arms sales, particularly to small powers. There is the problem of starvation in Africa. All of us, whatever side of the House we are on, wish to improve the amount of aid that we can give to needy countries, but how long do we go on doing that, when a great deal of suffering in those countries is brought about by wars between them? We will never stop that unless we find a way of controlling arms sales to small powers. That was a much bigger problem during the cold war. Now, the bigger, more sophisticated countries are emphasising arms control. I appeal to the Government to bring those small countries into focus and to concentrate more heavily on them in future.
My reference to defence brings me to a particular point that I have wished to raise for some time, but have been unable to, as I did not have the opportunity to speak during our debates on the defence estimates. I support the main thrust of the Government's defence policy: to achieve our security with smaller but better equipped forces. It is clear from discussions in this House and the country that the Navy and Air Force as unitary services have been better able to settle the arrangements under the defence review "Options for Change" than has the Army.
I appreciate why the Army is finding change harder to accept. There are two main reasons. First, it still has the regimental system. I am not for a moment suggesting that that does not have value and should not be retained, but it means that change is more difficult to accept. The regimental system generates strong emotions both outside and within the regiments. That is its strength when people go to war. Secondly, the Army has a good case for demanding some reconsideration of the size of the military that present plans allow for.
I do not have the sort of difficulties that the shadow Foreign Secretary spent so much time on when he suggested that the Government's policy on the Army was unclear. I think that it is very clear indeed. The Prime Minister has confirmed that these changes will take place over at least three years and will be subject to reconsideration in the light of any changes in the world. Therefore, I do not find the comments just made in the present by-election campaigns so much out of order.
My final plea is that the Scottish regiments, which have so readily dominated the debate in this House about the size of the Army and changes to the regimental system, should not forget that there is a regiment in the south of England—indeed in my area—the Queen's regiment, which for many years has been ready to amalgamate and is now made up of six old regiments. Under this review, it is yet again being required to amalgamate, with the Royal Hampshire regiment, in a rather unreasonable and shabby way.
I speak for many—I can see support on these Benches for this—when I say that that regiment represents London and the south-east, has responded in the past to demands for change in the Army and should be given a readier response from Ministers and the Ministry of Defence than it has achieved so far.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
It is true that 45 years of cold war have now come to an end and that everyone is appreciative of that, but a new spectre is haunting Europe—that of an unthinking and often mischievous nationalism.
§ Mr. Wareing
Indeed, the nationalist card, like sometimes the racist card, is played for political ends.
Most of my comments will be about the problems in Yugoslavia, a country which I know well and which I visited in the first week of August, when I was able to see the problems from the Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian sides.
The Government have been correct in their evenhanded approach to the Yugoslav problem. There is no doubt that Herr Genscher of Germany is mistaken in wanting to rush into recognition of Slovenia and particularly Croatia. The nationalist card has undoubtedly been used for political ends in parts of Yugoslavia. That applies as much to Franjo Tudjman as to Slobodan Milosevic who have both exploited the nationalist card. When Milosevic first came to prominence in the mid to late 1980s, I was worried because he was tipped by some to be the next Tito. In reality, he has been antagonising the Albanian majority in Kosova. I asked him about that when I spoke to him at the beginning of August. There can be no question of seeking social justice for Serbs if one ignores Albanians and other minorities in Yugoslavia.
It is wrong to imagine that Croatia is somehow a western democracy and that it has adopted the cultural, social and political attitudes of the west while the same is not true of Belgrade. Elections have taken place in Serbia and Croatia. Indeed, Mr. Milosevic has more support in Serbia than even our former Prime Minister had in this country, even taking account of the problems during the election period in Serbia. Mr. Micunovic, leader of the democratic party in Serbia, and Mr. Drasskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal party, both talk of the persecution of Serbs within Croatia.
I saw some of the 60,000 Serbian refugees presently accommodated in Serbia who have had to flee their homes to find shelter with families in Serbia. The blame cannot be laid on one side or the other. The problem is not black or white, but there are faults on both sides. Although Mr. Tudjman would argue that he is a barrier against the Bolshevism of Mr. Milosevic, when he came to power the Croation Government took on the policy of removing Serbs from their posts in Croatia and acted in an extreme nationalist way. It is interesting to note that, whereas Mr. Tudjman refers to the communists in Belgrade, the communists are also being blamed in Belgrade for the present boundaries between the republics of Yugoslavia.
I spoke to the highly prejudiced Dr. Budimir Kosulic, the deputy Prime Minister of Serbia. He is a lawyer in his 40s who has never belonged to a political party. I expected enlightenment from him, but got only sheer anti-Croat, anti-German prejudices that go back to the second world war. I asked him whether he remembered the second world war, because I did. I asked whether he had ever run away from the bombs of the Luftwaffe, because I had. He said "No", yet he was full of prejudices, which he tried to cover 151 with anti-communism. The boundary between Croatia and Serbia, he said, was created by and was the fault of the Tito communist regime.
If there are those in government in Zagreb and Belgrade who are extreme nationalists using that nationalism to prejudice the views of ordinary people who for decades have been able to live together in peace, there are also plenty of people in the background in Croatia and Serbia who are even more extremist. We have witnessed the revival of the Chetnik party and the crazy antics and words of Vojislav Šeselj, a fascist who is the sort of inspiration for the Serbian irregulars in eastern Slavonia who are persecuting Croatians in their villages, using the excuse of the Serbian majorities in certain parts of Croatia. He is the man who spoke of distributing the remains of Marshall Tito throughout the four corners of Yugoslavia: he is a madman.
Mr. Arkan has been calling for Serbia to declare war on Hungary before Christmas. These Serbian extremists are the same sort as the ones who were to be found among the Chetnik bands at the time of the second world war.
Similarly, there are madmen in Croatia such as the extremists in the neo-fascist Croatian party of rights, as it calls itself. One thinks of people such as Branimir Glavas who wants more extreme action to be taken against Serbs inside Croatia. Nothing has inflamed atavistic anger in the Serbs more than the Croatians' use on all their flags of the chequered shield, the insignia used by the hated Ustasha fascists in Croatia during the second world war. All over Zagreb, flags displaying the chequered shield are to be seen. The Croatians are wearing their nationalism on their sleeves.
As for the federal Government, the old Yugoslavia no longer exists, although I still found people of good will in some parts of Yugoslavia. God knows whether that good will still exists after so many deaths in the recent conflict. Such people still think of themselves as Yugoslays first and Serbs or Croats second. In the last census in Croatia more than 500,000 Serbs were found to be registered as living there, and another 400,000 people registered themselves as Yugoslays. The latter may well have been Serbs afraid to say who they were, but we can assume that in Croatia there are between 500,000 and 900,000 Serbs, mostly living in compact areas.
Krajina has a Serbian majority and in eastern Slavonia there are communities with overwhelmingly Serb majorities. This enables Milosevic to make the point to visitors from the west that he, like them, believes that Croats and Slovenes should be allowed self-determination, but what about the Serbs living in Krajina and eastern Slavonia?
Some people argue that we should rush to recognise Croatia and Slovenia. In some respects Slovenia is less of a problem, but recognising Slovenia begets the attitude: why not Croatia too? Slovenia is less of a problem because the only minorities living there are 15,000 Hungarians and about 5,000 Italians. They live in peace with their neighbours. I argue that it would be perfectly safe for any British citizen to go as a tourist to the mountain resorts of Slovenia. Croatia is different. If we say, "Let us recognise Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia", what do we do about Bosnia-Herzegovina?
152 Bosnia-Herzegovina is the one non-nationalist state in the Yugoslav federation. It cannot be described as a Serbian state, or as a Muslim or Croation state because each of the nationalities has substantial minorities in it. That presents a real problem. The people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all, want some form of Yugoslavia to continue to exist. It is in the interests of Europe that Yugoslavia, possibly as a loose-knit confederation, continues to exist. Such a confederation will be created only if the Croats and the Serbs end the bloodshed. I have no doubt that if the bloodshed continues, Tudjman and even Milosevic will be overthrown. In time, the fascists will come along and say that Tudjman has not defended the Croats from the Serbs and that Milosevic has not acted strongly enough against the Croats.
It would be a mistake to assume that the federal army is really under the command of the President of Serbia, although it is Serbian dominated. I get the feeling that the army is acting as its own boss and that the Minister of Defence, who defied federal Prime Minister Markovic by refusing to resign, is still in command of the army. The army high command must be drawn into any talks on the future of that sad country.
Yugoslavia is a very sad country. Many in the House are good friends of Yugoslavia. It is a beautiful country and one of great variety. It has known a considerable period of peace despite all the problems and difficulties. I know that it has not had a democratic form of government, but it is a lovely country and has been loved by people from this country. It is a disaster that the people there should be tearing themselves apart when they should be building up investment in industry and spreading their great asset, the tourist industry.
I congratulate Lord Carrington on taking on his role, which would be a difficult one for anybody. I notice that our Irish friends are not with us at the moment, so I shall have to substitute for them by saying that they would understand the problems faced by ordinary people in Croatia.
The Serbs have had real problems with Tudjman. At least 12 months too late, he has come along with a declaration of rights. That should have been on the table at the outset of any declaration of independence.
In spite of the case that many Serbs may be able to put forward to the effect that their rights are being taken away in Croatia, there can be no excuse for the vicious attacks by the federal army, the federal navy and the federal air force on Dubrovnik. That cultural gem is part not only of the Yugoslav heritage, but of the European heritage and it needs to be preserved. I do not, of course, put the walls and ancient streets of Dubrovnik ahead of human life, because the preservation of human life is more important. However, if Serbia wishes to have its rights recognised, it must restrain its forces from making these vicious attacks on Dubrovnik and on other areas that have no military importance. Incidentally, only yesterday I was speaking to the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and last week I spoke to Mr. Micunovic, the leader of the democrat party in Serbia and both said that they were outraged at the attacks on Dubrovnik.
The European Community must have a part to play. I regret that, over six months ago, when I wrote to the Prime Minister and asked that the federal union of Yugoslavia be given active support—by, for example, recognition of its right to be a full member of the Council of Europe and having a real association treaty with the European 153 Community—my plea was ignored. The Government were wrong to ignore the growing crisis looming on the horizon in Yugoslavia.
Such measures as reconsidering the Yugoslav debt and giving more economic assistance to Yugoslavia could go hand in hand with the setting up of working commissions by the European Commission to ensure that bloodshed is ended and that ceasefires hold. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the job that the European monitors, including some of our people from the Foreign Office, are doing. However, their job should be extended and we should look to trying to improve the democratic institutions in that country.
I started by saying that there was a new spectre haunting Europe. If the Tudjmans and the Milosevics of this world are allowed to show that they can win with the nationalist card, their example will be emulated in other parts of Europe. I applaud the granting of independence to the Baltic states, but parts of the Soviet Union—or is it the old Soviet Union?—have problems similar to those in Yugoslavia. We have to give our fullest support to Mr. Gorbachev and others in the Soviet Union who want to avoid those problems. It was the old nationalism of eastern and central Europe that gave rise to the fascist threat which embroiled so many of us in the years between 1939 and 1945.
The European Community has an important role to play and I am only sorry that the Government are so lukewarm in their attitude to the development of the Community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to that, and I know that the future of our country depends on our ability to work inside Europe, although not for the market economy. One of the problems in eastern Europe is that they have been taken in by Thatcherite propaganda that one can replace Stalinism by a market economy. One of the reasons for the way in which they are voting in Poland, and are beginning to vote in Germany, is that they see that the answer is not Thatcherism nor a return to Stalinism, but the democratic and socialist idea of a mixed economy in which public ownership and the public sector have a real part to play.
I am also sorry that the Foreign Secretary was unwilling to give the proper reply when I challenged him on the question of good government. It is no use telling the Commonwealth countries in Africa that they must be democratic. It is no use saying to the Serbs in Belgrade, "You must be democratic in your country." It is no use saying that we are sponsoring good government while at the same time pouring money and assistance into Indonesia, which has been responsible for untold genocide. We must be even handed in Yugoslavia and with all of our foreign policy. There should be no double-talk on democracy.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
Despite his postscript, in which he condemned free enterprise systems and declared himself an apologist for socialism in Europe, I am pleased to be able to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). I share the agony that he expressed about the way in which Yugoslavia is tearing itself apart, not least because of some loose cannons in the Yugoslav army. I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's proposals for a selective 154 approach towards a recognition of states such as Slovenia and for some form of loose federation for the rest of Yugoslavia. We must all hope fervently that a peaceful solution will be found sooner rather than later, that lives will be saved and that great cities such as Dubrovnik do not fall to be perished, as others have.
I join those who have given an enthusiastic welcome to the Queen's Speech and to the measures within it. In my view, it is a programme of legislation which matches the needs of the time. It contains some important proposals for Bills on local government and on education. There are proposals for less contentious but equally important Bills. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and all his Ministers on being sensitive during the last Session of this Parliament and on continuing the radical and responsive approach that our people need. It is a programme for victory at the next general election and one which the people will support.
I shall speak to the part of the Gracious Speech which refers to Europe. I was pleased that the Government confirmed their commitment to play a constructive role in the two intergovernmental conferences on economic and monetary union and on political union. That will undoubtedly be the political battlefield or frontier in the months ahead. I shall set out what I see as the main objectives and the minefields that lie ahead.
To me, the argument about Europe is simple. It is whether we want to be rich or poor—rich in Europe or poor outside it. All too often we ignore the bottom line. The standard of living and individual prosperity of our west European neighbours are increasingly outstripping ours. Where is the wealthiest part of Europe? Is it in Bavaria or is it around Madrid? Is it on the Cote d'Azur? Is it in the home counties? No, it is in northern Italy. Who would have thought it? Who knows it?
Over the next 20 years or more western Europe will forge ahead as a prosperous single market. It will attract global investment, employ the latest technology and use the advanced skills of its people to provide goods and services to nearly 3 billion people. The affluence of modern-day continental Europe is open to inspection. Even the most casual visitor cannot fail to notice the quality of homesteads, the increased personal incomes, the efficiency and comfort of transport systems and the pride in culture and heritage, which is so often a reflection of economic security.
To the great credit of the Conservative Government. the opportunities and aspirations of our people have been transformed; but only by being at the heart of Europe, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, can we realise our full potential. My younger constituents want to look forward to higher incomes, more spending power, home ownership, the accumulation of savings and investments and. time to enjoy the fruits of their labour. My older constituents want to protect what they have saved and to be assured of first-class public services., especially in health and social security, when they need them. Only by being in the economic powerhouse of the: European Community can we satisfy those aspirations. Only by hitching our wagon firmly to the pioneers of the: new Europe can we achieve economic growth to provide the quality of public services that people rightly demand and the prospect of higher personal wealth, choice and freedom.
From the time of Churchill's vision of Europe, through accession to the European Community and to the signing 155 of the Single European Act, Conservative Governments have led the way towards ever closer political co-operation and economic convergence. We now stand poised on the brink of a great new episode in European evolution and I am proud that the party of which I am a member has taken our country forward and is now leading the way to a sustainable economic and political union.
Those of us who believe that our future and national interest lie in such a course do not do so in a spirit of emotional faith or constitutional adventurism; rather, we take a hard-headed view of where our economic interests lie and where the money will come from in the years ahead. My enthusiasm for economic and political union is therefore built quite simply on the financial interests of our nation. Were it not so, I might well have more sympathy with an isolationist approach. If we would not be better off, it might be better to go it alone. However, not just on the economic front does our interest lie in closer co-operation, but in defence and foreign affairs the collective strength and influence of the European Community will assume new importance with the demise of the Soviet Union and the disarray of eastern Europe. For all those reasons, it is essential that there is a successful conclusion to the Maastricht summit next month.
From what I have said, it follows that political union is more likely to be achieved when there is economic advantage. Conversely, political integration will inevitably fall apart if there is no financial benefit. We have only to consider what happened to East Germany and ask what was the underlying reason for secession from the Warsaw pact and reunification with West Germany. Over the course of time, it was clear that that was where its economic interests lay. When a country can no longer afford to feed its people under an outdated political system, it will look elsewhere for its material prosperity and survival.
I wish to deal with some of the key issues in the intergovernmental conferences—first, the question of a single currency. I believe that there may be distinct advantages to the adoption of a single currency at some time in the future and so do most of the business men I know in my constituency and elsewhere. The Government are right not to rule out progress towards that, and to point out that a high degree of convergence of economies will be necessary before any single currency can be contemplated, agreed by this House, or sustained thereafter.
Let us consider what people actually want. So often the debate about a single currency is dominated by misunderstanding and emotion. We would do well to reflect on the interests of those whom we seek to represent. Most people want to be paid in a valuable, stable currency that is a sound store of wealth. People want to save in a currency that does not depreciate every year as much as the pound has done over many years. People want to be able to borrow for their homes or businesses in a currency where the interest rate is not exorbitant. For too long we have regarded the pound as sacrosanct, but who wants to be paid in funny money that is for ever being debased by inflation and buffeted on the financial and foreign exchange markets?
Just as benefits were clearly derived from the Government's decision to join the exchange rate 156 mechanism this time last year, so will advantages be derived by moving to the new narrow rate band and possibly, in time, to a single currency. What happened to Italy when it decided to move from the wide band to the narrow band within the ERM? Did that make its currency, economy, inflation rate or fiscal policy more restrained and more problematic? It did not. Instead, the value of Italy's currency shot to the top of the parameters and there was a mass inflow of money as people realised that it was a more stable currency and there was less of a case for high interest rates, which were brought down still further. Were Britain to join the narrow rate band, the effect would be the same, and the economic dividend is there to see. We would pay lower interest rates, with all that would mean for our constituents.
My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer deserve every praise for joining the exchange rate mechanism at a sustainable parity, despite prophesies of doom from Europhobes; they were wrong and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister got it right. We have been able to maintain parity within the ERM, interest rates have been reduced on eight successive occasions and we now have one of the lowest, if not the lowest, monthly inflation rates in the Community. The Government's courage and confidence and the decision that they took have been vindicated by events and they deserve recognition for their action.
The emerging treaty proposals on economic and monetary union seem to meet British requirements in full, but I will address some of the critical issues. As to a two-speed Europe, Britain already meets most of the criteria drafted by the Dutch presidency for membership of the fast track, in terms of having a low rate of inflation and the stability of our exchange rate. I hope that there will be no question of the British being regarded as second-rate Europeans and members of some slow track to economic and monetary union.
Although I am much in favour of that union, the Government were right to rule out signing a declaration of intent alongside their treaty commitment. We must stick to the view that only the treaty matters. Once we start encouraging member states to sign declarations of intent, we risk undermining the integrity and force of the treaty documents and obligations.
I want to see the development of a European central bank emerging from the European monetary institute, in stage two, beyond 1996. That is essential. Where is the sovereignty in going it alone? My right hon. Friend the Chancellor would be much more constrained in his fiscal and monetary policies if Britain tried to go it alone. He would have to bump up taxes, or impose higher interest rates or stiffer credit controls if we did not have the security of being a monetary member of the Community.
I share the belief of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which he reiterated yesterday, that convergence is important, but we must not allow total convergence to be an absolute precondition for further steps towards economic and monetary union, for that could be used as an excuse for never-never progress.
As to European political union, it is vital that we consider favourably proposals for increased confidence for qualified majority voting and for co-decision, not just because the Community's budget is so large that we need improved accountability and democratic restraint, but because in so many other areas—such as in respect of the 157 environment, conditions of employment and judicial co-operation—common responsibility requires the same observance of high standards.
It is an extraordinary paradox that those who ostensibly seek to defend the sovereignty that Britain already enjoys deny the accountability that should be imposed within the Commission. I should like to see more control over the Commission, and its executive being checked. There is much more to gain than to lose from the proposals for co-decision.
I share with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the hope that the Community will one day be able to enlarge its fold and that that enlargement will include some of the currently problematic countries of eastern Europe. Frankly, I do not see that as an early prospect. Their problems are so deep and the solutions will take so long that it will hold back political and economic progress in western Europe if we insist that they are brought into the fold sooner rather than later. It would be far better, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, to conclude association agreements with those countries and to help them in every way to catch up and to adopt the principles of a single free market rather than trying to integrate them within new political structures.
I agree with my right hon. Friend's approach to foreign affairs. As with defence, foreign affairs are a difficult issue. In principle, and in theory, it may be appealing to believe that we can all unite and go along together with common defence and foreign policies, but the reality—and after the Gulf war, I must say, the experience, too, to some extent—suggests that we have not yet developed the degree of cohesion and common purpose that must must be a prerequisite for common foreign and defence policies.
Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend is right to point out the role that we can play, where countries come together on issues, whereas on other issues—certainly on major critical and substantial issues—they must retain absolute national sovereignty in the development of their own foreign policies.
That much is clear on defence, too. The Government are right to seek a twin-track approach whereby we retain the essential strength and security of NATO while developing a new role for the Western European Union. I attach great importance to the proposals for discussions at NATO level between Ministers of eastern European states—the former Warsaw pact countries—and those of NATO countries. That will be greatly for the security of western Europe and, it is to be hoped, will mean that, in time, there will be a more practical integration, exercising and deployment of our defence capability.
It is vital to remember how important and unique is the protection of our alliance with the United States—and with Canada, too, whose defence training facilities are essential for our country. I mean more than the nuclear umbrella and the massive and rapid reinforcement capability that America offers within a NATO structure. It is, as we saw clearly during the Gulf war, the very sophistication of America's procurement and the new technology of weaponry that demand that we count the Americans as friends and allies rather than trying to go it alone.
I believe that I speak for many others, both in my party and outside it, who want to see a successful conclusion at Maastricht and who want political and economic union in Europe to go forward. Ministers are right to protect our national interest at every stage. It is right that in the 158 negotiations, which must remain confidential, they should seek to prevent us from going too far too soon. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who is one of the most influential Ministers in the discussions, is here today, and I say to him and to others that I want Ministers to be more positive. There should be less negativism about our role in Europe. It may be necessary to appease, reassure and satisfy those who, understandably, for generational and other genuine reasons, have objections and fears about further progress. At the same time, many of us strongly believe that our future and our interests lie in Europe.
The Conservative party will go along with what the Government decide. It will support the Government if they lead, provide the vision and deliver at Maastricht an agreement and draft treaty proposals that will give the people we represent the standard of living, the incomes and the prosperity that they deserve. We place a great duty of trust on the Government. I, for one, have every confidence that they will discharge that duty with distinction.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
It is a refreshing experience to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) and I hope that the level of debate on the European Community that we have attained today will be reflected in our two-day debate on 20 and 21 November. The Prime Minister said yesterday that, in discussing these matters at Maastricht, the Government would reflect the views of the House of Commons. I look forward to hearing thoughtful and far-reaching speeches such as that made by the hon. Member for Chichester when these matters are discussed at Maastricht, and I hope that views such as his will be reflected in Maastricht—a subject to which I may return in due course.
The Foreign Secretary opened his speech by referring to the monumental events that now surround us. Maastricht is in prospect and we also have the Madrid conference. Great praise has been given to Mr. Baker, the United States Secretary of State, for arranging that conference and so fulfilling the commitment that he gave at the time of the Gulf war, when he said that he and President Bush would do all that they could to bring the parties to the negotiating table. That has now been achieved and, although we know that a long road awaits the negotiators, it is refreshing to see the leaders of the Palestinian people at the conference table and to watch their demeanour as they approach the massive problems. It is important to understand that they are the people living in the area—the people who have suffered so much since 1947. Those at the conference table are not Palestine Liberation Organisation representatives working out of Tunis but people who actually live in the occupied territories, who have been deprived of their homeland, as they see it, and who are now looking to the future and trying to negotiate some kind of settlement.
The world has changed greatly since 1967 and it is not easy merely to return to United Nations resolution 242. The peace conference in Madrid seems to me to subsume all past resolutions. When we reach the face-to-face negotiations, the parties themselves will be able to confront their ideological and territorial difficulties and seek to reach some kind of compromise. Since 1967, we 159 have seen the rise of the concept of Judea and Samaria within the Israeli people. Personally, I do not support that concept, but the fact is that it has given rise to a large number of settlements on the west bank and even in the Gaza strip. We have also witnessed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the influx of thousands of Soviet Jews into the area as a result of the changed policies of Mr. Gorbachev. The Palestinians are now calling for the return to the area of 4 million Palestinian people from the diaspora. Thus, great complexities have arisen since 1967.
We should note important changes that have already come about. The area is no longer an area of global conflict, with the United States and the Soviet Union locked in battle through their surrogates, Israel and Syria. In the early 1980s, American troops were stationed in the Lebanon and Soviet troops were stationed some 40 miles away, in Syria—that was the closest that we have come to conflict between Soviet and American soldiers on the ground since 1945. The fact that the Madrid conference is sponsored by the Soviet Union and the United States means that this is no longer a global conflict. The area is now faced with a regional conflict—deep and dangerous for those who live there and tragic for those who lose their lives.
A little noticed event, perhaps, is that the Soviet Union has now re-established diplomatic relations with Israel. As a consequence, it is now back in the game as a sponsor of a conference that can lead to peace, as we all hope it will. In my view, it was a monumental error by the Soviet Union to withdraw its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv following the six-day war in 1967 because, in doing so, it kept itself out of the area as a serious negotiator.
Let me refer to the problems of Europe that the hon. Member for Chichester mentioned. One of our difficulties—and one reason why debates such as this are so welcome—is that we do not yet quite understand or know what we are trying to achieve. Is the purpose of a single European currency and the central bank to assist us in improving living standards by providing a level playing field or are they steps towards some kind of federal Europe? No one has been able to answer that question. There are different views throughout the European Community about whether we are moving towards a federal Europe or whether all these issues are steps on the way towards improving trade and increasing standards of living. I agree with the hon. Member for Chichester that it does not matter to the British people whether they have a pound sterling or an ecu in their pockets if their level of prosperity is being maintained and enhanced. The duty of Her Majesty's Government, whoever may form that Government, is to maintain and improve those standards of living. We have not yet, however, resolved the dilemma over whether that is part and parcel of the free trade area or part and parcel of the advance towards a federal-style Europe. All of that may, sooner or later, be made clear to us.
The Foreign Secretary made a careful distinction between a common foreign policy and a common defence policy. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) raised that point with him. The fact is, however, that our foreign and defence policies are linked. Our defence policy is based on our massive commitments, due to our former empire and colonies, now our Commonwealth, and the 160 variety of organisations with which Britain is involved while our European partners are not. We witnessed recently a singular event in Zaire when Belgian and French troops went in to protect their citizens. They, too, had colonies. They too, therefore, have difficulty in arriving at a foreign policy reached by means of a unanimous decision rather than a foreign policy based on a majority decision.
I was interested in the Foreign Secretary's definition of the Western European Union. I agree with him that it is important and significant to develop the Western European Union and to have a defence force, but if such a force existed now, would it have gone into Yugoslavia to separate the Serbs and the Croats? Is that what such a force would have done, acting at the behest of the Council of Ministers? Would we not have repeated the errors of 1914 by involving ourselves again in that region? The consequences of the 1914–18 war are only now being reversed. After that war we saw the rise of communism and fascism and of Hitler. All those events shaped the world after 1945. Only now are we returning to the age-old problem of nationalism to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) referred. That distortion of history is only now being reversed. The danger, however, is that by creating a western European defence force we may repeat the errors of old. We ought to take that serious danger into account.
Another difficulty of the last 11 or 12 years is that we have always faced west, towards the United States of America. During the war, Churchill quoted Longfellow to Roosevelt:And not by eastern windows only When daylight comes, comes in the light. Out front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, But westward, look, the land is bright.The fact that we were looking towards the United States might have been an acceptable concept during the war, but it has been an unacceptable concept for the past 12 years, during which Europe has been creating itself and showing an enthusiasm for a single European currency and a central bank and for increasing the powers of the European Community's institutions. The British Government have lagged in their support for events in Europe and have not been so enthusiastic as our European partners.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby was right to say that we are witnessing the creation not simply of a free market in Europe, but a free market which is linked to the Delors principles and will ensure proper working conditions and adequate social provision. The only way in which the European Community can work in the future is by linking the concept of the free market with that strong collective provision. There must not be an imbalance in Europe between those who work and those who do not, and between relative social and living conditions. That would make the European Community unworkable. We must link the free market with the provision of proper social and working conditions. In that way we shall have a Europe that is stronger, more sympathetic and a better one in which to live.
What are we seeking to do in Europe? Are we seeking to create a federal Europe or a new free trade area or a Europe that is neither federal nor based upon a free trade area? Are we seeking to create a totally different entity? That entity must be based on consensus and it must be one to which the British people will willingly belong because 161 they appreciate the advantages to which the hon. Member for Chichester has already referred. It must be an entity that this Parliament can recognise.
I welcome the cautious approach that has been adopted towards the Maastricht negotiations. I do not believe that Maastricht will be the ultimate summit on such matters. I believe that it will be another stage towards reaching an agreement that will take us forward.
Earlier I quoted Longfellow and I should like to conclude by quoting from Anton Chekhov. I know that the Foreign Secretary is a literary man and he may read this speech. Chekhov said:In search of truth a man takes two steps forward and one step back. Suffering mistakes and the weariness of life thrusts him back, but the search for truth drives him on and on. And who knows? Perhaps he will find the real truth at last.As a result of the Maastricht conferences and the debates that we shall have in the House we shall create a real, true Europe—a new Europe that is neither federal nor based upon free trade alone. It will be something in which we all participate. We shall be able to reach conclusions on the current problems through debate, consensus and, at the end of the day, the unanimity of Parliament.
§ Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
The Gracious Speech is that annual event when our Queen and her Government set out for this Parliament those national and international policies that are in the best interests of the United Kingdom, and only the United Kingdom, whether they relate to domestic legislation, to our defence commitments or to those foreign policy objectives which, to quote my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, protect and promote the British interest. That is no more or less than a sovereign Parliament within a constitutional monarchy should be able to expect. I hope that it will continue.
Now, however, I have grave misgivings as we begin to hear from the European Community more and more talk about a federal Europe and closer political integration. Such talk might reasonably follow if the EC had achieved all its earlier aims, but, as we know, it has not. We also know that, in 1992, the 12 member states will prepare to open the single European market at the end of that year.
If the single European market can be established and made to work as that common market that has been talked about for the past 30 years, it will be a considerable achievement, but it will not be easy. It will have its costs. Even today, we are told that it would cost the Inland Revenue about £250 million, because of the reduction in customs barriers.
We already know that many of the existing members of the Community currently pay little more than lip service to EC directives. Despite the requirement to open contracts and business opportunities to all corners, somehow those countries manage to choose their own nationals. The recent decision by the French Government to give in to their farmers on the lamb war only underlines the position. At a moment like this, one might think that the single market should dominate the Community thinking. but that is not so.
At Maastricht next month, political, economic and monetary union will take pride of place. I find that surprising. Since the Community's inception under the treaty of Rome in 1957, mutual self-interest has been the driving force behind it. The Six each saw benefits to 162 themselves from joining the Common Market and hence signed the treaty of Rome. In 1972, after our brief flirtation with the European Free Trade Association, we thought that our self-interest would be better served within the EC, so we joined, and I supported our membership in this House.
I do not believe that altruism, good neighbourliness or even the visions of Jean Monnet have been the motivation behind the EC but simply hard-headed self interest. Because that self-interest has continued, we have maintained our membership, even though we continue to run an imbalance on our trade. Last year it was £9.5 billion, and in the first nine months of this year it is £2 billion. We all know that the common agricultural policy has not given our farmers the return that their efficiency deserves or our housewives the food prices that they should be able to expect.
But, even if one accepts those difficulties, the balance of advantage has lain in our continuing membership and in arguing from our position within the Community—from the "heart of Europe" to use the words of the Prime Minister—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) did so successfully over our budget contribution. I have never understood why she was criticised by the Opposition for speaking up for Britain, but I am not exactly clear about their present position, except that they seem to be claiming that they can negotiate better conditions than the Government, despite their failure when in government in 1975 to negotiate proper terms for our entry. Indeed, that negotiation was something of a farce and I have no reason to have any greater confidence in the present Opposition's ability to do any better.
If the balance of advantage has stayed with our continuing membership of the Community, we have paid a price for it. In publications as diverse as Pharmaceutical Marketing andCountry Life, reference has recently been made to the arguments at Westminster seeming increasingly academic, as EC directives move us irrevocably towards the single market. Perhaps we should draw satisfaction from our willingness to accept such directives, unlike so many of our European colleagues, but if that is the situation now, when most Members of Parliament believe that we are still Members of a sovereign Parliament, what might it be like if we were to surrender the rest of our sovereignty to Brussels or to the European Parliament, in which we have only 16 per cent. of the seats, and to majority voting?
Mr. Delors has already warned us that, in a few years, 80 per cent. of the major economic and social decisions facing member states will be made in Brussels. If European political union comes about, he will undoubtedly be right. But why should it? Where is the self-interest that should make it attractive to us? We are told that, having lost an empire, we can have a new role in a European superstate, as if we were being asked to be its leader—which we are not.
I find nothing especially attractive about a European superstate. I do not want to be part of some supposedly dominant united states of Europe which, it is argued, would exert a similar influence to the United States of America and the now defunct USSR in world affairs. If that is the carrot to persuade this Parliament to give up such independence as it possesses and to move it on from the treaty of Rome, I would want a lot of persuading that that was in our best interests.
163 I want the United Kingdom to live at peace with all its European neighbours—to trade and to co-operate with them but to retain control of its defences and of its foreign and economic policies. I want this Parliament to continue to be the forum of our nation and I believe that the vast majority of our people share my wish.
Where political union and sovereignty are concerned, I can see no natural political affinity between the United Kingdom and Luxembourg—a country with a population smaller than Berkshire—or with Belgium, with its divided population, Holland, with its total dependence on its neighbours, or Italy, which has so much difficulty in implementing EC directives, which moralises over other people's shortcomings and has a new Government roughly every 18 months.
A former Minister of the Republic of Ireland told me recently that sovereignty did not mean the same for the people of Ireland as it did for us. They were so dependent on Britain for their trade and knew that they were accepted into the EC only because we had become a member that it was not a subject that exercised them overmuch. Thus, while a Luxembourger, an Irishman, a Dutchman or a Belgian may see a European superstate as giving them a much larger stage on which to perform and one that would cost them nothing in sovereignty since what they have is already so diluted, to us it would mean the end of that independence which has allowed us to play a unique and continuing role in world affairs and to have this Gracious Speech setting out our parliamentary programme.
It was that independence which enabled us to participate in the Gulf war and to initiate the Falklands conflict without having to secure the agreement of our 11 Community colleagues. All that we required was United Nations approval for the legality of our action. If, as I have suggested, the 12 members of the Community do not have much in common with us over sovereignty, what do we have in common over foreign affairs?
The failure of the 12 to act in concert does not give much ground for optimism. They could not agree on the Gulf conflict and seem to have no agreed middle east policy. They have made no impression on the Yugoslavian tragedy—so much so that I wish we had developed our own foreign policy towards the future of Yugoslavia in general and to the states of Slovenia and Croatia in particular. We could hardly have achieved less than the Community's observers.
I take issue with the Foreign Secretary's remarks this morning about it being expected that the EC would take the initiative. Expected by whom? To pretend that the 12 can beat out a constructive, flexible, foreign policy based on majority voting seems wholly unrealistic. Quite simply, not only do we and they not share common objectives, but we do not even make similar appraisals of world events, as the President of France demonstrated at the time of the coup in Moscow, when he seemed willing to negotiate with the coup's leaders.
Now we are told that there should also be a European defence force, to which the 12 members would contribute. It might have sounded relevant if the Community had become a unitary European state, but it has not. Each of our national defence forces has its own command structure and its own training methods, and chooses its own equipment with little or no standardisation. Some have 164 conscript armies, others do not. True, even with those drawbacks, NATO functions well, but it has had the advantage of 350,000 American service men and ourselves, all of whom speak a common language.
I suspect that the European defence force owes more to the French belief that, by merging German and French forces together, it effectively removes the threat of German militarism, while resurrecting the long-held French ambition to remove the immediate American influence from European defence, which is the case with NATO. I am glad the Government have set their face against that, and I welcome the further commitment to NATO in the Gracious Speech.
On European monetary and economic union, I will say only that I wholeheartedly support the views expressed by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The time is not right for us seriously to consider the proposition. Indeed, if I may build on what they have said and sum up my position on the future of the European Community, it is this: in the new Europe that has emerged from the ashes of the second world war and now from the grim shadows of the cold war, new possibilities for peace and prosperity across Europe exist which have probably never before been seen on that continent.
A huge amount of political and industrial restructuring will have to take place as the east European states shake themselves down into the national structures that most suit their individual aspirations. Those national structures cannot be enforced, because to do so would be self-defeating to the idea of a free Europe and to their struggles to break away from the Moscow-dominated communist monolith. By the same token, the treaty arrangements that these countries may individually wish to make with other states must be matters for them.
That seems implicit in the sentence in the Gracious Speech which states:My Government will further encourage the development of democratic institutions and market economies in central and eastern Europe.It would seem amazingly out of step for east European countries to be finding their national indentities after 40 years of being forced into artificial political groupings while the rest of Europe was seeking to impose federalism and political union on its member states at the same moment when they are starting down the road to a single European market—perhaps the acid test of how much one of us wants the Common Market to succeed.
A single market will not be easy to achieve. If it can be made to work—and time will show whether it can become a reality—that may be the moment to return to subjects such as political and economic union and the benefits of a different defence structure. Until then, let us seek to trade together, the Community with EFTA—I welcome the agreement to create a European economic area combining the two in 1993. We should trade with eastern Europe and, from mutual self-interest, which is essential to trading, see what new political alliances emerge. After all, the European Community of the 12 may already have been overtaken by the events of the past 18 months.
As eastern Europe transforms its economies to a western pattern, Europe in terms of the Community need no longer stop at the Oder, because the Community, as we use that term, has now become the western European Community. It is no longer a counterbalance to the COMECON block of east European countries dominated 165 by Moscow. That has disappeared and so, to some extent, has the European Community's reason for existence with it. Yet the EC continues to think politically in treaty of Rome and divided Europe terms.
To that extent, the EC does not seem to have accepted the ramifications of the post-communist years and has not decided whether it wants to consolidate itself as a rich man's club at the western end of the continent of Europe, to which the east Europeans can apply for associate membership, or to widen its institutions, starting with freer trade. That is surprising, for the future of the east European nations is now the most important issue involving Europe's mutual peace and prosperity.
Several hon. Members have spoken about the dangers of instability in the newly emerging eastern democracies. Surely this is the moment when the strong west should be able to offer a hand of assistance to those countries, rather than holding them at arm's length while it completes its own internal workings. The creation of a pan-European Community deserves the most serious consideration by the Twelve. It deserves to take pride of place at Maastricht, ahead of arguments about creating federal institutions, transfers of sovereignty and the powers of the west European Parliament. Sooner or later, someone in western Europe must take the lead in this matter. Perhaps that will be our task when we take over the presidency of the Community next July.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am glad to be able to participate in this debate. Having read what the Queen's Speech says on matters of foreign policy, I must say that I found it a bit of a mish-mash. In the past year the most horrific events have taken place in the middle east, with the Gulf war, and the most amazing changes have taken place in Europe, with the upheavals in the Soviet Union. It is important also to put on the record the serious growth of racism and neo-Nazi activity throughout much of western Europe and what was formerly termed eastern Europe. I was disappointed that in his opening speech the Foreign Secretary did not even mention the horrific growth in racial attacks and neo-Nazi bands that are now rampaging around the eastern part of what is now the unified Germany.
I was also disappointed that no mention was made in the Queen's Speech of one of the major consequences of the Gulf war—the plight of the Kurdish people throughout the region. Kurdish people are hanging on in the northern part of Iraq, desperately in need of support and aid that must come to them before a harsh winter sets in. The situation is desperate. Many have been homeless, not just for the past six months but for several years and they have been pushed from pillar to post within that area. Across the border, the Turkish army is continuing vigorous armed raids against Kurdish placements throughout south-eastern Turkey and is crossing the border and bombing Kurdish villages in Iraq. As there is supposed to be a degree of coalition forces air control in that region, the British and American forces must know about the aerial bombardments. They have access to the villages that have been bombed and can see that civilian targets have been hit by Turkish air force planes that are bombing northern Iraq. Their plight has vanished from the 166 headlines, other stories have taken its place, but the killing continues and the loss of life continues. I hope that the Minister will say something about it this afternoon.
A great deal has changed in the world recently. As I said to the Foreign Secretary in an intervention, I was never one to support the idea of the cold war—the idea that there was an imminent threat of a Soviet invasion of western Europe. NATO, created in 1948, was the major bulwark of the cold war. The Warsaw pact was created in 1955. For some time my party held the perfectly logical view that NATO and the Warsaw pact should both be dissolved. Now the Warsaw pact has completely dissolved itself, so the experts in SHAPE headquarters at NATO are left looking for a role for NATO to perform. Increasingly, they use phrases such as "out-of-area activities". They maintain a significant degree of nuclear strength. This country is building three Trident submarines and there is increasing pressure to build a fourth.
Where is the external threat to Europe? How can nuclear weapons possibly be used except to destroy many lives—the lives of those on whom they are targeted and of those who fired the weapons in the first place? A report published last week on the consequences of the Chernobyl explosion—a minor explosion compared with that of a series of nuclear warheads—showed that there were several thousand deaths from cancer in the Soviet Union and in northern and western Europe as a result.
The idea that nuclear weapons deter anyone is laughable and horrific. We have the greatest chance ever to rid the world of nuclear weapons now, yet the consensus in this country is apparently that we need to maintain three Trident systems and possibly build a fourth at a total cost of more than £23 billion.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend is correct.
My next point develops a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) this morning. He said that last year the World bank derived a greater income from interest payments and debt repayments than it paid out in development aid and investment in the poorest countries. That is an horrific statistic. We live in a world that is not developing uniformly. Most of the world's population have no expectation of rising living standards. They cannot be sure that their children will be able to go to school or that they will receive medical treatment throughout their lives. They cannot even be certain that they will have jobs in the future. The lives of a large proportion of the world's population are nasty, brutish and short. Increasingly they live in giant slums centred on the world's major cities and their countries' limited social services and education and health systems are being ravaged by the market economy.
History will decry our time as a period of market soothsaying when it was believed that the market could provide everything and solve all problems. The lives of the people in Africa and Latin America prove that that is not so. The countries in which they live labour under a massive debt burden—£784 billion of it. Repayments by the sub-Saharan countries alone amount to 500 per cent. of their export earnings.
This debt is unpayable, as is the interest on it. We do not need to look far back to find the origins of the crisis—the oil crisis of the early 1970s and the proliferation of large loans at low interest rates to third world countries.
167 Between 1980 and 1985 interest payments by third world countries more than doubled from 9 to 20 per cent., at the same time as average prices for their commodities fell by an average of more than 25 per cent. The gap between the two has resulted in the debt burden, in the loss of national sovereignty and in the loss of so many of the nascent social services in those countries.
We must face the issue seriously and not in the way in which the Prime Minister faced the issue at Harare when he said that he would write off some of the debts in return for the acceptance of an economic model imposed by the International Monetary Fund, and say that there has to be a write-off of debt. The current round of talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade should not emphasise so much the free market in food, which will be very much to the detriment of the economies and the environments of third world countries. Instead, the talks should examine seriously the problem of underpayment for the major commodities that the third world countries produce, which would be a step forward. However, I fear that the GATT talks will go in the opposite direction. The GATT talks are motivated by a desire for a world free market which will give greater power to multinational corporations and less power to national Governments. It is a desire which will continue to impoverish many of the poorest parts of the world.
The situation has not arisen overnight. All the development aid that has gone to many third world countries comes back twofold and threefold through interest payments on the debt, underpayment for commodities and the over-profitability of multinational corporations. We live in a desperately and grossly unfair world. I hoped that in the Queen's Speech the Government would set out a programme that showed that we were prepared to play our part in removing the scourge of poverty, of short life and of environmental destruction which is the lot of so many people in the world. Instead, there is a narrow vision of a world dominated by market forces. We require a change in vision and in direction.
Future generations will not thank us for spending our energies and money on nuclear weapons, and on the unseemly attraction of enormous wealth to a tiny minority in north America and western Europe while the majority of the population of the world sees nothing but environmental destruction and the continuing decline in living standards. We live in short-sighted times. Future generations will condemn us for inaction in the face of what is obviously happening in the world at present.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)
It is inevitable that much of the debate has been on the European Community and on what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his opening speech. I do not intend to follow that, because we shall have an opportunity to do so on another occasion. I say simply that I support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) and of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) rather than other views that have been expressed today.
This is the last occasion on which we shall have the opportunity to debate foreign affairs and the Gracious Speech in this Parliament. I may share with others the sense of wonder that none of us could have believed in 168 1987 that the most significant international changes would take place. Those of us who have been here since 1987 have a sense of fortune in being involved in the tremendous and dramatic changes in the world scene, which are reflected in the Gracious Speech. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) mentioned the two largest—the changes in the former Soviet Union and in South Africa. However, none of us should forget the relief of misery and the ending of conflict which have come about through the changes in Ethiopia, in Angola and in Cambodia, and we should not forget the changes in Vietnam, in Mozambique and in the western Sahara. Apart from the big changes, the populations of many other countries have had tremendous relief.
The changes represent diplomatic outlay by and diplomatic ability in this country. Although we may recognise that, those involved are often not thanked. Successive Foreign Secretaries, the ambassadorial input, the input of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and especially the input of those who beaver away at the top of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in dim Victorian rooms have made a tremendous contribution to the unique catalytic role which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned.
We have invented new forms of assistance to match the overall situation. The know-how funds, for example, are widely appreciated in the newly emerging countries in eastern Europe. I mention especially the way in which we distributed aid in South Africa through the ambassadorial fund. We found a way in which we could help the black community directly and in the most positive way with considerable sums. We should repeat that in other countries and in other forms. I should like to see both that and the use of know-how funds extended. I recently saw a delegation from the new regime in Ethiopia, and it is obvious that that country needs know-how as much as anything. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will consider the extension of know-how to a much wider range of countries.
The authority of the United Nations is mentioned in the Queen's Speech and the Foreign Secretary spoke of what we are trying to do and of the involvement of the United Nations in Yugoslavia. The Queen's Speech also mentions the importance of making sure that Iraq complies with United Nations resolutions. It is equally important that the authority of the United Nations is upheld and supported wherever it is necessary. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office said today in an answer that we are giving £2 million or £3 million to assist with the repatriation of refugees in camps in Thailand. It is essential that the United Nations should be in there and that, having made this contribution, we should be in there supporting it, to make sure that the inhabitants of these camps, whether they are Khmer Rouge camps, Prince Sihanouk or Son Sann camps, are properly protected against being forced, against their will, across borders. I agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the same thing applies in the western Sahara. It is essential that the United Nations operation there is properly supported and that everything is done fairly.
If we want to support the United Nations in its role and in the reorganisations that we have suggested, it is essential that we vote the means for that as well as talking about it. Those of us who work with refugees recognise how stretched are the resources of the United Nations, 169 particularly those for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and those who have responsibility for coping with the enormous problems about which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has just spoken. We should be looking not just at what we give, but to ensuring that the United States and others pay their back dues. It is no good giving the United Nations a role and wanting it to carry out these measures on our behalf but not giving it the means to do so.
The same principle applies to the Foreign Office. We have seen significant changes world wide and that means that we should reappraise the amount of money that we devote to the diplomatic corps and to our aid budget. It is nonsense to close missions so that we can meet the new and welcome demand from the Baltic states and, for example, Phnom Penh. This applies also to the British Council, our arm of cultural diplomacy, which is facing unprecedented demands from the newly liberated countries which are looking out for English language teachers. I often say that if we thought as much about the English language and teaching it and all that that means as the French do about their language and the Alliance Francaise, we would back the British Council to the hilt. Wherever one goes in the world there is a constant demand for the teaching of the English language. I was interested to see that the first thing for which the Cambodians and Vietnamese asked—even before getting rid of mines in Cambodia—was English language training. I am delighted that the Government have responded to that and are providing English language training as part of our aid.
The same thing goes for the World Service of the BBC. It is all part of our input into the world. I welcome the opening of the World Service television broadcast, which will have a tremendous impact throughout eastern Asia and places such as Burma and the middle east. The impact of the visual world, which cannot be kept out by undemocratic and dogmatic regimes, will have a tremendous effect on many communities.
Furthermore, it applies to the aid and trade provision. As countries become more prosperous, they will want to improve their infrastructure, but the aid and trade provision is exhausted because not enough money has been allocated, so even schemes that are within the rules are not approved. In all those sectors, we need a reappraisal, because this is the defence of the future—our information, our ability to influence, our use of the English language.
Refugee asylum is also mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I am chairman of the Africa committee of the British Refugee Council, so I have worked closely with refugees for a long time. I understood what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said about economic migration and refugees under the 1951 convention. Whether we see the Hong Kong boat people as economic migrants or refugees, and irrespective of how we see the hapless millions in Africa who move across boundaries, we must understand that these people need protection and help, even in the short term.
It is no good closing our eyes to asylum and the pressures on our European borders—the borders of affluent countries—if we do nothing to resolve economic problems that cause people to become economic migrants. The two factors go hand in hand. Unless there is a transfer of resources of the dimension that is necessary in terms of trade agreements and aid, we are not beginning to tackle the problem of economic migration, which I forecast will 170 be the greatest problem that Europe and other parts of the world will face over the next 50 years. It will be a growing problem. There will be enormous pressure from the poorer peoples of the world as they seek to improve their situations by moving into more affluent countries.
With any changes to any rules about asylum or about dealing with short-term refugees, we must consider the essential element of the transfer of resources in a meaningful way. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the necessary vision. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he started the orginal debt initiatives. He has gone it alone at Harare and I am sure that we all support that in every possible way. I hope that he will put forward this essential consideration in his various roles.
One of the ways in which that can be done—again, this is mentioned in the Queen's Speech—is by our support for the conference that will take place in Buenos Aires in June 1992 on the environment and on aid. It might be the opportunity of a world summit, or an earth summit, at which we can involve the public in Britain and throughout Europe in understanding that we have a common environment throughout the world. We all share that. We have a common economic future in this world and we all share that, too. The summit may be an opportunity—I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is encouraging other Heads of State to attend it—that will enable us to put over to the British population the need to recognise that there is a balance, an interdependence and a need for the transfer of resources.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) holds the attention of the House when he speaks on foreign affairs, and rightly so. He has such expertise and a liberal attitude to such matters. His speech was both thoughtful and exceedingly interesting. I wish to underline his support for the United Nations in the new world order that everyone talks so much about these days, and especially his comments about the British Council, the work of the council, and the BBC World Service. All Governments have failed in many respects in not giving to the British Council and the BBC World Service the resources that they merit. People throughout the world seem to admire these institutions, and far more than we appear to do in Britain. That is strange. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will fall on sympathetic ears when the Minister of State replies.
I listen to the BBC World Service all the time. I like to think that I share a love of the World Service and an interest in it with Mr. Gorbachev, who gave it one of the best unsolicited testaments that anyone could when he said that while being held prisoner he heard about what was going on in the world by listening to the World Service. I do not think that anything could have a higher commendation.
I shall be brief because I realise that at least two other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I shall refer to two subjects, neither of which will meet with the accord of my very good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I shall not, however, let my hon. Friend hold me back during the few minutes that I shall use to unbridle myself.
I shall refer first to Yugoslavia. I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, 171 West Derby (Mr. Wareing) when he recounted all the difficulties that one experiences in that unhappy country, or what is left of it at the moment. I do not claim to have my hon. Friend's detailed knowledge, but I remember my attitude when the Council of Europe recently passed a resolution calling for an armed intervention force in Yugoslavia under the aegis of the United Nations. I supported it as someone who opposed armed intervention in Iraq. I have the feeling that if oil supplies were somehow caught up in the Yugoslavian position, an armed intervention force would already be in that country.
I was pleased to note that the Gracious Speech referred to the Queen attending the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. That is excellent.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
My understanding is that Her Majesty the Queen is visiting the Council of Europe because its headquarters are also the seat of the European Parliament. However, I regret that it does not appear that she is to address the Council of Europe, of which the hon. Gentleman and I are Assembly members.
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because that point was not made clear in the Gracious Speech. Perhaps someone should point it out to the Queen, who may think that she will be addressing the Assembly of the Council of Europe. I believe that she should address that Assembly. As the hon. Gentleman and I know, it is usual to ask questions of visiting heads of state, but I suspect that we would not be allowed to ask the Queen any questions. I should like to ask her a few questions, such as what she really feels about the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).
Perhaps the Prime Minister, in the few months left to him in that position, will think about visiting the Council of Europe Assembly so that we can determine whether the British Government actually envisage a role for the Council of Europe. I hope that the Government will provide time for a proper debate on Council of Europe affairs. I attend the Assembly as a Member of this House and I should like the opportunity to report back to the House, during a proper debate, on what I am doing in the Council of Europe.
I want to return to the question of an armed intervention force in Yugoslavia under the aegis of the United Nations Security Council. That seems to be an appropriate way to proceed. It is a European problem that must have a European solution. We cannot sit idly by and watch Yugoslavia tear itself to pieces, watch people being killed in vast numbers, and watch the wonderful archaeological and architectural gems being destroyed, while saying that there is nothing that we can do. We cannot even get the Government to say that they will fully support oil sanctions against Yugoslavia. The Minister of State said that the Greeks would not be too happy about imposing oil sanctions. That is not acceptable. It is no good doing one thing in Iraq and something completely different in Yugoslavia. We should intervene and it is something that the Western European Union could undertake. I understand the problems, but an armed intervention force would give everyone the opportunity to seek a political solution.
172 As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, the answer does not lie in a permanent military force in Yugoslavia, because that would not lead to a political resolution of the problem—as is the case in Northern Ireland. However, we now have an opportunity to show that Europe can address European problems and that we will intervene in a way that will give the people of Yugoslavia the opportunity to sit down together and find a peaceful solution to the problems.
My other point relates to developments in Europe, and especially the run-up to the Maastricht intergovernmental conference. When there was a change of leadership in the Conservative party, many European leaders—and, indeed, hon. Members—felt that that would lead to a dramatic change of attitude on Britain's position within the EEC. There have been some changes, but they have not been dramatic. It is clear once again, Britain is in a minority of one within the EEC, especially on monetary union. The opt-out clause is a fig leaf that the Prime Minister is clutching to his private parts to cover the serious disagreements in his party, and especially the objections from its right wing.—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman does not need a fig leaf to protect himself against my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, he needs a suit of armour.
§ Mr. Banks
That is probably why he needs to hold a general election, to get his clothes on the right way.
We know that ultimately there will be a single European currency and that 43ritain will go along with it. The right hon. Member for Finchley used to stand on the sidelines wringing her hands, carping and whingeing, but in the end she went along with things. Unfortunately, she was never able really to influence developments in the way that Britain should, by being right in the middle of events, and being seen as a joint, willing partner in Europe—not a country that is always ducking and diving and looking for ways of putting party and even narrow national interests before those of the wider European concept.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover knows, I changed my position on Europe. Yesterday, the Prime Minister had a go at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for having changed his position. The world has changed so dramatically, as speech after speech has emphasised. Who could have believed, when we debated the Queen's Speech two or three years ago, that such changes would occur? And so, too, must the positions adopted by political leaders and other politicians change.
I used to view the European Community as being an economic and political bloc confronting the East and COMECON, and that is why I did not believe that it was uniting Europe. It seemed to be dividing it. However, when I heard Mr. Gorbachev speaking at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in 1989, about a common European home, I could perceive an image of Europe that made me feel far more European than I had ever done before. I felt that there was nothing to fear from a united states of Europe with a single currency. We must look forward to such developments. They are historically inevitable.
As I have told the House before on numerous occasions, the days of the nation state are coming to an end. What does parliamentary sovereignty mean? We lost 173 ours a long time ago, but some people are still clinging to it, as they would to a piece of wreckage, in the hope that it will remain afloat. It is nonsense to think in those terms.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend is right to talk about nation states in some respects, but today we are seeing the dismantling of conglomerations. The Soviet Union now has 17 different nation states. My hon. Friend spoke earlier of his desire to see armed intervention in Yugoslavia on behalf of the Pope. I remind him that there are examples of states coming together—as they have done in the Common Market—but then having to co-exist so closely that they cannot stand the sight of one another and begin to fall apart. In another 10 or 12 years, history will show that it is more likely that nation states will look after themselves to a greater extent than hitherto. That is my view of what will happen in the Common Market, especially now that there are 5 million homeless people in the Community and on its borders. It is not the great economic miracle that we have heard about.
§ Mr. Banks
I have been accused of many things, but never of being a papal legate. I am not taking sides in respect of Croatia and Serbia. There probably is no future for a united Yugoslavia, and Marshal Tito's ability to hold that federation together was a marvellous testimony to his abilities. I always disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover with great reluctance, but I do not think that he is right on this occasion. In the case of the Soviet Union, we are witnessing the break-up of an empire, but in the EEC, mature countries are voluntarily coming together. It is not that a military force is telling them, "You will do this."
In the aftermath of an empire, there will inevitably be an upsurge of nationalism in Europe, but gravity will bring states back together as we move towards that common European home to which Mr. Gorbachev referred—a Europe that stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. On this occasion my hon. Friend's great vision has deserted him. What he sees is the reverse of what is actually happening. This is one of the few occasions on which I have disagreed with my hon. Friend either in the House or outside.
Lastly, I must mention the European social charter. There was an interesting article in The Independent yesterday, containing an interview with the European Social Affairs Commissioner, Mrs. Papandreou, who said that the British Governmentis against anything called social. They want to create an internal market for enterprises, but not take care of workers".That is true both in this country and in a wider European context. Mrs. Papandreou can see that clearly, as we can too. In the interview she also attacked the rather imaginative use of statistics by the Secretary of State for Employment, who uses statistics as an art form rather than a precise science. Mrs. Papandreou wanted to know where he obtained the peculiar figures, with an error factor of anything up to 100 per cent., that he uses to discuss the social charter, a limit on the number of hours worked, maternity leave for pregnant women, and so on. The Prime Minister went along for another photo opportunity the other day, to talk about opportunities for women as we approach the year 2000. Yet again he makes sure that something decent coming out of Europe will be opposed by the Government. That is a scandal which we shall continue to expose.
174 One of the things that the people of this country can look forward to in a wider Europe is a fairer social regime—that is the other side of the Single European Act. If the Government are not prepared to render it, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he is Prime Minister, will ensure that we get all the benefits of the European Community.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I welcome all the proposals in the Queen's Speech, as, no doubt, do the vast majority of my constituents. Before commenting on foreign affairs, I shall refer to two proposals affecting local government and higher education.
I have always believed that it was a great mistake to abolish the county boroughs in 1973. They were the finest units of local government in the world. I do not believe that schools, social services, roads, libraries, public protection and traffic management in my constituency have been better served by the remote control from county hall, given the conflicting priorities of a mainly rural county, without the benefit of the personal local knowledge and accountability that borough councillors can provide. We in Bournemouth welcome the review and the prospect of a return to a unitary authority.
As for higher education, Bournemouth, having only recently attained polytechnic status for its college, never dreamed that the opportunity for it to become a university would arise quite so soon.
However, I have two reservations. First, the dramatic increase that has already taken place in student numbers has not always been matched by a similar increase in the quality of teaching, in the number of tutors, or in equipment and facilities. As a result, students are having to wait too long to use computers and borrow books, and for space to work in libraries and access to their tutors. So the dream of higher education becomes a nightmare.
My second reservation concerns the implications of the proposals for research funding for the private sector of higher education. An illustration is provided by the pioneering research into the diagnosis and treatment of spinal pain undertaken by the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic in my constituency. Back pain is one of the most costly health care problems in the western industrial world today, and a recent report from the Medical Research Council has demostrated the superiority of chiropractic over national health service treatment. The potential savings are enormous. The demise of the Council for National Academic Awards and the denial of funding threatens private research and institutions of excellence such as that college.
The proposals to deal with asylum seekers relate to the broader issues that arise concerning what should be done in today's new world order to end the abuses of human and minority rights which cause such people to become refugees. There can be no doubt, as several Members have said, that one of the principal problems facing western Europe in the next decade will be the massive demand for a better life in the west before the new market economies of eastern Europe can deliver jobs and prosperity.
We must never allow our procedures to deny asylum to genuine refugees in fear for their lives; nor must we be as hostile or unsympathetic as I fear many of our consulates in eastern Europe are towards those seeking visas merely to enable them to visit this country as tourists or to explore 175 business opportunities with us. I accept, however, that we, like our European partners, need to clamp down further on the widespread racketeering that is taking place in the absence of a clearly worked out European convention on migration—perhaps with agreed quotas—and a convention on the rights of minorities.
To promote good and just government worldwide must be our aim and I therefore warmly welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the summer in which he proposed a clearer and closer linkage with aid and, in that regard, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on what he achieved at the G7 summit and at the Commonwealth conference. That reflects our insistence on economic and political reform in the former Soviet Union, to which we now offer advice under our know-how schemes, and I hope that similar advice will be made available to all such countries whose performance on democracy and human rights gives rise to concern.
The principal offenders are now to be found in the Islamic world, particularly among those who apply the law of the Sheria, which is so intolerant and disregarding of human rights as defined under the United Nations declaration. This morning, in Madrid, Mr. Shamir rightly condemned Syria for its record, but he offered no prospect of extending Israel's democratic principles to the Palestinians whom it now administers. That will be essential for lasting peace and security and for confidence-building in the region.
I believe that an answer lies in seeking to extend to the middle east the Helsinki process, which contributed so much to the end of communism in Europe. That is being proposed by a number of European states through the concept of a CSCM—a conference on security and co-operation in the Mediterranean—to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave some support in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last year. A CSCM would represent the next logical step following—it is to be hoped—a successful outcome of the Madrid conference on the middle east. I hope that that will form the basis for future British and European Community foreign policy to secure peace, democracy and human rights in a region that has suffered more conflict, and whose people have suffered more misery, than any other since the war.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has been typically generous in allowing me some time at the end of the debate. I am grateful to him and to other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken briefly, although it would perhaps have been easier had Front-Bench spokesmen similarly curtailed their remarks.
I welcome the constructive measures in the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Gracious Speech. I hope that the House will not consider me in any sense churlish if I utter two words of warning and make two points of textual criticism before conveying my principal message. The first word of warning is that in this, the final Session of the present Parliament and as the general election approaches, the Government should not 176 seek to buy popularity by increasing public expenditure. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make a most important statement on this matter on Wednesday. The public sector borrowing requirement is already far higher than it should be and I expect that, by the end of this financial year, it will be higher still than was anticipated in the Budget statement last spring. If productive investment in private industry is not to be crowded out by the need to fund Government borrowing, and if interest rates are to be facilitated on their downward path, it would be better if the Government kept public expenditure genuinely under firm control and not just under firm control over time.
I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not impose a guillotine on the council tax Bill. It will be the most important measure of this Parliament and will need the most careful consideration by the House.
In his inimitable way, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) spelt out some of the inherent pitfalls of the legislation, as proposed. I, like my right hon. Friend, urge the Government to allow a greater discount than 25 per cent. for people who live alone. That is only equitable and right. The regional banding system will also have to be widened or property owners in the south-east will be most unjustly penalised. Already they face higher costs in servicing the mortgages on their more expensive properties. They also face higher costs of living, through having to commute to work, and so on. It would be utterly wrong if they were to be disproportionately penalised by a uniform banding system for properties in England.
My points of textual criticism are relatively minor. The Gracious Speech refers tothe Soviet Union and its republics,—an unfortunate use of the possessive pronoun. It would have been better if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had tried to anticipate events. There is a movement towards a genuine breaking up of the Soviet Union—if that is still the right term—as we have known it and we should seek closer relations with the republics, which rightly desire their independence. To take but two, the Ukraine and Byelorussia have had quasi-independent status in the United Nations for a long time. We recognise the Baltic states. I am sure that before too long we ought to recognise other states and anticipate their independence.
Her Majesty's Government are also hoping fora peaceful settlement in Yugoslavia.I do not know whether Yugoslavia, as an entity, will emerge from the tragic conflict there. All I know is that, as was made perfectly clear by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) in his eloquent speech, Yugoslavia was plainly set for conflict this autumn, yet the Government, the European Community and the Western European Union were able to do little to stop it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the United States was looking to regional organisations to solve disputes such as that in Yugoslavia, that he hoped that we would play a more positive part in such organisations and that the United Kingdom hoped to strengthen the institutions to which we belong. If we had genuinely played a more constructive and positive role within the Western European Union and the European Community over a period of time, we should have now a much more authoritative voice within both.
177 The Government are correct to say that we support a common foreign and security policy and to make the distinction between security policy—the harmonisation of foreign affairs within the European Community—and defence per se. So long as defence remains the responsibility of sovereign Parliaments that vote funds on behalf of sovereign Governments in order to equip and maintain armed forces, so long will our collective security be one of voluntary co-operation between individual nation states. That is why the Western European Union is the right framework. That is why I wish Her Majesty's Government to play a more positive role within WEU.
The British-Italian proposals are essentially along the right lines. Again, however, we ought to anticipate events. When it comes to European security, the Soviets should be out of the Baltic states by the end of 1992. By then they should have withdrawn their armed forces from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. At the end of 1993 they should be out of Poland, and by the end of 1994 they should be out of the eastern part of the Federal Republic of Germany.
After those withdrawals, we will have a totally new situation in Europe. We will still need the Atlantic alliance and the United States nuclear guarantee. However, I do not believe that the American people will be so willing as they have been in the past to maintain troops on the continent of Europe.
When we seek to modernise the WEU, we must create an institution that will, in the long term, be the nucleus of an organisation with a genuine European identity which is responsible for our defence. The Government are on the right lines, but they should not seek to build too much on the past. They should anticipate future events more.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)
As always, this debate has been wide ranging. The nature of the Queen's Speech affords hon. Members the opportunity to exercise their ingenuity in a variety of ways. Perhaps the prize today will go to the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) who took us through Kashmir, into Wembley and back again by way of son of poll tax. That tax seems to be just as unacceptable to the right hon. Gentleman as the previous form of tax. However, I shall not dwell on such matters today because hon. Members have set down a large agenda on which there has been a fair amount of agreement.
Few would disagree with the remarks in the Queen's Speech about the changes in European strategy that have come about as a consequence of the changes in the Soviet Union, or whatever one should call the Soviet Union now. Perhaps the most accurate definition was given to me by a European diplomat who said that we should call it the UFFR—the union of fewer and fewer republics. Our strategies must change. Do we alter our policy in anticipation of change or do we run along desperately behind, as the Government have in their attempt to find a fig leaf of respectability for arguments that they are now addressing for the first time?
The recognition of the fact that short-range nuclear forces have no place in the new Europe is welcome, as is the recognition of the need to continue the process of reducing the size of the nuclear arsenal.
There is also a need to address the problem of what we do with the fewer troops whom we shall require in central Europe. A number of nations within central Europe, 178 however, are happy to have a continued multinational military presence. A number of the new democracies have expressed a willingness to join NATO. However, I do not believe that this is the time to consider such an application and, given the nature of developments, it is unnecessary. However, their desire to join NATO is an indication of their respect for the institution and for the expertise of those who work within it, be they civil servants or military personnel. They have brought that expertise to bear when dealing with the problems of security arrangements in central Europe.
I wish that we could applaud the way in which the force reductions have been handled in the United Kingdom. However, the Government have got themselves into a mess about the regimental system. When the White Paper was published we debated its proposals, but since then a variety of spins have been placed on that debate. It is incumbent on the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to tell us who is responsible for the amalgamation of the regiments and about what decisions have been taken.
As a Member of the House I have a close interest in this matter, but I am also conscious that the electors of Kincardine and Deeside are becoming increasingly confused by the statements from such people as the Secretary of State for Defence. Unfortunately, that right hon. Gentleman is unable to be with us today, for reasons that I perfectly understand. I should also offer my apologies to the Foreign Secretary. Because of weather problems in the United States I was two hours late arriving this morning and therefore missed his speech. However, I got the burden of his remarks from the debate that followed.
As regards the regimental system, it is more than appropriate that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is following me at the Dispatch Box. We should like to know who has responsibility for reorganisation of the regimental system. Has the reorganisation been completed? Will there be some sort of extensive on-going review? When the Secretary of State for Transport—like a Trotskyite speaking at a protest meeting—operates in a personal capacity, by writing to people who are not in his constituency to tell them that a review is taking place, has he an axe to grind? Or is the reorganisation the sole responsiblity of the Secretary of State for Scotland, since the four Scottish regiments are based in and derive their personnel from that area? It is his interpretation that a review is continuing and that the quick-drying concrete that we were led to believe had been poured by the Secretary of State for Defence on 3 July is of a more slow-drying character, and that a number of other matters have to be taken into consideration.
I am not saying this simply to make fun of the Government over the regimental structure. It is more important than that. We are talking about the livelihoods of a large number of people who have committed themselves to this country, to their regiment and to the British Army and who now find a confusing scenario unfolding before them. This subject is important not merely in the context of a by-election or of poking fun at a Minister or at the shambles that the Cabinet have got themselves into, although those are important. What is more important is the grave disquiet within the armed services: they do not know what is going on and were led to believe that matters had been resolved.
This may be the last opportunity for some weeks to discuss the matter. The flurry of Question Time is not 179 always the best time to resolve matters of this nature. I ask the Minister of State to try to clear up the confusion when he replies.
I do not speak out of mischief. It is clear that the Government have got themselves into a mess. However, more important than the mess that they are in is the potential mess that they will make of people's lives. Many men have given a large portion of their working lives to the armed forces and are now confronted with the prospect of the dole queue and homelessness as a result of the hamfisted approach of the Minister and his colleagues.
In some respects the changes afflicting the British Army are as nothing compared to those afflicting armies in what was the Soviet Union. We must tackle the serious issue of control and ownership of nuclear weapons in what was the Soviet Union. The changes that have taken place there and the confusion which is now commonplace brings the proliferation of nuclear weapons into a new light. When we talk about tidying up and completing negotiations and arrangements on conventional forces in Europe and on START—strategic arms reduction talks—we must recognise that many nuclear weapons are not in the same location as they were when the ink dried on the treaty. They are now located in what to all intents and purposes are independent countries. The military districts upon which the CFE agreement was established are now spread throughout a number of independent or near-independent countries.
How do we resolve the question of who owns the weapons and how the arsenals would be reduced? What has become increasingly clear is that the Soviet Union does not have the means whereby it can reduce its arsenal at the rate that its treaty obligations require. Countries such as the Ukraine have stated that they wish to have a non-nuclear Ukraine, but not on the basis of ceding influence and control over such weapons to Russia. They would look for the kind of assistance that countries with nuclear expertise, such as Britain, can give.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
That was the point that I was imperfectly seeking to make. We should get closer to republics such as the Ukraine, whose aspirations to independence we have rather belittled over the years. We should give them positive help to demilitarise themselves from their offensive capabilities as they desire, but not necessarily inhibit their right to self-defence with much less dangerous armaments.
§ Mr. O'Neill
There is little disagreement between the two sides of the House on this. In the early stages, the question must be handled more by diplomats than by the military because of the sensitivities in places such as Moscow, of those at the centre or of those like President Yeltsin who have been somewhat confused about who owns and has responsibility for these weapons.
In seeking to assist in the disarmament process and to take advantage of the opportunities, we could give a clear expression of support for the moratorium that President Gorbachev suggested. That could be the basis for a clear look at what would be required in a test ban treaty, if such an agreement is possible. Certainly it should be possible with the permanent five members of the Security Council. It is important to involve in the dialogue not only the United Kingdom, but the Chinese and the French. The 180 Chinese, for example, have in the past supported countries such as North Korea. If we are to grasp the nettle of proliferation, we must involve as many of the suppliers of the potential proliferators as possible.
If we are to deal with the proliferation in Iraq, it is a matter of the greatest urgency that we provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with far greater resources than we now do to carry out the intrusive work that it should have been carrying out during the past decade when Iraq was remorselessly becoming a nuclear weapon state.
The whole question of maritime disarmament should engage the Government. As the major contributor of maritime support to NATO, we should be considering reductions in naval power. There is a school of thought that we should leave everything to structural disarmament the—disarmers' version of the free market system. It is the belief that if we leave it, the Soviets do not have enough money to put their boats to sea or to train conscripts or the volunteers who man their ships.
The continued presence and concentration in the Kola peninsular of large numbers of ships and military personnel presents the last serious risk to stability in northern Europe. Our Norwegian allies are greatly exercised by that. We should support them as, probably alone among the European members of NATO, we share a common awareness of that danger because we have responsibilities to support Norway if the worst were to happen.
When we talk about the European dimension within NATO we must be careful to remember—this has been made clear in several speeches today—that we should not encourage the forces of isolationism within the United States. The US, our major ally within NATO, is going through a period when the cost of defence not of its own land but, as it sees it, of the world is becoming a burden on its budget which it is not prepared to finance on the same scale as in the past. It would be wrong of us, when it is seeking to reduce its budget, to convey the impression that because the world appears to be safer we no longer require its presence in Europe. Labour Members recognise that the American contribution to the alliance is of a singular character. It is important not only because of the physical and military presence but because it engages the United States and Europe. We should not, in the name of spurious Europeanism, seek to alienate the Americans.
It is unfortunate that the spectre of Maastricht should hang over this part of our discussions today, because it would be wrong to move to decisions or non-decisions too early. The report in today's edition ofThe Times about the establishment of a north Atlantic co-operative council may go some way toward addressing some of the points that are being raised by eastern Europeans who wish to be connected in some way to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However, it would be wrong of us to seek to convey the impression that the NACC, as it will probably become known, should be considered to be a strategic guarantee for those countries. Rather, we should strengthen the independent, democratically based and democratically controlled military in their own countries.
I welcome the moves that the Ministry of Defence has made to attract the serving forces from eastern European countries to our defence colleges. I was distressed to discover, however, that that has been done on the basis of allowing them to come provided that they have the money. Although the much-vaunted know-how fund is in the 181 hands of the Foreign Office, which is the arch-enemy, in bureaucratic terms, of the Ministry of Defence, perhaps something could be done to ensure that if Foreign Office money is the only source available for know-how it could be extended to encourage military connections between our defence colleges and the former Warsaw pact countries. The understandably high fees being charged are a distinct drawback to eastern European military establishments coming to this country. Eastern Europeans have given that as one of the reasons for the small number of people coming to our colleges. It is regrettable that that happens, but it could easily be corrected.
When we discuss security we tend wrongly to concentrate on military matters. Security is the building of understanding between countries so that the anxieties that have bred the prejudices, which have so distorted our continent in the past, can be allayed. We should pay as much attention to improving the health of the democratic institutions in those countries, supporting their free press and providing greater support to assist the political parties, as was provided for the Social Democrat and Christian Democrat parties in Germany. We often forget that the process of de-Nazification in Germany took place against a mature political system that was interrupted for only about 11 or 12 years between Hitler's rise to power and his defeat at the hands of the allies. Our task is now far bigger and the support that should be given to those institutions, not least to the free trade unions emerging in those countries, would be as much a form of assistance and support to eastern Europe as any military assistance, whether it is on the basis of nods and winks, or disarmament.
The Queen's Speech makes many of the right noises but does not go far enough. It does not deal with the problems which we consider to be the most pressing and important. We recognise that Maastricht will provide a catharsis and that the debate on it will contribute to the emerging dialogue, but we also recognise that yesterday's Gracious Speech was a poor substitute for the speech that would have been delivered two weeks from now had we had a general election on 7 November.
§ 2.9 pm
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)
As usual, this has been a varied and interesting debate. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will forgive me if I do not reply to all the points that have been made and if I concentrate more on those that dealt with foreign affairs and defence.
First, I should like to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) and by the hon. Members for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) about the importance of the United States contribution to European defence. It is an essential tenet of our whole philosophy that the European contribution to our defence should be through the Western European Union. That is precisely because the WEU supports NATO and we feel that it is very important indeed to keep the United States playing a role in European defence, both for its own benefit and for ours.
When we come to learn the lessons of the Gulf war it is important that we should understand the significance of the American contribution. In that high intensity conflict, the Americans contributed 400,000 professional service men. It might, of course, be possible for the Europeans to 182 raise that number in a similar conflict in Europe, but they would certainly not be professionals: they would be conscripts. Europe still depends mainly on conscript armies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester referred to technology that the Americans contributed to the Gulf war. It, too, was significant. Patriot missiles, Tomahawks. stealth aircraft, much of the electronic warfare and radar suppression, the laser-guided capability bombs—all these were contributed by the Americans. These are fabulously expensive types of equipment. Europe is not in a position or is not prepared to spend the sort of money that the Americans spend on their forces in the pursuit of high technology armaments.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made great play of the 40,000 job losses in defence industries since "Options For Change", but he seems to have forgotten that not long ago in the debate on the defence White Paper he voted for and probably put his name to an amendment calling for further cuts in defence expenditure. If the Opposition were in power, then, how many more jobs would be lost? It is hypocritical of the Labour party to criticise job losses in defence when the policy that it would pursue would result in even greater job losses.
Opposition Members talk endlessly about a diversification agency, but many of the industries in defence are alread diversified. British Aerospace has a large commercial aircraft division in which it can deploy high-tech operators and it will switch any of them that it can to that commercial side. It has also diversified into the Rover Group and it can use some of its skilled men in other areas. GEC, another large defence manufacturer, is already well diversified——
§ Mr. O'Neill
Why does not the Secretary of State for Scotland show the same antagonism towards defence diversification initiatives? On 14 October he announced a Scottish initiative to help companies that have to shed labour because of defence cuts.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Our development agencies in Wales and Scotland have always gone to the aid of industries in parts of the country where there have been job losses. I should also like to know what the sort of agency proposed by Labour would cost. How much will it cost to start creating these diversified jobs? It would be enormously expensive.
I was grateful for the presence of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in our debate. He is part of the substantial sector of the Labour party that still believes that we should get rid of all our nuclear weapons. I remind him that there are still substantial nuclear arsenals in the Soviet Union. What has come out of the debate is that nobody has a clear idea of what will happen to the Soviet Union. The intentions of the Soviet Union may have changed today, but we do not know what they will be tomorrow. We do not know what form it will take and we have no guarantee that its nuclear arsenals will somehow disappear. It is very important that we maintain our own nuclear deterrents in Europe when the world is extremely unpredictable.
I remind the House that United Nations teams looking for nuclear capability have operated in Iraq. I remind the House that Iraq is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. We had discovered little of its nuclear capability until the most recent investigation, when we discovered the 183 greater technical capability of Iraq in the nuclear area. There are enormous dangers in espousing a policy that says that we would get rid of our nuclear weapons, because we might be threatened by a country such as Libya or Iraq.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said that the cold war has come to an end. That is no thanks to Labour. We must remember that the Labour party advocated our not deploying Pershing and cruise missiles. It has also opposed the strategic defence initiative introduced by President Reagan. Those were two significant factors in bringing the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. It realised that the pace was getting too quick for it and that it would be forced to come to the negotiating table, which it had been reluctant to do before.
§ Mr. Kaufman
As the Minister appears to have moved on to dealing with other speeches after having referred to mine, will he respond with the utmost clarity to a question that I put to the Government about the Gordon Highlanders? Does the statement made in July by the Secretary of State for Defence stand? Is that the Government's intention, or is what the Secretary of State for Transport has been saying the Government's new position—namely that the matter is open for review? May we have a totally clear statement on the Government's position on the future of the Gordon Highlanders?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am grateful for that contribution, although I should point out that the matter was also raised by the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan, and I am coming to the subject quite soon.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby also produced a theory that eastern Europe does not want a free market economy. That makes one ask what it does want. I suppose that it is additional socialism for a few more years. Eastern Europe wants a free market economy, although people are unhappy about the process of getting there, and I have no doubt that it will be painful for them.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) raised the point that Soviet citizens believe that with freedom they will achieve prosperity. That is one of the great problems that they face. They believe that as they get political freedom, prosperity will follow automatically. One of the great problems of development in the Soviet Union has been that the economic reforms are coming on far more slowly than the political reforms. It would have been far better if the economic reforms could have gone in tandem with the political reforms. There will be a great problem as we try to get the basic changes which are needed in the Soviet economy before prosperity will come through.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber raised the question of Yugoslavia, as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who has recently been there. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) also referred to Yugoslavia and very much supported the idea of armed intervention sponsored by the United Nations. I remind him that there is no legal basis for that. There is no evidence that the United Nations could agree on armed intervention in an internal struggle. Many members of the United Nations were wary about an arms embargo that had already been agreed. What would military intervention achieve? Peace-keeping works when the peace keepers are invited in and when there is a clear 184 line to hold between the two sides. None of that is the case in Yugoslavia. Serbia opposes a foreign military presence. There is no clear dividing line. The communities are mixed, not just village by village, but street by street and even family by family.
The situation in Yugoslavia is tragic, but if we sent in our troops, we would simply be adding to that tragedy. Our soldiers would be dying alongside the Serbs and Croats. We are influenced by our experience in Northern Ireland. I do not have to remind the House that we went into Northern Ireland in 1969 with the objective of keeping Protestant extremists from killing members of the nationalist community. We had not been there very long when our soldiers began to be killed by people from that nationalist community. The year 1969 is now a long way away and no hon. Member can say that he can see the end of that conflict yet.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber also reminded us about the recognition of states in Yugoslavia. That statement was made by Mr. De Michelis, who advocated recognition of all the republics who wanted that by the end of December. He was setting out his own ideas, as he has every right to do, but he was speaking on behalf of the European Community and he was not propounding a policy that we have to follow. It is now increasingly clear that, at some stage, we shall probably recognise Croatia and Slovenia at least. The timing is not yet clear, but, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, recognition implies a protection that we cannot give and too early recognition would lead to an explosive situation in the rival states of Yugoslavia.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Will my hon. Friend clarify, beyond peradventure, that most important statement, which I take him to have made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government? He said that, at some unspecified time in the future, we could officially recognise Slovenia and Croatia. If that is so, would we extend that principle to Macedonia, for example, which has also opted democratically for independence? That is a most important matter.
§ Mr. Hamilton
We have to take this bit by bit, but the situation in Slovenia and Croatia is different from that in the other states in Yugoslavia. The time is not right for us to recognise them now, but it could well be that we are able to do so later on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) raised the question of the problems that we have met with "Options for Change", particularly as that affects the Army. He made a good point in saying that the regimental system, in which the Conservative party strongly believes—there is some ambivalence in the Labour party—makes the whole problem of restructuring the Army much more difficult. However, we would have more than enough infantry for the roles that we must fulfil—one is aware particularly of our commitment to Northern Ireland. There will be 41 infantry role battalions, which will include three Royal Marine commando battalions. That is adequate, especially given that we were anxious to ensure that we had the capability to deal with the Northern Ireland roulement.
My hon. Friend also spoke of the amalgamation of the Queen's regiment and the Hampshire regiment, and I am aware of the concern that there has been in the home counties and Hampshire about this amalgamation. The Army Board had to make a difficult and painful decision, 185 balancing factors relating to the individual regiments with the needs of the Army as a whole. This will be a genuine amalgamation and I am confident that the identity and important local links built up by both regiments will be carried forward into the new regiment. That amalgamation will be successfully achieved and the new regiment will become one of which most people in the south-east and London can be equally proud.
I know that there is concern in the House about the Scottish division. The division will be reduced by less than four out of five of the other infantry divisions in the Army. The result of our proposals and the deicisons that have been taken is that the percentage of infantry in Scotland will fall slightly. However, it goes up if one includes the amalgamations that are taking place in Scottish regiments and the armoured corps and artillery. Therefore, if we look at the percentage of the Army in Scotland we see that, overall, it goes up. In addition, and we are rather inclined to overlook this, there is a substantial Royal Air Force presence in Scotland, in Lossiemouth and Leuchars, and with the changes that are taking place and the displacement of our RAF assets, there will be an increase in the number of personnel at these bases. Therefore, overall, there will be a benefit there at a time when the Royal Air Force is reducing everywhere else across the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is the problem.
There is sizeable investment, for which we seem never to have any thanks from Scotland as it is represented on the Opposition Benches, in Coulport and Faslane. A massive amount has been invested in construction works. Until the start of the channel tunnel, it was the largest construction project in western Europe. I do not accept that Scotland is being unfairly treated.
As for the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, we must go back to what I said in the House when we debated the defence White Paper. I made it clear then that the amalgamations taking place in Scottish regiments would not take effect until phase 1 was completed in March 1993. It follows that the amalgamations that are taking place in the Scottish regiments will take place in the years 1993 and 1994. Although the decisions have been taken, military considerations could change during that time. Indeed, our commitments could be increased for some reason. As we see things at the moment, we feel that the decisions should stand and that the amalgamations will go ahead.
I am slightly interested that mention has been made of what is happening in the Kincardine and Deeside by-election. In fact, I should be extremely interested to know what happens when a Labour canvasser finds himself on the doorstep and tries to persuade the Scots in that constituency that they are being frightfully badly treated. That same Labour man, especially if he is a Labour Member, will have either supported or voted for further reductions in defence expenditure only a few days before finding himself on the doorstep. Presumably the impact of that decision is even more amalgamations for Scottish regiments, or abolitions. If the Labour party is to 186 be honest with the electorate in the constituency of Kincardine and Deeside, it should tell the people how much further the process will go.
§ Mr. Kaufman
As the Minister has now purported to respond to the question that I put in an earlier intervention, will he say clearly whether the decision on the Gordon Highlanders announced by the Secretary of State for Defence in July still stands? And does that mean that the indication by the Secretary of State for Transport that the decision could be subject to further review is inaccurate and repudiated?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I thought that I made that position quite clear. I said that that the decisions on the amalgamations of Scottish regiments have been taken, but clearly they are due to be implemented in the years 1993 and 1994. An awful lot can change between now and then. If at that stage we have taken on a larger number of extra commitments for one reason or another that the Army at its then size cannot meet, we shall clearly have to look again at the decisions that have been taken. I hope that I have made that clear to the right hon. Gentleman.
I wait for these debates and hope that the Labour party will come forward to clarify its policy on defence. In fact, we never have any clarification of what is going on. We can only turn to the policy documents that the party has issued. The document produced in 1989 was entitled "Meet the challenge, Make the change". At intervals, depending on how convenient it is to those in the Labour party, it is said that that document still stands and that it sets out the party's policy. Alternatively, it is said that the document has been superseded by a subsequent remark made by some Labour politician.
If the document still stands, the position is that a Labour Government would negotiate away our nuclear deterrent. I shall be interested to know how that is explained to the people of Scotland. Such negotiations would lead automatically to the closure of both Coulport and Faslane and would result in the most enormous number of job losses in the area. I think that the Scots would be quite interested to know that.
Meanwhile, the Liberals think that their party will win the by-election. They keep on producing opinion polls that suggest that their party is leading. We all know that trick. When Liberals stand on the doorstep I have no doubt that they express enormous sympathy about the future of the Gordon Highlanders. Indeed, we all share that sympathy. But how do Liberals explain that under a Liberal-influenced Government the Gordon Highlanders would survive, when they have said already that their party would cut defence expenditure by 50 per cent. up to the end of the decade? That is rather a difficult one for them. On the whole, the Scots probably realise that a 50 per cent. cut is pretty draconian in anyone's life. It would make any of the reductions put forward by the Government seem like chickenfeed.
There seems to be a tremendous amount of hypocrisy going around this place. There is a playing up of the difficult decisions that have had to be taken on the future of the Army. No one enjoys taking decisions that involve amalgamating regiments with great histories. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks raised the question of the regimental system. Provided that we believe in that system, as we do, when reductions have to be made the decision is much harder, and people find it much harder to 187 accept. That is something with which we have to live. There is a great deal of hypocrisy among Opposition Members on this matter. Whichever of the Opposition parties the people of this country voted for, there would be much greater, draconian cuts in defence expenditure.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Monday 4 November.