HC Deb 16 November 1995 vol 267 cc129-230

3.4 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The debate on the Loyal Address began yesterday with a contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), my predecessor as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I should like to use this opportunity to place on record what I believe to be the very great debt that this country owes to my right hon. Friend, whom I believe was one of our great Foreign Secretaries and an international statesman of the highest repute. Now, sadly, he suffers the fate of all retired Foreign Ministers and ambassadors: when he gets into the back of his car, he finds that it does not go anywhere.

The debate yesterday on the Gracious Speech concentrated—quite properly—on the domestic issues that deeply divide the nation and the political parties. Traditionally, while bipartisan policies are pursued in many areas, in foreign policy, there is less fundamental disagreement. Whether Governments come or go, the interests of the country do not change, and that is reflected in many aspects of our foreign policy. Towards the end of my remarks this afternoon, I shall draw attention to what I believe are differences in that matter in three important respects: the extent to which, on all the great and fundamental issues that have divided the country on foreign policy, the Labour party, since the days of Ernest Bevin, has been wrong—by its own admission—[Interruption.] I said since the death of Ernest Bevin. I pay very great tribute to Ernest Bevin, who was a realist, a patriot and never ceased to fight for the interests of the country. I am afraid that that is more than can be said for many of his successors.

I also wish to draw attention to the clear unwillingness of hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench to accept the need to fight for Britain's interests whenever that might mean that we stand alone, and I wish to draw attention to the growing divergences on certain fundamental aspects of European policy.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)


Mr. Rifkind

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later in my speech. Until then, he must wait in eager anticipation. In the meantime, I shall comment on a number of important issues on which I believe that there will be a substantial measure of agreement on both sides of the House.

I shall start with the situation in the middle east following the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. A week ago, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I, accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, represented this country at Mr. Rabin's funeral. There is a clear appreciation that he was a man of extraordinary ability and talent. I draw attention to particular aspects of his character that are of crucial significance to the future of the middle east. I believe that he was uniquely able to inspire trust, both from his own people in order that certain concessions be made and from the traditional enemies of his country, and that has enabled great progress to be made.

Mr. Rabin was also a man of great courage, not just physical courage—clearly he had that in abundant supply—but moral courage. Recognising, as he did, that the interests of peace meant that the traditional policies of his country towards the occupied territories had to be changed, he was prepared to make that change in his fundamental position, despite what he knew to be the intense unpopularity that it would evoke in many quarters of his country.

Following Mr.Rabin's death, the greatest interest has been in the consequences for the peace process. Having been in Israel and having visited the countries in the region, I have no doubt whatever that the peace process will continue. There is an overwhelming belief within Israel that his death should not be seen to have happened in vain. There is, however, no overstating the great sense of pain that exists within Israel as it comes to terms with the fact that fanaticism and extremism are not just qualities to be found in Arab countries, as many Israelis like to believe—it now has to be accepted as existing within Israel itself. The positive side of that coin is, of course, the growing common judgment, the common vision that the Israelis and Arab Governments in the region share of the need for the peace process to continue, and of its irreversibility.

If I had any doubts about that irreversibility, they were clearly answered in a number of ways during the course of last week, when I was able to fly non-stop from Damascus to Tel Aviv, a flight that would have been inconceivable a few years ago; when, after seeing Yasser Arafat in Gaza at lunchtime, later that day he drove to Tel Aviv to pay his condolences to Mrs. Leah Rabin; when we heard King Hussein, in an extraordinarily brave speech in Jerusalem, talk of Mr. Rabin not only as his friend but as his brother. Those are clear, symbolic but nevertheless highly relevant ways of demonstrating the fundamental change that is taking place.

As for Israel's relationship with Syria—one of the most difficult relationships of all—I believe that in Damascus as well as in Tel Aviv there is a willingness to get the negotiating process going again. It will be slow and difficult, but I believe that the will exists.

The key to that, and to the whole future of the middle east in regard to Israel's relationship with its neighbours, is the future of the Palestinians. Visiting Gaza for the first time, but comparing what I saw there with what I understand to have been the situation there a year ago, I could only be struck by the extraordinary economic progress—the tremendous development of the social and economic welfare of the Palestinians in Gaza, and the degree to which that will be extended elsewhere.

The United Kingdom is very proud and privileged to be playing a part in that process, having contributed some £83 million over the past few years to assist the Palestinians. I announced a further project during my visit to Gaza. We are providing some of the observers for the election procedure in January, when the first direct elections take place; we are also assisting with the training of the Palestinian police force, and helping in a number of other ways.

I think that there is a great potential in the middle east, and that, if the peace process is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, the countries concerned will be able to bring together the unique economic assets that both Israel and its Arab neighbours possess, and introduce unprecedented prosperity and economic and social development to the region. Moreover, at a time when we know that a grave threat of terrorism still exists in a number of countries in the region, it will enable all the moderate, responsible Governments to work more effectively together.

Only a couple of days ago, an extremist atrocity occurred in Saudi Arabia, causing the deaths of a number of Americans and injuries to many people. We convey our deep condolences to those affected by that terrorist incident. The existence of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and in Israel emphasises the extent to which moderate, responsible Governments must work closely together as part of the international community to remove this scourge once and for all.

Let me now deal with Nigeria and the recent Commonwealth conference. There, too, we have seen events that, although tragic, have given rise to important new developments. The United Kingdom Government have made no secret of their condemnation of what we believe to have been the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight Nigerians who were cruelly hanged by the Nigerian Government. It has been right and proper for the Commonwealth to respond in an unprecedented way. I believe that Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth, the action that we and others have taken in regard to the imposition of an arms embargo and the withdrawal of high commissioners, and the discussions that are taking place about whether further steps need to be taken at this time constitute a very appropriate response.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the best way in which to hit this brutal regime would be to freeze its bank accounts and foreign assets?

Mr. Rifkind

We need to examine all the options carefully. We certainly do not exclude any option at this stage, but we are primarily concerned to identify measures that would not harm the Nigerian people but would make the international condemnation of the Nigerian Government clear and unmistakable.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Does the Foreign Secretary think that this is the right moment for Shell to be launching its major new gas investment in Nigeria? If not, what is he doing about it?

Mr. Rifkind

In the first instance, that must be a matter for the company concerned. I understand that the company has said—it is for the company to explain its position—that the investment would not bring any revenues to the Nigerian Government until after the turn of the century. If that is true, we all hope that Nigeria will have a democratic Government long before then.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)


Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


Mr. Rifkind

I want to make some progress, but I shall give way, for the last time, to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson).

Ms Jackson

Expatriate Nigerians who are living in my constituency as refugees and seeking asylum because their lives are in danger of being extinguished in their own country have made strong representations to me. They believe that the Government should whole-heartedly support President Mandela's call for sanctions to be exercised against Nigeria. They say that the circumstances of the ordinary people of Nigeria can in no wise be any worse than they are now under this corrupt, brutal and illegal regime.

Mr. Rifkind

I have no doubt that that may be the view of the people whom the hon. Lady has spoken to in London. However, it is important to reflect carefully on the implications for people in Nigeria if general economic sanctions were proposed.

In an important way, the Commonwealth has turned a significant corner. Quite serious accusations used to be made that the Commonwealth had double standards, that it was prepared to attack human rights abusers in the old Rhodesia or South Africa, but that it turned a blind eye to comparable abuses in other parts of the world and especially in the third world. What is significant on this occasion is that the Commonwealth, with President Mandela of South Africa as one of the leading forces, has been prepared to take action against a country that is guilty of grave human rights abuses. The Commonwealth as a whole is stronger for that and it shows that the Harare declaration, which was passed a few years ago, has considerable force. The creation of a group consisting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in which the United Kingdom will play a part, is an important step in monitoring policy in this crucial area.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The Foreign Secretary is being extremely generous in giving way. He will appreciate that this issue has some immediacy and that it obviously concerns many hon. Members. In considering sanctions, will he take account of two factors? The first is that sanctions against Mr. Milosevic appear to have had some effect in making him change his mind. Secondly, will he bear it in mind that we continue to exercise sanctions in the name of the United Nations against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, no doubt because we believe that they are likely to be effective in persuading him to change his mind? In assessing the value of sanctions against Nigeria, are not both of those compelling examples?

Mr. Rifkind

We have been willing to see sanctions applied against Iraq and Serbian Montenegro essentially because of the international aggression for which the Governments of those two countries were deemed to be responsible. This is always a complex issue and, as I have said, the Government have not ruled out any course of action. Any action would have to be international and at this time there does not appear to be in the Security Council or elsewhere the kind of international consensus that that would be the right way to go. It is early days and I would not want to exclude action of that kind.

There have been some major and beneficial developments over the past few weeks in the former Yugoslavia. In particular, I draw attention to the agreement that was reached on eastern Slavonia, an area in which there was the potential for the beginnings of a new war in the Balkans. The agreement between Croatia and Serbia is of great significance and, as I know the House will be aware, it will allow the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia. That ought to resolve the difficulty.

There has also been progress at the talks in Ohio and agreement has already been reached on certain issues. However, big issues still divide the parties and it looks increasingly unlikely that there will be the kind of comprehensive breakthrough that we ideally wish to see within the next few days. I am not too depressed about that because if the parties are unable to reach a comprehensive agreement in the next few days, the most likely outcome is a temporary suspension of the negotiations rather than a breakdown. There is still a high probability that in the relatively near future there will be agreement. That will be of great significance.

The progress that has been made owes its origins to three quite important developments over the past few months. First, the United States—very much on the recommendation of the European countries—has put its full weight behind the diplomatic process. Until a few months ago, the United States had shown some reluctance to enter into the diplomatic efforts with all the authority at its disposal. Fortunately, that policy was not pursued during that time and that has been an important contributor to the progress that has been achieved.

Secondly, as the House will recall, the London conference that was called by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led to the creation of the rapid reaction force involving the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands. That gave considerable additional authority to the United Nations forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was an important factor in creating stability, especially with regard to Sarajevo. Finally, one must also refer—it is of major significance—to the success of the contact group and of the international community in divorcing President Milosevic from the Bosnian Serbs, leading to a split in the Serb position and, ultimately, to President Milosevic being given plenipotentiary powers on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs, which has enabled much agreement to be reached in areas that previously were resisting progress of any significant sort.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify for us the Government's position with regard to the war crimes tribunals? Will he assure us that the British Government are working to get even-handedness in that process, including the large number of people responsible for atrocities in Krajina and representatives and military commanders in the Bosnian Government forces who have also carried out atrocities, that our position is impartial, unlike that of some other Governments, that we recognise that there can be no imposed solution that takes one side in the conflict, and that we shall get that message through to the United States of America as quickly as possible?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Sadly, atrocities have taken place, for which people in each of the communities concerned have been responsible, and it is for the tribunal to judge where the evidence to bring such charges exists, but I agree with him that there must be no assumption that charges can be levied only against persons from one particular community. If the evidence is there, the consequences should follow.

If and when there is agreement in the talks going on in Ohio, the next step would be a conference that the British Government have said they would host in London, which will be concerned with the matters that are the responsibility of the international community: for example, the need to develop a reconstruction package to assist the rebuilding of former Yugoslavia; the need to reach final agreement on the shape, composition and role of the implementation force likely to be led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and that will replace the United Nations Protection Force in helping to monitor the settlement concerned; and the measures that will be needed to supervise elections and to help in the return of refugees and such matters.

Those will be important measures, but it is crucial that such a conference takes place fairly soon after the completion of the negotiations between the various Bosnian parties. We cannot tolerate any gap or vacuum that might emerge and that would give opportunities for the agreement to disintegrate. Therefore, we would hope to move quickly towards such a conference once the political breakthrough had been achieved.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I welcome and agree with everything that my right hon. and learned Friend has just said, including his initial remarks, but will he nevertheless place it on record yet again that the vast majority of the appalling incidents that have so disfigured that part of Europe have been the responsibility of the Bosnian Serbs, and that it was the united, tough and cohesive action against them that did more than anything else to bring about the present better state of affairs?

Mr. Rifkind

We certainly believe that, on all the evidence that is available, more responsibility must be borne by the Bosnian Serbs for the atrocities that have taken place. I would be reluctant to ascribe particular percentages or to seek to be more detailed than that because atrocities have taken place to the detriment of each of the communities concerned, but certainly the Bosnian Serb leadership must bear the heavy burden that it has seemed to have been both the initiator of this behaviour and responsible for most of the incidents that are known about.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind

No, I am sorry. I must make progress.

Recently, the United Nations celebrated its 50th anniversary. That was an historic occasion, and the UN has unfairly been subject to much criticism because it has not achieved everything to which its founders might have aspired. That is a wrong test. A more appropriate and relevant test is to compare what the UN has achieved with any previous attempts, the failure of the League of Nations, and the fact that, before the league, there was no attempt at international action to deal with matters of a comparable sort.

Over the past 50 years, great progress has been made and we have seen, especially since the end of the cold war, how the Security Council has been able to act with a single voice and that the UN's level of peacekeeping has been of a high and unprecedented order.

Mr. Flynn


Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to continue.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that, in its 50th year, the United Nations also faces an unprecedented crisis because of the weak and crumbling financial base on which all its operations depend. We have seen two developments: first there is a bloated bureaucracy—a bureaucracy that can be, and needs to be, reformed. It needs to be reduced so that the United Nations concentrates on that which is essential and does not see itself guilty of some of the extravagances that, sadly, can be identified now. It is also important that all members of the United Nations pay their debts and contributions because that is the single most important reason why there are large deficits now.

The United Kingdom, which I am happy to say is not among those who can be criticised in that respect, has been working with like-minded countries to bring forward ideas for reforms which would help to ensure that the United Nations is on a much sounder basis. I believe that the solution lies in both short-term and longer-term reform. For example, it is absurd that the United Nations has to pay interest on any money that it borrows when those who owe money are not charged interest. That is a situation which each one of us would be happy to enjoy in our personal life but, since it is not seen to be relevant to our personal circumstances, it is a little unreasonable to expect the UN to have to accept it.

We also have the foolishness of the present policy of cross-subsidising the regular budget with the peacekeeping budget. That means that when a crisis breaks suddenly, the UN may not be able to respond simply because of a lack of relevant funds. The United Kingdom, together with Sweden, has put forward proposals for a major, fundamental reform which would link more closely and in a more flexible way the contributions that each country could make to UN finances to its GNP. That would mean that, as a country became richer or poorer, its contributions could alter in a fair and acceptable way. We hope that the proposals will be accepted.

Mr. Flynn

Is it not a matter of national ignominy that, while we are celebrating unanimity among nations and seeking the coming together of international opinion, we stand virtually isolated in supporting the French nuclear tests? Not one of the other 51 Commonwealth nations supports our view. The Government's policy is not supported by 98 per cent. of British public opinion. The Foreign Secretary has argued that the Prime Minister is battling for Britain. On the French tests, his craven behaviour is not battling for Britain but surrendering to the far-right extremists on the Government Back Benches.

Mr. Rifkind

The Labour party spends most of its time trying to hide its past links with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and to convince the public that it is now a strong defender of our defence requirements and our nuclear deterrent. The hon. Gentleman has disclosed the true face of the Labour party.

The reality is that it is no coincidence that the United Kingdom, as a west European nuclear power, should perhaps have greater understanding of why the French have found it necessary to carry out certain final tests before they, too, become a signatory of a comprehensive test ban treaty. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do not understand that, it is because they remain as unreconstructed as ever with regard to those crucial matters.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Rifkind

I am happy to give way to an hon. Member who is not ashamed of his party, of its past or of its previous commitments.

Mr. Corbyn

I should declare that I have been a member of CND since the age of 15 and will continue to be so. I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary would give a serious response to my question. When the Prime Minister had lunch with President Chirac, they had a number of discussions about future nuclear co-operation. Strangely, there was no statement from the Prime Minister in the House on the following day or on the days after that about what agreement had been reached. I think that we need to know what the discussions were about and what future co-operation there is likely to be on nuclear matters. Is there some sharing of information from the French tests? Is that why there is this sort of sotto voce support for the French testing programme, or is it a desire on the part of the Government to do exactly what the French have done, the problem being that they have nowhere to undertake the tests?

Mr. Rifkind

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an unequivocal reply. There is no access to information from the French nuclear tests. We have not been offered such access and we do not wish to have such access. As far as we can tell, the information would not be relevant to our nuclear deterrent, so the hon. Gentleman can put his splendid conspiracy theory back into the box from which it came.

There is good co-operation between Britain and France on nuclear matters. A year or so ago, we set up, openly and publicly, a joint nuclear commission. It has done very good work in discussing attitudes towards nuclear weapons, their role and relevance in the post-cold war age and other matters. Those are important issues, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to refer to them in response to his question.

Much of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is of course concerned with matters of diplomacy, but I should like on this occasion to stress the crucial contribution that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its staff make to the commercial, industrial and export interests of the country. It is not often appreciated that fully one third—or more than one third—of our diplomatic staff overseas have responsibilities for assisting industry and exports, attracting investment and undertaking a series of duties that are highly relevant to the immediate economic needs of this country. I believe that they can share some of the credit for the fact that the United Kingdom has, for example, become a great haven for inward investment, most notably in the form of the recent announcement by Chunghwa, which will mean more than 3,000 jobs going to Lanarkshire.

We also need further improvements in our export market. In two of the most crucial areas—Asia and Latin America—important progress is being made. In south-east Asia alone, our exports have gone up 90 per cent. in the past three years. That is something of which we can be very proud.

I said that one of our major objectives for the future is the development of moves towards transatlantic free trade between Europe and north America. We have made that one of our top priorities for economic as well as political reasons—for economic reasons because, as a Government, we are committed to global liberalisation and moves towards global free trade, and we support strongly the work of the World Trade Organisation. We know that it cannot all be realised in the short term. Therefore, it is important to concentrate in the short and medium term on those aspects of the liberalisation of markets that could have important implications for our own economic future.

We have seen the great historic achievement of the single market in Europe and the development of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Government want to work with our western European allies and our allies in north America to bring together those trading groups, not as an end in itself but as a further step towards the global liberalisation that should be our objective.

It is sometimes suggested that the United Kingdom has to make a choice between its Atlantic identity and its European identity and that moves towards transatlantic institutions or activities are somehow a means of escaping from our European identity. I do not recognise that choice as appropriate or relevant. The reality is that these islands, because of their geography and history, have an Atlantic and a European identity. To require us to choose is rather like asking the United States to choose between its Atlantic and Pacific dimensions. Both are important and both should be advanced. That is not an escape from reality but a recognition of the real interests of Europe as a whole and of the United Kingdom in particular.

Because of our language, history and culture, the United Kingdom can provide a particular initiative in bringing together the countries of Europe and north America, and I believe that sufficient common interests would be advanced by doing so to justify our making that an important priority.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I would not wish to take away from any of the efforts made on the trade side, but I am concerned that my constituents feel that they are not served well by our embassies and high commissions in cases of child abduction. For example, I have a case in my constituency in which the people have been told that they must deal with the Scottish courts administration and the police of the other country involved. My constituents do not feel that, although they are British citizens and have a child who is a British citizen, they are being well served. It seems that our embassies are pushing more for trade and becoming less involved in looking after the British citizen.

Mr. Rifkind

I think that the hon. Gentleman is being unfair. Our consular representatives do all in their power, but he must appreciate that legal disputes involving families and children are ultimately matters that the courts alone can determine. It is unreasonable to expect embassies or consular officials to do other than be as helpful as they possibly can when dealing with such problems.

I have made it clear that revitalising the transatlantic partnership is not a substitute for Britain playing her proper part in Europe. Britain's future prosperity and security do not command such an artificial choice. Few hon. Members doubt that the future of the United Kingdom lies in the European Union. In an increasingly competitive world, European countries must co-operate if their voice in world affairs is to be heard and their companies are to prosper and provide jobs. Beyond that basic premise lies the question of what sort of Europe we want—what sort of Europe is right for Britain. We shall be motivated by the interests of the United Kingdom. That is a matter not of blinkered self-interest but of the Government's inescapable obligation to their people, and it is a reflection of the principle that a voluntary association will not prosper unless it balances the interests of all its members.

We recognise the benefits that the European Union continues to bring to us, but we want to make it work better. That will be very relevant to next year's intergovernmental conference. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall support moves towards a Union which is fairer, more flexible and more relevant to ordinary people through more effective co-operation in areas such as foreign and security policy and the fight against crime.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the perception of Britain in Europe is of a Government no longer interested in participating fully? After that vile, xenophobic, chauvinistic, ranting speech from the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), the Secretary of State for Defence, which is well known and much commented on all over Europe, no British Government containing him in their ranks can be taken seriously on any European question.

Mr. Rifkind

Although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels better for having got that off his chest, it bears very little relevance to the issues before us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes it does."] No it does not. The issue at stake is whether a Conservative Government or a Labour Government would fight to protect British interests, and be prepared if necessary to be unpopular and to be isolated, if the protection of British interests required that. That is the crucial question that needs to be addressed.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Rifkind

I must make progress.

What we cannot and will not accept are proposals for a more centralised Union. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall oppose further extension of qualified majority voting. Unanimity has been retained in the treaty for a number of highly sensitive issues, such as treaty change, foreign policy, and new community resources, for which it would be quite inappropriate to take decisions by majority vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), the Minister of State, has put British views very firmly and clearly during meetings of the reflection group in which he takes part. I believe that that is making an important contribution to a wider understanding of what is appropriate for the intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in Europe, there is a feeling that, perhaps for Europeans across the board, there would be some advantage in having a Labour Government? Is it not a fact that they see the Labour party carrying the white flag on British interest in Europe?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is undoubtedly a school of thought that some parts of Europe would like to wait until the next general election. Of course they would have to wait a lot longer than that if they were looking for a Labour Government who would roll over at the first appropriate moment.

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I must make progress. Many hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be called at the appropriate time.

I should like to comment specifically on the proposals for the Western European Union. Of course we wish to see and have, indeed, taken the lead in promoting, specific proposals for closer co-operation between the WEU and the European Union on defence matters. However, we shall not support the subordination or integration of one treaty-based organisation with another treaty-based organisation which has different membership.

It is quite absurd to contemplate that the European Council, which includes four neutral countries—Sweden, Ireland, Finland and Austria—should take part in decisions involving the use of armed forces in respect of the WEU, of which they are not treaty members and when countries such as Norway and Turkey, which are associate members of the WEU, have no voice in the European Council. I appeal to our European colleagues who have aspirations for an integrated relationship with the European Council to realise that, while that might in theory be possible if the membership of the two organisations were identical, it does not make sense as long as we have neutral countries that do not participate in collective responsibility.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I have sought clarification from Ministers on this matter before, but have not received answers. Are there circumstances in which a member state of the European Union could suffer external aggression and it not be deemed to be aggression against the whole Union? Does it not go to the heart of the treaty that, if one state were invaded, it would be considered an attack on the whole Union, particularly given that we now have citizenship of the whole European Union?

Mr. Rifkind

The European Union is not a defence and security organisation. It cannot defend the citizens of its member states. For that, we must look to both NATO and the WEU, especially NATO. That is the political reality and we would be foolish to ignore it.

Having considered a number of important issues, I shall now identify what I believe to be growing differences in a number of important respects between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the foreign policy needs of our country. The Opposition would have us believe that a Labour Government would give Britain new influence and leadership in the world. Well, the truth of the matter is that, since Bevin—I pay tribute to Ernest Bevin again—Labour has been wrong on all the major foreign policy issues. It was unilateralist and hostile to reinforcing NATO when we faced the nuclear might of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. Crude anti-Americanism was the order of the day. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Defence Secretary were unashamed members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament under the leadership of Michael Foot. They were hostile to the proposed deployment of cruise and Pershing and, had their advice been accepted, the Soviet Union would have taken years longer to collapse.

Now that the cold war is over and Russia is a friend, Labour asks us to believe that it has become a sincere convert to Trident and Britain's position on nuclear weapons. It is a most extraordinary conversion, to be opposed to nuclear weapons during the cold war and in favour of them once it is behind us. It is symbolic of the cynical opportunism of the Labour party that it was against nuclear weapons at the height of the cold war and in favour of them once Conservative Governments in Britain and the United States had been successful in bringing the cold war to an end. I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) explain that extraordinary conversion. Perhaps he will have the humility to confess that he, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence Secretary were fundamentally wrong to argue for many years in favour of a policy which they now profess to disown and which they say is of disservice to the interests of this country.

Mr. Radice

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Rifkind

No, not at the moment.

The so-called "conversion" is, however, populist and skin deep. It is populist because the Labour party leaders realise that the British electorate will never vote for a unilateralist Labour party. That is the true reason for the change. It is skin deep because they showed their true anti-nuclear colours, as we heard a few moments ago, by joining the pack denouncing France for its final series of nuclear tests.

I said that the Labour party has been wrong on all the major foreign policy issues. Nowhere has that been more true than on Europe. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Livingston were against our membership of the European Community. We recall how the Leader of the Opposition said, in 1983, that they would negotiate withdrawal from the EEC, which had drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs. A year later, the hon. Member for Livingston said that many Labour voters, including himself, were still unconvinced that it was a good idea to join the Common Market in the first place. They are now the leaders of a party that has changed its policy on the European Community no fewer than six times in the past 30 years.

Mr. MacShane

Is that all?

Mr. Rifkind

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment that it has not happened more often, but if he waits a few more years, he will no doubt find that they will change their minds again and again.

Now the Labour party leaders have all the zeal of a convert. Having tried to force us out of the European Union, they have lurched to the opposite extreme and support the elimination of the veto in regional, social, environmental and industrial policy. In each of those sectors, they are willing to see policies imposed on this country even if they, as a future British Government, were opposed to them. The Opposition are prepared to see themselves outvoted in those sectors, and to see measures imposed that could be harmful, in their own future estimate, to British jobs and British prosperity.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the Europe that the Opposition want. Is it not true that the Europe we have cannot change because of three treaties that his party signed without an electoral mandate? In respect of economic and monetary union, to which his Government have given allegiance in possible principle and in economic practice for the next few years on the formula, why is convergence related only to Government accounting and not to the economies of all the countries in all their facets? Why is it so limited in effect?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not have enough time to give the answer that that question clearly deserves. The hon. Gentleman refers to the economic convergence criteria relating to economic and monetary union. The Prime Minister and the British Government have said that we will not prejudge that matter. The interests of the United Kingdom will be the basis on which we shall come to a decision. That is right and proper.

Mr. Radice

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I must give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Radice

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the comment of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir J. Critchley) that the Conservatives are now an unattractive blend of nationalists, populists and little Englanders?

Mr. Rifkind

No, I do not.

Even worse, in terms of the Labour party's position, is its promise to roll over and to accept any European Union measure in respect of which we have a permanent opt-out. I refer the hon. Member for Livingston to his speech at the Labour party conference. He sought to reassure his hearers there, and the British public, that the Labour party would protect British interests. What he did not reveal were the contents of a document published on the same day by the Labour party. In that document, the Labour party said explicitly, "we reject permanent opt-outs". That is a significant statement to which not enough attention has been paid.

First, if the other countries of the Union knew that a Labour Government would eventually accept that Britain must participate in a proposal of integration, however damaging to British interests, that would gravely undermine the negotiating position of any future Labour Foreign Secretary. Secondly, the Labour policy document confirms that the only doubt about Labour and monetary union—or the Schengen proposals, the abolition of frontier controls and other such matters—is not whether a Labour Government would succumb to such a proposition, but when. If permanent opt-outs are forbidden, that is the only conclusion one can draw.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When all the dust has settled on the question of the Common Market and the people out there have to make a decision based not on crystal ball gazing but on the facts, they will find that, in the 1970s, a Tory Government took us into the Common Market, and the Labour party opposed it; in the 1980s, it was Lady Thatcher who took us into the Single European Act with a guillotine that gagged Members of Parliament speaking against it; and in the 1990s, it was the present Government who signed the Maastricht treaty, and once again the Labour party opposed it. It was that lousy, rotten Government who got us more embedded into the Common Market and, whatever reservations there might be now, it was the Labour party that voted solidly against. Those are the facts.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman says that his party voted solidly against those proposals. He does not point out that the Labour party is very apologetic about that now, admits that it was wrong, and says that it wishes to take progress even further. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be seen as the great man of principle that he normally presents himself as, surely he should be directing his criticism to his own Front Benchers. He should not continue the shameful habit of adopting the uncharacteristic pose of a Trappist monk until the election is over, and then, no doubt, resuming his criticisms of his own colleagues. It is an uncharacteristic pose for the hon. Gentleman and does not conform well to his self-image of a man of principle. He should realise that.

The Leader of the Opposition recently wrote an article in the Evening Standard under the title: How we would win back our friends around the world". That symbolises Labour's attitude towards foreign policy. Its cardinal error in foreign policy is to confuse being liked with being successful—to believe that the purpose of foreign policy is to please other Governments. Sadly, it is not always possible to achieve both popularity and success, and a Conservative Government would give priority to the latter.

Britain should be grateful that the Leader of the Opposition was not in power for the past 16 years. We had to accept total isolation in the European Union in order to negotiate the rebate that my right hon. Friend Lady Thatcher obtained on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. We are told that a Labour Government would not have been prepared to accept the unpopularity and isolation that was necessary to bring that about.

The pathetic attempts of the Leader of the Opposition to convince the Confederation of British Industry that the social chapter would be safe in Labour hands beggar belief. The Leader of the Opposition went to the CBI and sought to reassure its members. Let me conclude my remarks by quoting the Leader of the Opposition's words. He said to the CBI: The social chapter is not detailed legislation. It is a set of principles. The real fear"—[interruption] wait a moment— is that by being part of it we may in future agree to the import of inefficient practices to Britain. A Labour government will not pursue such a course. Each piece of legislation will be judged on its merits. I have no intention whatever of agreeing to anything and everything that emerges from the European Union. Those are fine words—I am sure that they were meant to sound a reassuring note—but for one thing. The Leader of the Opposition does not know, or omitted to inform the CBI, that once one accepts the social chapter, one is bound by the fact that most of the social chapter proposals are subject to qualified majority vote. It does not matter whether a Labour Government believe that the proposals would be right or wrong; they would be overruled by a majority of other countries.

If Opposition Members say to me, "Yes, but some parts of the social chapter do require unanimity," I agree; but the Labour party has committed itself to eliminating the veto in exactly those parts, because it has said that the veto will be removed from all aspects of social policy, so there is a basic dishonesty in what the Leader of the Opposition said to the CBI a couple of days ago.

I invite the hon. Member for Livingston to explain that discrepancy. How can the Leader of the Opposition say to the CBI that a Labour Government can guarantee that policies harmful to Britain in respect of the social chapter would not be implemented, when he knows perfectly well that a Labour Government might be outvoted by other members of the European Union? That is a typical example of the Leader of the Opposition making comforting noises to every audience that he speaks to when the Labour party has entered into policy commitments that fly in the face of those assurances.

I shall conclude my speech by saying a few words to the hon. Member for Livingston. He has a personal record of having been wrong on the policies of nuclear defence, on the crude anti-Americanism that characterised the Labour party for so many years and on his hostility to our membership of the European Union. I hope that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box, he will at least begin by acknowledging that he speaks from one of the weakest positions that a shadow Foreign Secretary could hope to occupy.

The hon. Gentleman might show at least some remorse that, if the policies that he and his hon. Friends proposed had been carried out during the past 15 years, the destiny, security and well-being of the country would have been very poor indeed. The hon. Gentleman owes that to the House and to the whole country.

3.53 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

The Foreign Secretary is, by profession, an advocate. The conclusion to his speech demonstrated that pearl of advice to all practising advocates—"When you don't have a case, abuse the other side's advocate." I shall come back to some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said—I shall not call him the right hon. Gentleman in this context following his last remarks. I shall return to the hon. Member's references to me and my party and to the issues that divide us later, but I shall begin by recalling a more dignified Foreign Secretary, his predecessor, who yesterday made a characteristically graceful speech, in which he enjoined us to avoid empty noise and phoney warfare."—[Official Report, 15 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 9.] That part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech appears to have passed over the head of his successor.

In the spirit of this advice, however, let me begin with the issues that do not divide us and can unite us. In the light of the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, let me commence by expressing our support for the reference in the Gracious Speech to maintaining support for the middle east peace process. The whole House condemns the conspiracy that sought to achieve by the bullet political objectives that could not be achieved by the ballot. There is no doubt that those involved in the conspiracy may have calculated that such an event would give rise to chaos and confusion, and that in the ensuing political turmoil the peace process could be derailed. It is to the credit of the peoples of Israel and Palestine that they have responded to the outrage with dignity and restraint. The result may be to strengthen, not weaken, the peace process, because it has exposed those who are most opposed to peace as the end as the very people who are most prepared to use violence as the means.

The other peace process at a critical phase, also referred to in the Gracious Speech, turns on the negotiations in Dayton, Ohio on the former Yugoslavia. The whole House wants a successful conclusion to those talks. I have just spent a fortnight in Washington and New York. I regret the fact that the follow-up to the talks has already become a matter of partisan warfare between the Congress and Administration of the United States. I invite those in Congress who are already making statements about how they will behave after the conclusion of those talks to have some regard to how their words impact on the talks now.

I must tell the Foreign Secretary, despite his roundly abusing us, that the Government will have our full support for any measures that they feel appropriate for Britain to contribute to make the peace settlement work. We shall judge the outcome of the talks on the extent to which they provide for the restoration of multi-ethnic societies in the former Yugoslavia, and the restoration of pluralist political processes. Critical to that must be the preservation of Bosnia as a single state, rather than its partition into multiple ethnic statelets. Also critical are the right of refugees to return to their homes and the prosecution before the international tribunal of those who have been indicted for war crimes.

It is worrying that, this week, President Tudjman has chosen to promote an officer the day after he was indicted before the international war crimes tribunal. That raises the anxiety that those carrying out the negotiations do not yet understand that there can be no reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia unless there is no impunity for war criminals. The tragedy of the former Yugoslavia is that the nationalist leaders promised their peoples that they were going to take their countries into a post-communist Europe; yet the endless arguments in Dayton over every mile of border between the countries belong not to a post-communist Europe but to the pre-communist Europe of the turn of the century. If the leaders of these countries really want to take their people into modern Europe, they must recognise that modern Europe is based not on putting up new borders between nations but on bringing down barriers between communities.

Finally on the balance sheet of agreement, I assure the Foreign Secretary that we share fully the objectives set out in the Gracious Speech to ensure a smooth transition of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. There are fewer than 600 days until the point of transfer and in that time frame we will judge the record of this Administration and of Governor Patten, not on how much more can be achieved in the last few months before the sands run out, but on how we can ensure that the reforms that have been introduced in Hong Kong are entrenched to survive our departure as a colonial power. Of particular importance is a smooth transition for the Legislative Council and for the Bill of Rights. Although 1997 will see Britain give up its sovereignty over Hong Kong, it must not see Britain give up its interest in Hong Kong.

The Gracious Speech has managed to carry us further in agreement than I anticipated. Before I turn to the various areas of controversy in the Gracious Speech, I shall deal with a curious omission from that speech and from the speech of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. The omission is all the more curious as the Gracious Speech is supposed to set out the work of Parliament in the forthcoming year. I refer to an issue that I suspect will give rise to some of the most heated debates that we shall see in Parliament this Session.

Although it is not in the Gracious Speech, I very much hope that we can look forward to receiving the Scott report on arms to Iraq some time this Session. We have not received it in three parliamentary Sessions and I hope that a fourth Session will not pass without its release.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

There was no mention of it today.

Mr. Cook

As my hon. Friend says, the Foreign Secretary did not mention it today. Although the Gracious Speech omitted any reference to the Scott report, an even greater power in the land enlightened us about it at the weekend. On Sunday the First Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister—I think that I have all of his titles correct—told us that the Government have every right to reject the inquiry's findings. He said that the Government do not feel obliged to follow its recommendations.

That is a bit rich coming from a Deputy Prime Minister who, for the past three years, has followed me around every television studio in the land telling me to shut up and wait for the Scott report. His appeals to wait until we receive the report will look like so much self-serving humbug if the Government have no intention of abiding by the outcome of the inquiry.

Only last week, the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in the Ordtech appeal laid bare how the Government first turned a "blind eye"—in the words of one of their ambassadors—to the export of arms to Saddam Hussein and then attempted to cover it up by suppressing evidence that was needed to ensure a fair trial. I did not think it possible that even this Government could make the scandal worse, but the Deputy Prime Minister has managed to do just that by saying that the Government may refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. The Government chose Sir Richard Scott as their judge: we will expect them to abide by his verdict and the nation will expect any Ministers who are censured by him to leave public office.

As to the remainder of the Gracious Speech, it may be appropriate to examine Government foreign policy by departing from it to consider the Government's own choice of the highest-profile measure: the asylum Bill. Throughout the world there are currently 40 million refugees and displaced persons. If that gives rise to a burden of asylum applications that is too heavy for Britain to bear, foreign policy has a part to play in finding a solution by removing the pressures that cause an increase in the number of refugees around the world.

We could put human rights at the centre of foreign policy, and we could begin with Nigeria. Since the election of 1993 was annulled by the military junta, Nigeria has provided the largest number of asylum seekers to Britain. I put it to the Foreign Secretary that, given all that we now know about the brutality of the regime, it is very difficult to understand why in the past 12 months, out of the 2,032 applications for asylum from Nigerians, one has been granted and 2,031 have been rejected. I challenge the Foreign Secretary. Can he put his hand on his conscience and tell us that 99.95 per cent. of those applications were bogus? If the Government want to cut the applications for asylum, in their own self-interest, they ought to use every available lever to restore democracy and human rights in Nigeria.

I welcome the fact that the Government have now proposed a comprehensive embargo on arms sales. It is all the more welcome as in the past year they granted 30 licences for defence equipment and refused only one. On 15 June, the head of the Nigeria section of the Foreign Office told the World Development Movement that the Department had just granted an export licence to Nigeria for CS gas and rubber bullets. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether that was right and if it was, does he in retrospect really consider that to give those tools of repression to such a brutal military regime was just? Can he give an assurance that, under the new terms of the embargo, it cannot happen again and that such equipment will never again be supplied to the military regime until it returns to democracy?

If we are serious about bringing home our revulsion to that regime, we need more than the measures so far outlined by the Government. The best way to bring home our revulsion is for the Government to go to the United Nations and ask for oil sanctions against Nigeria—not to wait and see what others do, but to take a lead in the world on the issue.

I am familiar with the dilemma that applying economic pressure to a regime can bring pain to its people, but perhaps we should remember that the whole point of Ken Saro-Wiwa's campaign was that the peoples of Nigeria saw too little of the oil revenue—too much of it was swallowed by the regime in high military spending and large bank balances in Europe. The way to show we are serious is to prove that we are prepared to cut the flow of oil and therefore, cut the flow of cash to the Nigerian Government.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I fully support everything that my hon. Friend has said. He echoes the feelings of all Labour Members. Does he agree that the argument used by the Foreign Secretary earlier this afternoon—that we should take into consideration the effect of sanctions on the Nigerian people—is precisely the same argument that Tory Governments used repeatedly against sanctions against the apartheid regime? Our solidarity with the Nigerian people is our first objective and sanctions are absolutely necessary.

Mr. Cook

I find it hard to see how any other member of the Nigerian population will be hurt if we freeze the bank accounts of the Ministers and the Government. That would be a good practical first step.

Measures to impose once again on the Nigerian Government the importance of restoring democratic rights, an independent legal system and human rights would be a far better way of reducing the number of people seeking asylum in Britain than anything proposed in the Queen's Speech.

As I understand it, the Government's concern is that most asylum seekers are economic migrants. If the Government are to be believed, all but one of the applications from Nigeria were economic migrants. If that is the Government's worry, surely another priority of our foreign policy ought to be sustainable development.

I was pleased to read in the Queen's Speech that A substantial aid programme will be maintained, although I would have been more pleased had the Foreign Secretary found one sentence in his long speech to make reference to it. I would also have been pleased if instead of being promised a "substantial aid programme", we had been promised that the aid programme would be maintained at its present level. The Foreign Secretary will recognise that it would be a grotesque deceit of the House were we to vote for the Gracious Speech containing that line and the week after be asked to support a Budget which, it is rumoured, will cut overseas aid by 6 per cent. I agree with the Foreign Secretary about reforms to the United Nations, but we cannot profess support for the United Nations while turning our backs on the United Nations' targets for development.

I would not be so foolish as to appeal to the compassion of Conservative Members—

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

Well, let me try. I make that appeal.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have done much work in Africa and south America and that I am well aware of the third world. He will be aware, as I am, of the time that it takes for economic aid to filter through. As it will be many years, sadly, before the third world, the developing world, can catch up with the first world, would it be his policy to throw open our doors to economic migrants and all?

Mr. Cook

I was obviously mistaken in appealing to the hon. Gentleman's compassion.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the catching-up process will take years. Surely that is precisely why we should start that process now and not cut the budget on which third-world countries depend.

Mr. Fabricant

Answer my question.

Mr. Cook

I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman in his own terms.

Let us forget for the moment what the cut would mean for people's standard of living, for the survival of their young children, for women's development and for development overall. Forget what it would mean for the peoples of Africa. If the hon. Gentleman wants to stop economic migrants coming to the United Kingdom masquerading as asylum seekers, why not help them achieve sustainable growth in their own countries?

Mr. Fabricant

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

Not at this moment.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook

I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cohen

I agree that it would be deplorable if there were to be cuts in the overseas aid budget. Does he agree that instead there should be an increase in that budget, bearing in mind the extensive problems that have come to light involving land mines in various countries throughout the world? Assistance is needed to clear them. Surely that means that we should increase the overseas aid budget. In addition, the Government should take strong action to prevent the production, trade and use of land mines throughout the world.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the appalling environmental damage that is done by the 100 million land mines that are spread throughout the globe. It is a matter of acute regret that there was a failure to reach agreement on the issue at the recent United Nations conference.

I shall take up some of the Foreign Secretary's observations. I must compliment him on one thing—

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

No. I am dealing with bigger fish than the hon. Gentleman. I ask him to forgive me.

The Foreign Secretary expressed better than I could hope to do the difference in essence between the Government's foreign strategy and the Opposition's. As he said, in a way that I could not improve upon, the Government's aspiration is to stand alone while ours is to find partners. It is as well that the Government welcome isolation as a measure of their success. They have had plenty of experience of that over the past year. There was a spectacular example of splendid isolation on the highest-profile issue before the Commonwealth conference. Britain was a minority of one on French nuclear tests. The tests were condemned by the rest of the Commonwealth members. No doubt all of them are secret members of CND. The rest of the Commonwealth condemned the tests while we made a brave condemnation of the rest of the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister described all the other Commonwealth leaders as factually incorrect, intellectually inconsistent and unbalanced. That is successful diplomacy in the Government's terms. It proved that they could stand alone. In fact, it demonstrated how isolated they were.

Those of us who care about the Commonwealth's future cannot fail to be alarmed by a British Prime Minister behaving not as the leader of the Commonwealth but as the odd one out. It was as if a Tory Back-Bench Member was heckling below the Gangway while the other members of the conference were making decisions.

In his Chatham house speech the Foreign Secretary described the Commonwealth as a priceless asset. He was right to do so. It is a valuable source of access and it is of great interest to Britain. It provides us with a partner in every continent. It brings together a third of the membership of the United Nations. But that will be an asset only so long as Britain treats it with respect and behaves as a leader, not a heckler. I say "Britain", but, of course, Britain was not really represented at the Commonwealth conference. What was represented there was the Conservative Government. They do not speak for the people of Britain on the issue of French nuclear tests. The last opinion poll found that 3 per cent. of the people of Britain agreed with the French nuclear tests—even less than the support for the Tory party. The other 97 per cent. cannot all be in CND. This is a Government who speak only for themselves but who damage international relations for the whole of the country.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting to the House that the world would be a safer place and that Britain would have been better represented had the Labour party under Michael Foot won the 1983 general election, with him as a leading unilateral disarmer?

Mr. Cook

I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that both Britain and the world would be a better place if Labour had been in power since 1983 instead of that lot there.

There is another dimension to the Government's isolation on this issue; there is another dimension to the eccentric role that they have taken over French nuclear tests. Referring to the Pacific in his Chatham house speech, the Foreign Secretary said: We must pay far more attention to the region". That is right. The centre of gravity of the world economy and of world trade is shifting to the Pacific. By the first quarter of the next century, six out of the 10 largest economies will be in the Pacific, not around the Atlantic. Yet despite that insight, the Foreign Secretary is presiding over foreign policy on French tests at odds with every nation of the south Pacific. Australia and New Zealand are important players in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation. As that trade association grows in economic significance, Australia and New Zealand will grow in significance to us as allies. This is not the moment in history to tell their leaders that they lack knowledge, intellect and balance. Of course, I have to say, it is hardly surprising to the House that the Government find themselves isolated among the countries at the other end of the Pacific when they cannot even live with the countries on the other side of the channel.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)


Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman does not know how appropriate it is that he rises at this moment.

Mr. Portillo

The French President was advised by his experts and scientists that the French nuclear deterrent required to be tested. If the hon. Gentleman were in power and British scientists and experts advised him that the British nuclear deterrent required to be tested, would he be willing to test it or would he refuse to test it?

Mr. Cook

There is no contest here. I believe that the security of the world would be better served by a comprehensive test ban treaty than by each of the individual nuclear powers going around undermining it. The right hon. Gentleman sits in a Government who say that they are committed to a comprehensive test ban treaty. Will he tell us, if he were faced with that choice, what decision he would take? Is he telling us that they would rather carry out a test programme than go ahead with a comprehensive test ban treaty? If so, is that the view of his Foreign Secretary? That is something to which the House is entitled to have an answer. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has been asked a perfectly fair question: does he or does he not support a comprehensive test ban treaty, which is supposed to be the policy of his Cabinet? We know perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman regards it as something different from collective discipline within the Cabinet, but we, are entitled to know whether he believes in the commitment of his Government.

I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, since he has interrupted, that the Gracious Speech is likely to be rather less resonant on the continent than the exceedingly ungracious speech that he made to the party conference. It sounded depressing in its original English. It must have sounded frightful when translated into German. The Defence Secretary told his conference that he will not allow Brussels to control our defence policy". For 30 years, the key decisions on defence policy for Britain have been taken in Brussels, at the NATO headquarters. The vulgar "we stand alone" isolation of the Defence Secretary is in flat opposition to the real security interests of Britain—interests that for five decades have been served by collective defence based on the principle of international solidarity: that an attack on one is an attack on all. In the same way that our prosperity is best guaranteed by international trading agreements, the survival of our environment is best provided for by international agreements to rescue a world climate. The Defence Secretary's jingoism had had its day a hundred years ago; it is a positive menace in the modern world.

Yet, the week after that speech, the Defence Secretary described himself and the Foreign Secretary as being at one. On the day of the speech, the Prime Minister led the applause—the same Prime Minister whom I seem to remember, two years ago, casting some doubt on the parentage of the Defence Secretary.

In early July, when we last debated Europe, a war was going on the Tory party over Europe. Let me tell Conservative Members that it is a consistent part of our foreign policy to welcome peace wherever it breaks out. I acknowledge that there is currently a truce in the Tory party—a truce brought about by the surrender of the Prime Minister to the rebels. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) put it bluntly at the party conference, "We've won," or as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said rather more colourfully, We are the storm-troopers of the new orthodoxy. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have bought unity in their own party, but once again at the expense of Britain's isolation. The scale of that isolation is recorded in the minutes of the reflection group's preparation for next year's intergovernmental conference. The Minister of State—who has just left us—has demonstrated in the reflection group not only that he is not afraid to be isolated, but that isolation is a habit with him. According to the recorded positions taken in the reflection group,Britain is in a minority of one in regard to one in three decisions—not just in a minority, but in a minority of one.

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that the Prime Minister stood alone in Europe at Maastricht when he secured the opt-outs on the social chapter and European Union? That was before the so-called rebels had had any effect on the Conservative Benches. Surely it demonstrates—[Interruption.] Opposition Members laugh, but they would certainly sell out Britain's interests in Europe. That is something that the Prime Minister is not prepared to do; nor is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would do it, however.

Mr. Cook

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. After I have been speaking for 28 minutes, he has grasped my central point. The Prime Minister does indeed stand alone in Europe, alongside his Cabinet; but the issues on which they have chosen to stand alone are mystifying.

One of the issues on which the Minister of State has recorded his position as being in a minority of one is the question of whether the treaty should be amended to provide for a commitment to combating racism. Britain has a larger ethnic minority population than any other country in Europe. Surely it should be in Britain's interests to have a common European commitment, so that when the members of those ethnic minorities from Britain travel in Europe they are free from discrimination on the ground of race.

Similarly, the group is in a minority of one over the question of any extension of co-decision in the European Parliament. I recognise the source of that. I remember the slogan of the rebels: "No more powers to the Parliament". This, however, is an odd power against which to take a lonely stand. Co-decision-making does not facilitate European legislation; it gives the European Parliament another hurdle to put in the place of legislation—to test that legislation, but this time through a democratic process. Increased use of the co-decision procedure will give the European Parliament a useful veto over unnecessary or undesirable European laws. Surely the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) would agree that that is common sense. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not agree because the last sentence came from the leader of the Tory group in the European Parliament, and I agree with it.

The Foreign Secretary likes to accuse me, and presumably his leader of the Tory group, of having a federalist agenda. He persists with it however often I try to put him right, but I shall try once again. Labour does not support a federal European super-state. Labour is the party of devolution. We want to practise real subsidiarity and we want to hand power down to local people, not up to Brussels. Our vision is of independent member states coming together not to surrender national sovereignty, but to co-operate because they have common interests. We shall get a better deal for the people of Britain through co-operation than through competition.

Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Cook

I give way for the last time.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me for a second time. What experience does he have of negotiating outside his party? Does he not realise that one can negotiate only from strength? He will recall that he was prepared to roll over supinely in the 1980s on the deployment across Europe of the Soviet Union's SS20 missiles. Is not he rolling over supinely again when he says that he would give away our veto? What sort of sovereignty is that?

Mr. Cook

We are not giving away Britain's veto. The document from which the Foreign Secretary is fond of quoting specifically says that we will keep the veto on all major strategic issues. It arises naturally from the Foreign Secretary's speech that it was a Tory Government who took us in on the ground of qualified majority voting. Even more relevantly, it was this Tory Government who, by way of the single European market, introduced a massive extension of qualified majority voting. After that they can hardly accuse us of U-turns and pretend to be the people who support the veto.

On one issue the Government's criticisms of us are spot on, because we will indeed sign the social chapter. I concede to the Foreign Secretary that on that issue the Government are not absolutely isolated because the National Front in France agrees with their opposition to the social chapter. We shall sign up to it because we want the working people of Britain to have the same rights to information and consultation at work as working people on the continent, who often work for the same companies.

One of the familiar faces in our debates on foreign affairs which is sadly missing is that of Derek Enright. When we last debated Europe he observed that real sovereignty was about giving people power over their lives. That is why we are committed to the social chapter. May I offer the Foreign Secretary an invitation? I would welcome it if on every day from now until polling day he toured Britain telling the working people that Labour will sign the social chapter for the rights of working people and that the Government are determined to make sure that the working people of Britain get worse rights at work than those in any other country of the European Union. It would be even better if he coupled that advice to the electorate with the remarkable statement this week by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that job insecurity is all in the mind. That statement will help to convince millions who are fearful for their jobs that it is not they who are out of their minds but Ministers.

I opened my speech by seeking the common ground between us. I shall close by trying to find the redeeming feature in the Gracious Speech. Perhaps the kindest thing that one can say about the Gracious Speech is that it will be the last one introduced by the Government.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Sir Nicholas Bonsor)


Mr. Cook

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would enlighten us as to when we will have the opportunity of getting rid of him and his colleagues. The Gracious Speech is so slim on ideas, so thin on new initiatives and so irrelevant to the real problems of Britain that any further Gracious Speech from this Administration would set new standards for minimalist literature. The best feature of the debate is that when it is repeated we may be debating a Labour Queen's Speech. That speech will put Britain on the road towards a competitive economy, based not on exploitation of lower wages, but on investment in high skills, and towards a just society that will outlaw poverty pay, give the long-term unemployed the opportunity of work and put us on the path to an open democracy that gives back to local people the powers that these Ministers have taken to themselves and to the thousands of clones with whom they have peopled this country's quangos.

We will offer a foreign policy based on our recognition that, just as the individual needs a strong community to give opportunity to the talented and protection to the vulnerable, so too each nation needs a healthy international community to provide it with opportunity to trade and security against threat, and we will seek alliances and partnerships in that international community rather than condemn Britain to stand in isolation.

That is the Gracious Speech that the House may have after the next opening of Parliament. What stands in its way is a bankrupt, broken-backed Government who this week have comprehensively revealed that they have no useful project left to justify clinging to office for a further year, denying the wishes of an electorate who are weary with them and who, at some point in the coming year, will demand that they go.

4.31 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Before coming to the enjoyable parts, or some parts, of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon, including the latest version of the Labour party's foreign policy, which seemed to have changed a little even since yesterday, I should like to revert to a less agreeable set of comments made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday about the Gracious Speech. At one stage, he observed that one-nation Toryism was "dead" and that it was all "finished". I felt a bit uncomfortable there because I do not feel dead at all and I am chairman of the One-Nation Tories. He and his colleagues should understand a little more carefully and analyse in a more modern way what the one-nation spirit is about, as it is in the Tory party and perhaps abroad and in the Labour party as well.

The point that is not understood is that the common ground on which all politics is moving today, not just in this country but round the world, has shifted away from the assumptions of the old one-nation view and of the moderate, less socialist wing of the Labour party that the answer to the nation's unity and security—the "one nationness"—was to be found through high welfare spending, universal social provision, high taxation and a heavy role by the Government to underpin it. Country after country and party after party have found that such collectivism is inefficient and, in the end, does not work. Where it was applied in extreme forms in the former communist countries, it collapsed under its own weight, as it has everywhere else.

If the Leader of the Opposition is to join the One Nation—he is welcome to do so if he wants—he should understand that the unifying forces of the modern nation are new, different and do not equate with the simplicities of just spending more of other people's money and of hanging on to the inefficiencies of a welfare state that has failed to provide security and strong family life, which exist in many modern states that do not have anything like the social security provision and extensive administration and bureaucracy behind them that we, in the past 40 or 50 years, have built up for good reasons, but in an increasingly inefficient way. It is time, therefore, for some new thinking from the Leader of the Opposition when he talks about one nation, and I would be glad to give him a tutorial if he would like to make the application.

The other sector that depressed me yesterday, although I was a little more cheered up by the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Foreign Secretary, involved all the talk about Britain's interests. There was much talk about that yesterday and today and many good and clear analytical observations were made today by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, but yesterday, as opposed to today, every time the Leader of the Opposition talked about interests, he seemed to have just one sector in mind: our interests in Europe. There has been a lot of talk about that again today. It is Britain's destiny to be in the European Union.

I do not disagree for one second with the vast importance of the single market. The much-criticised Tory Government of the 1980s spent a great deal of time taking the lead—not being anti-European—in creating that single market. We worked in Brussels, in various committees and engaged in endless negotiations and the same occurred in the 1970s. As I have said, I am not against parts of the great single market. I want to see it enlarged and completed, which it is far from being now.

But I ask the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary to stop and analyse a little more carefully the real interests of this country. Of course, there is the security interest and we have debated that today. However, the interests of British people in terms of welfare and jobs are to be found in two elements that have not been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Foreign Secretary. First, there is the size of our gigantic owned capital assets—assets owned by this country around the world. One's interests are one's assets. That is common sense. Britain is a huge investor around the world. We are in the super league, second only to the United States.

Secondly, there is the amount of investment that others are prepared to make in Britain. Those are the primary interests. Trade follows not just from talking about things but from capital assets. Investment, direct and portfolio, goes in first and trade follows. If we want to see how interests are pursued, we should look at yesterday's Financial Times to see how the Japanese are redeveloping their interests by placing vast assets and direct investments around Asia and becoming involved successfully in the huge and booming markets of that area. We want to understand what our assets are and where they are.

I want to emphasise strongly that 80 per cent. of the vast ownership and assets of this nation are not in Europe. Half of them are in the United States and about a third are in countries of the Commonwealth and the emerging markets. The earnings that flow from them are colossal. In fact, our invisible earnings exceed our entire manufactured export earnings and are nearly as big as all our visible earnings put together. About four fifths of those earnings flow from outside the European Union and a little more than a third come from the countries that are currently members of the Commonwealth.

So is not it a little extraordinary that when we talk about interests, the suggestion is that it is all about getting our position straight with the rest of Europe? Of course that is important because Europe is moving rapidly. On a whole range of issues with which I shall deal later, what was isolation yesterday is not isolation today. I should have liked to hear more yesterday from the Leader of the Opposition about this country's real assets and how they are to be furthered. I was pleased that the shadow Foreign Secretary seemed to have moved a few notches back in that direction. He had a great deal to say about the Commonwealth generally and he even said a little about the Commonwealth as a useful network for the prosperity and interests of this country.

The Commonwealth has been hijacked by the headlines in recent weeks with the discussions about the French nuclear tests, about which the Leader of the Opposition had a great deal to say, and, more recently, the discussion about the horrific killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in Nigeria. Despite that, the Commonwealth is an important part of furthering the future interests of this country. It is time that policymakers in all parties, certainly in Whitehall, spent a little more time understanding the interests of this country outside Europe as well as within it and how those interests can be furthered and strengthened by using the Commonwealth network as a resource.

The Commonwealth is not just a gathering of people with high-sounding rhetoric, which was exemplified at the Heads of Government meeting, but is a criss-cross network of a common working language—English—of business, trade, investment, culture and a variety of connections. It is trans-regional and is not another trade bloc. As other hon. Members have said, it contains a series of the world's fastest-growing markets and economies.

It is not the old Commonwealth of the begging bowl or even the Britain bashers. I concede that there was some Britain bashing over the French tests, but they were wrong and we were right. Nowadays, it is a Commonwealth that contains some of the most dynamic and fast-growing movements of internationally mobile capital, not only from Britain outwards or back to Britain but between, for example, Malaysia and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia, Australia and India and Australia and Africa. They are all areas where huge amounts of business are growing, where lively British businesses are getting involved and where we have vast interests to protect and encourage. Those interests are also worth a word or two when the shadow Foreign Secretary talks about the interests of this country.

It is not all that easy to get figures from politicians, and certainly not from Whitehall, about what our interests really are. In passing, it might amuse colleagues to know that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee tried to examine the possibilities of the new Commonwealth as a resource, it sought to obtain specific briefing from officialdom, but we were told that officials were unable to obtain any Commonwealth-specific briefing in advance from the Foreign Office and that it would be provided by the post in each country.

It is time for all who take seriously this country's interests—I include the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and hon. Friends and high officials in Whitehall—to examine a little more carefully what is happening in the world of internationally mobile capital where our assets now are and from where our vast earnings now come, which enable us to deal with domestic spending or tax cuts or anything else. We shall no doubt be talking about that next week in the Budget debate.

The second point which I regret did not feature in the shadow Foreign Secretary's speech is why and how it all works. Much of the gigantic international capital movement, which is of such great interest to everyone in this country, is driven by the financial machine in the City of London. I must declare that I have a general interest in that sphere.

To listen to Opposition spokesmen, one would have thought—I suspect that we shall hear more of the same in the Budget debate next week—that the City of London's financial machine was on the whole an outfit to be constrained, criticised and regarded with suspicion, rather than one of the building bricks of this country's prosperity and earnings. The fact is that 23 per cent. of our national income comes from invisible earnings and from financial services-related earnings, and 48 per cent. of all our earnings comes from invisibles which, as I said, are well above our earnings from manufactured exports.

The truth that we never hear from Opposition politicians, although I hope that they will learn a little more about it, is that the much-criticised financial machine in the City of London has the largest market share of financial services across the globe, including Asia and the Commonwealth countries, including Africa. It has from 27 per cent. up to 81 per cent. of the market share of the various financial services. It ranges from selling Eurobonds, arranging mergers and acquisitions and managing the funds of the great savings nations of Asia. They are the ones that will call the tune. We manage their funds in London.

The City of London has 500 banks and it is the heart of Europe. It is the heart of the new global financial system. Some people claim that we are being marginalised and isolated, but the Leader of the Opposition does not have a clue about what has happened in the real financial world that drives our exports and imports. He does not seem to be aware that, far from being isolated, London is the very heart of the system. German banks are running to get office space in London, not in Frankfurt. Banks from every corner of the globe are doing the same because London is the heart of the system.

We have acquired, almost in a fit of absent-mindedness, a new empire of financial power and financial services that gives us a colossal global reach. While we are at the heart of Europe, we want to balance our position against our other interests round the world.

I do not deny for a moment that the European Union is important to us. We have to decide how we should handle it. The Opposition spokesman's witty speech about the dangers of isolation is all good fun, but it does not connect with where we stand and what our interests are. The problem with the European Union today is not that we shall be isolated in it, but that it will endanger the things which I have described and which are bringing to this country £108 billion a year in invisible earnings, enabling our exports to rush into some of the new and most exciting markets in the world, and linking us to India, Australasia, south-east Asia, the Pacific rim countries and even new countries that are not yet on the financial map. In this regard, Israel will emerge as a middle eastern tiger. They are the new areas where we shall make our money and help our people.

The danger is that we shall let the European Union, through over-ambition and too much unnecessary centralisation, dictate everything and undermine all that we have gained and are gaining in the new global environment. We should not let the European Union centralise our detailed social policy. The Opposition spokesman should realise that that is not a matter of sovereignty, at least not in my book, or chauvinism; it is a belief that social policy should be sensitive and focused as near the shop floor as possible.

I urge on my colleagues one important message about the forthcoming intergovernmental conference. I hope that we shall not accept the view that if we lie low and do nothing, everyone else will disagree and there will a minimalist result. That would be a mistake and a lost opportunity. I am not saying what the federalists are saying—that it is a pity that there is so little agreement and that there cannot be a great leap towards a federalist and closed European system. That is anathema to me, but let us not imagine that the alternative is merely to do nothing. Doing nothing is quite dangerous and could easily lead to various developments that would undermine the true strength of our position, as I have tried to describe it to the House.

We need to be a good deal more than minimal and to put forward our own agenda to do two things. First, we need to preserve the European Union for which I have spent much of my life fighting, in the House and outside, and prevent it being divided by over-ambitious federalism. Secondly, we must ensure that it does not weaken the new global system, which will allow a place for trade blocs but which must not be dominated by trade blocism to the exclusion of world free trade.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

If the Government's policy on Europe was not as positive as it is, surely this country would cease to attract some 40 per cent. of the inward investment in the European Union from the United States and Japan. Our economic climate, the fact that we speak English and the fact that we have such a good industrial relations record, which investors would not want to see reversed under Labour, are all good reasons why that investment has come here. In that context, it makes no difference whether we are in the exchange rate mechanism.

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend has put my case far more eloquently than I have. We have done extremely well. We attract 40 per cent. of the total investment in Europe, much of it from the new Asian countries, incidentally. We have a gigantic global reach, and we are certainly the biggest European exporter of capital to places such as China. We do not want that upset by further attempts to corral us in an over-centralised European system.

Unlike some hon. Members, I like the Europe that we have had in the past. The single market was a great achievement, but it is threatened by the imminent explosion of the European Union's budget. If there is to be enlargement, which we have said that we favour, although I notice that Brussels is cooling over the idea—for very good reasons, from its point of view—and if we keep the existing common agricultural policy or anything like it and remain committed to the structural, cohesion and social funds and all the other things that Labour loves, one can confidently predict that we shall at least double the cost of Europe. By doubling it, we shall undermine it. We shall literally sink the European venture under the weight of excessive budget demands. That is one other thing that I hope that we can stop in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference; we should not just stand by and hope that it will not happen.

I would like to see—it is meant to be outside the remit of the IGC, but will come into it—more realism about the single currency. I cannot understand why people do not realise what a Europe-splitting, Europe-destroying project it is. Every day that goes by brings new evidence that even if the introduction of a single currency is attempted, even if the scheme gets a core of countries to go all the way, and even if the poor French are dragged to the edge of this European project for reasons deep in their own psychology—with which I half sympathise, but do not agree—it will do the most frightful damage to European unity. Indeed, it has already.

Already the feelings in Italy and Spain are much more hostile to the elements in Germany—which seem to be a small minority—and in France that want to push ahead. Already the arguments are for new barriers to be put up against those who have the impudence not to be part of the core hard currency. Already the dangers are visible on every side. There is the prospect of Mr. Waigel's stability pact imposing even tougher conditions—fines for countries' failures to conform with the fiscal requirements of this uniformity; this standardisation.

Such things are immensely dangerous and anti-European. They are destroying the kind of Europe that I favour. I cannot understand why the Labour party does not unravel the situation a little and look more carefully at the elements, instead of being gung-ho for Europe on every front. Such a point of view is dangerous. I do not think that the Labour party will become the party of government because we Conservatives will get in again. But supposing it did, for heaven's sake will it please prepare itself and look at such issues a little more sensibly and less generally than the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday?

The leader of the Labour party is getting very casual with his facts. He said that there was no mention of jobs in the Queen's Speech—there is. He said to the Confederation of British Industry that the social chapter would not impose on the Labour Government any measures that they did not want. It is bound to do so, by definition. The right hon. Gentleman must watch his facts more carefully and those who advise him must be more precise about what the Labour party's commitment to Europe really means. We should be checking the powers of the Commission and putting forward proposals to facilitate doing so. We should be working very hard to create democratic procedures rooted in the ancient, democratic nation states that we have always had.

In stepping—if I may—right out of line with regard to my right hon. and hon. Friends, I think that after the next IGC, whatever the outcome, we should have a referendum and settle for another 25 years the matter of what sort of Europe we want to be part of. Let us fight for the sort of Europe that I and many of us want—a single market—and let us have a referendum and see whether everyone else wants it as well. I suspect—others may disagree—that a very large majority of people would want a sensible, confederate Europe, with a confederate agenda, enlargement and a powerful single market stretching from the Russian border to the Atlantic and from Calabria to the Orkneys. I think that there would be very strong, sensible support for that in our sensible British nation.

But these are the tactics. The heart of the matter is strategic. Economic and political powers in the world are shifting, as the hon. Member for Livingston recognised, from the Rhine and the Ruhr to the capitals and rivers of Asia. The strategic central consideration is that, as I said, 80 per cent. of Britain's global assets, and about the same percentage of the nation's colossal earnings from those assets, arise outside Europe.

The new reality is that Britain's total earnings from outside the EU—all our overseas earnings in this huge trading nation—are some 50 per cent. higher than those from within the Union. Although we should not be anti-European, we should not go overboard in uncritical commitment to something that represents only a minority of our interests.

It so happens—this is perhaps the most important consideration of all for the future—that Britain is ideally positioned in the great new markets of Asia because of our past, and because of the way in which we succeeded, despite being an empire and a colonial power, in remaining very close friends with and attracting the continued admiration of all the countries concerned. Quite unlike—dare I say—other empires and metropolitan powers, we remain befriended and admired by those people. We have colossal advantages that we can exploit, because we are extremely well equipped to meet the new kinds of demand for services and skills, and for categories of product and sales that do not yet seem to come into the thinking of Opposition Members. I hope that they do so soon.

The sooner that those basic realities about our interests of today and tomorrow are embedded in the minds of, yes, the Labour party and, yes—possibly—Whitehall as well, the more prosperous, competitive and influential for the good we shall be in the modern world.

4.54 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I shall speak on the issue of Nigeria, but before doing so I should like to raise the associated matter of asylum, which found its way into the Queen's Speech. To some extent, the Government's concern about asylum is a consequence of events in Nigeria, which have led many Nigerians to seek asylum in this country and which show that no country is immune from conditions in another country.

Political asylum should not be a party political issue. Indeed, it cannot be because we are all subject to an international convention on asylum, which applies equally irrespective of what party we belong to. We have been a party to the United Nations convention on refugees for almost 50 years. The only issue is how we deal fairly and effectively with applications: not allowing so much time for applicants to take advantage of the system, and not allowing so little time that justice is not done.

Asylum should be considered on its merits, not according to politics. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will accept the offer of the Leader of the Opposition to try to reach a sensible consensus. There can be no difference of opinion on our obligations under the international convention.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

I know that the hon. Gentleman is well versed in these matters—indeed, we had exchanges on the subject in a Committee that considered a related Bill. Surely one of the important aims is to deter bogus applications. Last year, 38,000 applications were submitted, of which only 1,700 were not bogus. How would he deter bogus applications?

Mr. Fraser

I do not like using the phrase "bogus applications". As a legal practitioner I have some experience of dealing with immigration and I know that bogus is not the right word to use. People are often under immense pressures—pressures of family, pressures of poverty and so on. I am not saying that many of the applications meet the terms of the international convention, but it is not the right approach to talk of deterring applications and of bogus applications. The right approach is to deal with applications relatively quickly, but not so quickly as to do an injustice. That is the answer.

If there is a lesson to be learned, we should look to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, as was the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva). The Act has not worked. If it is to be revisited, we should try to reach a consensus on how we honour our international obligations instead of making it a purely political matter.

I shall devote the rest of my speech to Nigeria. I commend the Prime Minister's outspoken comments and condemnation of events in Nigeria at the Commonwealth conference and the outspoken way in which the Foreign Secretary has talked in the House today. It is very pleasant when the Government speak for the nation instead of for their party. I like that and it happens from time to time. Indeed, we should speak as a nation on many issues and not try to politicise them all.

If rainbow South Africa is the triumph of Africa, Nigeria is one of its tragedies. It became independent in 1960 and now has a population of more than 100 million. It has been blessed and cursed by its ethnic diversity, but following the civil war in Biafra a few people believed that its destiny lay other than in a multi-tribal, multi-lingual, multi-religious state. Despite all its problems and setbacks, Nigeria has evolved into a state where people pride themselves on its size, potential and generally tolerant diversity.

Nigeria's unity in diversity has been illustrated by the reaction of so many Nigerians from different tribes and regions to the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots from Ogoniland.

Nigeria's assets are legion: oil, gas, fertile land, strong family, cultural and artistic traditions, a thirst for education and achievement. So what has gone wrong with the country?

The symptoms are many. There was the civil war of secession over Biafra; the repression of the Ogoni people in River state in the cause of oil and profit, culminating in the brutal and sickening executions that shocked the world last week; and long years of military dictatorship in the 35 years since independence. In the short periods in which there has been democracy in Nigeria, democracy has not come out of it well. It has been besmirched by corruption, nepotism and tribalism, and it has provided an excuse for the military to take over and indulge in similar practices. The result is that Nigeria now has a per capita income equal to that of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world; abuse of human rights is growing; Nigeria's elected and past President is in prison; and there is growing hardship and isolation. Thus, a country that should have been a leader of Africa has become the laggard of Africa.

Those problems are our concern, too, because Britain has strong links with Nigeria. Many Nigerians have been educated here, mainly in further education, and many thousands of Nigerians live here temporarily or permanently, especially in south London. I am happy to be the sponsor of an organisation called the Nigerian Organisation for Democracy with Integrity, and I was happy to join in the vigil of outrage and protest outside the Nigerian high commission this weekend.

To help Nigeria, we must set ourselves two objectives. In the long run, the first objective depends on the second. First, we must use every practical means to bring democracy and human rights back to Nigeria. Secondly, we must help Nigeria to rid itself of corruption, whereby public office equals private enrichment. It is for Britain, the United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union to help Nigeria in that way. We must help Nigeria to bring integrity back into public administration and public life. Those two objectives add up to what we call good government.

On the first objective of bringing back democracy and respect for human rights, I commend the Government for joining in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth. I do not want to see Nigeria expelled because that would have severe citizenship effects both on people who live in this country and on people who want to come to this country. To bring back democracy and respect for human rights, the United Kingdom and all countries that manufacture and export arms must apply an absolute prohibition. All kinds of military assistance must be banned. Such little aid as we give to Nigeria should be directed not to the Nigerian Government but to non-governmental organisations, and directed at the poorest in the community there.

We must hit Nigeria's corrupt dictators where it hurts most: by freezing their bank accounts and the huge amounts of money that have leaked out of that country. I hope that Britain will do so and urge other countries to follow. Much of the oil revenue goes directly into the pockets of the military. We must put pressure on oil companies such as Shell, although it is not the only oil company concerned, which have ravaged the environment and then provided the revenue to allow the military to ravage the country as a whole. Multinationals cannot be neutral in those matters. We must impose oil sanctions because they are the most effective way to bring home our disapproval of what has been happening in Nigeria and to try to bring about a change in the regime.

Other sanctions must be applied, including sanctions on sport. I know that it is unpleasant, but they would bring home to the Nigerians, as they did to the South Africans, the revulsion of the rest of the world. That is not an exhaustive list of what we should do but the most important measures are oil sanctions and the freezing of bank accounts.

On the second issue—corruption and integrity—nobody in the western world is entitled to be smug and complacent about corruption. Italy has been riddled with corruption, and is currently dealing with that. In the past couple of weeks, Britain has had to deal with the issue because of the interaction between corruption and the integrity of public life. However, in Nigeria, the corruption and plundering of state assets and revenues has reached monumental proportions and millions of ordinary Nigerians pay the price. I seek not to stigmatise Nigerians but to condemn the practice that impoverishes the country and so many ordinary people who live there. Corruption devalues democratic institutions. From time to time it provided an excuse for the military to step in. The military then plundered the revenues even more than the democratic institutions plundered them. Naturally, that provides a massive incentive not to return to democratic rule and accountability, which is why Babangida's regime never allowed the handing over of power to Abiola. That is one reason why the present announcement of a three-year progression to democracy is a farce, which is underlined further by the brutal executions that took place last week.

So extensive has been the scale of corruption in Nigeria that a whole scam industry has been built up on the expectation that corruption in some public offices is the order of the day. People receive letters almost every day of the week about off-quota oil cargoes, currency arrangements in which one must give bribes to obtain currency coming out of the country, and the procurement of arms.

The budgets of individual states have been filched and used for outrageous luxury expenditure by those involved outside Nigeria by salting the money out of the country. Rating and tax assessments have been distorted to gain political advantage. Public procurement has been grossly abused. Federal or individual states do not procure themselves; they procure through intermediaries, which take a cut. That cut in the price of the product is then left in other countries, in bank accounts in the names of private intermediaries. Enormous amounts of money have been siphoned off from federal revenue into private accounts.

Ordinary people pay for all that corruption, and democracy and justice are in danger of being snuffed out. People's lives are even being snuffed out. The fact that corruption has been widespread does not mean that everyone is corrupt—far from it. Most Nigerians want to free themselves from the yoke of corruption, which has corroded their judicial system and forms of government.

It is not for us to attempt to prescribe the detail of how Nigerian institutions should work or the detail of Nigerian law, but we must do whatever we can to help the restoration of democracy and give advice from our experience of those matters. We have great experience of public procurement and how to have public procurement that is free of graft and corruption. Although it does not always work, we must offer our experience in the context of a restoration of democracy. We have developed high standards of accountability for public funds and of audit, both nationally and locally. Let us offer all the help that we can on those matters. We reformed corruption in the civil service and the armed forces in the last century with the Trevelyan-Northcote reforms, by having a wholly independent appointment of civil servants. Let us offer advice and assistance on those matters as well as on remedies for administrative abuse. To their credit, the Government have developed those remedies not too badly through the citizens charter over the past few years. Let us try to ensure that power equals responsibility and accountability, and that power in Nigeria no longer means private enrichment. Some people say that we should not interfere with the affairs of other countries. In truth, we are all tied together, and we have common obligations under the convention on human rights and the conventions on refugees.

Nigeria's problems are our problems; our opportunities will be its opportunities. I hope that the Government will continue to be as outspoken as they have been, and to develop every detailed practical step to rid that country of corruption and to restore democracy and human rights.

5.9 pm

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). I acknowledge his considerable knowledge of Nigeria and his call for sanctions, but the general experience is that sanctions rarely work unless they are universal, and they often fail unless backed up by blockades. One of the worries about Nigeria is that it is another country, along with the Sudan, where the fault line bisects the Muslim world and the Christian world. When we consider, at some future date, the question of the extension of NATO and its southern flank, that is one aspect of international security policy that we should approach carefully.

I endorse what was said earlier about the death of Mr. Rabin, a man who first fought for peace, then lived for peace and finally died for peace. I agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary that there is a very good chance that Mr. Rabin's death will strengthen rather than harm the peace process in the middle east.

The debate has concentrated on foreign affairs. I would like to shift the emphasis to the related subject of defence. It is proper that, traditionally, the priority in the Gracious Speech has been the defence of the realm. I welcome the opening sentence, which confirms that national security remains of the highest importance to the Government.

I wish to address a number of subjects mentioned in the Gracious Speech; the future of NATO; the Western European Union; reserve forces; peacekeeping operations; and transatlantic free trade. I will also take off my Select Committee on Defence hat for a moment to comment on defence procurement.

The future of NATO was the subject of the Defence Committee's 10th report in the previous Session, and we are currently studying the question of NATO's southern flank. We believe that NATO will enlarge gradually and cautiously, not only to the east, but to the north and the south, to embrace suitably qualified states as fully contributing members of the alliance, within the integrated military structure. That would permit the stationing and exercising of NATO forces in fulfilment of the terms of the preamble to the Washington treaty, subject to the willingness of existing member states to give the article 5 security guarantee. We would like more open discussion of approximate target dates for enlargement, assuming that it will probably start within the next decade.

The Committee welcomes the "Partnership for Peace" initiative, in particular, the participation of Russia. We have underlined the United Kingdom's continuing pivotal role in cementing the transatlantic alliance, not least by persuading our European partners of the importance of maintaining and strengthening that alliance, and of the dangers of embarking on fanciful chimeras that might weaken it beyond repair.

We wish to see progress on the plans for the combined joint task force.

The Committee has only just commenced its inquiry into aspects of the Western European Union, so I cannot anticipate the outcome. However, two principles seem to be emerging which could have general support: first, the Western European Union should not be integrated into the European Union; and, secondly, nations should not become members of the WEU without first becoming full members of NATO, and by full members, I mean integrated into the military structure.

I hope that the time will come when France and Spain will join the integrated military structure—IMS. I was interested to see a newspaper report today that the Spanish Foreign Minister, Mr. Solana, might be a candidate for the vacant position of Secretary-General of NATO. We should applaud the fact that Spain is already involved jointly with NATO countries in the former Yugoslavia, where it has sent 1,500 troops who are committed to operations there.

The House will welcome the Government's proposal to introduce a Reserve Forces Bill following extensive and intensive consultation. Defence Ministers normally rejoice in the fact that they have little legislation to worry about, but during this Session we will consider two defence Bills, the Reserve Forces Bill and the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill.

The Select Committee on Defence published a report on the reserve forces, its 12th report, last Thursday. We gave broad support to the reorganisation of the Territorial Army, and its new role as the general reserve for the regular Army. We expressed our concern, however, at the high rate of turnover, which is 29 per cent. for the TA as a whole, and which particularly affects those serving under three years. We thought that the selection process could be improved. We also want to see a higher quality and quantity of training, particularly for those units taking on new roles and using new equipment.

We advocated the measurement and monitoring of basic fitness and shooting standards, and called for a stronger commitment to integrate TA units with their regular counterparts.

We noted the increase in the numbers of regular and non-regular support staff in the TA. We urged the Ministry of Defence to civilianise those posts with no genuine military content, make full use of the commercial contracts available to the regular Army and reduce current levels of administrative support where possible.

The Select Committee recommended that the Royal Naval Reserve should be given more worthwhile training and experience at sea. We suggested that it should perhaps be given new roles, such as fisheries protection and environmental monitoring, which could help towards improving recruitment.

The Select Committee welcomed the fact that the RAF reservists are given trials in flying Wessex helicopters and Hercules aircraft: We also welcomed the concept of an active flying reserve.

Our report also considered the role of the regular reserves. We regretted the absence of any current training liability, and we would like the MOD to initiate training for those with specialist functions most likely to be required in operational services. We expressed our broad support for the principles set out in the draft Reserve Forces Bill, and the new categories of reserve—the sponsored and high-readiness reserves. There is no doubt that an increasing reliance on, and willingness to use, reserve forces must be accompanied by an increased commitment to preserve their strength and improve their quality. Our reserve forces must be seen to be not just smaller but demonstrably better.

As for the peace implementation forces planned for Bosnia, I believe that out of a total force of between 50,000 and 60,000, the United Kingdom's contribution is assumed to be around 15,000. That would increase the proportion of our Army engaged in operational missions to more than half. In terms of overstretch, that will make it even harder for the Army to meet its stated objective of 24 months between deployments. It will also have a significant effect on training for high-intensity conflict. I would be interested to know what means of deployment we will use. Will troops go over land to Hungary or will they travel by air or sea? Will it be necessary this time to hitch a ride from the United States? With the welcome involvement of Russia in the operation, perhaps we can expect the Russians to provide heavy-lift air transport.

I presume that 24 Air Mobile Brigade will be part of that force, because although most of the troops are now back in the United Kingdom, their equipment remains in theatre. In the Minister's reply to the debate, perhaps we may be told whether the Army chiefs' advice to send a division-sized unit with tanks and artillery is accepted, and whether the MOD budget or the contingency reserve will bear the cost of that operation.

I read that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has called for 350 volunteers from the Territorial Army to act as linguists, weathermen, intelligence officers and public relations officers for the peace implementation force. Our recent report on the reserve forces welcomed wider use of the TA and I very much hope that, even before the Reserve Forces Bill is enacted, employers will be sympathetic to the release of people who wish to volunteer for duty in Bosnia.

I have received a letter on the Board this afternoon from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, in which he tells me that the Reserve Forces Bill started its passage through Parliament in the other place this afternoon. He says in his letter: A business Compliance Cost Assessment has been prepared for the Bill. It estimates the average cost to business of the call-out for 9 months of a typical Reservist as £1,900. Payments to employers under the safeguards of the Bill are expected to reduce the average net cost to zero. That is very welcome.

I should like to hear a Defence Minister's forecast of the limits of that mission. I was under the impression that the PIF would be deployed for between nine and 10 months. I acknowledge that there is a danger of what is called mission creep into a larger engagement, but I believe that that would be extremely serious.

The Gracious Speech also said that Her Majesty's Government would continue to pursue the objective of transatlantic free trade". The Defence Select Committee is studying, jointly with the Trade and Industry Select Committee, aspects of defence procurement. I cannot anticipate the outcome of that inquiry; I hope that the report will be published quite soon. However, I am aware that access to the United States defence market might be a good deal freer. There has been shrinkage in the defence industrial base of the United States and the United Kingdom as a direct result of the so-called peace dividend. Less is now spent on defence, to such an extent that the viability of the UK defence industrial base is in question; that was the principal reason for that joint inquiry.

We have witnessed jobs in our defence industry shrink from about 200,000 to only 100,000 in the past 15 years. The collapse of the iron curtain and the economic difficulties of the former Soviet Union now mean that there is an increasing sale of high-quality military equipment on world markets to earn foreign currency.

We have also witnessed the growth of indigenous defence industries in developing countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, India and South Africa, where labour costs are a good deal less than they are in the United Kingdom.

Falls in turnover, in the volume of sales—especially exports—and in profits mean that less money is now spent on research and development. In that respect, a good case might be made for closer collaboration, both transatlantic and with our European partners, especially within the Western European Union, on research and development to preserve our technological lead and our competitiveness.

I shall comment on two procurement issues. I am aware that the Government are currently comparing the relative merits of leasing or buying American F 1 6s with those of upgrading the Tornado F3s. There has been much public comment about that, but I feel that that proposal has much more to do with destabilising the Eurofighter than anything else.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister who replies to the debate will take the opportunity to describe as complete nonsense the Observer story on Sunday 12 November that Britain might consider the purchase of American F22s instead of proceeding with the Euro 2000 programme, which is now well into its flight development stage. Apart from anything else, the F22 is twice as expensive as Eurofighter, with little additional performance.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time that national newspapers stopped simply publicising reports given to them by American aircraft companies without even considering the effect that that has on companies in Britain, and concentrated a little more on publicising the facts about what is going on in the aircraft industry in Britain?

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of the Royal Air Force and the defence industry, made the argument extremely well.

I wish to mention a constituency issue. Many Vosper Thornycroft workers live in Romsey and Waterside and have a considerable interest in the outcome of the two-horse race between GEC Yarrow and Vosper Thornycroft for the orders for the final batch of three type 23 frigates. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) in the Chamber this evening. No doubt he will support what I say about that.

GEC already has a monopoly for submarines and a near-monopoly for service ships of more than 6,500 tonnes. Continued competition for the supply of frigates is essential. We are fortunate at present to have Vosper Thornycroft as a strong and capable alternative to GEC for the supply of frigates. Vosper has already demonstrated its capability to build large steel surface ships for the Royal Navy. One of those, a stretched type 42 destroyer, HMS Gloucester, is 3,880 tonnes and 141 m long, which is bigger and heavier than a type 23 frigate, at 3,500 tonnes and 133 m long.

Vosper Thornycroft can therefore build steel ships up to and including 6,500 tonnes, which is the size of the common new generation Horizon frigate, which is now on the drawing board.

We must ensure that there are at least two British yards in the Horizon contest to maintain effective competition within the UK. That, in turn, has a considerable effect on exports.

If that contract were lost in its entirety to Yarrow, Vosper Thornycroft's 1,500 shipbuilding work force would be cut by one third in 1996. Were the orders won, 500 new jobs would be created. That order is therefore vital to Vosper Thornycroft, which can deliver on price, time and to the highest quality standards required by the Royal Navy, and will help secure more export orders for the United Kingdom.

I add a final footnote. The current world security scene is decidedly disorderly. The stability of the cold war has gone. As an international trading nation, with many remaining small dependent territories and worldwide interests, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) described, it is vital to identify and quantify worldwide risks. To do that, we and our allies need the edge in intelligence. That is costly, and co-operation is essential.

It is said, rightly, that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted. I trust that Her Majesty's Government acknowledge that need as part of the priority that they have given to our national security in the Gracious Speech, which I endorse and applaud.

5.27 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Although this day's debate on the Gracious Speech is assigned to foreign affairs and defence, one cannot escape the conclusion that that is something of a luxury, as only very recently we had the two-day debate on the defence White Paper. Therefore I propose to concentrate rather more on the foreign affairs aspects of the Gracious Speech.

However, I wish to comment about an issue that was mentioned in that debate as recently as two or three weeks ago, and which has just been mentioned by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). He is now the distinguished Chairman of the Defence Committee, under whose chairmanship I have the pleasure to serve as a member of that Committee. That issue is the proposal to lease F16 aircraft instead of proceeding with the mid-life update of the Tornado F3. The issue was canvassed to some extent in the two-day debate on the defence estimates, but there have been more recent reports suggesting that the F22 might be offered as an incentive to lease the F16. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside acceded to the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans)—that these reports emanate from a mischievous manufacturer of aircraft in the United States. My information is rather different. I believe that some person or persons close to the Secretary of State for Defence has or have suggested some preliminary enthusiasm for the idea. We know, following a question that I asked last week, that our fleet of Royal Air Force tankers is not fitted in such a way as to be able to refuel F16 aircraft if we were to lease them. So the possible costs of a proposal of this kind clearly require further investigation than they have so far undergone.

I do not shrink from the conclusion that if we proceeded to lease F16 aircraft, no matter at what giveaway prices they might be offered, the result could only be deeply damaging to the UK aerospace industry and in particular to British Aerospace. Certainly, if we are offered the F16, it will not come in its more recent variants, the E and the F; we will be offered the A and B versions, currently parked in the deserts of Arizona and for which an alternative resting place is being anxiously sought by those responsible for them.

If we proceeded in this way and accepted some sort of arrangement involving the F22, how could the Eurofighter project possibly survive? How could the United Kingdom continue to have a capability in this area; and what hope would there be for the HALO project—the high-agility, low-observability aircraft that is already under consideration? We would become wholly dependent on the United States of America.

It is notable that when such issues of supply of aircraft have been raised in the past between the United States and other countries, the intervention of Congress has often proved an obstacle. Hon. Members may be aware that the Government of Pakistan purchased a number of aircraft from the United States, but because of the intervention of Congress the planes have never been delivered, although they have been paid for. When the Saudi Arabian Government were desirous of purchasing the F15E from the United States they were not allowed to have the aircraft, again because of the intervention of Congress, and had to settle for what came to be described as the F15XS—the same airframe but with less capability than the F15E which the Saudi Government had wanted in the first place.

The point is that the process makes a country depend entirely on the United States, both industrially and militarily, and on the political will of Congress at the moment such aircraft are due to be supplied.

Mr. Colvin

I am grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier remarks. Does he recall that the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), spent some time persuading the Italians not to lease F16s but to lease from Britain the F3 Tornado? Having persuaded the Italians to do that, the Government would look pretty stupid if they gave serious consideration to doing the precise opposite.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I can do no better than echo his description: it would indeed look pretty stupid. But when this point was made to Ministers in the course of the two-day debate on the defence estimates, hon. Members will recall that their response was to the effect that Her Majesty's Government would not be fulfilling their responsibility unless they gave careful consideration to a proposal of this kind. On the contrary; I say that the Government would be guilty of a grave breach of responsibility if they proceeded in this way.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here at the moment. There has always been a relationship between political and procurement issues—so much is undeniable—but it would be wholly unacceptable if some anti-Europeanism were to dictate a procurement decision of this type. An anxiety to cement the Atlantic relationship at the expense of the United Kingdom's capability in this area would be misplaced and would be a price not worth paying.

On the matter of the reserve forces, it is generally accepted that it is time for new legislation, to take account of the reductions in all three armed services and of the circumstances that obtain following the end of the cold war. I have no doubt that the measure will command, in principle at least, universal support in the House, although there may be some differences of opinion over its detailed provisions.

Likewise, I deduced a large body of support in the House for the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the middle east peace process. Indeed, he spoke for the whole House when he emphasised the desire of this country and this Parliament to ensure that that process is not stalled or disrupted by the assassination of Mr. Rabin. He spoke rightly of the confidence of the Palestinian people being an important component in the peace process, and referred in particular to his experience in Gaza. I suggest that we should not forget the need to inspire the confidence of the Palestinians in other parts of the territories that are part of the peace process. I think especially of Hebron, where the issue of civil rights is one of acute importance.

I hope therefore that the Government, accepting the will on the part of this House to support the implementation of the peace process, will not avoid any opportunity to make the point to the Israeli Government that the confidence of the Palestinian people, in Gaza and elsewhere, will be fundamental to the continuation of the peace process.

The Gracious Speech refers both to the Western European Union and to NATO, and it is right on an occasion such as this, when we are considering wider issues, to mention both. It is important to remind ourselves of precisely what the treaty of Maastricht said. It states that the European Union should assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy … including the eventual framing of a common defence". That is rather tentative language; it hardly justifies the assertion made at a seaside town towards the end of the summer that Brussels would tell the United Kingdom how and when to fight. The treaty also says that the WEU should simultaneously be the agent for the European Union's defence identity and become the newly strengthened pillar of NATO. Other provisions in the treaty make it plain that nothing in the treaty is to be allowed to prejudice the obligations towards NATO which subscribers to the treaty have undertaken.

There is no doubt that we need to make the sort of contribution to our own defence envisaged by the Maastricht treaty. To be tackled effectively, it is self-evident that matters of security must be dealt with on a supranational or international level. Just as our economic success depends on a successful Europe, so I believe our security is better assured through a Europe in which security has a prominent part to play.

As I have said before in this House, I am firmly of the view that the reduction in defence budgets will drive forward joint procurement and force specialisation as the only ways in which to meet the costs of advancing technology and to continue to provide a range of capability sufficient to meet any requirements that may present themselves.

I have no doubt that Britain's long-term security will be best achieved through a continuing American interest in Europe. We have a unique—although perhaps not a special—relationship with the United States. Our most recent ambassador to the United States, Sir Robin Renwick, spent much of his time in Washington trying to discourage the use of the phrase "special relationship". However, the two countries have a unique relationship in some respects, particularly in relation to the transfer of missile technology. The United Kingdom is the only country to which the United States supplies the Trident weapons system and it is the only country to which the United States is willing to sell the Tomahawk cruise missile.

However, we must remember that opinion in the United States about such matters is not set in concrete, any more than our attitudes are. Undoubtedly, in the United States there is a greater degree of interest in the Pacific than there has been for a considerable time. That means that there is an expectation—I believe it is entirely justified—that Europe will undertake greater responsibility for our own defence than we have in recent times. I believe that that can be best achieved through a higher degree of integration, block by block and step by step, among the countries of the European Union.

In the matter of the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to which reference has been made, there would be very little point in enlarging it if the consequence was to weaken or to dilute NATO's collective defensive response, which the relevant article of the Washington treaty provides. It must be pointed out that that response involves nuclear means if necessary.

When people talk about a diminution of sovereignty if the United Kingdom accepts the social chapter, they should ask themselves what is a greater diminution of sovereignty: the acceptance of common standards in relation to maternity leave and things of that kind, or the acceptance of a treaty obligation that requires one to go to war in defence of any of 15 other countries, using nuclear means if necessary?

In the post-cold war environment I believe that a European defence policy is inevitable and is entirely consistent with NATO. However, we will not suddenly wake up and say, "Today is the dawning of the European defence policy." Such a policy will emerge on a case-by-case basis—block by block and step by step—and if at some stage any of the parties to that process wish to reverse it or to stand aside from it, they will be able to do so. NATO provides the transatlantic link between Europe and north America. The European defence policy is a recognition of Europe's obligation to assume greater responsibility for its defence.

I turn briefly to the issue of NATO and Russia. Russia is special and, as such, must have special arrangements. Any effort to expand NATO to the borders of Russia without putting special arrangements in place could prove extremely destabilising. With the approaching two elections in Russia—for the Parliament and, in due course, for the presidency—we must recognise that a stable Russia, continuing on the path to reform and gradually adopting the kind of democratic institutions of which we would approve, is very much in our interests. We must be extremely careful about doing anything that might destabilise Russia or divert it from its path of reform.

On the matter of nuclear weapons, the Gracious Speech says that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the Preventing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a priority". With the signing of the indefinite extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in May this year, those with an interest in nuclear disarmament—whether multilateral or unilateral—might have enjoyed feelings of hope and of optimism. Much of that optimism has been blunted by the French nuclear testing in the south Pacific, and let us not forget also the nuclear testing by the Chinese Government.

I cannot help thinking that we would have been better able to criticise the Chinese Government's decision to embark upon a series of nuclear tests if we had adopted a similarly critical attitude toward the French Government. If we accept the tests that the French Government have embarked upon—and which our Government are unwilling to criticise—I do not believe that our Government can then be critical of the Chinese Government. If one reads the exchanges from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty negotiations, it becomes clear that many of what used to be called the "non-aligned" nations—particularly the group of countries led principally by Egypt and Mexico—would have been very reluctant to sign an indefinite extension of the treaty if they had been aware that two of the nuclear powers which are permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations were intent upon embarking on a series of explosive nuclear tests soon after the treaty negotiations were completed.

Her Majesty's Government say that they will pursue negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty. I hope that all hon. Members support that course of action. However, we must remember that our ability to test at all is entirely dependent upon the good will of the United States. When President Bush announced a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, Her Majesty's Government did not accede to it, at least in theory, for some time—although they had no option but to do so in practice. I hope that the Government will pursue the matter with considerable vigour and enthusiasm. I believe that the signing of such a treaty would be an important milestone in long-term efforts to achieve a reduction in our reliance upon nuclear weapons for our defence.

I was interested to note that in the exchanges between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), there was some dispute about public opinion. It is not just public opinion in the United Kingdom that is opposed to the French programme of explosive nuclear testing; the majority of public opinion in France is opposed to the tests. I do not suggest that we should always follow public opinion, but if one is seeking to gauge where the political balance lies on the issue, it is surely relevant to take some account of domestic public opinion in the country that is carrying out the tests.

As to the chemical weapons convention, I believe that there is a sense of relief among those who have taken an interest in the matter that at last the Government are getting around to ratifying it, as is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. I certainly welcome the proposed legislation, but it must be examined carefully to ensure that it is sufficiently strong and that its terms are adequate to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with the provisions of the treaty and that we can demonstrate that fact to the rest of the world. I would like the United Kingdom to adopt best practice in its implementation of the treaty and to play a leading role in the international organisation that will be established to oversee the general health of the treaty.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs referred to the United Nations and he correctly drew our attention to the fact that it is much criticised and that many of its achievements are unsung. It is clear that the world is becoming more tribal: disputes are as likely to occur within states as they are to occur between states. That prompted the Secretary-General of the United Nations to produce a document some 18 months or two years ago entitled "Agenda for Peace". Apart from some initial attention, it has not received much scrutiny.

The Secretary-General said that the classic definition of sovereignty and the immunity from intervention that members of the United Nations enjoy under its charter may need to be reviewed. Internal instability—rather than instability between states—could have environmental, political or other consequences. It must surely be for consideration as to whether, in certain specific circumstances, the international community should have the right to intervene.

The United Nations has the opportunity to increase its responsibility, but it has more to be responsible for and in rather less clear cut circumstances than in the past. One thing is certain: deterrence is always cheaper than war. In 1988, the peacekeeping budget was $230.4 million. In 1994, it was $3,610 million. Over the same period, the number of military personal increased from 9,570 in 1988 to 73,393 in 1994. Between January 1992 and January 1995, 11 new peacekeeping operations were established, 82 per cent. of which involved internal conflicts.

The United Nations will not be able to operate unless all its members pay their dues on time. In that regard, we cannot ignore the fact that the United States has shown continuing reluctance to do so. That reluctance springs from doubt about the utility of the United Nations and we should bear that carefully in mind. If the United States ever took a similar view towards NATO, for example, it is possible to envisage circumstances in which dues might not be paid to that institution.

That reluctance to pay for peacekeeping, or the regular dues of membership, makes it necessary to reform the bureaucracy and the institutions of the United Nations so that it can better perform the responsibilities that we heap upon it. We need a United Nations agency for the prevention and suppression of conflict. We need to re-establish the United Nations military staff committee and we need a staff college so that those we send to carry out the difficult and dangerous activity of peacekeeping, shading as it sometimes does into peacemaking, are properly trained and understand just how different it is from high-intensity warfare.

The United Nations may well need its own independent intelligence-gathering organisation and at some time in the future we must surely determine whether its interests are best served by a standing force or by assigned forces, which can move at much shorter notice than the time it takes those contributing nations that participate in peacekeeping operations to deploy their forces.

For the foreseeable future, the effectiveness of the United Nations will be related to the extent to which the United States is fully engaged politically, militarily and economically. We must ensure that the confidence of the United States in the United Nations is maintained, but we have also to ensure that the United Nations does not become the implement by which the policy of the State Department is carried out. There is a difficult balance to strike, but unless it is properly struck, the United Nations will lack the resources to do what we ask of it, or alternatively it will become no more than the handmaiden of United States policy.

In regard to Europe, I do not want to add very much to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said yesterday. I believe that four principles should direct the attitude of the United Kingdom at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference.

First, we should reaffirm the proposition of the Prime Minister that the United Kingdom should be at the heart of Europe. Secondly, we should declare our intention to join the single European currency, if one is created and if the financial criteria are met, and we should be part of the preparations for that. Thirdly, we should declare that we seek the rigorous application of the principle of subsidiarity and the reform and reduction of bureaucracy. Finally, more for our domestic consideration than for the consideration of those with whom we shall be in negotiation at the IGC, we should declare that any substantial change in the constitutional arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Union should be the subject of a referendum, so that the people of the United Kingdom can pass their judgment on what is proposed.

I should like to say more, but I am well aware that others are waiting to speak. In regard to aid, I hope that the rumours in September that there is to be a 12 per cent. cut in the aid budget are unfounded. I suppose there is a danger that if something less than 12 per cent. is cut, we will regard it as a victory. A 12 per cent. cut in the budget would mean a 40 per cent. cut in our bilateral aid to the poorest countries.

I do not shrink from saying that we have a moral responsibility. It would be quite wrong for us to cut what we give at the moment. We should remember that at the Rio summit the Government said that they agreed to and were doing their best to work towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP. The principal aim of the aid budget should be to assist the poor to achieve sustainable social, political and economic development. That cannot be achieved by cuts in the budget.

In conclusion, in foreign policy we must surely have the foresight and determination to exercise value judgments as to which countries benefit from relations with Britain. Those that permanently flout human rights with oppressive regimes should not benefit from such relations. We should not accept in any part of the world any departure from those high standards. We should be robust in our criticism of Nigeria, where there was deliberate provocative, calculated, cruel and inhuman behaviour constituting a gross violation of human rights.

Totalitarian behaviour is surely unacceptable in a Commonwealth of which Her Majesty remains the head. I hope that sanctions, to which I referred in an intervention and others mentioned in their speeches, will be given serious consideration. I return to the examples that I quoted. We still maintain sanctions against Iraq because we believe they help to drive Saddam Hussein to implement all the Security Council resolutions. We have maintained sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro because we believe—and some suggest that we have been successful in this—that it is one way to persuade Mr. Milosevic to take a less difficult and obdurate line. If sanctions operate in those circumstances, we must give serious consideration to whether they will operate in the circumstances of Nigeria.

President Clinton was elected on the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid" as the electorate of the United States punished President Bush for the amount of time that he spent on foreign affairs. Governments are often elected on domestic policies, but as President Clinton soon found out, foreign policies cannot be excluded from consideration. One might argue that foreign policies are more likely to be influential on the reputation of a Government than domestic policies.

I cannot predict the battleground on which the next general election will be fought, but I am certainly convinced that when it is over and a new Government are installed, they will of necessity require to pay as much attention to foreign policy as to domestic policy and I hope that they will do their best to ensure that the reputation of the United Kingdom is enhanced.

5.58 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

What a glorious year and a half we have had in the United Kingdom. We have celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the Normandy landings, VE day and VJ day. If any Members attended any of the parades, I am sure that they would have had great respect for the Old Contemptibles. They were still military in their mode; they were able to turn out in any weather—I remember getting drenched just viewing them at Portsmouth one morning. It was a glorious time for the old soldiers.

The Normandy landings thrilled me most of all. I have in mind the scaling of the cliffs. It could be said that the Americans had the worst part of the beaches. The men were tied down for many a long hour and there were considerable losses.

It is said now, unfortunately, that we have no rapport with the United States and there is no longer any special feeling. Surely that is wrong. We have had tremendous rapport with the United States over the past 100 years. Whatever we say in this place will not change that. Our people have tremendous affection for United States service men and they treasure everything that they did during that almost impossible time when we had our backs to the wall. The Normandy landings presented us with a wonderful vista of the true world. We were shown that people were prepared to give their lives for a cause.

We celebrated VE day, which was spectacular. There were various celebratory functions. When we reached VJ day, we were deeply in sorrow. We thought of the people on the Burma railway who were treated so abominably by the Japanese. There was a massive number of deaths as a result of fevers such as malaria and beriberi. Those people experienced all the dreadful illnesses that result from an inadequate diet.

A friend of mine in Southampton, Fred Gilley—he is dead now—contracted leukaemia during the building of the Burma railway. I have talked to the old boys who were with him and in other areas. It is clear that they carried on in spite of all their difficulties. I was shocked when they told me that they had been compensated by the Japanese Government to the tune of £74 for everything that they had suffered while in prisoner of war camps. Not many of them recovered from the experience. My friend, Fred, had leukaemia for the rest of his life. He had to go to hospital regularly to have a complete blood change.

If we are to be friendly with the Japanese, I hope that we can find a way of resurrecting the issue of compensation for those who were treated so badly in the Burma campaign. There cannot be many victims alive now. Cabinet Ministers and perhaps Back-Bench committees should raise the issue again. To be awarded £74 in full settlement is not good compensation.

In Southampton, at Marchwood, we have the Royal Fleet Auxiliary—in other words, supply ships. Hardly anyone ever hears of them. We see aircraft carriers and battle cruisers, which small and underarmed ships must follow to refuel or restock, or even to provide with NAAFI stores. By and large, they are stationed at Marchwood.

Mr. Colvin

In my constituency.

Mr. Hill

Indeed, but more facilities must be provided. There is the quaint idea that we cannot build a port at Marchwood Wood because the vergers of the New Forest may not agree. We are stifled when it comes to expanding Marchwood.

Mr. Colvin

The Marchwood military port has been substantially enlarged. It is probably the most comprehensive and modern military port in the world, and certainly in Europe. The problem is that a short distance along the coast at Dibden bay—an area that has been formed from the dredgings of the Solent over the years to enable vessels to sail to and from my hon. Friend's constituency—dredgings have been dumped and 700 to 800 acres of wasteland have been created. Controversy now rages. Should the port of Southampton, which following the abolition of the national dock labour scheme is becoming an outstanding financial success, extend to the other side of the Solent?

Mr. Hill

That is illuminating. My hon. Friend is talking about a commercial project. I do not associate Marchwood or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with anything that is commercial. It is—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend has outlined a battle that must be fought between the various local councils. As he says, the port of Southampton is doing extremely well. It can handle the largest container ships in the world. We know—[Interruption.] Of course, dredging must take place if those vessels are to reach container ports. Without being fanciful, I believe that the area could become a mini-Hong Kong in handling container traffic.

I am talking about Marchwood and not the port of Southampton. We know that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has grown and must grow—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

(Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. The conversation between the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has continued for too long. It is interesting, but we are talking about foreign affairs and defence.

Mr. Hill

I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend for his interruptions. The stage was reached when I had to give way.

I shall return immediately to our forces. I do not know whether anyone in the Chamber remembers that there used to be a Hampshire regiment. It became the regiment of the Princess of Wales. We are all aware of the difficulty in that area. I think that there is a roving role for the Princess of Wales as an ambassador. This might give my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary something to think about. A job must be found for her. After all, she has a wonderful personality. She would be invaluable in terms of trade with the eastern world.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Princess of Wales might enhance her chances of being given such a role if she decided not to go forward with a certain programme on Monday next week?

Mr. Hill


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test would be wise not to respond to that question.

Mr. Hill

I would merely say that no one has seen the programme to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) refers.

We should return to the debate. I often say that in Committee. I support the impassioned plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on behalf of Vosper Thornycroft. Some of its employees who live in his constituency may become unemployed. That, too, would be the position in my constituency. We need a type 23 contract. Vosper Thornycroft is geared up for it. Possibly it did not win as many contracts as it should have in the past, but it is now highly specialised. I have been around the shipyard several times, and there is not a better yard for building naval vessels in the whole of the European Union. It is waiting anxiously for a contract from the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Colvin

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I promise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to start indulging in a corner conversation this time.

Does my hon. Friend not believe that, in a debate on a matter that is so crucial to the area that we both represent, the hon. Members for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who are not here, should be present in the Chamber, as this is the last opportunity that the House will have to debate the matter, and we are told that the Ministry of Defence is likely to reach a decision on the contract before Christmas?

Mr. Hill

I shall be guided by you again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will obviously say that it would not be proper to say anything at this stage. The hon. Members concerned obviously have extremely important engagements somewhere, but it is a missed opportunity for both of them—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I always wonder what use such points are in a debate. Sometimes they are of very little use.

Mr. Hill

One of the little jobs that I have done in the House of Commons for many years is to be a member of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. It was only a few weeks ago that Herr Kohl came to Strasbourg to make a speech, in which, to my amazement, he said that whereas five years ago there were only 24 member states of the Council of Europe, there are now 42. It is getting a bit out of hand. Everyone wants to join—the functionaries of the Council of Europe want them to join—but I wonder whether the facilities are there for such a number.

The WEU is heading precisely the same way. There will be many more applications to become members, as more and more people join the Council of Europe as the first step, but then wish to come to the WEU. The highlight of the WEU was when it put forward a defence plan in the Persian gulf—as I still call it—with minesweepers and finance before the war with Iraq took place. There was almost a perfect plan for co-operation among the nine members. I heard earlier that France may have to be excluded from the WEU if it does not join NATO. That is a very strong statement, because France, for years, has said that it would not join NATO. Indeed, to my knowledge it still has not done so. But it is there, probably in an advisory capacity.

At a working level, we have had a very able president of the WEU for the past two years. The WEU is sometimes overlooked in the House. It seems as if no papers over here report anything. No hon. Members seem to come back and push the word around. We do not all succeed in alerting our fellow colleagues to the importance of the WEU. I am pleased to see that, at long last, the Government are beginning to observe.

I heard earlier that it is hoped that there will be a smooth transfer of power in Hong Kong. We all hope that. Are the signs good? They seem to vary from day to day. The whole House should do its best to ensure that, in Hong Kong, and in our relations with China, we do not make ridiculously strong statements that could affect the Chinese. There is some good will to work on that. It really is up to the Government to promote a smooth transition in 1997.

6.14 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I shall concentrate solely on the middle east and on the part of the Gracious Speech that referred to the determination of not only Her Majesty's Government but everyone in all parts of the House to pursue the middle east peace process.

I had the good fortune to meet Yitzhak Rabin in March this year, although I knew of his actions and his activities, when he attended the socialist international middle east committee, which met in Tel Aviv. He spoke passionately of his determination to achieve peace and security. He impressed everyone, even those who, perhaps, had disagreed with him in the past over the way in which, when he was the military commander of the west bank, he introduced his policy of breaking bones in an effort to break the intifada—the uprising by the Palestinian community on the west bank. From a man of war, he turned into a man determined to work for peace and security in that area, and he impressed everyone who listened to him at that time.

Yitzhak Rabin was very clear in his determination to pursue that peace process, despite the opposition against him and despite the narrow majority that he had in the Knesset. He made it quite clear to all of us who were present that, as long as he had a majority, even if it was a majority of only one, he would pursue peace. We now know that he paid for peace with his life. To that extent, we all owe him a great debt of gratitude. It is the responsibility of those of us who have been involved in that process for many years to continue that work and ensure that the middle east comes to peace.

It is difficult to say that any good can come out of anyone's death, but just occasionally when someone dies something happens as a result that helps to ease the pain. I have been very impressed to hear people who have recently returned from the region speak of the role that has been adopted by Yitzhak Rabin's widow, Leah Rabin. It would appear that she has become the conscience of the state. She is an extremely forceful presenter of her husband's agenda and is determined to see its implementation. There seems to be a new mood among the Israeli public. Visitors who have just returned from the region speak of a deep soul searching going on within Israeli society as a result of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Much more importantly for all of us who are involved in the middle east is an opinion poll, which has been published in the past few days in Israel, that indicates a dramatic upsurge in support for the peace process—up from the low 50s to 74 per cent. We have been gratified by the fact that the new Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, is just as committed in his determination to press ahead with the peace process. In particular, we welcome his decision to bring forward the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Jenin. It was a bold and very reassuring move, welcomed by all in the middle east, and it is certainly one that needs support. It is important that that withdrawal continues to move ahead, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, there are areas of concern other than Gaza and Jericho. The Israeli forces have now withdrawn from Jenin. They are due to withdraw from Tulkarm by 19 November; from Nablus and Kalkia by 26 November; from Bethlehem by 3 December; from Ramallah by 10 December; and, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, from Hebron. No specific timetable is attached to that withdrawal.

We know that there are specific problems associated with Hebron, and we must allow the Palestinians and the Israelis to work them through. We should, however, be concerned about one area of Hebron, which has been mentioned in the House before—certainly I have raised it on a number of occasions, most recently in correspondence with the Minister of State. On 16 October, I asked him about the new Oslo B agreement relating to the new temporary international presence that is intended to help the withdrawal in Hebron.

Replying to my letter, the Minister wrote: This is a timely moment to examine the lessons of the last TIPH in May-August 1994. I readily agree with that comment, but I should like to know whether the European Union and Israel have drawn the correct conclusions from the mission to ensure that the structural inadequacies and operational shortcomings that featured in the 1994 operation do not occur again. As I have said in the House before, the last international presence in Hebron ended up being protected by the local population, rather than the other way around.

We know that Norway has been asked to lead the operation, and that two other European states will be involved. We have a responsibility to ensure that, if a new temporary international presence is introduced, we get it right this time.

In the last few days, the Centre for International Human Rights Enforcement has published a report on the subject. Not only does it review the last TIPH but, more specifically, it sets out guidelines that I suggest the Government should use in their dialogue with our European partners. According to the report, the following questions need to be addressed:

  1. "a) area of operation and access within that area for TIPH personnel;
  2. b) the human rights and humanitarian law standards to be applied by the mission;
  3. c) the transparency of the mission and its ability to build confidence among the Palestinian population of Hebron; and
  4. d) the related requirement of regular reporting on the activities and efforts of the mission in a manner available to the Palestinian public, as well as to the constituencies of the participating states."
We have a unique opportunity to get it right—and it is essential that we do get it right. If the withdrawal of Israeli troops does not go ahead, the Palestinian elections cannot take place either.

Those Palestinian elections are one of the principal objectives of those of us who have been involved in the middle east peace process over many years. We all know that what is needed is a democratically elected Palestinian authority that can not only take control of the west bank and Gaza, but sit down as an equal partner with an elected Israeli Government to pursue the process to a successful conclusion.

Let me compliment the Foreign Secretary on his first visit to meet the chairman of the Palestine National Authority, Yasser Arafat: I know from my contacts that it was well received. Announcements of further aid will undoubtedly go a long way towards helping the peace process.

After a very shaky start, the Palestine National Authority is now settling down to its task. The collection of taxes has greatly improved the position, helping to ease the financial difficulties confronting the authority; the signing of the Oslo B interim agreement has also eased the concerns of donor countries. Much remains to be done, however, and I urge the Secretary of State to continue the assistance that the British Government have given so far and to ensure that it reaches those who need it—the Palestinian population on the west bank and in Gaza—as soon as possible.

We now know that the European Union unit that will oversee the Palestinian elections on 20 January 1996 has been established. The advance guard has been set up on the west bank, and we look forward to the good work that it will do in helping the Palestinians to move towards democracy through democratic elections. Those elections are essential—and I was very pleased to see Andrew Sackur's report on last night's "Channel 4 News", which included the registration of Palestinians for the elections by the electoral authority. We wish them every success.

Even in that area, however, we can do more. Earlier this year, through its Westminster foundation management committee, the Labour party launched a project to involve Palestinian women in the elections in a positive and practical way. The project was launched in April 1995; 139 Palestinian women from all over the west bank and Gaza, representing the different political parties—including the opposition—attended the course. According to a report from Palestinians to the Westminster foundation, The project was very successful both in terms of content and organisation. It will be remembered for having offered a combination of comprehensive, well balanced and much needed skills, techniques and information that satisfied the participating women's needs and encouraged a number of them to participate in the elections as candidates. One of those women said: To become a candidate is no longer a mystery … My fears and concerns have disappeared, not because I think it is an easy job, but because now I know what my weaknesses are and I know what to do about them. The project was carried out over a two-week period in five different locations: Hebron, Tulkarm, Nablus, Ramallah and Gaza. As I have said, local organisations firmly believe that, if there are women who are likely to participate in the elections, it is more probable that they will come from the group that participated in that project.

If we are committed to the peace process, we must also welcome the possibility of a dialogue between the Palestine National Authority and Hamas. That also reflects a growing confidence among the Palestinians in their ability to move forward, as one, to the elections. In the House, there has been a good deal of concern about what are regarded as fundamentalist groups—and, where the Palestinian community is concerned, Hamas is certainly regarded by some as one of those groups.

We should, as I have said, welcome the forthcoming dialogue, which was first hinted at when a member of the Knesset, Talib al-Sani, visited Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, the leader of Hamas, who is currently in an Israeli prison. At that meeting, the leader of Hamas committed himself to the agreement signed by the Palestine National Authority and Israel indicating that Hamas adheres to the regulations banning possession of unlicensed weapons, the supremacy of law … and the right of everyone to take part in the Palestine National Authority. Since that announcement, there has been an unofficial dialogue—which will shortly become official—between the Palestine National Authority and Hamas. I welcome the most recent report that I have read, which came from the BBC's monitoring service and which suggested that Dr. Mahmud al-Zahhar, the official spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, had said that it had been agreed that a dialogue should be held in Cairo, rather than Khartoum. He emphasised that the choice of Cairo had positive practical significance for Hamas and its political progress, and said that the early announcement of the formation of a political party for Hamas supporters within a broad Islamic front was intended—along the lines of the Islamic action movement in Jordan. He said that the front would have no interest in military concerns and added that it would operate democratically and that its members would have the right to decide whether to participate in elections.

Those of us who are committed to the peace process welcome the current dialogue between the Palestine National Authority and Hamas as a further sign of the success of the peace process. If that process is to be successful it must be comprehensive, and Syria and Lebanon must play their part. That is why I welcome the Foreign Secretary's visit to Damascus. He was able to liaise between the Government in Damascus and the Israeli Government. I commend his activities and encourage him and other hon. Members to do all that they can to encourage the Syrian and Lebanese Governments to work closely for a more comprehensive peace in the area.

For the first time, a joint middle east councils delegation from the House visited Egypt, Syria and Lebanon in July. We were particularly impressed by the commitment to a comprehensive peace in the middle east based on international law and on Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425. That was set out in great detail by all the Syrian officials whom we met and also by Syria's Foreign Secretary, its Vice-President and its Prime Minister.

We were deeply impressed by the Lebanese commitment to the principled stand of peace based on international law and Security Council resolutions. The President spoke to us about Hizbollah, an Islamic group that concerns everybody who is involved in the middle east peace process. He made it clear that the members of Hizbollah were Lebanese citizens and that they had the right to participate in Lebanese democracy. The only conditions that they could be asked to accept would be loyalty to Lebanon and a refusal to act on instructions from any other country.

The Foreign Minister assured the delegation that when Israel committed itself to full withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the Lebanese Government would send their army to stop the resistance and restore democracy. When the Lebanese Government have full control of all Lebanese territory, there will be no cause for Hizbollah to launch attacks on Israel. He welcomed Israel's positive statement that it had no further claims on Lebanese territory or resources, but he wondered when Israel would back that statement with movement on the ground. He insisted that Hizbollah was a political rather than a military problem and said that the day that Israel commits itself to withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hizbollah will lose 60 per cent. of its raison d'être. He also assured us that a full security programme for southern Lebanon could be achieved only within the framework of Security Council resolution 425.

While we were in the area we raised the question of the Palestinian refugees, and everyone, including the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister made it clear to us that it was an international problem and had to be dealt with by the international community. Although Lebanon could be asked to absorb perhaps a small number of the Palestinian refugees, 400,000 Palestinians could not be left in Lebanon as a continuing focus of resentment and resistance.

The middle east peace process faces outstanding difficulties. There are refugees not only in southern Lebanon but in other parts of the Arab world. Other problems are Jerusalem, the right to return, settlers, boundaries and sovereignty, and the Palestinians and Israelis will have to find solutions. We must also be involved where we can. The international community must be involved with the Palestinian refugees.

The delegation was struck by the principled position of Syria and Lebanon on the bilateral peace negotiations. We were convinced that it was not just a negotiating tactic but rather that the insistence on a peace agreement that was based firmly on the principles of humanitarian law and Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425 was sincerely felt and that a practical stand offered the best chance of a comprehensive and sustainable peace in the region. We are close to achieving peace in that area, but it requires the whole House to be committed to the peace process. I commend the actions so far of the Foreign Secretary in the short time that he has been in his job.

6.35 pm
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

I start by apologising to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) because I hope that I shall not be here for the winding-up speeches. I hope to return to my constituency.

Like the hon.Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), I had the privilege of meeting Prime Minister Rabin about two and a half years ago. He told us of his vision of peace in the middle east. I respected Mr. Rabin, but I felt that his was a vision too far. However, it is now a reality and that speaks volumes for Prime Minister Rabin.

I welcome the Gracious Speech and the large amounts that are spent on defence. That is as it should be because for the Government defence has always been a priority. I welcome the maintenance of the United Kingdom's minimum nuclear deterrent commitment. Currently there are difficulties with the Polaris fleet. A Trident submarine is at sea and another is about to be commissioned. The Government showed great vision on that matter. There was a long period of opposition but now Opposition Members seem to have recognised the wisdom of moving along the Trident line. The Gracious Speech shows the Government's intention on the nuclear deterrent.

I welcome the commitment to encourage a co-operative relationship between NATO and Russia and the offer of further help to countries in central and eastern Europe. Just this week my constituency had visitors from the Ukraine. They were a sign of the Government's commitment to spreading the democratic message. The visitors were from the Rukh party in Ukraine and they came to learn about our democracy and the ways of political parties. No doubt people from such parts of Europe will visit the constituencies of Opposition Members, and that is how it should be. We should try to extend our democracy because it is precious.

I especially welcome the moves to create flexibility for the reserve forces. I recently welcomed the establishment of a new approach in Scotland—the Lowland brigade—as well as the establishment of A squadron of the Scottish Yeomanry, which places on record the great service that the Ayrshire Yeomanry has given to this country over many years. Also based in my constituency is B company of the 3rd battalion of the Royal Highland Fusiliers. It has a long tradition. The Government's proposals will give those divisions and people who give their time to the Territorial Army much to value and much to do. They have much to give to the country in future.

I welcome the Government's commitment to signing on to the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I recognise the concerns in recent times over France's tests in the Pacific. I too registered some concerns, but the stance taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is commendable in many ways. It would have been easy for him to sign on to what would have been seen as a populist stance; he did not do so. He stood behind what he believed to be correct and that says a lot about him.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend was looking to the longer term. Perhaps it would not have been wise to isolate France on that issue. Perhaps there will be benefits. It will be of great value if the signing of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty in the south Pacific comes about because of this. If we end up with a wider test ban, my right hon. Friend's actions will be seen to have been full and ripe for commendation.

On the statement on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Britain's intention to promote wider security interests by contributing to the maintenance of international peace and stability, it is right that Britain commits itself to and stays in Europe and that that commitment to wider security interests is followed. The words are full of merit, but there is a limitation that follows from the peace dividend that everyone in this country expects following the collapse of the Berlin wall.

We have had "Options for Change" and now we aim at "Front Line First". They put great constrictions on our military forces' capabilities to enter into spheres. We cannot become the policemen for the world: the British taxpayer would not allow it. We have commitments in Bosnia, the Falklands, Kurdistan, the middle east, Rwanda in relation to military medical aid, the Caribbean and Northern Ireland. Who can say what will happen in Northern Ireland? Sinn Fein and the IRA have not shown the commitment to the Downing street talks that we would like to believe they gave some years ago. When they start to lay down their arms, it will put us in a much more reliable position to consider Britain's commitment on the military front and may allow us to play a wider role in other regions, but the military is now under great pressure. I recognise that the Reserve Forces Bill may play a part in lessening the effects of reducing personnel in our armed services.

I am especially privileged to be part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I have spent almost 12 months with the Royal Air Force. Sadly, that is coming to an end, but it has been time especially well spent. I have made 16 visits to strike command stations and bases both in the United Kingdom and beyond. I have spent time at 13 logistics and personnel establishments throughout the UK. The time spent in the air has been exciting, instructional and awe inspiring. Those were tremendous experiences for someone who has just come into Parliament at a late stage in his life and who never believed that he would be flying in fast jets, but that has been opened up to hon. Members.

More important than that, however, is the fact that ordinary Members of Parliament have been able to get to grips with the armed forces' problems in today's world: the problems of equipment and of the capabilities that that equipment offers. It is just as important for hon. Members to get into contact with personnel at all ranks, and not just with the personnel who serve in the forces, but with their wives and families, an important part of the service ethos.

There is great trepidation in the RAF. There has been a major reduction in the number of blue suiters, as they call themselves. In 1989, there were 89,000 blue suiters in the RAF. By 1994, that was reduced to about 75,000. By 1999, it will be down to 52,200. That is a tremendous challenge for the individuals who serve in the RAF. It is a major change. Change always creates anxiety in whatever walk of life it affects and it is certainly doing so for service men and service women.

Across the board, however, those individuals recognise that there must be limitations on budgets and the need for reduction. They want better high-cost equipment and they recognise that one way of attaining it is to have a correlation with manpower reductions. They feel, however, that, rather than hit what appears to be a relatively inflexible service manpower target, financial targets could be better suited to the current position and that perhaps there should be some change in current dependency on fixed manpower figures for the future. I recognise that the Reserve Forces Bill will do something to deal with those problems, but they will not respond in all aspects.

I do not have time to discuss in detail every aspect of my findings in the scheme, but I shall list the key matters of concern that have been expressed to me and to my colleague and partner from the Opposition, the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen). On the negative side, there is disappointment and resentment among people who have served for some 10 years, who have not had any promotions and who inevitably will be out on their ear in a year or two. Many of those individuals may not have been suited to the promotional structure, but they are highly skilled technicians and it will be a loss.

Difficulties will also accrue with the secondary duties that every service man must undertake. It will be almost impossible to maintain those and there are particular concerns with respect to voluntary aspects such as the role of the mountain rescue teams. There may have to be changes in relation to the involvement of civilians who will fulfil the blue suiter role to an extent, coming in to pick up on voluntary duties.

Sports activities are often a major feature of the services. Many stations cannot release personnel to fulfil their weekly football and rugby commitments. That is unfortunate. On a more serious side, more and more frequently, as service men pick up on the amount of detachments that come up, there is an adverse affect on families and pressure on marriages. At the same time, among the junior ranks, the number of service marriage breakdowns is reaching crisis point.

Earlier I referred to changes; this is another feature that we should rethink. There are pressures on the medical provision for service families and pressures in relation to housing. Perhaps there is too much change at this time, when we are asking service men to pick up ever-increasing numbers of detachments. A review would be justified in this sector, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to consider that.

Without doubt, there is an overall loss of flexibility and, believe it or not, at a time when we are looking at redundancies, a fall-off in the recruitment that is needed for expertise in the future. Perhaps that could be attributed to the loss of town centre recruitment facilities which has come about because of budgetary pressures. The employment agencies now fill that role, but I suspect that that is not quite the same as the old recruitment facilities.

I believe that young people entering the RAF now have a lot to gain for the future. They will gain from the excellent training that they will receive and from the service ethos that still exists. I would encourage young people to consider the RAF and the other military organisations as a positive way of developing their careers.

I must mention some of the positive things that we have found as we have visited the stations. There is a recognition of the need for change. There is also great pride in the skills that have been achieved within the military. Individuals recognise that they have a valuable role to play in civvy street and valuable skills to take to that role. I hope that one result of the Government's Reserve Forces Bill will be that many of those who leave the services in the next few years will come back in as reservists.

A determination to succeed still remains within the RAF and will ensure its excellent reputation in the years to come. The new recruits like the detachments. They recognise that they are not looking at the same length of service contracts as those who went before. Some of the current difficulties and the loss of morale may dissipate when the new entrants come to terms with the RAF as it is today rather than as it was before the collapse of the Berlin wall.

There is stability within the service. "Front Line First" said that we should go so far and no further and I believe that the Government have given a commitment on that. I am slightly worried by the words of Opposition Members when they talk about a defence review. In my experience, whenever we have a defence review, we inevitably end up with downward financial pressures. We should not inflict that upon the military. It is far better to concentrate on the "Front Line First" options. I believe that a daily analysis is made of the pressures and the requirements, and that is how it should be.

We should review the civilianisation programme within the services, perhaps looking at the financial targets rather than the stringent and inflexible manpower targets. I believe that we should be looking at detachments and at the pressures on family welfare within the services, particularly with respect to health and housing. We should look at establishing precisely our ceiling on commitments for those who serve in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Extending the services beyond their capabilities will do nothing for this country or for those outside it.

I repeat my welcome for the Gracious Speech and I welcome the Government's commitment now, as in the past, to the defence of the realm.

6.53 pm
Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) spoke with great eloquence and wisdom on the subject of Nigeria. We both represent constituencies in the London borough of Lambeth which has the largest number of Nigerian residents of any borough. We are both in constant touch with our Nigerian constituents and we know the shame and anguish that recent events in that country have caused them.

At business questions on 2 November, two days after the death sentences imposed on Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues, I called for a statement on Nigeria by the Foreign Secretary and urged a new and tougher sanctions regime by the Commonwealth. Thus, I became the last hon. Member to raise the tragic case of Ken Saro-Wiwa on the Floor of the House before the hangings were carried out. I claim no special virtue for that; scores of hon. Members had already expressed concern about the death sentences in support of early-day motion 1556 and I know that the concern was shared more widely on both sides of the House.

In the aftermath of what the Prime Minister has termed the "judicial murder" of Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni leaders, concern has turned to outrage here in Parliament, in the country at large and in virtually the entire international community. It is essential that that moral outrage should be translated into effective international action to force the generals out of power. History and the importance of our commercial relationship with Nigeria place special responsibilities on Britain in that initiative.

If we mean what we say about the nature of the Nigerian regime and its international pariah status, it has implications for not only the conduct of foreign policy but domestic policy and, in particular, the Home Office's treatment of Nigerian political asylum seekers. Those are the issues on which I wish to concentrate.

Last week the Government had an opportunity to come to the House to announce that Britain was taking the lead in forging a serious sanctions package against Nigeria in advance of the Commonwealth summit. Would that have stopped the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa? Who knows—there were no guarantees. We do know that precious time was lost in prevarication, pious utterances and affirmations of faith in quiet diplomacy in which not only this country but those who should know better were inculpated. Ken Saro-Wiwa's defence counsel, Olisa Agbakoba, wrote to President Mandela saying: Were quiet diplomacy pursued in South Africa … I doubt you would be alive today. Is it any surprise that the generals considered themselves to be immune from effective international action? After all, it is now 12 years since the military seized power in Nigeria. During that time Britain has supplied Nigeria with a wide range of weaponry, including Lynx helicopters, Lightning F53 aircraft and some 200 Vickers tanks. Most of the sales were made under Export Credits Guarantee Department cover or other loans financed by the British taxpayer. Nigeria currently owes Britain a colossal £2.3 billion, virtually all of it as a result of arms purchases.

The annulled presidential elections of 1993 should have been the final writing on the wall for the military regime in Nigeria. I was present for those elections as a member of the international observation team together with three other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who is in his place. That international team of observers was united in its conviction that the elections were free and fair and that M. K. O. Abiola had won them fair and square based on a clear majority across all tribes, faiths and regions of the country. Above all, in those elections Nigerians were expressing their complete and utter rejection of military rule. Within a month, as is well known, the then head of the provisional ruling council, Babangida, had cynically overturned the elections. Within a year his successor, the yet more ruthless Sani Abacha, incarcerated the elected president, M. K. O. Abiola.

The response of Britain and the European Union to those events was feeble—some limited visa restriction on military personnel, some limited cuts in aid and a promise to review new defence export licences on a case-by-case basis with a so-called "presumption of denial". Critically, because the Vickers contract had been signed before this qualified embargo came into effect, the junta continued to take delivery of the Victor tanks. Eighteen of those tanks were delivered last year to the Nigerian armoured regiments, which are the backbone of the army and the guarantor of military power.

Moreover, despite the presumption of denial, we now know that no fewer than 30 export licences were granted for defence exports to Nigeria in the past two years. According to the Government, those licences were for "non-lethal" military equipment, but I have to point out that the Government had exactly the same rule for defence exports to Iraq. That allowed anything from tank and military helicopter spare parts to mortar-locating radar and military communications equipment to be shipped to that country. I do not mind making the presumption that the follow-on parts for Vickers tanks have been included in the defence sales to Nigeria over the past two years.

Despite constant probing by Labour Members, the Government have consistently refused to disclose details of the sales on the ground of commercial confidentiality. In a written answer, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), explained that it was Government practice not to reveal such details unless requirements of confidentiality are outweighed by the public interest."—[Official Report, 21 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 302.] The cat is now well and truly out of the bag about Nigeria. The murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues has brought home the nature of the regime with a vengeance.

I believe that certain principles are more sacrosanct than the confidentiality of commercial contracts, and not colluding with a bunch of vicious military despots is one such principle. The public need to be reassured that the defence licences to date have not served to sustain these thugs in power, that the arms ban announced by the Prime Minister in Auckland means what it says, that all such contracts will cease to have effect forthwith and that there is absolutely no question of further supplies of defence materials being sent to Nigeria. I call on the Government to disclose details of the defence sales and to offer an absolute guarantee that no more British military equipment will reach Nigeria until the junta is overthrown.

An embargo on arms sales would strike at the heart of the military regime in Nigeria. It is a matter of urgent necessity that Britain should use all its influence through the United Nations and the European Union to make that embargo stick. However, if military might is the heart of the military regime, its life blood is oil. Indeed, 90 per cent. of Nigeria's state revenues comes from oil sales. Much of that money goes straight to line the pockets of the military kleptocrats who rule that country.

It is estimated that, during the eight years of the Babangida regime, £9 billion was siphoned off from the oil revenues into the bank accounts of the generals. The Prime Minister was quoted as warning in Auckland that a comprehensive oil embargo would harm the Nigerian people more than it would the ruling military junta". He is quite wrong. Has the Prime Minister got any idea of how the vast majority of Nigerians live?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

Yes, he worked there.

Mr. Hill

He worked there 30 years ago in a bank for eight months. I am not aware that he has been back in the intervening period. If so, he would have discovered that—[Interruption] If the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants to challenge me on that point, I shall give way. He asks from a sedentary position how long I was there. Does he want to defend the present state of affairs in Nigeria? Does he deny the atrocious conditions in which most Nigerians live and which I am about to outline? Does he want to challenge me on that?

Mr. Corbyn

It is interesting to note that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has been laughing and giggling all the way through my hon. Friend's comments about Nigeria's appalling human rights record. The Minister is in a position to know what defence equipment was sold to Nigeria and to stop any more going the same way. The very least that the House can expect is an intervention from the Minister to say what he is going to do to restore human rights in Nigeria.

Mr. Hill

The Minister declines to take the opportunity to do so.

Dr. Reid

So does the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Hill

That reinforces our anxiety about the fact that, although the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that all the options would be examined and that the possibility of sanctions would be kept under review, there is thus, to date, very little solid commitment to effective international action against Nigeria. That is the point of our appeals this evening for effective action.

I am sure that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be interested to learn that most of the schools in Nigeria are closed most of the time, that the university system has broken down, that there is little or no health provision, that crime is rampant and that the economic system is on the point of collapse. The truth is that the oil revenues have not gone and are not going to the Nigerian people, many of whom face the daily prospect of starvation. The revenues from oil sales have been looted by the generals and their civilian collaborators, who have stashed the money in western banks or squandered it.

Half of Nigeria's oil goes to Britain and the United States and most of the rest of it goes to Europe as a whole. In other words, an oil embargo agreed by the United States and the European Union would have an immediate and immensely damaging effect on the junta's finances and would seriously weaken its position.

The Government should take firm action to halt Shell's planned £3 billion natural gas project at Bonny in Ogoniland. Shell is responsible for half the oil extraction in Nigeria. No other company has been more heavily involved in sustaining the generals in power. In Ogoniland people say that the fires of Shell are the fires of hell, and it was the rape of Ogoniland in pursuit of oil which led to the creation of Ken Saro-Wiwa's Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and thus to his murder by the regime.

It is wholly misleading for Shell to claim that because the project will not come on stream until the turn of the century, it will not assist the current ruling clique. The condition for any such deal will be huge upfront back-handers to the generals. That is why the Shell project should be stopped, and that is why Labour is right to call for the generals' personal assets in the European banks to be frozen. The Government should take the lead in arguing for the necessary Security Council resolution to that effect. I am told that during the Falklands war the assets of the Argentine junta were frozen. That is a clear precedent, and similar action ought to be taken against the Nigerian junta.

The truth is that the Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have pussy-footed around for too long in their treatment of the Nigerian junta. In August this year, the Commonwealth human rights initiative reported: By almost every human rights criterion, Nigerians are excluded from the guarantees which any Commonwealth country should expect. At the same time, however, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was compiling a country report on Nigeria for use by Home Office immigration officials. That report denied extensive human rights abuse in Nigeria, and that guidance has led to the scandalous record of only four grants of political asylum being made to more than 2,000 Nigerians who have applied for that status since the annulment of the election in 1993. If the Government are sincere in their condemnation of the Nigerian regime, they must draw the appropriate conclusions for their treatment of Nigerian political asylum seekers in Britain.

Ken Saro-Wiwa once said: Nigeria is a great country made small by little leaders". What is now required is the imposition of an effective sanctions regime by Britain and the international community, which will fatally weaken the generals and pave the way to a return to democracy and civilised government in that potentially great country.

7.9 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I shall not follow the comments of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) save to say that there can be no hon. Member who has not been deeply shocked and, indeed, appalled by the events in Nigeria in recent weeks. My only slight note of criticism of what the hon. Gentleman said, in a very eloquent speech, is that I do not think that he should cast any aspersion on the total commitment of the Prime Minister. What the Prime Minister said in Auckland carried with it the support of the overwhelming majority of people in this country, regardless of party or any sort of affiliation.

It was right that Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth. Many of us thought that—perhaps—Nigeria should have been expelled from the Commonwealth, but the judgment that was exercised was a fine one. Perhaps a degree of influence can be exercised in suspending rather than expelling Nigeria. I am content to rely on the total commitment and judgment of the Prime Minister. What was decided last week was entirely appropriate. It is right that the hon. Member for Streatham referred to the matter. It is right that he condemned in the roundest and most explicit terms the activities of what is obviously an abominable regime. I join him in hoping that its days are numbered.

I listened to the opening speeches and originally decided not to take part. I had thought that the House would be full for foreign affairs. From a personal point of view, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak, but I am sure that I would carry with me hon. Members in all parties in saying that it is a pity that, on this the second day of debating the Queen's Speech, more hon. Members are not taking part in what is in many ways the week's central debate. None the less, I welcomed much of what was mentioned concerning foreign affairs in the Gracious Speech and I shall refer to a few of the commitments given.

First, I shall deal with the Government's commitment to encourage a co-operative relationship between NATO and Russia, and to offer further help to countries in Central and Eastern Europe to consolidate democratic reforms and build stability and prosperity in the region. The events over the past seven or eight years have been as dramatic and cataclysmic as any we have seen in Europe this century. There can be nobody in the House who did not experience a sense of real relief and a thrill when the Berlin wall came down and when those countries that had suffered that long, dark winter of the cold war emerged into a sort of hesitant freedom.

I do not know what other hon. Members present think, but I feel that, perhaps, we could have done more to encourage and to assist. I think back especially to a conversation that I had when I took a delegation to Czechoslovakia—as it then was—some four years ago. We were received by the Speaker of the Parliament, Alexander Dubcek—one of the most remarkable men whom I have ever met. About 15 Members of both Houses were present and we had two hours of conversations with him.

Mr. Dubcek talked most movingly of his own career, of the appalling privations of his people and of the way in which he looked particularly towards Britain. As we were about to leave, I said to him, "Mr. President," for that was his title as Speaker of the Parliament, "what would be the message that you would like to give and what message should I take back to Britain?" He said, "It is very simple really. Of all the investment in my country, 85 per cent. at the moment is from Germany. Of the other 15 per cent., very little is from Britain. That is the message you should take back."

I did indeed take back that message. I saw my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), then Foreign Secretary, and we discussed the matter. Of course he understood and shared the desire to see greater British investment. I do not know the precise figures, and of course Czechoslovakia has split into its constituent parts—the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic—but I felt then and feel now that there was not throughout the west, perhaps with the exception of Germany, a sufficiently vibrant response to the coming down of the wall and the ending of the cold war. So I greatly welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to which I referred.

That commitment ties up inevitably with another in the Queen's Speech. Over the page, we read of the forthcoming intergovernmental conference and the desire to contribute to preparing the Union for further enlargement. I believe passionately that if we are to have a peaceful, prosperous and secure Europe through the next century, it is very important that the European Union is enlarged to include the Czech Republic, one hopes Slovakia, certainly Hungary, Poland, later Romania and the Baltic states. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spoke earlier of a Europe stretching from the coast of Brittany to the Urals and I would welcome that. Indeed, I believe that very few hon. Members would not welcome it.

Of course, such an enlarged Europe would be very different from the current European Union. It is impossible to think of sustaining the structural funds in their present form—not to mention the common agricultural policy in its present form—if it becomes that enlarged Europe. The very institutions will have to change too. One could not necessarily have Commissioners from every single country, especially if the Union takes in Malta and Cyprus, which are already on the list. We could not have Commissioners from everywhere. We certainly could not have a European Parliament that made any sort of sense if it had 1,000 members. That is what we are looking at if we enlarge the Union.

So there has to be much careful and deep thought at the intergovernmental conference next year and in the discussions leading up to it. I very much hope that that will happen because I would like to see that wider, enlarged Europe. In coming together, there is the greatest guarantee of security.

There is an analogy in the words of an American friend, to whom I spoke not so long ago and who was in Hawaii. He was walking with a British friend who commented on the number of Japanese premises and the amount of Japanese investment that he could see. The American turned round and said, "Well, if there had been that amount of Japanese investment previously, there would not have been Pearl harbour." The greater the commitment—financial and otherwise—the lesser the chance of conflict. The greater the contact between people, the greater the understanding and the lesser the chance of conflict.

So, an enlarged Europe, including the countries that I have mentioned, would be the best possible guarantee of a secure, prosperous and peaceful Europe for our children and our grandchildren. Beside that goal, the narrow interpretations of sovereignty—I am not a federalist but a confederalist—pale into insignificance. What matters to individuals above all else is their security. They want to grow up in peace and have a degree of prosperity. Those are old words and slogans but they still ring true and have validity. So I welcome enormously the mention of enlargement in the Gracious Speech.

I am pleased that the Government are to work for the continued implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, although it is a pretty awful word. Obviously, I welcome the efforts to combat fraud, although I sometimes think that we get that out of perspective. Of course it is reprehensible and should be rooted out but, set in the scale of the achievement of the European Union to date, it is a minor problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) talked of VE and VJ day. I am not among those who claim that the European Community, the Common Market and now the European Union alone was responsible for maintaining peace in Europe, but it is absolutely clear that, at its core, the alliance between France and Germany has done more to banish the prospect of war from western Europe than any other single factor. We should recognise that fact. Although I greatly welcome what appears to be a new and deeper accord—a new expression of the entente cordiale between Britain and France—when people have returned from meetings of the Council of Ministers in recent years, they have tended to talk of other members of the European Union as if there were a quasi-enmity between us. They are our partners and allies. They are nations with which we must work in ever closer accord if peace, prosperity and stability are to be achieved. I greatly welcome that section of the Gracious Speech.

I recently spent some time with colleagues in Finland, one of the new members of the European Union. It is an impressive country of remarkable reliability, efficiency, warmth and friendship, which has achieved an enormous amount since the war. Finland has been independent for only 77 or 78 years, emerging from a long, difficult period when it was part of the then Russian empire. Within a matter of 20 or 21 years, there came the period of the "winter war" and then, technically, Finland was on the other side from Britain, although Churchill and Mannerheim maintained a mutual respect. Churchill always regarded Finland as perhaps a co-belligerent of Germany but never an enemy of Britain. Strong ties exist between us. When I was there, it was apparent that Britain was held in the highest possible regard. That was also apparent when the Finnish President came here on a state visit a few weeks ago.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said that Britain was held in high esteem around the world. That is true. I am not being egocentric when I say that other countries around the world regard Britain as a special country. They greatly admire the fact that we are a permanent member of the Security Council, a member of the Group of Seven, a founder and leading member of NATO, as well as an important member of the European Union. They look to our long democratic tradition and the evolution of this place with affection and envy. I was certainly conscious of that in Finland. I visited the fine Parliament of that very democratic country, but the Finnish Government had to walk an extraordinary tightrope, maintaining Finland's freedom and democracy when the cold war was at its height, despite the fact that it had a 1,300 mile long boundary with the Soviet Union.

Given the regard in which this place is held, we must be careful not to damage it and talk it down. In some of our debates in recent weeks, even hon. Members tended to denigrate this institution. We must also remember that Finland, which is now the easternmost member of the European Union, forms the European Union's border with Russia. It is therefore particularly concerned about some of the issues to which I referred earlier, such as enlargement. It wants the Baltic states and Poland to become part of the European Union. It believes that it has a pivotal position—no one can deny that—but it also believes that, given the strength of our democracy, we have a contribution to make in bringing that about. We must not fail the expectations of friends and allies like Finland within the European Union.

The Gracious Speech also says: A substantial aid programme will be maintained, focused on the poorest countries, to promote sustainable development and good government, including respect for human rights. I was particularly glad to see that commitment in the Gracious Speech. This country has an aid record of which we can be proud, without being complacent, but many people are perturbed by recent suggestions that our aid programme will be cut in the forthcoming Budget. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the Front Bench. I hope that he will convey to the Chancellor, as I have already done in writing, my earnest hope that our aid programme will not be cut. Although we have every right to be proud of our programme, we are a great country and we have all the responsibilities consequent upon membership of the organisations that I mentioned a few moments ago. We have a pivotal position in the European Union and it would be shortsighted and unfortunate, to put it mildly, if there were a cut. I do not think that it will be cut in view of the bold and realistic commitment in the Gracious Speech, which I welcome enormously.

I suppose that I have some of the prejudices—we all have prejudices—of the old paternalistic Tory, but I take pride in the fact that this country built a great empire in the last century and took a degree of civilisation around the world. I never feel apologetic about our imperial past. Of course, we would rather that some episodes in it had not happened. That is inevitable in any human organisation, but the balance sheet is overwhelmingly on the credit side.

I hold the Commonwealth very dear. I believe that we have a responsibility, and a moral one, to many of the poorer nations. I suppose the poorest one I visited in my capacity as a Member of the House was the Solomon Islands, way down in the South Pacific. People may think, "How wonderful and romantic." Yes, it is beautiful and the people are friendly and delightful, but they live in grinding poverty and their life expectancy is half that of our own. It is therefore most important that such countries should be given every possible help.

I visited the Solomon Islands in 1988 for the state opening of Parliament. The temperature was 110 deg, the band played "God save the Queen", the Speaker wore his wig and robes and everyone else wore three-piece suits. It was an absolutely marvellous, splendid occasion.

Mr. Mackinlay

Did the hon. Gentleman wear that pullover?

Sir Patrick Cormack


The Solomon Islands is yet another country that looks to us, and has adopted the Westminster model of democracy. Its people talked with great affection about the Houses of Parliament. They talked with gratitude of the aid that they had received from this country. I would never like to think that we let such people down. I am therefore glad that the Gracious Speech contains such an explicit—one might say starkly explicit—commitment to aid.

The Gracious Speech also refers to the reform of the United Nations and efforts to enhance its effectiveness in peacekeeping operations. It also refers to the Government's commitment to promote a negotiated settlement in the former Yugoslavia. Some Members present would not be surprised if, during the course of any speech on foreign affairs, I talked at some length about the former Yugoslavia in general and Bosnia in particular.

I would like to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and through him to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, that I admire enormously what they have done in the past few months. I believe that the sad catalogue of Bosnia's history from April 1992 has been a dark, dark chapter in post-cold war history. As we have moved towards a new world order, there has not been any other episode that we will look back on with greater regret than the bloodletting of Bosnia, the destruction of so many towns and villages and the wholesale slaughter, maiming and rape of so many. We have spoken about that in the House before.

In earlier exchanges today, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) intervened on the Foreign Secretary and said that no one side in the conflict is immune from accusations of committing atrocities. He is right, of course. I have never sought to suggest otherwise, but I have always said that the largest share of responsibility for starting the conflict and perpetrating atrocities lies with Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs. I repeated that assertion again this afternoon and the Foreign Secretary accepted it.

I am extremely glad to note that in recent months, President Milosevic, doubtless continually reminded of how precarious his own economy is by the effect of sanctions, has taken a more constructive part in seeking to bring about a peaceful settlement. I will never be persuaded, however, that he has entirely changed his character, but we must live with such facts.

I am sad that we must live with the knowledge of a quarter of a million people dead. I believe that had we taken more cohesive, resolute and determined action earlier, that would not have happened. I am delighted that, at long last, real punitive action was taken during the summer. I believe that the exemplary manner in which our forces have behaved brings enormous credit to them. We would not be having talks in Dayton, Ohio or anywhere else had that action not been taken. It was a painful but necessary ingredient in the peace process. I just regret that firmer action was not taken and more united resolve shown earlier on in the conflict. In saying that, I do not cast any aspersions upon our troops, who had to cope for a long time with a fairly hopeless mandate; nor am I singling out for criticism any particular person. I am glad that that action was taken, and I believe that there is now a chance for peace.

When peace is finally agreed, it is crucial that Bosnia's identity is preserved. It is a nation state, it has been recognised as such and it has its seat at the United Nations. Some people may say that it should never have been given such recognition, but that happened, and we cannot allow a nation state to be snuffed out. If we did, the message that went out for the rest of this century and the century beyond would be dire. We have talked about that before.

Bosnia must have its territorial integrity respected. Any settlement reached must be a proper one. It must be agreed by all the parties concerned and then it must be internationally guaranteed. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, made it plain several times in the House that we were fully committed to such an international guarantee. His successor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence have confirmed that on numerous occasions in recent months, which is good.

Britain will play a full part in guaranteeing any settlement, and will do so with the full support of Members from all parts of the House, because if ever there was a need for a bipartisan approach in foreign policy, the former Yugoslavia is it. All the crucial decisions on foreign policy should have bipartisan support.

The settlement must be a proper peace and it must be monitored. An enormous amount of aid will have to be given to Bosnia and, to a lesser degree, to Croatia—one thinks of Vukovar razed to the ground. Massive international effort will be required to ensure the restabilising, if I can use that word, of the Balkans. If we do not grasp the current opportunity, I am afraid that everything could collapse again into chaos. The spectre of a Balkans war has been suspended—it has not been removed. It is still possible that there could be a Balkans war involving Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece—two NATO countries—and the whole cauldron of the Balkans could erupt.

There is now a real chance that that will not happen, and we must hope and pray that it does not. I wish Ministers every possible success in ensuring that that does not happen—and I even wish my talkative hon. Friend the Whip success in supporting the Government in that effort.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence must accept that we cannot and must not turn back in any way. We have created an opportunity for a real negotiated settlement, but nothing must be done to make those who perpetrated some of the horrors feel that they can get away with them. I am glad that that subject is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I have no hesitation in commending very warmly those sections of the Gracious Speech.

I know that, in the debate on the Gracious Speech, it is possible to move on to other topics, but I do not intend to do so. I am delighted that this parliamentary day has been devoted to foreign affairs. I wish Ministers every success in difficult negotiations at the intergovernmental conference and in all the other aspects that I spoke of during the coming Session of Parliament.

7.39 pm
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Three weeks ago from yesterday, I returned from a visit to Australia and New Zealand with a section of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. My colleagues on that visit were three Conservative members of the Committee, including the Chairman, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).

I came away from the visit convinced of several things. One of them was that, in the next 10 years, not only Australia but New Zealand will have become a republic. Incidentally, the discussions that I participated in showed that that had nothing to do with any animosity towards the royal family. Instead, the people I spoke to felt that their sovereignty was sometimes questioned by other states when they were represented at international conferences only by a governor-general.

However, those people also emphasised the importance of the Commonwealth. They regard the Commonwealth largely as their window to the outside world. If one considers that a small country such as New Zealand, with 3.4 million people, is able to have some influence in southern Africa and can influence events in Asia, one understands why, from the New Zealand perspective, the Commonwealth is regarded as more important than Members of the House often consider it to be.

People were very worried about the French nuclear tests in the Pacific. I believe that my Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee will agree that we had a preview of what the Prime Minister was to meet a few weeks later. I regret very much the fact that Britain, under the present Government, is the odd man out in Europe and has become the odd man out in the Commonwealth.

I hope that, in the discussions in the Commonwealth on what to do about Nigeria, we shall not be the odd man out concerning sanctions against Nigeria, including oil sanctions, as we were during the entire struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The Commonwealth will continue, I am sure, even though there is a recalcitrant member of it.

The Foreign Secretary said that, on foreign affairs, there is much bipartisanship between the political parties. He was correct in saying that there was agreement about many of the issues that he mentioned. However, my main criticism of British foreign policy is that it is all too often reactive rather than proactive. We should be proactive, but we are reactive to many of the troubles in the world.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) spoke about Yugoslavia, a subject to which I shall return. He and I may disagree about what has happened in Yugoslavia, but he will probably agree that we were reactive to events rather than proactive. In my opinion, the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia should have been upheld and maintained long ago, and more interest should have been taken in that part of the world.

We are also reactive, not proactive, in the face of militant Islamic fundamentalism. We should consider now the problems that will confront us in the not-too-distant future. Islamic fundamentalism of the militant type is one of the greatest potential dangers in the world today. All the way from the border of China to the border of Algeria and Morocco, it is a potential danger and a cause of much trouble, as Iran has often tried to export its Islamic revolution.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is right that Hamas will now take the democratic road in Gaza, but Hamas has been influenced by the fundamentalists in Iran. They are probably behind the recent explosion at the American base in Saudi Arabia. Even British and German tourists have met Islamic fundamentalism on their holidays in Egypt.

The answer lies, as it did in the case of the countries of eastern Europe, in the promotion of good government in that part of the world. Saudi Arabia can hardly be held up as a totem pole of democracy, and that lack of democracy will destabilise countries in that part of the world.

The second answer that is required, so to speak, is massive economic assistance to the poorer middle eastern countries. Obviously, I do not mean Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, 30,000 people live—day after day, night after night—in a large cemetery in Cairo. Obviously, that is the seed bed for the Islamic fundamentalists. In my book, if we are considering giving overseas aid, we should give a very high priority to countries in that part of the world, such as Egypt.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) mentioned the future expansion of NATO. I agreed with his cautionary note; probably, I would more than agree with his cautionary note, because I believe that the expansion of NATO—not the European Union, which is a different consideration—eastward to the borders of the territories of the former Soviet Union would be a potential source of instability in Russia.

It may be considered unorthodox to say so, but unless we take into account the need to secure the boundaries of Russia and of the other territories of the former Soviet Union, perhaps, one day, people will examine the past and say that the demise of the Soviet Union was one of the most tragic events of the last 10 years of the 20th century—not the end of Stalinism, not the end of the tyranny, but the end of the Soviet Union as an entity.

I agreed with the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), when he said that we were now in a world not of the new order, but of the new disorder. If someone had asked me 10 years ago, "Will your nephew"—the nephew had yet to be born—"ever be involved in warfare?" I should have replied, "Almost certainly not," because of the balance between the two super-powers. If I were asked the same question today, unfortunately, I could not answer so positively because of the nationalisms that have been thrown up as a result of the end of the Soviet Union. That is why it is essential to think again about NATO. We need to envisage a new security structure that embraces Russia, the Ukraine and other east European territories beyond the Vistula.

One fatal aspect of NATO is the dominance of the United States. Many have said that they welcome American participation in Europe, but we should be wary of such domination. The problem is well illustrated by the current arguments about the future Secretary-General of the organisation. The fact that someone such as Ruud Lubbers is not considered fit to be Secretary-General—

Mr. Mackinlay

Perhaps the CIA has something on him.

Mr. Wareing

Possibly, but the Independent of a few days ago reported that someone in the State Department had said that Mr. Lubbers is "not up to speed" on Bosnia. We should not be willing to go along with the American idea of what should happen in that part of the world.

Although the United States is powerful, economically and militarily, the men in the Pentagon and the State Department lack the sagacity necessary for world leadership. I refer, for instance, to the arguments in Washington about a possible US contribution to a peace force in Bosnia. No one can be sure that the President will get his way, because Congress has its hand on the tiller. That is why the United Kingdom must play a much more positive role in Europe. I do not wish to offend the Secretary of State for Defence in the aftermath of his dreadful speech—euphoric chauvinism—to the Conservative party conference, but I believe that there will need to be a common foreign and security policy in Europe.

I want now to refer to Yugoslavia and the conference in Dayton, Ohio. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire said that the peace has come about—we all hope for peace—simply because "punitive action" has been taken, by which he meant the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs. The fact is, however, that ordinary civilians suffered and died; collateral damage is just another name for the murder of ordinary people. If an imposed peace comes out of Dayton, it can never be a permanent peace. If, as a result of Dayton, Bosnia becomes an occupied country, with the possibility of conflict between the occupying armies and the local population, there will be no peace.

Nor can there be peace if the Serbs in the Republic of Srbska, now recognised as one of the two Bosnian entities, never have the right of secession. If it is right for the Muslim and Croatian populations in Bosnia to be able to join in a confederation, and if it was right for the Croats and Slovenes to leave Yugoslavia, why is it wrong for Serbs living in Krajina, Croatia or the Srbska republic to demand self-determination too?

Recently, the United States has definitely encouraged the arming of Croatia. The NATO air attacks in Bosnia—it is too much of a coincidence to believe otherwise—were part and parcel of the action that led to the occupation of Krajina by the Croats. People are fond of referring to the Krajina Serbs as rebel Serbs, even in eastern Slavonia. But the rebels are the Croats: it is they who broke up the former Yugoslavia, not the Serbs living in Bosnia.

The Americans seem quite prepared—I hope that we shall not follow their example—to ignore 200,000 ethnically cleansed Serbs from Krajina. No one suggests for one moment that the Serbs are guiltless—of course they are not, least of all the Bosnian Serbs. But one would have to go a long way to find 200,000 Muslims or Croats who have been dealt with as badly as the Krajina Serbs.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will comment on all this. When we talk about war criminals, where does Franjo Tudjman figure? Security Council resolution 752 states that Bosnia should be cleared of regular Croat troops. What has been done about that? What are the Government doing to ensure that the resolution is implemented? Croatia is probably now the most ethnically pure state in the whole of the former Yugoslavia. The most multi-ethnic state is Serbia itself, with its Hungarians, Croats, Albanians—the Albanians not always as well treated as they should be—and Muslims living together.

The Serbs in Croatia have been treated deplorably; I am afraid that the outside world is turning a blind eye to that. Elderly folk left behind when the younger people fled have been murdered in their villages, despite assurances from Tudjman that they would be quite safe. The young people fled because they knew what was going to happen, and indeed it did happen to the old people who were left behind.

The situation was well summed up in a Financial Times editorial of Tuesday 14 November: The Serbs in Croatia are perceived as the guilty party, because of the acts committed on their behalf by the Yugoslav army in 1991. But the fact is they found themselves in an independent Croatia without having any say in the matter. The last time that happened, during the second world war, many thousands of them were massacred. President Tudjman made no serious attempt to allay their fears that this might happen again. Instead he adopted the same flag and currency as the wartime fascist state, and named streets after some of its less savoury leaders. We ignore those events at our peril. As I said earlier, an imposed peace can never be a permanent peace. Those who are interested can read about what happened following the signing of the treaty of Versailles; there is plenty of literature on the subject. Any solution in the Balkans must be based on an even-handed approach to all the nationalities in the region.

I also ask the Secretary of State to address the issue of Guatemala. Many people are concerned about what is happening in that country. After 7 December, Alfonso Portillo—I trust that he is no relation of the Secretary of State—may be installed in government. He is regarded as the stooge of Rios Montt, who is a previous dictator of that country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I have visited Belize, and a few years ago the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) asked us what we thought of his idea of withdrawing British defence forces in order to save £9 million. We both replied that we thought that it was a ludicrous proposition. Although the situation in Guatemala looked peaceful at that time and Belize had been scrubbed from Guatemalan maps, the country was basically unstable.

The British forces engaged in valuable jungle training in south America—one of the few areas of the world where that is possible—and they also performed a useful role on the drug trail from Colombia. My hon. Friend and I witnessed them in action and were present when they discovered some drugs. I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider the situation, which led to the defeat of the then Prime Minister of Belize at the last election.

Finally, I repeat my plea to the Secretary of State: for goodness' sake, let Britain have a proactive and not a reactive foreign policy.

8.1 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I hope that I will not ruin the reselection chances of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing)—

Mr. Wareing

I have already been reselected.

Mr. Garnier

I am delighted to hear it. I have always had a particular fondness for the hon. Gentleman; I have kept that to myself, but I shall reveal it this evening. He spoke immediately after me when I made my maiden speech in May 1992 and he remarked very kindly about my slight contribution to the Second Reading debate on Maastricht. It was about 12.30 in the morning and he was one of the few hon. Members present in the Chamber to hear me. I was glad that he was there and I was very grateful for his kind comments.

Hon. Members will be used to hearing references to the "thin red line" in defence debates, but at present I feel as though I am the sole blue dot in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, it is regrettable—although understandable—that few hon. Members are present to debate two of the things that the Conservatives are rather good at: defence and foreign affairs. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and I shall be able to speak for more than five minutes before 9.15 pm.

I shall not try to compete with the travel experiences to which right hon. and hon. Members have referred tonight. The hon. Member for West Derby has been all over the world in the pursuit of knowledge, and he has led many other hon. Members who have travelled to countries such as Nigeria, if not Guatemala. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) has visited Nigeria, and tonight he spoke most eloquently and passionately of his concerns about the state of affairs in that country.

I must confess that my only connection with Nigeria—although it is not a recent one—involves weapons. It concerns my grandfather, who was injured by a poisoned spear during a colonial skirmish before the first world war. I still have the spear, although it is no longer poisoned. I appreciate the distress of the hon. Gentleman and those who share his views about the export of arms to Nigeria. However, arms sanctions would not have assisted my grandfather in 1910 or 1911 when he served with the 5th Fusiliers as a young subaltern, as I do not believe that we exported spears in those days.

I shall deal now with the substance of the Gracious Speech and the issues of defence and foreign affairs. Like other Conservative Members, I am delighted to see a reference to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the early paragraphs of the Gracious Speech. Her Majesty said: My Government will encourage a co-operative relationship between NATO and Russia, and will offer further help to countries in Central and Eastern Europe to consolidate democratic reforms". We must be careful not to promise more than we can deliver at this stage, and we must be careful not to raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the general principle behind the words in the Gracious Speech should be applauded, and I do so.

I refer my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to a question that I asked of the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's questions on 2 February this year. I asked my right hon. Friend to confirm the Government's commitment to preserving the front-line strength of our armed forces. I also asked him to contrast the Government's policy with the Opposition's only defence policy, which is to cut and cut again. I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister answered in very forthright terms. He said: We are committed to stability for the armed forces". He went on to say that he had given that promise during a recent visit to the Camberley staff college. He continued: I made it clear that the big upheavals in the armed forces are over. The level of front-line manpower has been set and we do not intend to reduce it". He told me that I could be reassured about the matter. He went on: Nor do we intend to adopt Labour's policy of scrapping nuclear defence, or a fresh defence review bringing uncertainty to each and every area of the defence services".—[Official Report, 2 February 1995; Vol. 253, c. 1215.] Those words were a source of great encouragement to me and I trust that all hon. Members will remember them for many years. I am sure that they brought comfort to members of the armed forces.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), I have enjoyed my service with the parliamentary armed forces scheme. It is a valuable scheme and I commend it to those hon. Members who have not yet experienced it. It provides hon. Members who have no direct military experience with an insight into the way in which our modern armed forces operate. It is instructive for those of us who live and work in the somewhat febrile atmosphere of politics to see that the qualities of loyalty, stability and certainty survive within the armed forces, although we do not often see them elsewhere.

I can tell you how to make a regimental sergeant major blanch, Madam Deputy Speaker—I have seen a Labour Member of Parliament do just that. When asked what Labour's defence policy will be in government, Labour Members will reply, "We will have a fundamental defence review." Upon hearing that, all the colour will immediately drain from the face of a regimental sergeant major, because the one thing that our armed forces do not want is yet another review that will cause further instability. I hope that my right hon. Friend will confirm in his winding-up speech that the promise of stability given to the House by the Prime Minister on 2 February will be made again and again.

May I also echo my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who praised the work of the Foreign Office and our diplomats overseas. They are often the subject of ill-informed abuse, which is unfair and ignorant. The work of our embassy and diplomatic staff at home and abroad, in conjunction with the work of seconded staff to the Foreign Office such as those from the Department of Trade and Industry, is much admired, and there is much to be admired. I recommend that hon. Members who have a chance to go abroad—

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Should do so.

Mr. Garnier

Indeed, they should do so. Some have done so already. I hope that they made a point of calling on our embassies and high commissioners to see the calibre of the staff. Despite the abuse from those who are less informed, they do a marvellous job. As others have mentioned, their work to encourage investment into Britain is second to none and requires frequent praise.

The United Kingdom has traditionally taken a somewhat detached view of European affairs, intervening directly only when her vital interests were affected by some threat to the balance of power. In general terms—I stress the word "general"—from the 17th century onwards our trading links have been predominantly with the world beyond Europe where we have left the old great powers of Russia, Prussia, the Austrian empire and France to work things out among themselves.

That detached attitude towards Europe is best encapsulated by the words of the Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in the last years of the 19th century: English policy is to float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boat-hook to avoid collisions.". In uttering those words, Lord Salisbury was guilty of no more than typical English understatement, but perhaps the style as much as the substance of British policy in Europe has led to some of the misunderstandings of what the United Kingdom does and intends.

The history of Europe is one of conflict. Since the first Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar, we British have been inextricably linked to the European political and diplomatic scene, nearly always acting in concert with allies, though sometimes alone, in the furtherance or protection of our national interests. I use the words "allies" and "interests" advisedly, remembering the words of another great 19th century Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, who remarked that Britain had no eternal allies, but only eternal interests.

In the past, we have fought alongside certain European powers against others and then alongside our former foes against our former allies, but always with one goal in mind: the restoration and maintenance of a balance of power in Europe because it is through peace and stability that our interests are best served. Some would say "perfide Albion". I prefer "Britannia pragmatica".

So where does that lead us in considering British policy towards current common foreign and security policy? It is the third pillar of the European Union. Article B of the treaty on European Union states that the objective of the Union is to assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the eventual framing of a Common Defence Policy, which might in time lead to a Common Defence. It is important to make a distinction between a common European security policy, which formally came into existence in November 1993 and which perhaps emerged de facto during the 1980s, and a common European defence. The common provisions of the treaty speak of the implementation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy but the framing of a common defence policy is seen only as "eventual"—something that might in time lead to a common defence. There is an awful lot of work to be done before we come anywhere near that.

Discussion of the effectiveness of the CFSP generally centres on Bosnia. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) wrote in an article in International Affairs in 1994: Bosnia has been regarded widely as a test for CFSP. Indeed, it is sometimes argued the CFSP has been found to be futile because we have not been able to stop the war. The failure may be even more damning since the European Community's early involvement in the crisis was heralded as such a success. After the Brioni accords of June 1991, which ended the confrontation between the Federal Yugoslav Government and Slovenia, Jacques Poos, the Luxembourg Foreign Minister and President exclaimed: This is the hour of Europe. Within a year, however, much of eastern Croatia had been devastated by war and a new conflict was waged in Bosnia that, to a greater or lesser degree, continued until very recently.

Numerous reasons have been put forward for that failure. Above all, a peace settlement is dependent on the consent of the warring parties and the failure of independent European action has been shared by the limited success of other institutions such as NATO, the United Nations and the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, although with the more active intervention of the United States through NATO, together with the deployment of additional United Kingdom and French troops on the ground, there has been considerable movement towards a settlement of the conflict in former Yugoslavia. We all hope that the discussions currently taking place in Dayton, Ohio will lead to a permanent peace. There have been suggestions that I am wrong to be too hopeful, but expressing hope is worthy of repetition. If we remain pessimistic, we may as well give up and go home.

Those factors do not disguise the persistent problem, which was always visible in European foreign policy making under European political co-operation, and which remains under the CFSP: deep-seated national differences in foreign and economic policy often undermine common European Union action.

In the former Yugoslavia, for example, European Union policy making has been hindered by the differing historical and geographical perspectives of individual members. For example, traditional German sympathies for Croatia and Greek attachments to Serbia have cut across common positions. Even as war began, Britain, France and Germany were pushing in opposite directions. While London and Paris wished to preserve a unitary Yugoslav state, Germany did not, resulting in much acrimony before the European Union decided to recognise Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992.

In June 1993, Chancellor Kohl supported President Clinton's policy of lifting the arms embargo on the Muslims in direct opposition to the then policy of Britain and France. At the same time, despite clarifying its constitutional position on the use of force, for political reasons Germany was not able to send troops to join UNPROFOR.

Others have blamed the European Union's limited impact on Bosnia on institutional weakness and, in particular, on a lack of political will. Certainly, as with the European political co-operation, the CFSP has tended to be reactive, and that refers back to the point made by the hon. Member for West Derby. That may in part be caused by the limited size of CFSP institutions and the bureaucratic consequences of intergovernmentalism. CFSP mechanisms may work well when there is a prepared and long-standing agenda, as for example with the European stability pact, but may prove less effective in producing policies in response to rapidly occurring crises.

Building consensus among numerous national Governments is often time consuming. Moreover, the fact that the CFSP lacks any significant contingency funding may prove a major disincentive to rapid actions. A further weakness of the CFSP is that it has often depended on the diplomatic resources of the country holding the presidency, although to a large extent the creation of the Troika has overcome that weakness.

Mr. Mackinlay

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, but I seek your guidance because my understanding—I hope to be corrected—is that he is the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis). [Interruption.] I am sorry to learn that he is no longer the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister, but he is a PPS and it seems unusual and unprecedented that a PPS should be brought in to bat because there is nobody else on the Conservative Benches to speak.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Garnier

It is a matter for me, Madam Deputy Speaker, to reply to an offensive remark from an ignorant Member. I am no longer the PPS to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am now delighted to be the PPS to the Law Officers. I have not been brought into the Chamber. I have followed Foreign Office and defence affairs consistently since I became a Member of Parliament. I was elected as secretary of the Back-Bench foreign affairs committee within days of being elected a Member. I have made a point of following foreign affairs since then.

I hope that I may be allowed to continue. My contribution may not interest the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) but I am surprised that he is offended by it. On other occasions, I have found him to be a rather more reasonable fellow. It may be that, as we come nearer to the election, the gloves must come off. He may have to think of reasons for interrupting and making a nuisance of himself.

I was about to make a general point before the minor disturbance on the Opposition Benches below the Gangway. It may be easy for national Governments to blame European Union institutions for their indecision. European leaders, fearful of a lack of public support for the number of casualties in Bosnia that might be consequent on large-scale military European action in former Yugoslavia, have shown themselves hesitant to intervene. Perhaps more significantly, with member states faced with budgetary deficits and a desire to capitalise on the peace dividend resulting from the end of the cold war, European Treasuries have been reluctant to finance the cost of intervention. Despite the changes brought by the CFSP, European foreign and defence policies are faced with a large discrepancy between declaration and reality.

The question is whether the CFSP and European defence co-operation can become more effective or whether The Guardian, which I suspect the hon. Member for Thurrock reads more often than me, was right to suggest in June 1993—

Mr. Mackinlay

I read The Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Garnier

—that the very notion of a common foreign and security policy was always a utopian chimera.

Britain, which has throughout been influential in European foreign policy, has said that it favours limited changes to CFSP structures and improved mechanisms for intergovernmental and interinstitutional co-operation. In his article, to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney considered the future of the CFSP. He wrote: The danger is that we allow ourselves to be side-tracked from the real business of foreign policy co-operation by becoming embroiled in bureaucratic wrangles over minutiae: process not policy. There is the danger too, that CFSP will develop into a complex and cumbersome system bogged down by bureaucracy and doctrine". He added that Britain favours development of the CFSP by consent, not by coercion, and with the flexibility to act and react quickly and imaginatively without the legal and procedural constraints of Community practice. A strengthened CFSP secretariat, my right hon. Friend said, should include a small forward-planning unit that might, for example, provide contingencies for the council to consider in reaction to a particular event. That would contribute to a flexibility which allows ministers to respond to fast-moving events … CFSP should lead from common analyses through common policy to common actions. There is no doubt that defence and security will be important issues at the intergovernmental conference. The review at the IGC should take account of the overriding and continuing importance of NATO; of developments in western Europe since the signing of the treaty on European union that affect the shared interests and common security of member states; of progress in the implementation of economic and political reforms in the countries of central and eastern Europe, including the development of new partnerships with western institutions and the perspective of their enlargement; and of the future potential for instability that might lead to challenges to European interests and to conflict and suffering that European states will wish to prevent or relieve.

The United Kingdom is irrevocably part of the European Union. We wish to see a Europe that is outward looking rather than introspective, pulling its full weight internationally and acting as a power for good in the world. We want a Europe that encourages and allows flexibility, recognising the diversity of its members rather than trying to impose undue conformity. Its development must be realistic, attainable and supported by its peoples.

As for defence and security, I hope that we shall carry into the debate a firm view that European nations should develop arrangements for the future that will ensure that, consistent with our NATO obligations, Europe collectively is able to shoulder more effectively its share of the burden of promoting security and stability on the continent, on its periphery and beyond. We shall also want to see arrangements put in place that ensure that the burden is shared equitably among European nations.

The Western European Union has an important and growing role to play in the development of a European security and defence identity. There is a close relationship between the WEU and the security guarantee contained in the Brussels treaty and NATO with the security guarantee that is contained in the Washington treaty. We have worked over the past decade since the reactivation of the WEU to develop its ability to contribute to the European pillar of NATO, which is the means of enhancing the European contribution to NATO's actions and of taking our fair share, with our north American allies, of the burden of ensuring our common security. The consequence of the decisions taken at Maastricht is that the WEU is now being developed into having a dual capacity, not only as a means of contributing to the European pillar of NATO but as the defence component of the European Union.

Definition of the European defence policy should start with a proper assessment of what Europeans can realistically expect to do together. Surely it would be wasteful to develop separate and wholly European military structures. Europe should capitalise on the foundation that has been built in NATO so that it is able to continue to provide the basis of our common defence and security and we are able to preserve and further develop a basis for bringing together coalitions of European and north American forces for major combat operations as, for example, we saw in the Gulf.

In that context, the WEU's role should be to act as a more effective European pillar of the alliance. In the new strategic environment, however, military forces are more likely to be used for lesser crisis-management tasks; for peace support operations and in support of those working for the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

NATO structures and capabilities are being adapted to allow the WEU to undertake the new tasks to which I have referred. It would be unreasonable, however, to expect the United States and Canada to participate in every such mission in future. There must be genuine burden sharing. Although we do not doubt the commitment of our north American allies to our common defence, we should not overstrain that commitment by expecting them to intervene in all European security operations. It would be wrong to act on the basis that they will always be here just when we need them.

The United Kingdom has world-class, highly experienced armed forces, both regulars and reserves. I was glad to read the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Reserve Forces Bill. I think that that measure will underscore the valuable role that the reserves play. When I was with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was fortunate to get to the Falklands, where there was a company of territorial soldiers. That company was taking its part in the roulement—the deployment of a military company in that far-flung theatre. I hope that the Reserve Forces Bill, which we shall debate later in the Session, will yet further reinforce the view that the Government and the public find that the reserves carry out a valuable role that is much appreciated.

The main vehicle through which Europe should work together is the WEU, acting either on its own behalf or, if it wished, in response to a request from the European Union. I am delighted that, at the beginning of next year, the UK will assume the presidency of the WEU. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will attend its discussions regularly and reinforce the British point of view on the defence of Europe. There is no point in pretending that we can cut ourselves off in political, diplomatic or trade terms from the continent of Europe. It is important, however, that we do not allow ourselves to be subsumed into some wonderful wish-tank in which all difficult and problematical issues can be solved by saying, "Let us all fold the WEU into the European Union and assume that the WEU will provide the European army." Life is not like that. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend, when at the WEU or when discussing European defence matters elsewhere, to ensure that our position is firmly made clear.

European defence and security will be one of the key issues at the IGC. It is vital. European defence and security is our defence and our security. We must play a leading role in the debate up to, and at, the conference to secure the arrangements that we believe should be put into place for the future—arrangements that are realistic, flexible and command popular consent. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence continues, as I hope that he will, to ignore the abuse that is being spilled at him from across the Chamber, and continues with his sensible course of managing the affairs of our armed forces; if he ensures that they are allowed to remain in a state of stability, that they are allowed to be maintained in a state of high morale and that they have the best possible equipment; he will ensure not only that he is held in the highest esteem but that our armed forces, which have been the envy of our allies for centuries, will themselves remain in the highest esteem.

I am very pleased to have been able to contribute in some small way to the debate this evening. I trust that the Gracious Speech will be as warmly welcomed by others in the Chamber as it has been by me.

8.30 pm
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

Last year in the debate on the Queen's Speech, on 29 November, because there was a shortage of hon. Members who wished to speak, I spoke for 32 minutes. On that occasion I was able to pay tribute to certain constructive policies that were being proposed by the Government. It represented some 15 per cent. of what I had to say, but it was 15 per cent. more than I am able to make reference to tonight, because the Gracious Speech is bland in many respects and quite dangerous in others.

I enjoyed the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Secretary of State. I wish that I shared his confidence that this will be the last Queen's Speech that I will debate in opposition. I fear that that will not be so because the Government will go the full term. I do not think that an opportunity will arise where they can go to the country and hope to win an election, and that pleases me immensely. That did not seem quite so clear last year, but it does now.

One of the great pleasures of the debate on the Queen's Speech is that a Back Bencher can speak on any subject providing that he does not stray away from the Queen's speech, or what he thinks should be in it. I have always been grateful for that, because, unfortunately, since the Jopling reforms Back Benchers have not had quite the same opportunities to be free of their party, whichever party that happens to be, to say what they really think and to allow for some fresh ideas on occasions.

I was a little concerned when I read through the Gracious Speech to read one or two terms. I know that it is easy to be accused of picking out words and putting one's own interpretation on them, and I trust that the House will accept that I am not trying to do that, but there are certain phrases that mean different things to different people, and I have to try to interpret what they mean to me. The term "minimum nuclear deterrent" has been used, as part of the policy of the Government, as has "preventing the proliferation of weapons" and "test ban treaty".

I am sorry to tread over ground that has already been extremely well trodden in the debate, but I do not see where those particular aspirations fit in with the quite reprehensible attitude that the Government have shown towards the French nuclear tests. No consideration has been given to what our Commonwealth partners in New Zealand and Australia feel about them, or to the people who live in the area. I make the point to the Government that it seems to me that if only two countries were in favour of the tests—every other country appears to be either against them or neutral, but mostly against them—perhaps it is time that we revisited the matter and decided that we may well have been wrong. I think that we are wrong, and I hope that as time goes on the Government will appreciate that. We will not move towards getting an effective test ban treaty by taking the attitude that we have over the French tests. It has caused tremendous dissatisfaction among the public, and I hope that that will be reflected when we have a general election.

Reference is made to the role of NATO and its relationship with Russia. The term "to consolidate democratic reforms" is used. I do not imagine that anyone would argue about that, but I hope that the Government are talking about consolidating democratic reforms and not just about what is pragmatic for commerce, because at the moment in Russia the regime that this Government are supporting and propping up does not seem to have the whole-hearted support of the Russian people. If we really believed in democracy, we would respect what its people are asking for. I am afraid that at the moment that is not happening.

The Gracious Speech also says: A substantial aid programme will be maintained". I have always understood that the word "substantial" means anything above nil. So if one presents somebody with one penny, one is providing. them with something substantial. But that is not the way in which most people will read such a phrase. Most people would assume from reading it that we were giving out tremendous amounts of foreign aid and that that will be maintained. In effect, since 1979, year on year we have seen a reduction in the real value of what this country is paying out in foreign aid. We heard many fine words, not least from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, about the United Nations. If we really had respect for the UN, we would uphold what we had agreed to do within that body. We would also perhaps consider taking a little more notice of some of the International Labour Organisation conventions, on which the Government have an appalling record.

Mention was made today of the problem of Nigeria. The term used in the Gracious Speech is to strengthen the ties between members of the Commonwealth. If the Commonwealth is to mean anything at all and if it is to reflect the sort of life, the ethos, the principles that an advanced democratic nation expounds, there is no place in it for a military dictatorship. There is no place for totalitarian states within the Commonwealth. The question should be whether sanctions will be considered. Another word of warning on that issue. Nelson Mandela states that something serious and substantial needs to be done about the situation in Nigeria. I hope that the Government will take more notice of him than they did when he was in exile, when through the African National Congress he was begging this country to put sanctions on South Africa. I have no doubt that South Africa might have been reformed a lot more quickly had it not been for the support of Baroness Thatcher and her ilk when it really mattered. I hope that we shall see some change in the Pontius Pilate-type approach: waiting to see which way the wind is blowing, before we decide what we are going to do. Human rights are more important than pragmatic considerations of commerce. The Government do not have a very good record on that, but I always live in hope that we can look to better things.

Northern Ireland is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. The Government say that they will continue to build on the present peace. I sincerely hope that the present peace continues, so that it can be built on. Once again, I make a plea to the Government, as I have done on previous occasions, to be prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations with any organisation that is not proscribed by law. If an organisation is considered fit by the Government to stand in elections and to represent people in local government, and, indeed, in the Chamber, should that be the case, it should be recognised and negotiated with. Sinn Fein has every bit as much right to be negotiated with as any of the Unionist factions. I hope that the Government will do something about that, because if the peace process flounders, we will go back not to where we were, but to something that I believe could be considerably worse, and I am fearful of that. I sincerely hope that that will not happen.

I cannot help but note that small businesses get a mention in the Gracious Speech. I am afraid that they do not do too well out of the market forces that are so beloved of the Government. The reality is that many small businesses rely on their revenue from large businesses, which are often in quite a monopolistic position. It is all very well saying that market forces will prevail, but if one is a small business and wants the bills to be paid, and the people who owe money also keep one in business, one is in an extremely weak position. I hope that the Chancellor, in the Budget, does something about that so that small businesses can deal with the debt that they often face. Banks are not very kind to small businesses; I hope that they will receive a better response from larger businesses.

I was pleased to learn that the Government are fully committed to the channel tunnel rail link. I have been a member of the Committee considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill since February last year, and do not see the Committee stage ending before February next year; the news gave me some consolation. If such business is not to be dealt with in the Chamber—I fully accept that that is not unreasonable—I hope that the Government are whole-heartedly behind the Bill in its entirety.

Mention has been made of easing the restrictions on broadcasting ownership. I hope that the Government will not go down that road. Monopoly holdings already exist in the press and other media—which the Government themselves have suffered for on numerous occasions, if they could but see it—and I hope that they will not allow the position to worsen.

The education proposals are probably the worst aspect of the Queen's Speech. The Government say that they intend to expand nursery education. When the Conservatives were in charge of one or two local authorities, including some counties—they are not in charge of many now—their record was abysmal. The expansion of which the Government speak will not happen when Labour councils that have provided nursery education for four-year-olds are now threatened with a loss of the revenue that would allow that provision to continue.

I hope that the Government have learnt the lesson of the poll tax, because the nursery education voucher scheme is the poll tax in reverse. It gives out regardless of circumstances rather than taking in regardless of circumstances, as the poll tax did. People will be subsidised when they are prepared to pay for private nursery education; others will be subsidised when they may have other arrangements. The net result will be the inability of local authorities to provide such education—I understand that 87 per cent. of it is currently provided by local authorities. The system may bring about a negation of what the Government claim to believe in.

I am also intrigued by the borrowing powers for grant-maintained schools. The coupling of those powers with selective school admissions will mean the disestablishment of state education.

The Government say that they will make better provision in the housing sector. If a return to private landlords and people living with intimidation and threats represents better provision, yes—we are on the way to that. Housing provision will improve only if the Government start to take note of those involved, and make some £1,000 million per annum available for the creation of 30,000 jobs in the sector and to enable us to escape from the current continuing decline in housing. That would also help the homeless.

I note that the Government intend to abolish councils' responsibility for the homeless. We now know that, according to Government policy, the homeless are responsible for their own plight—not unlike the unemployed.

An important element that is missing from the Gracious Speech is the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill. I was appalled to discover recently from an organised publicity campaign by the Body Shop that one in five women suffer from domestic violence at some time in their lives. That is appalling in a civilised society, and we must find a way of legislating against such bestial behaviour.

I have spoken for 13 minutes. I have not tried to drag my speech out as others have, but I shall sit down to allow two of my hon. Friends the opportunity to speak.

8.43 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I shall speak for 10 minutes about foreign and security policy. Incidentally, I think that a time limit should be imposed on speeches in debates such as this, so that all hon. Members can make a proper contribution.

The theme of human rights is very current, in view of what has happened in Nigeria and many other places. In that context, we must consider the ability of world institutions to keep the peace and ensure justice. That is clearly not being done at present. The British Government have demonstrated their priorities by spending nearly £24 billion a year on defence and arms: that has brought about an enormous growth in weaponry, and a heavy promotion of arms sales. An increasingly large proportion of British manufacturing industry is dedicated to such sales—and anyone who looks carefully at what happens to the arms that are sold will find that they end up in the hands of oppressive and repressive regimes, and are used internally for repressive purposes.

I have before me an excellent document produced by the World Development Movement, entitled "Gunrunners' Gold: how the public's money finances arms sales". I suggest that the Secretary of State for Defence reads it carefully, and takes note of the relationship between overseas development expenditure and the expenditure of arms companies in promoting and propping up appalling regimes. Indonesia is just one example of the way in which British arms have been used to pursue a policy of genocide against the people of a country.

We have heard strong rumours that Britain's aid budget is to be cut substantially. That is on top of a stated Government strategy of pursuing a trade policy—with the assistance of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the World Trade Organisation—that specifically takes from the poorest in the world and redistributes the money to the banking systems of the richest nations.

Quite simply, the Government are very much part of a globalisation of the economy designed to reduce the poverty of the poorest to penurious levels—as is currently the case—and to increase the wealth that exists in the richest parts of the world. A quarter of the world's population lives in absolute poverty. Many people do not live to even half the age that we would expect in this country, and millions of children around the world do not live to the age of five. Millions more receive no education.

It is not as if the situation were improving. In country after country—in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia and parts of Latin America—such is the burden of foreign debt and export-led growth that education and health services have been closed down, and life expectancy is falling as a result. We cannot be complacent in a world in which such appalling things are happening. The real problem is the imposition of a global economy that has led to corruption and support for repressive regimes, provided that they continue with the economic strategies that are imposed on them.

In the 19th century, colonialism came from British, German and French gunboats arriving on the coast to impose a particular kind of law and order—a Pax Britannica, or Pax Europa. The same principle applies now; the only difference is that a sharp-suited gentleman from the World bank or the International Monetary Fund now arrives to impose policies that will lead to equivalent levels of poverty.

Many hon. Members have spoken movingly about the situation in Nigeria—in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Streatham (Mr. Hill). I shall speak briefly on the subject. I must draw attention to the hypocrisy of the British Government: they knew full well of the abuses of human rights that were continuing in Nigeria, and the danger to Ken Saro-Wiwa's life, but they did very little about it.

There is a direct link between arms sales and Nigeria's economic and human rights crises. Over the past 15 years, the massive arms sales programme of Britain and other European Governments has pushed up Nigeria's foreign debt to more than $30 billion. Nigeria used to be a middle-income country, but since 1981 gross national product per capita has fallen by two thirds. Eleven out of every 100 babies die before their first birthday—the same figure as 30 years ago.

What has Britain sold over the past 15 years? It has sold 118 Vickers main battle tanks. I am not sure where the external threat to Nigeria is, but I am sure that those tanks will be used on the streets of Lagos and other cities to control people who are trying to demonstrate in favour of human rights and democracy in that country. Britain has also sold Saladin armoured cars, British Aerospace Jaguar ground attack aircraft and Saxon armoured personnel carriers.

The Government claim that they are not selling any lethal equipment that could be used for purposes of internal repression. Since January 1995, however, they have admitted to more than 30 export licences for non-lethal military equipment for Nigeria. They relate to ammunition, large-calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, missiles, mines, vehicles, toxicological agents, riot control agents, military explosives and propellants, combatant vessels, aircraft and training equipment.

We have heard that sorry tale before, in the case of Iraq. Export credit guarantee support for Iraq went up in the year of the 1988 Halabjah massacre. I hope for a total cessation of all arms sales and a halt to all arms traffic to Nigeria. I hope that that will be followed by strong economic sanctions, including a refusal to buy oil because that is the only kind of language that that military regime will understand.

In many ways the questions about Nigeria relate to many other places. The Ogoni people, of whom Ken Saro-Wiwa was the best known although many others laid down their lives for them, were attempting to protect their communities, their ecology, environment and land, against the oil industry. Massive demonstrations have taken place in that country and, as a result, people have been gunned down. There have also been demonstrations around the world. The oil companies try to wash their hands and say, "It has nothing to do with us: we are merely looking after our own interests." But they must look at where their profits come from and at the damage that they are doing to people in those countries.

I could say much about human rights throughout the world but I shall briefly mention two cases. A few days ago I met a group of Makuxi indians from Roraima province in the north of Brazil. They were assured by the Group of Seven industrial countries that the rights of indigenous people in Brazil would be protected and that money would be made available to ensure that. They told me tales about gold mining, pollution, the destruction of their environment, alcoholism, crime, corruption and robbery that are happening to them because they are standing up for an environmentally sustainable life style and system that is contrary to the wishes of international corporations and mining companies. They are suffering as a result.

Those people came here and they are travelling to other European capitals to plead with people to raise the issue in their Parliaments. I am pleased to be able to do that here and I have tabled some parliamentary questions on the issue. Those people seek environmental sustainability but the World bank model for Brazil, as for many other countries, is to dam the rivers, exploit the ground as rapidly as possible, introduce western farming techniques and then be concerned about the environmental impact of such policies. We must look seriously at what we are doing to the environment of poor people in the poorest parts of the world. I could give other examples but I want to be brief.

Over the past 30 to 40 years the conflict in central America has been essentially between rich and poor. The richest people own the majority of the land and the oligarchies in every central American country have always been propped up by powerful armies. In Guatemala, the powerful army has been sustained by arms sales from all over western Europe and the United States. The peace that has come to Guatemala is not a happy peace. Human rights abuses continue and people still disappear. Anyone who speaks out against human rights abuses is subjected to interest by the police and death has resulted.

At the moment we are training Guatemalan army officers, and training a few officers is giving no message other than that we support the pre-eminent, powerful position of the Guatemalan army. We should support independent institutions that could do something to bring justice and human rights to that poor country, and as an example of what is happening in other parts of central America.

All over the world it is not the thirst for market forces, for free market enterprise, that people necessarily seek. They are looking at the environmental consequences of that policy. Everyone has environmental concerns because we all live on the same planet. I have an interesting document produced by the Just World Trust, which is based in Penang in Malaysia. In a book called "Dominance of the West over the Rest" there is an article called "The Metamorphosis of Colonialism" by Jeremy Seabrook. In a part about India it states: The Chilka Bachao Andolan (Save Chilika Movement) for example, comprises two hundred thousand people living around the magnificent … water lake in Orissa, who are defending their way of life against export demand for industrially cultivated prawns. Their life style is being destroyed and they are another example of victims of globalisation of the economy and what goes with it.

Tomorrow the President of Guyana, Cheddi Jagan, will visit the House and speak to members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in a Room downstairs. Last November, shortly after becoming President, he produced a paper and on the issue of globalisation he stated: In the North, the consequence of these disparities has been unemployment, homelessness, urban disorder, increase in crime … the rise of ultra-right movements, strident nationalism and fragmentation accompanied by racism and ethnic tensions. In the South, the consequence of these divisions has been the increase in crime and disease, hopelessness, emigration, environmental degradation, the illegal traffic and use of narcotic drugs … More alarming, however, is the incidence of increasing poverty across the globe. Poverty atrophies the vigour and initiative of the individual and deprives the society of incalculable human resources at a critical time. We cannot go on allowing the world to be impoverished of its resources, consigning a quarter of the population to short lives and terrible poverty and not making anybody very happy in the process. We have to turn our backs on the principle of the free market economy and start to look at global concerns and the rights of people to a humane life, housing, education, jobs and health. They must share in the technological and wealth achievements which ought to be for the benefit of all.

8.55 pm
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

In the time that is available to me I cannot cover all the points that I wanted to raise. I welcome a number of issues in the Gracious Speech. I welcome the belated decision on legislation to ratify the chemical weapons convention. I had an Adjournment debate on 24 April and it was clear at that time that the obstacle was not in the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but in the Department of Trade and Industry. It was a lack of concern, vitality and interest by the then President of the Board of Trade. Now that he has moved to 10A the legislation is to be introduced and I welcome that.

It is important to welcome at least some of the references in the Gracious Speech to nuclear weapons. I am speaking about the reference to the comprehensive test ban treaty. However, the other parts cannot be welcomed. The Gracious Speech contains an interesting phrase about the Commonwealth. It states: My Government will continue working to strengthen ties between members of the Commonwealth. Can the Secretary of State explain how antagonising 50 member countries of the Commonwealth contributes to strengthening ties and how becoming Mr. Chirac's poodle on defence policy in any way contributes to the integrity and co-operation of this country with other nations?

The French Government's nuclear test programme in the south Pacific has nothing to do with technical needs. The former President, Mr. Mitterrand, was told by his military advisers that it was not necessary to have further nuclear tests and the socialist Government introduced a moratorium on them. As part of his election campaign Mr. Chirac, in a Portilloesque style, launched a tirade calling for further nuclear tests by his country. When he won the election he presumably felt obliged to carry out such tests although they were not necessary and the advice given to the former Government was that they were unnecessary. He went ahead, although the tests began directly after the non-proliferation treaty negotiations, which had been agreed with some difficulty, to extend indefinitely the life of the treaty on the assumption by many countries that there would be no further nuclear weapons tests. It could therefore be perceived by many people worldwide that the French had acted in bad faith. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister and Government, despite the overwhelming wishes of this country's people and the majority of public opinion in France, have chosen to align themselves with that policy and bad faith towards the non-proliferation treaty.

Many points have been made about other aspects of the Commonwealth conference, which I shall not go into now, but another matter has not been mentioned: the fact that, for the past few years, the Government have been giving co-operation not just to the military in Nigeria, but with regard to police equipment and policing. I hope that serious attention will be given to that because, clearly, in a repressive society, what a country does with its police force can be as offensive, oppressive and brutal as what it does with its military. We need to consider closely not just the military contracts and assistance to the military in Nigeria, but other aspects of the power of that corrupt kleptocracy and evil regime.

I wanted to comment on some of the points made about the position in former Yugoslavia, but unfortunately I do not have time. I shall, however, make just one point. If we must choose between an ideal solution based on preservation of the integrity of a state, and a peaceful solution based on recognition that, in elections in that state, 85 per cent. of the people voted for ethnically or religiously based parties rather than unitary parties, and if we are realistic, we will have to come to terms with the fact that some form of de facto internal partition will be necessary. If that is what comes out of the negotiations in the United States of America, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of House will recognise that that is the best that is available at this time, accept it and work, manfully, womanfully, all of us together, to ensure that there will be support on all sides for the peace agreement.

Having seen the United States media and heard some of the comments made by members of Congress in the past few days, I believe that it is highly doubtful that President Clinton will be able to get his 25,000 troops. If that is so, the United States, having sabotaged previous negotiations in the past, will, in this one, have the rug pulled from under its President at the last minute to sabotage the agreement. I hope that it will not come to that, but I am sceptical, given what Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich are up to.

In the past few days, President Clinton has made a positive statement in relation to another sector. I could say that the Government have taken up the words that I pressed on them with regard to chemical weapons in the Adjournment debate in April, but, regrettably, I cannot do so in relation to my Adjournment debate on 31 October, when I called on the Government to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Despite President Clinton's remarks in the past few days that he wishes the United States to go back into UNESCO, our Government have clearly set their face against doing so.

I regret that, in the 50th anniversary month of the establishment of UNESCO in London, the Queen's Speech does not refer to our country playing its part again in that organisation. That is part and parcel of the overall approach that seems to have come out of the Prime Minister's speech at the United Nations and of its press coverage, which hinted that, somehow, he wanted to sweep away and undermine a number of international organisations. It does not look good for this country's future credibility, status and standing in the world if we begin to work to undermine international organisations such as the Commonwealth, the United Nations and of course that nasty organisation based in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European Union, the Western European Union, whichever it is.

Another region has not, I think, been mentioned. Two hundred thousand refugees were created in Krajina when Mr. Tudjman took advantage of air strikes to launch a military attack, which has led to enormous suffering. Four hundred thousand refugees have been created in northern Sri Lanka as a result of a military offensive of the past few days. I have constituents who have told me that they have relatives whom they cannot contact, that there is no communication, and that they are worried about humanitarian relief from British organisations not being able to get through.

What is our Government doing as a matter of urgency to deal with that humanitarian crisis and the problems that will be created? That is a far bigger humanitarian crisis than anything that we have seen anywhere this year. Four hundred thousand people are moving across water and through jungle, fleeing an awful conflict and I hope that our Government will do something urgently to assist.

It is important that we recognise that many people from Sri Lanka and Nigeria will seek refuge in this country. It will be deplorable if those countries are on a white list of safe countries and people are refused asylum simply because they have the wrong colour skin.

9.4 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

We have had a longer than usual debate because there was no Question Time. Fourteen right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their point of view in a wide-ranging survey of the world. I should like to take up some of those points. It is appropriate that we should spend the first full day's debate on the Gracious Speech discussing foreign affairs and defence. It is right that we debate those topics at the same time because they are related. If one tries to have a foreign policy without a proper security policy, there are difficulties and vice versa.

My only regret about a debate of this nature is that, on occasion, some aspects of foreign affairs are neglected. I am thinking particularly about the third world and the aid programme. I am conscious of the fact that this an appropriate time to mention that, because all Opposition Members and, I suspect, many Conservative Members are concerned about the reports that there could be cuts in the aid budget. We hope that that does not occur in Budget week. We shall be watching that. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard the views of Opposition Members about how we would resent strongly any decision to cut the aid budget. It has been reduced too much.

We are also conscious of the fact that this is an important year, because the intergovernmental conference will be taking place, in which European and foreign identity and defence and security aspects will be playing dominant roles. We wish the Government well in their presidency of the Western European Union. I believe that on this issue we are at one with the Government. We believe that the WEU should develop into the European arm of NATO, not as an alternative to NATO. We have made it clear that we believe that any European defence identity must be at Government level and must not be part of the European Union or the European Commission per se.

Mr. Portillo

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's support in this matter, but I should warn him that, from the evidence of the WEU meeting in Madrid, there is a danger that he would be isolated in Europe by taking that stance. I thought that it was the Labour party's policy not to be isolated.

Dr. Clark

I was trying to begin my speech in a consensual manner and I am sorry that the Secretary of State made that point.

We have already heard the statement of positions by the various Governments for the IGC. We know that there is a wide range of positions, from the Dutch who seem to favour complete integration, to the French position, which is similar to ours, and there is the German position. As the Secretary of State knows, a great deal of negotiation and compromising have yet to take place. We believe that the Government are right on this one and that their view will prevail. I believe that our French allies will be good associates in this case.

There are other aspects of the Queen's Speech, particularly on defence matters, with which we can concur. The opening statement that National security remains of the highest importance to my Government. is something that we can go along with entirely. One of the aspects of the Secretary of State's Blackpool speech that offended myself and my colleagues was the way in which he seemed to imply that patriotism was the monopoly of one party. I am sure that, on reflection, he does not hold that view now and that he understands our anger about that point.

We know what the Government's intentions are—they have made them quite clear—and, in the ensuing year, we shall be trying to assess how closely the Government live up to their lofty statements. I must say, however, that in some of the records of their activities we find a huge gap between their intentions and the actuality.

It is another point of consensus that Labour has always supported NATO right from its inception. The Foreign Secretary heaped lavish praise on the former Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin. Of course, that view is dear to the Opposition. We have stuck by NATO and believe that it has served not only this country but Europe and the world very well for almost 50 years. It has also shown its ability to adapt to the changed world system. Indeed, it must be a cornerstone of the security of Britain, of Europe and, in a sense, of the wider world.

Another point on which I hope we agree with the Government is support for the United Nations. We have always been enthusiastic about the United Nations and believe that it needs to be the key player in bringing stability to world security. Of course, we are keen to support further reform of that august body. We accept that it has to change and adapt as it enters its second 50 years. Much needs to be done.

If there is one lesson to be learnt—I think that we all take it on board—it is that an unsettled world, due to the breakdown of the two-power system and the breakdown of the client—state relationship, means more instability and more areas of military conflict. The role of the United Nations in policing such conflicts and sometimes enforcing the peace will involve military action.

If there is to be military action, we need the United Nations to be much more professional. I think that the United Nations itself knows that. No Government will commit their young men and women to a peacekeeping role unless they believe that they have a fair chance of coming out alive. We therefore need a controlled system of communications and command. A great deal of effort needs to be put into the United Nations to enable it to handle military situations more effectively.

Having said that, we believe that there is more to security than the military. Indeed, many of us would argue that many of the conflicts across the world could have been avoided if the economic and social problems of the areas involved had been dealt with more sensibly.

The architects of the United Nations devised the Security Council, recognising the defence and military role of the United Nations. They also planned an Economic and Social Council that would be of equal status, but it is a matter of deep regret to me that the latter, through the actions of the member nations, became an inferior council. I believe strongly that had more attention and more resources been given to the Economic and Social Council, many of the conflicts in the world would have been avoided.

We also note with pleasure that the Government state in the Queen's Speech that they aim to improve the co-operation between NATO and Russia. That is absolutely vital, and we shall be monitoring the Government's efforts in that regard. Indeed, there is a role for us all—not only the military—to play. We have the "Partnership for Peace" agreement with NATO and Russia, under which there will be military exchanges and co-operation. We have an intergovernmental relationship. If we are to try to help Russia to evolve into a pluralistic democracy, as we understand it, it needs help. We as parliamentarians ought to be using all the avenues available to us to make contact with members of the Duma, to try to explain to them our concerns and beliefs, and to try to break down the prejudice and suspicion between Russia and some of the countries in the west.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does my hon. Friend share my amazement and concern that there is no NATO mission in Moscow? Surely there is a very powerful case for NATO having a separate office and representation in Moscow, so that it can gather information about the domestic situation in Russia as well as convey the methods and intentions of NATO, which are clearly and demonstrably misunderstood and misread there.

Dr. Clark

I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to make those points, because I have been very conscious of the fact that he has sat through most of the debate and it has not been possible for him to be called. Progress is being made. A small office of NATO is being installed in Moscow—I think that it is in the French embassy—at the moment. My hon. Friend knows that, because he has been to Brussels with me to talk to the NATO Secretary-General. I hope that it will develop into a much more fully fledged office, so that we can start explaining NATO's point of view.

We must all aim to create the security under which conflict and war between any of the NATO countries and Russia becomes as unthinkable as war between Britain and Germany is today. We must move towards such security.

The Labour party is also pleased to see the references in the Queen's Speech to efforts being made to restrict the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Labour Members shall be watching the Government very closely on that. We have had some concerns about their approach to the comprehensive test ban treaty. They seem to have been somewhat reluctant to go along with it, but thankfully, with the help of President Clinton, they have acquiesced and now seem to be converts. I shall not say a great deal about the French nuclear tests, except that they were regrettable. I certainly regret the fact that the British Government were not able to express their views against those tests more forcibly.

We are pleased to see that a Bill is to be introduced to ratify the chemical weapons convention. We have been calling for that for some time. We believe that we need to become one of the first 69 nations to ratify that convention. Of course, as we promised, we shall give the Bill a fair wind when it comes before the House.

We are also pleased to hear of the progress that is being made in Dayton, Ohio. We hope that an agreement on Bosnia will be reached. Certainly—this relates to my view about the way in which to build bridges with the Russians—I am delighted that we have managed to find a form of command structure that allows the Russian forces to work alongside NATO. That is a constructive, workmanlike approach, which is needed and will help to build understanding with Russia. It will also help to build security in the world.

We on the Opposition Benches are very conscious that we still have about 18,000 troops in Northern Ireland. We hope that further progress will be made and look forward to the day when some of those troops can be brought back to the mainland and deployed, perhaps at other bases. Having said that, I am conscious of the stress on the soldiers in Northern Ireland. I have seen the conditions in which they live, and they are very difficult indeed.

This is an unusual Queen's Speech, in that it contains two Bills relating to defence. The first is the Bill concerning reserve forces. We accept that the Reserve Forces Act 1980 needs to be amended and, again, we broadly endorse the provisions as we understand them. There has been wide consultation. We have obviously not seen the Bill—it is not to be published until tomorrow—but assuming that it is what we believe it to be, we shall approach it, as always, in a very constructive manner, as indeed we shall approach the Bill concerning the armed forces.

However, fine words achieve little. I am conscious of the old saying that fine words do not grow a row of beans, and that is certainly the case. The Government's record on defence, as opposed to their intentions on defence, is disappointing. We stand firmly by the belief that, to reduce the defence budget by 30 per cent., as the Government have, without carrying out a fundamental review, but simply resorting to a salami-slice operation, has added to the instability of the British armed forces and led to a reduction in morale. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) described that clearly today when he referred to the RAF.

Hon. Members often quote the firm commitment given by the Prime Minister that there would be no more cuts in the armed forces. I remember clearly the solemn promise given to the House that the Army would have 120,000 personnel. The figures are not included in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995". That clever, glossy document contains lots of pictures, but not the figures that we need. I am led to believe, therefore, that by next April the trained manpower in the Army will be down to 106,500.

The Government admit that they have a recruitment problem. Given that 3 million people are out of work, how the Government can fail to recruit men and women to our Army is beyond belief. It just shows how young men and women have lost confidence in the Government's ability to run our Army. I cannot understand it. It is a sorry testimony to the Government's mishandling of Britain's defences that those who loyally serve in our forces are under intense strain at operational level. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) made that point. If there is peace in Bosnia and we deploy 15,000 men there, half the young men in our Army will be stationed overseas and in Northern Ireland. That seems to present a major problem.

I am sorry that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is not here, because there seems to be a huge lacuna in the Government's recruitment strategy. They are aware of the problem, which relates to black citizens. Only 1.4 per cent. of those who serve in the British forces are from ethnic minorities. In their "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994", the Government wrote: It is of concern to the Department that ethnic minorities continue to be under-represented". Although they know that there is a problem, they seem incapable of attacking it. In its 1995 report on the defence estimates, the Defence Select Committee shared the Government's view, but said: We cannot but feel that MoD has been less than enthusiastic about the whole process of ethnic monitoring. I urge the Government to try to deal with that problem.

I raise another problem on the Floor of the House with a great deal of trepidation because it is a delicate matter, but it has caused me considerable anguish and annoyance. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has also raised the problem, which simply cannot be ignored. It relates to an incident on 10 August this year, when two black women, one of whom is married to a soldier posted elsewhere, attended a social event at Oakington barracks in Cambridge.

The women were subjected to racial abuse, which included persistent chants of "Nigger, nigger, nigger." At a later stage in the evening, the soldier who had perpetrated most of the abuse disappeared, but he then came back with four other soldiers who, according to witnesses, subjected the women to further abuse, such as: You niggers are only good for swinging from trees and burning. If I had my way, I'd get a white hood. I could go on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall spare the House any further examples of such verbal abuse. I know that hon. Members will share my anger and concern. To make it worse, as the two women, now petrified, were leaving, two of the soldiers pointed guns at them. I shall say no more, but plainly such occurrences have no place in our civil society, nor have they any place in the British armed forces.

I accept that that case is an exception, but because of that, I use it to emphasise my point. I understand that following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East on 23 August, the special investigations branch of the Royal Military Police has begun to investigate the incident. It occurred, however, two and a half months ago, and I ask the Secretary of State as a matter of urgency, although I do not necessarily expect him to be able to reply tonight, to look into it. Will there be a court martial? Why have we heard nothing, when such incidents cause so much damage to the reputation of our armed forces and cause great offence not only to the black community, but to many others in our civil society? Such abuse must be stamped out.

Another injustice persists. Has the Secretary of State any plans to use the Armed Forces Bill to amend the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987? As he will be aware, certain ex-service personnel, especially those who served in the Royal Navy, were subjected to exposure to asbestos and now suffer seriously from asbestos-related diseases. Their civilian counterparts are able to obtain damages because of similar exposure, but those ex-service men are unable to do so. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can look into that matter, which is of great concern. That injustice needs to be put right.

Materials are as important as personnel, because in the modern military, one cannot do the job without modern equipment. It is a matter of great concern that we increasingly hear reports that the anti-European stance of the Secretary of State is influencing our procurement orders. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made an eloquent speech on the very issue of orders for American aircraft.

We now know that the Government have looked into the possibility of acquiring F16 aircraft as a replacement for the Tornado F3. We have had that confirmed in writing by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who made the Government's reasons for that decision clear.

A much more serious charge relates to another report that the Government intend to order F22s as a cover initially for the Tornado, and then as an alternative to the Eurofighter. I hope that the Secretary of State will try to offer us an explanation of the current strategy, because he knows as well as I do that the Eurofighter project is now progressing well. It has had more than 90 sorties and, recently, an RAF pilot flew it for the first time.

The Secretary of State knows also that we are at a crucial stage in our negotiations with our partners. He knows that, as I speak, negotiations are taking place in Germany as to the future work share on the production of that very fine aircraft, which Opposition Members have backed from day one. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the timing of reaching agreement on work share is vital if we are to ensure that the memorandum of understanding is signed, as scheduled, for summer 1996.

I hope that there is no hidden agenda. I hope that there are not people in the MOD who hope by a sleight of hand to delay matters, so that they may reach a position that makes it difficult for our European partners to continue to go along with the Eurofighter development. As the Secretary of State knows, the Germans have included it in their Bundeswehr plan, the equivalent of our long-term costing. If we did not go ahead with it, it would be disastrous for our relationship with our allies and it would probably mean the end of the British aerospace industry.

Multi-million pound businesses are involved. We are speaking about bags of bucks in that case. I can believe that very many American industrialists want to supply us with F22s to drive the European aerospace business out of business altogether.

As I said, we agree with a considerable amount of what the Government have said in the Queen's Speech. We agree with many of the objectives. However, I confess that, when we have compared the actions with the words, we have found the Government wanting.

The Government repeatedly try to wrap themselves in the Union flag and then say that Britain's security is safe in their hands. I submit to the House that Britain's security has never been less safe under a Conservative Government than under the present one.

9.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)

The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) devoted much of his speech to the middle east and paid a generous tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. The whole House joined together in paying further tributes to Yitzhak Rabin.

It is a clichè to say that for Yitzhak Rabin to make peace required more courage even than to make war, but it is a cliché that none the less I believe to be true. In doing so, he risked absurd slanders from his fellow countrymen—accusations of softness and even of treachery. A man who could bear the blows of his enemies with equanimity must have smarted under such lashes from his countrymen. Eventually, he paid the price of his peacemaking with his life.

There are not so many outstanding statesmen in the world today, and Yitzhak Rabin was characterised by his vision and leadership. Not only do I feel great sorrow at his loss, but I send to the people of Israel the wish that their wounds may be healed and that reconciliation may spread through their land. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

The other topic that was mentioned very broadly during the debate was Nigeria. I cannot add much to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his introductory speech. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), for Streatham (Mr. Hill), for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) all spoke about Nigeria with considerable passion.

I simply emphasise what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said. The Commonwealth has made an impressive response. It has marked a new stage in the maturity of the Commonwealth. Prompt action has been taken on an arms embargo, and Britain is willing to engage in discussions with her allies, friends and partners regarding any other possible responses that may be appropriate.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South welcomed the Chemical Weapons Bill announced in the Queen's Speech. I shall refer briefly to the two other Bills of concern to me directly which we shall place before the House in the present Session.

First, there will be an Armed Forces Bill to continue in force the single-service Acts—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—that provide the framework for the system of discipline in the armed forces.

The Bill goes through a Select Committee process, and there will be a chance for the House to discuss homosexuality in the armed forces. We have long taken the view that homosexuality is incompatible with the special conditions of service life. The policy has now been examined by the High Court and by the Court of Appeal. I am pleased that both of them found our policy to be lawful. Our homosexual policy assessment team will continue to gather evidence which will be presented to the Select Committee examining the Armed Forces Bill, so that its members will have a clear and updated assessment before them.

We shall also introduce the Reserve Forces Bill that attracted the special commendation of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie). It will introduce a power of call-out for humanitarian disaster relief and peacekeeping tasks, and it will create two new categories of reserves: high-readiness reserves and sponsored reserves. It will also provide an opportunity for reservists to volunteer to undertake productive tasks other than training, including periods of full-time service. Finally, the Bill includes important new safeguards for employers and reservists.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) made a remarkable speech of great breadth, in which he understood so well the diversity of British interests. Those interests start with the security of our national territory, of our dependencies and of our allies. But, as he pointed out, they go much wider than that. They include the promotion of free trade and investment around the globe. They include our interest in the spread of liberal, western-style democracies, partly for humanitarian reasons and partly because such democracies are more likely to be peaceful.

Our world still faces many threats. The prospect of global war has receded, but instead we face increased uncertainty. Regional problems that were for so long suppressed by the super-power stand-off are re-emerging in traditionally unstable areas such as the Balkans, the middle east and the Gulf. In north and sub-Saharan Africa, and even in Asia and the far east, we can see tensions between emerging major regional powers.

Instability brings in its wake challenges to our interests and our values. Those problems are certainly exacerbated by extremism, by the possession or potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and often by both. Such proliferation heightens regional tensions and may also intensify the scale and nature of future conflicts. We should not ignore the dangers of proliferation simply because it is going on well away from the shores of the United Kingdom. The Gulf conflict provided a vivid demonstration—we saw it on our television screens—of the threat to the armed forces of countries which, like Britain, take an active role in building international security. The proliferation of ballistic missile technology, especially if coupled with weapons of mass destruction, would pose a growing threat to our NATO allies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) paid particular attention to the importance of developing our intelligence capability. In such an uncertain world, to be able to predict where the crises will occur will be of enormous importance. If we find ourselves involved in conflict, the ability to manage the battlefield through superior intelligence will probably hold the key to victory. The fact that we know what is going on reinforces our deterrent capability.

For all those reasons, our important relationship with the United States is underlined. In some of the Opposition speeches this afternoon—I am thinking of the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and for Ilford, South—I still heard a resonance of that old Labour anti-Americanism which can play no part in building up the security interests of the United Kingdom.

Deterrence was relatively straightforward when there was a super-power conflict. The essence of deterrence is that any potential adversary should believe that one would be willing, in extremis, to use one's power and that one would be able to strike with overwhelming force. The current diffuse threats make deterrence much more complicated. It spans a range of capability from special forces, to rapid reaction forces and cruise missiles, up to and including nuclear deterrents.

I believe that nuclear weapons will remain a vital underpinning of our defence policy. Our strategic deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security. It makes a significant contribution to preserving peace and security in Europe. Our nuclear weapons are a deterrent: their role is to prevent war, not to fight it. The theology of deterrence will need to evolve in order to reflect the changing world, but its fundamental principle remains valid.

It is premature to think that we can move to complete nuclear disarmament. Of course, with the welcome end of the cold war, we have been able to make sensible reductions in our nuclear arsenal. The flexibility of the Trident missile system also allows us to move to a single nuclear weapon delivery system. However, complete nuclear disarmament remains a distant prospect at best. Nuclear weapons technology cannot be uninvented. In a nuclear-free world, there would always be the risk of a new confrontation generating a ptofoundly destabilising nuclear arms race. The potential for proliferation would always be present. No one has yet found robust solutions to those problems.

As a nuclear weapons state, the United Kingdom bears special responsibilities. I did not see any evidence in today's debate to suggest that Labour has begun to understand the nature of those special responsibilities.

Mr. Gapes

Will the Secretary of State tell us under what circumstances he would press the nuclear button?

Mr. Portillo

It is extremely important to understand that this country would be prepared to use nuclear weapons. I have said that nuclear weapons exist because we wish to deter war, not to fight it. However, it is extremely important for any adversary to understand that Britain would, in extremis, be ready to use nuclear weapons. That is the essence of the deterrence doctrine.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, (Sir P. Cormack) and the hon. Member for West Derby among others, referred to the Bosnian question. All eyes are currently on Dayton, Ohio. We hope that the latest chance for peace will be grasped by all the parties and that hopes will not be dashed, as has occurred so often in the past. We hope that hostilities will not recur and that the long-suffering people of Bosnia will not endure further misery.

In parallel with the Dayton talks, planning is continuing within NATO for a peace implementation force. Good progress has been made, although clearly a number of key issues can be resolved only once a clearer picture emerges from Dayton. I assure the House that the force will deploy only if there is a clear and satisfactory peace agreement to which the parties subscribe fully.

The force's role will be to implement a peace agreement and it will operate with the consent of the parties who have signed the agreement. The force's principal task will be to oversee the separation of the factions and to provide the stability necessary for an agreement to succeed. The force will be remarkably multinational. The headquarters of the Allied Command Europe rapid reaction corps—the ARRC—will play a key role. The United Kingdom has framework nation responsibility for the ARRC headquarters, for which we provide the commander and some 60 per cent. of the staff. Its deployment will provide an important test of its capabilities. I am sure that General Sir Michael Walker and his team will rise to the challenge.

As the House would expect, the Government are planning to make a significant contribution to the peace implementation force commensurate with our status and responsibilities within the Atlantic alliance. The final size of our contribution, and the force as a whole, will depend on the nature of the peace settlement, if any. It will also depend on the level of contributions from other NATO and non-NATO nations.

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that it has been an important breakthrough to include Russian troops in the arrangements, and we hope for other troop contributions from beyond NATO, including in particular Muslim countries. I confirm that a substantial United States deployment on the ground will be essential. I undertake that we shall report to the House with further details as and when our plans are crystallised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) paid particular attention to European defence. There are some clear lessons that we can draw from operations in former Yugoslavia for the defence arrangements that we should put in place for the future. They relate to the value of practical military co-operation, the fundamental importance of NATO and not letting theology or rhetoric get ahead of reality.

The Anglo-French summit last month marked a development in our defence relationship with France. Britain and France have similar perspectives. The summit recognised the global partnership that exists between us, built on the major contribution that both countries make to security in Europe and wider afield.

Much of the reason for that improved bilateral relationship lies in our military co-operation in Bosnia. That has brought our two armed forces closer together than at any time since the second world war. Our troops have found their French colleagues whom they have been fighting alongside on the slopes of Mount Igman to be of the highest quality and they have shared a good deal of comradeship in those operations.

For a long time, France has excluded herself from some of NATO's military activities. I believe that that exclusion by France has been a loss to NATO and to France. I welcome the fact that France is showing a new willingness to participate in the work of the alliance.

Again it is important to separate theology from practice. Many of the theological questions surrounding France's involvement and integration in NATO remain to be resolved, but it is just as important that, in putting together a practical operation for peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia, France has been willing to rise above those theological questions and co-operate in putting together what I believe will be an effective force. I particularly welcome that. I also welcome France's recent recognition that NATO has a crucial role in meeting the serious security challenges that we may face in future.

We intend, with France, to draw lessons as we work together over the coming months to build credible European defence arrangements. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary touched earlier on the agenda for our presidency of the WEU which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough said, starts at the beginning of next year.

The Government's approach to European defence is a practical one. It is about building defence structures that work. We address the key question: what is the gap in European defence capability that we are trying to plug? I have warned before of the dangers of concentrating on institutional issues and thereby losing sight of our main goal: building militarily credible and effective capabilities. Some talk of a political deficit while others suggest that intergovernmentalism is outdated. I believe that intergovernmentalism works. It has done so for 50 years in NATO. It recognises that defence is a sovereign nation's first responsibility. We shall not meet the challenge of tomorrow by institutional tinkering. Certainly we shall not meet that challenge by submerging our sovereignty and our armed forces into supranational constructions.

All the talk of political deficit misses the point, for it is not the problem. What matters is Europe's patent operational deficit. The WEU's operational development will be the first priority of our presidency of the WEU. We shall take that approach, however, in a way that complements NATO, not in a way that could weaken it. We have in NATO arrangements and procedures that have been developed in the best possible way, through consensus and practical military co-operation. These arrangements have been built up over nearly 50 years, and they work. We should not try to reinvent the wheel by developing new, separate and wholly European capabilities. That would be unnecessary, unaffordable and undesirable.

Instead, we shall reinforce the WEU's links with the alliance. The WEU needs access to NATO's assets, capabilities and expertise if it is to be able to mount operations on the scale that we want. Events in Bosnia have proved that point eloquently. We need to be able to demonstrate to the Americans that Europeans are able to do their bit. We need to convince others that even in situations where Americans may not be involved in Europe on the ground, Europeans will none the less have the necessary capabilities.

We shall carry forward work to establish a WEU situation centre that is capable of monitoring future operations. That is an essential part of the nerve system of any viable defence organisation. We want the centre to be well on the way to being operational by the end of our presidency of the WEU.

As the structures and procedures that I have described would be mere paper tigers unless exercised, we shall make proposals for a more coherent and progressive exercise policy within the WEU. For the reasons explained by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, the WEU, rather than the European Union, is the appropriate body for building up the defence capability of Europe. That was the central theme of one section of my speech in Blackpool. The hon. Member for South Shields accepted that argument and offered the Government his support, which I am pleased to accept.

There were references, especially by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside to our procurement policy. Our equipment procurement policy must provide our armed forces with the right equipment on time and at the best value for money. Competition, therefore, remains at the heart of our approach. The Government believe that it would not be doing the United Kingdom industry any favours if through our procurement policy we were to protect it from international competition. Competition brings benefits to us and to industry. It promotes keen prices and encourages the most efficient use of industrial resources. It has had demonstrable effects on reducing prices. In some cases it has reduced costs by over 30 per cent.

Our procurement policies have contributed to making the United Kingdom defence industry healthy and internationally competitive. Last year, United Kingdom defence companies won export orders worth some £5 billion, representing about 16 per cent. of the world market. That was no flash in the pan. Over the past five years, the United Kingdom has been the second largest exporter after the United States. With the strength of a competitive defence industry, we have everything to gain from a genuinely open defence equipment market. We shall continue to strive for open markets, through NATO and through the European defence forums.

Best value for money does not always mean picking the cheapest solution. We aim for value for money in the longer term. That involves taking account of a range of factors, including industrial issues. We recognise the importance of a healthy supply base in Britain and in the rest of Europe. We wish to maintain our ability to run competitions for future requirements. The defence industry has had to take painful decisions to reduce its capacity in recent years. It is not our business to maintain industrial capacity for its own sake, but we do need to ensure that we do not through our actions lose industrial capabilities that are important either militarily or in the interests of future competition or collaboration.

Mr. Menzies Campbell


Mr. Portillo

I shall continue for one more paragraph, because I think that it may well help the hon. and learned Gentleman.

The Eurofighter project is a good example of that approach. British Aerospace, our prime contractor, is the leading aerospace company in Europe. Eurofighter will be an excellent product if we are able, as I suspect that we will, to sort out the remaining managerial problems with the project, none of which is to do with the aircraft itself. We have entered into arrangements that we are determined to honour.

Mr. Campbell

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. In the light of the analysis that he has just provided for the House, will he now confirm that the Government are committed to Eurofighter and that there is no intention to lease F16s on a temporary basis rather than embarking on the mid-life update of the F3?

Mr. Portillo

On the commitment to Eurofighter there is no doubt, and that is why I asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to hear another paragraph, so that he could hear it in my own words.

As far as the F16 is concerned, I am looking at a number of options for what we should do between now and the time when Eurofighter is delivered. I have made no secret of the fact that leasing F16s is one option to be looked at and an upgrade of the F3 is another.

Mr. Campbell


Mr. Portillo

If the hon. and learned Gentleman makes it brief, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Campbell

In view of the answer that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement gave last week—that the existing Royal Air Force tanker fleet is incapable of mid-air refuelling of the F16—what arrangements does the right hon. Gentleman propose for that?

Mr. Portillo

All things have their costs and that is one of the costs that would have to be taken into account.

Dr. Reid

I raise this point lest the Secretary of State be misinterpreted, because we want to be helpful on this. When he says that he wants to get rid of any barriers to competition as regards our defence industry, can we take it that he is not saying that the British Government are thinking of abandoning article 223, our sovereign right in the last instance to make defence decisions that overrule the competition, although, of course, we do not want that to be misused by some of our European allies?

Mr. Portillo

I do not believe that the abandonment of article 223 will be part of the Government's programme for the IGC. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to read carefully what I said on procurement issues.

I wish to make the point that, in future, where we collaborate with others on a project, competition will be a crucial ingredient. Collaboration can provide useful savings over purely national programmes. Programmes that would otherwise be unaffordable become affordable. But collaboration is not an end in itself. It is worth while where it genuinely offers the most cost-effective solution compared to the alternatives, where it offers the prospect of the best long-term value for money. That must be the basis of future collaborative ventures.

From hon. Members on the Conservative Benches we have heard a breadth of vision and understanding, particularly in speeches from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, from my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and others. By contrast, the speech from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was devoid of principle. In it, he espoused a series of positions that were directly opposed to his positions of a few years ago. He appeared to be guided only by populism, only by the fear of standing alone, only by the wish to be in the majority, with no reference to right or wrong. In particular, he showed no understanding of the United Kingdom's special position and responsibilities.

We are a nuclear power. The success of deterrence depends on the knowledge that a country's deterrent works, and that that country would ultimately be willing to use it. The French President was advised to test, and he had no alternative but to do so. We would have done the same if we had been given that advice. The question is, would Labour have been willing to do so? It has wriggled on the issue. We would not be prepared to enter into an agreement that did not allow us to ensure the safety and reliability of our weapons.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) stood up and admitted that he was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Other Front Benchers do not mention their own membership, and some do not even remember it.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.